Kool Kat of the Week: Amanda Palmer Finds Peace and Perfection in The Cure, a Beating Fish Heart and Peeling Up Rugs

Is Amanda Palmer a Goth Goddess? A Steampunk diva? Sally Bowles? Super-heroine? The publicity photos for her new band the Grand Theft Orchestra suggest Geisha meets AMADEUS. Atlantans will find out tonight (Sat. Sept. 16) when she steals into the Variety Playhouse.  A creative chameleon who has played in many Retro eras from costume to sounds, Amanda Palmer has reimagined herself again with a new album, THEATRE IS EVIL, released on Sept. 11. Some critics have dubbed this album poppier than previous projects such as the Dresden Dolls, but we’re intrigued by the list of many of our favorite ’70s and ’80s Goth/alternative bands, which she lists as influences yet how she makes the songs very much her own.

THEATRE IS EVIL also is testament to her savvy social networking skills and a passionate fanbase. It’s already music industry legend how she produced the LP without label support through a Kickstarter campaign in which she asked for $100,000 but raised $1.2 million. You have to imagine plenty of musicians are tilting their heads and analyzing the hows and whys of her success – could crowdsourcing be the golden ticket to being able to stay true to your artistic vision without interference by over-zealous marketing suits?! In any case, Amanda sure seems to be living the artistic dream life with enough money to follow her creative bliss and even married to Neil Gaiman, award-winning leather-jacketed punk rock author of dark fantasy best-sellers and creator of the ultimate dream-weaver comic, SANDMAN.

Yet all the while Amanda stayed true to her busking performance art spirit  including fun Kickstarter incentives that radiated a reciprocative passion for her fans including an artbook, personal sketches and private concerts. And she even took a time out during a busy week on the tour bus to zip out a last minute Q&A for readers of a humble local blog like ATLRetro, for which we have to say she’s a mighty Kool Kat

ATLRetro: On NPR’s ALL SONGS CONSIDERED, the two critics Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton  couldn’t get enough of THEATRE IS EVIL, even comparing it to Bowie’s THE LODGER. You’ve mentioned that you had The Swans, My Bloody Valentine, The Cars and VIOLATOR era Depeche Mode on your mind with particular songs. Since we’re ATLRetro, we have to ask which critic comparisons have pleased you the most and are there any other Retro musicians/bands who particularly influenced the work on this album?

Amanda Palmer: Oh, where can I start? Soft Cell. Gary Numan. The Cure, all over the place…I feel like some songs like “The Killing Type” are more early-era stripped down Cure whereas “Want it Back” is more KISS ME, KISS ME ,KISS ME me era, and “Smile” was directly an homage to “Plainsong” from DISENTEGRATION, right down to the fact that I chose it to kick off the record and the fact that we open the live show with it. One of my deepest and influential moments was the first 30 seconds of seeing The Cure live in around 1989, on The Prayer tour. They opened with Plainsong, and I felt like I was listening to the voice of god.

You embrace live performance with a passion and bravado unparalleled by many contemporary musical artists. Why the album title, THEATRE IS EVIL?

Because it’s hilarious.

Your songs not only tell stories but also always seem to have interesting stories behind how you came to write them. Pick one song on THEATRE IS EVIL that you’d like to tell Atlanta fans more about.

Wellllll – “Tour Heart Replica” has a good one. I was going through a really rough breakup, and I was visiting Neil Gaiman at his house with my whole touring crew, before we started dating. I was also really feeling the tour grind, the caged feeling. He took us to a trout farm. We piled into his car on a freezing Wisconsin day right before Christmas – a few of the actors in the tour, my opener and cellist Zoe Keating. The trout farm was this set of shacks where they had the trout swimming and swimming endlessly in circles in these big metal tubs. They clobbered a dozen of them to death and brought us into the fish surgery where they gutted them, and as the dude sliced into one of the fishes, he said “look” to us, and a fish heart was laying there in his hand, still beating. And for about 20 seconds, it kept going, in his hand, beating. “This happens sometimes,” he said. Then he put the heart on the counter and he left, and Neil followed him out. And Zoe and I stood in the room, looking at the fish heart on the metal counter. And it kept going, it kept beating. Everything about my life was reflected in that moment. And Zoe, Neil and I joked in the car that the moment was the perfect song, the perfect poem. And we all went off to write. Neil’s poem was published in a journal, and my song found its way onto the album.

Some of my favorite songs by you with the Dresden Dolls and solo have been those that have been angry/angsty but also clearly about empowerment and moving on. In other words, not getting derailed by relationships that end bitterly. Can you talk briefly about what those kind of songs do/mean for you or are you moving away from that thematically since you’re happily married to Neil?

Well, a lot of the album does feel like it’s about coming to peace with things. But in order to truly come to peace, you always have to peel the rug up and look at the truly rotting stuff. You can’t have one without the other, I think. To me songs are the perfect way of doing both things at once: the peeling up, and the coming to peace with what you find there. And then the best part: sharing what you find with everybody else, and seeing the heads nod in “you too?” agreement. You can find anything under the rug if you don’t feel alone in the finding.

Without giving away any crucial spoilers, can you share a little sneak peek into why no one should consider missing your show in Atlanta this Saturday whether or not they have seen you perform live before?

Well, I’m backstage in North Carolina right now, and we just had the audience split up into a “lamb of god” divide and wield disco balls and peace twigs at each other. ANYTHING is possible. But in seriousness: be prepared to dance. The dancing is key. Bring a tissue as well, for the sad bits.

Finally, we know that you are goddess queen of the Earth, so what secret weapon could we use to save us from your wrath?

A towel, obviously.

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