INTERVIEW: Amanda Palmer (USA), February 2011

Another double-up – which is a surprising rarity in the history of my interviews. She was quite nice the last time; very gentle and could tell that I was a fan, even if I was a little over-excited and ham-fisted in my interviewing. This time around, I pretty much let Palmer take the driver’s seat, only occasionally guiding the conversation. I think that’s what you’ve got to do with someone like her. It’s not much of a structured interview process – she’ll take the ball and run like hell with it. I kind of love her for it.

– DJY, October 2014

***

She might have been the one to pen and sing the lyric “You don’t want to hear about my good day” all those years ago, but when you’ve had a good a day as Amanda Palmer has, you’d be mad not to want to hear about it. “Okay! So…” begins Palmer with a deep breath. “Why was my day so awesome? Well, first of all, I played an incredible fucking show in Newcastle last night. It was out-of-control fantastic, one of those sublime electric gigs where we turned that bar into some kind of crazed palace. Then, we slept in the venue because it turns out they had a bunch of Futons in the office – we were going to stay with fans, but then we figured we should just crash there.”

“We woke up, and this place – the Great Northern – it had this amazing ballroom on the second floor, which could probably fit like a thousand people. The boyfriend of one of my opening acts texted me in the morning and said “We have to do a video in that ballroom before you leave.” My train was leaving in half an hour, but I was like “Holy fuck, you’re right!” So we put off the train for two hours, he ran over and we made this spontaneous music video for In My Mind from my Australian record [ Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under ]!” Surely this day couldn’t get any better? Oh, it does: “When I got to Sydney, I was on hold to do a chat with The Doctor at Triple J. I listened to his interview with Nick Cave, and he asked about my cover of The Ship Song …and Nick Cave said it was beautiful!”

You can’t blame Palmer for being in heavens-high spirits after that kind of day, now, can you? It’s all part and parcel for whenever AFP (the F is for Fucking, naturally) visits our fair country, and it’s the way it has been since she first started touring here as a part of The Dresden Dolls. “Everytime I come to Australia, awesome things happen,” she says with a laugh. “That’s why I keep coming back!” It’s probably the reason why Palmer’s latest album – a collection of mostly-original material recorded entirely within Australia and New Zealand – doesn’t really come as too great a surprise. It’s a long lasting, passionate and very much mutual love affair.

“I’m a very spontaneous, very messy person,” confesses Palmer, “and I have made an art of improvising my way through life. That seems to be something that Australians really appreciate. There’s just something about Australia and Amanda Palmer that resonates really perfectly in this embrace of the improvisational, do-it-yourself way of life.”

As nice and as smooth-running as things can be for Amanda, it doesn’t quite always go to plan. Just a few weeks ago, Palmer played at the Sydney Opera House for the third time in three years in what was described as an “Australia Day Spectacular.” It was Palmer’s biggest Opera House show to date, starring her friends The Jane Austen Argument, Michelangelo and The Black Sea Gentlemen, Meow Meow and Palmer’s husband, author Neil Gaiman. From various reports, as well as a few unhappy reviews amidst the blogosphere, the show was a bit of a shambles. Palmer is asked to clarify exactly what happened.

“We were going to have a rehearsal the day of our show,” she begins. “It turned into this messy soundcheck with a lot of problems, so we were really under-rehearsed. Then the setlist was written at the last minute, and during the show I accidentally skipped ahead five songs. I realised it two songs in and then had to backtrack and figure out how I was going to get everyone on and off-stage when I needed them for the songs. It turned into a classic disorganised rockshow, and naturally I’m telling everyone about it as it’s happening. Shows like that happen to me all the time…but they don’t happen at the fucking Sydney Opera House!”

“I’ve been talking with so many of the fans since it happened,” she continues. “And even more importantly, I’ve been talking to people who weren’t fans who were there – who got dragged by a friend, or their kids, or because of work. Nobody hated the show, which is a relief, but it still scares the shit out of me. I wonder: why am I capable of getting away with this? I guess maybe people found it refreshing that, in a venue like that, something got completely improvised right in front of them. When you know you’re getting something completely fucked-up and special, that’s where the blanket of forgiveness falls hard.”

This craziness continues to be adored by a swelling cult fanbase upon each and every visit, and one day it may well get to the point where AFP simply doesn’t leave. Not that we’d be complaining, of course – it’d be bloody un-Australian to not make her feel at home, wouldn’t it?

INTERVIEW: Amanda Palmer (USA), February 2009

Whether you love her or hate her, Amanda Palmer is a fantastic interviewee. Trust me, I’ve done it twice. We’re not like this (wraps index and middle finger together) but I’ve been a very interested and involved fan since around 2004. I remember seeing Girl Anachronism on rage; then rushing to my diary and writing The Dresden Dolls‘ name on every page so that I wouldn’t forget it.

Of course that kind of fire has died out – I don’t think I care about anything the way I cared about things in 2004. Still, I have all of her albums (both solo and with the Dolls) and I’ve always found her to be a unique and interesting figure in modern music. There’s certainly never a dull moment with her, regardless of whether you agree with her or not.

