Wednesday 24 August 2011 | By

Amanda Palmer: A Fringe doll on the Edge

ED2011 Interviews ED2011 Music ED2011 Week3 Edition

Amanda Palmer

ThreeWeeks favourite Amanda Palmer is one of those artists who, although usually booked to play just one night at Edinburgh’s Edge Festival each August, also fully throws herself in the rest of the Fringe madness.
Ahead of that Edge gig, we caught up with Amanda to talk music, the life of a self-releasing artist, and all things Edinburgh Fringe.

CC: You’re playing Edge Fest again this year, how do audiences during the Edinburgh Festival differ from elsewhere?
AP: There’s a divine openness about the Fringe audience. The fuck-everything-and-make-art attitude seems to snowball over the course of the month, especially since people have been encountering art energy in the streets and everywhere else they go. It’s such a fantastic thing, to get so many artists and audiences colliding at once. Playing my one rock show at the end of the month  almost feels like cheating, as if every other fringe act has been performing foreplay on the city for the whole month and now I get to bring them to orgasm.

CC: What can people expect form that show?
AP: Bizarre surprises as usual! But I can reveal some of them: I’m playing with a brand new back-up band from the states, and they’re just sublime. Our goal of the evening is to make everybody dance. We’re using SYNTHESIZERS for some of my new material and have therefore decided to also cover some of our favourite eighties songs. We’re borrowing a group of horn players in every city we play in, and here in Edinburgh it’s the Horndogs – who rove through the venue and play to warm up the crowd. But best of all is one of our special guests: my cousin Hugh, from the Isle of Skye, is coming down. I won’t tell you what he plays, you’ll have to just come and be awestruck.

CC: You’ve already been performing at the Festival this year, alongside Jason Webley, as Siamese twins Evelyn Evelyn. How did that show come about?
AP: Ohh, it’s a long long story. But we devised the concept while we were up late one night, as a pun, and never thought we’d actually see it through. Jason is obsessed with the number 11, and we’re always seeing 11:11 on clocks, as many people are. So we joked late one night, while on a tour together, that a conjoined twin band of sisters named Evelyn Evelyn would be hilarious. And then, being completely crazy people, we decided to make a fictional song for a little 7” record.

While making that record we came up with so many other ideas that we decided to cut a whole album. Jason and I are practically best friends and one of the ways that you get to spend time with your friends, if you’re a touring artist, is by creating something with them. Up to that point I’d only released “serious” music, I hadn’t allowed myself the freedom to release something just for kicks. It was very liberating to do that, come to think of it. It marked a big step for me as an artist, to be able to just have some fucking fun.

CC: What form does the Evelyn Evelyn show take?
AP: The show has a wonderful MC character (for our Fringe shows the role was played by Thomas Truaxx) who runs the evening and dazzles the crowd with the Twins’ many talents. A shadow puppet show reveals the tragic details of their early life in gruesome detail. The twins also play a total five instruments, so there’s a lot of wonderfully awkward shuffling around!

CC: In addition to all of that, you’ve lined up some impromptu ‘ninja gigs’ while you’re in Edinburgh. Where can people find out about those, and what can they expect from them?
AP: It’s all Twitter, darling. We’ve already done one as we speak. It was just wonderful. There’s a little theatre company called Belt Up from York, and Neil [Gaiman, husband] and I are huge fans of their work.

They’ve created a little room – covered in warm red cloth and couches and antiques – in one of the C venues for their three shows, and when I saw it at the beginning of the month I just wanted to crawl under one of the couches and sleep forever. I dropped them an email and a week later, we were stuffing 60 people into the venue at around 1.00am after Neil and I announced on Twitter that we were going to play a secret show.

Folks brought cake, the actors dragged some beer up and sold it from behind a desk, Neil read some poems and a brand new short story he’d written that day, I played some new and old songs, and we brought up a bunch of our acoustic-instrument playing friends as guests (The Jane Austen Argument, Andrew O’Neill and Edinburgh’s own Edward And The Itch). People didn’t leave until about 3:30… it was just sublime. We’ll probably do some other similar things before the Festival is over, so do watch us on Twitter!

