Fans did the funding for Palmer’s new album
BY MARY HOULIHAN November 9, 2012 9:24AM
Amanda Palmer and her Grand Theft Orchestra headline a sold-out show on Saturday night at Metro.
Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft
♦ 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10
♦ Metro, 3730 N. Clark
♦ Sold out
Amanda Palmer has a devoted fanbase, but even she was impressed when her Kickstarter campaign managed to raise nearly $1.2 million to fund the making of her recently released album, “Theater Is Evil,” and the ensuing tour to support it.
“My fan base is capable of amazing things,” Palmer says. “I have a history of doing projects with their involvement. It took years and years of work to get to this point, and this feels like a reward.”
Palmer, a theatrical performer who was the driving musical force behind the Brechtian punk cabaret duo the Dresden Dolls, is now well into a solo career. In 2008 she released “Who Killed Amanda Palmer,” produced by Ben Folds. She paid tribute to Radiohead on the 2010 EP “Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele,” and in 2011 released “Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under.”
But it was a frustrating break with her label that pushed Palmer into a more independent mode. She thought about trying to find an indie label but then decided to go it on her own.
“I watched what other artists were doing, and it seemed a good move to step away from label affiliation,” Palmer says during a phone call from Prague. “The big problem in the music industry is that everyone is trying to find the one single answer that will work, but I don’t think there is one. Every artist has to make their own decision about which way to go.”
Palmer comes to Metro on Nov. 10 with her Grand Theft Orchestra: Chad Raines (guitar), Jherek Bischoff (bass) and Michael McQuilken (drums).
In a given evening, Palmer’s music is part glam rock, part 1980s pop and part Weimar cabaret. With her edgy glamour, she can be seen as tough and uncompromising, and part of that is true. But there also is heart and meaning in her music.
These attributes have matured as Palmer’s songwriting evolved. The songs on “Theater is Evil” are about relationships, but the melodies are pop-based and catchy. They balance all of her past tricks — horns, strings, sing-along choruses, fierce guitars, flowing synths and layered drums — into exactly the right proportions.
“I allowed myself to write songs that come very naturally to me but that in the past I would reject because I thought they were dumb,” Palmer notes. “In the Dresden Dolls, I listened to my weirder side and wanted people to believe I could do weird, abstract, complex things. But now I want them to see I can actually do this sort of songwriting, too.”
Palmer, of course, is no stranger to controversy — she has written songs about date rape and abortion, and one time, dressed in balloons, she asked fans to pop them until she was naked. But on the first leg of her current tour, she was caught off-guard by something that has long been part of her show: inviting players from a given city to help fill out her band and paying them with beer and swag.
This time, possibly because of her higher profile, word got out to a bigger audience. Many musicians and unions were not amused by the practice and protested via social media. Palmer continues to invite musicians on stage but has reversed her original policy and now pays them.
She admits she was shocked by the reaction and calls it a “grand misunderstanding.”
“Now that I’m in the spotlight, I’ll be criticized for the oddball things I’ve done for years,” says Palmer, 36. “To me the important thing is that the musicians we’re working with are respected and have a good time. And that was never the problem. They were always deliriously happy to be part of my rock ’n’ roll circus for a night.”
Palmer grew up in Lexington, Mass., and attended Wesleyan University, where she studied German and developed an interest in theater that she now blends with her lifelong love of music to create her cabaret-influenced stage show. (In a bit of inspired casting, she recently played the role of the MC in a production of “Cabaret” at the American Repertory Theater in Boston.)
Palmer, who is married to the British fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, says her husband inspired several of the new songs: “We share moments and then go off and create art.”
But above all Gaiman is “a good critic, a good listener and much more.”
Palmer explains, “He’s not afraid of me and really genuinely supports me. He is proud of me when I take risks and even when I fail. And that’s why I married him. I’m a hard person to understand, but he gets me.”
Mary Houlihan is a local free-lance writer.