CC: You broke away from your former record label Roadrunner two years ago. How’s life as an independent artist?
AP: Not very different from life as an artist on a major label. The Dresden Dolls were always very independent even when we were signed – I had my own way of doing things and never found the Label to be particularly supportive of my tactics. It’s very difficult having to run your own business from the ground up, but I felt I was doing that anyway, and this way I actually get to keep the profit from the music I sell instead of handing it over to people that aren’t really supportive – it’s much more fulfilling.

CC: You’ve used services like Bandcamp to release your own music, and are very active on Twitter. How important to artists do you think these services are now, and can those who don’t engage in this way survive?
AP: I’m a huge fan of giving away music for free and asking for donations. As a busker, I find that makes a lot of sense, and empowers the audience to make their own decisions about how they want to interact with you and support you. It’s less predictable, but in the long run I feel it’s a better system that will yield a healthier community.

As far as Twitter and social networking go, it’s just excellent tool, but it’s not necessary. It’s as if you were to ask me if a band twenty years ago could manage to make it without ever using a telephone. Or if a band could make it ten years ago without an email account. The answer would be yes, but they’d probably be missing out on endless opportunities and making their lives more difficult than they had to be. This is how people – and music fans, and agents, and promoters – are communicating. Beyond that, though, it’s an incredible way to spread the word about your music and your projects without spending a dime. Your fans, even if you only have a few hundred of them, can do the work that used to be done by marketers and promoters.

And not only is it FREE, it’s also GENUINE, since these people really do love your music and believe in your art. Which is much more satisfying than being promoted by some dude at a desk who hates your band but has you on his “list of things to do” along with Slipknot, Nickelback and Three Inches of Blood….and who would actually rather be at home listening to his Yes bootlegs.

CC: Are there any plans to perform again with The Dresden Dolls?
AP: Funny you should ask, yes indeed. We’re planning a tour for this winter. Won’t say where, but we’re planning on hopping around and playing where we feel like it, when we feel like it. Another great advantage of not being on the label is that we can tour as much or as little as we’d like.

CC: Have you seen any performers in Edinburgh you particularly enjoyed? Are there any you’re hoping to see before you leave?
AP: There’s a laundry list of recommendations if you take a look at my latest blog. My favorites so far have been ‘Fascinating Aida’, all three shows by the Belt Up guys (especially ‘The Boy James’), Andrew O’Neill and Sophie Harrington-Walsh’s show ‘Damsel In Shining Armor’. I’m very excited to see Le Gateau Chocolat, I’ve heard he’s incredible.

CC: What are you favourite and least favourite things about Edinburgh during the Festival?
AP: My favourite thing is simply the city’s energy, and walking everywhere amongst art and theatre people. I love seeing the city transformed, and I love the togetherness-feeling. I love that all of the shops and cafés and bars invest in promoting people’s shows. And mostly I love the element of surprise. I love coming across things I don’t expect. As far as my least favourite things go, I hate feeling like I’m missing everything. I hate feeling the stress of knowing there’s always something better happening and I’m not there. I hate drunk people flyering me. I hate spraining my ankle on the cobblestones (though truth be told, I love the cobblestones themselves) and I hate the weather most of the time. Fair balance?

Amanda Palmer performed at the HMV Picture House as part of The Edge Festival during Fringe 2011.

LINKS: www.amandapalmer.net

OR READ MORE ABOUT: |

  • Izzard to lead multinational comedy gala
  • 3 To See ED2014: Storytelling theatre shows
  • Natasha Gilmore: Alternative perspectives
  • Chris Turner: Standing up, not digging down
  • 3 To See ED2014: ThreeWeeks approved comedy
  • Guy Retallack: A musical retelling of the ‘thrill killers’ crime
  •