I remember being REALLY excited about this interview – at the time, I probably thought this was the best interview I had ever done. Apart from maybe the Adam Green one. You never forget your first. Looking back on it, I think I handled it pretty well. I’d change a few things now, but I was all of 18. I was just stoked to be talking to someone that wasn’t in my immediate family.

– DJY, April 2014

***

Amanda Palmer is tired. Exhausted, even. You can hardly blame her, given her excessive touring schedule and the almost shocking contrast of minimal break-time in-between them. What’s worse is the fact that, even in her free time, she is scheduled to speak to journalists about stuff she’s spoken about a million times before.

Even still, amidst the exhaustion there is quite obviously an introspective, chatty and friskily intelligent woman. She’s best known as the leading lady of the Dresden Dolls, but as of recent times a solo artist in her own regard. Last year saw her release, at long last, her debut solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, produced by the one and only Ben Folds.

After in-depth tours of both the States and Europe, it’s time to bring WKAP to Australia, along with the Danger Ensemble, her performance troupe. And yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to celebrate. AFP (Amanda Fucking Palmer) will be visiting out fair shores to coincide with the annual Mardi Gras festival in Sydney.

“I’m a sucker for a good party,” Palmer confesses with a giggle. “I deliberately planned to be in Sydney for the Mardi Gras. I narrowly missed it in Sydney back in 2000; I wound up at the Adelaide Fringe instead and I never forgave myself. It’s a perfect time to be in the city with everybody getting their freak on and going nuts!”

Fear not, non-Sydney fans. Melbourne, a city Palmer herself has oft-described as beautiful, will also be getting its own distinctive visit. This one is going to be even more of a special, exclusive event – she is planning a slumber party.

“I’m taking a little vacation in Melbourne before my shows in Sydney and I wanted to do a really low-key show. So I came up with the idea of doing a free show by making people submit their dreams to be considered for admittance. We’re only letting in twenty people plus one guest each, and it should be REALLY fun.” Amanda also tells of a very special surprise for each of the lucky guest winners, but insisted it to be kept mum (Melburnians, get to it if you wish to find out!).

Despite not having visited our shores since very late 2007, fans here in Australia and the rest of the world have been able to keep in touch with Palmer via her intricately detailed and very interactive blog. Updated regularly, fans worldwide have read on as she discusses the finer points of her own life and the world around her. When questioned on the blog’s importance in regards to connection with the fans, Amanda is, in turn, lightening quick in praising it.

“I’ve grown really attached to it – I kind of rely on it,” she responds timidly. “It’s so amazing that I can have these really direct hits and connections with individual people that I just can’t have when I’m playing a show to 2500 of them. I can do it in the quiet of my own living room with a cup of tea and really sit down and listen to what people are saying and feeling and thinking… I’m a total ‘people junkie’ that way; I really, really like it.”

At the time of our interview, Amanda’s latest blog entry was entitled “On Abortion, Rape, Art and Humour.” It’s all about her latest single from WKAP – Oasis, the ironically upbeat number about a girl who got drunk, got raped and had an abortion. Next to every radio and music video station in the U.K. is refusing to play the song. Whilst one could theorise that Palmer knew the song’s lyrics would elicit some kind of outrage, she insists that she truly wasn’t expecting something of this level.

“I definitely assumed that conservative people wouldn’t like it, but I was really shocked to find out that they wouldn’t play the song,” she states, before adding, “especially things like NME and Kerrang!, who really pride themselves on being ‘edgy.'” Despite her very open frustrations, AFP is quick to look at the positives of her situation. “It brings up some really interesting points, at least,” she continues. “I was happy to write that blog and get people talking about the topic – I think it’s important.”

Amanda Palmer’s body of work is daring, funny, melancholy, theatrical and purposeful – but, most importantly, it is completely open to interpretation. “If someone was to take anything away from it,” begins Palmer, in reference to her music, “I would hope that they would just be inspired to follow their own desires and impulses; maybe be a little radically honest with themselves or with their situation.

“I’m starting to feel lately that it’s really important not to have a ‘message,’” she continues with a slight laugh. “Because I think people need to come up with their own. The minute you have a specific message that you’re preaching, then you close off possibilities for other people. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, because the Oasis thing was a good example. That song doesn’t really have a message, but it doesn’t really have to – sometimes it’s enough to say, ‘I got this idea and I sat down and I did it, and here it is.’ And the undercurrent in that is that so can you, y’know?”

 

2012 – A Year in the Front Row. Part One: Jan/Feb/March

So, here’s an idea I had. I go to so many damn shows, why not do a retrospective? Especially considering 2012 was easily my busiest year of gigs ever. So, here is part one of four. It’s a very brief recount of the year that was, but one I was compelled to share. Enjoy! – DJY

JANUARY

With a slew of bands still staying over from the New Year’s festivals, as well as some perfectly timed tours, my first few weeks of January 2012 were insanely busy. Within the first week alone, I’d seen old favourites Bluejuice, Italian skramz band Raein, U.S. hip-hopper Jean Grae, U.K. movers-and-shakers The Jim Jones Revue, pop-punk heroes Tonight Alive (the first of four times I’d see them this year) and mid-teen heroes The Dresden Dolls. An exhausting highlight reel of great, diverse and interesting music hanging around Sydney and Wollongong at the time.

Unfortunately, the only sour note among the lot was Jean – arriving forty minutes late on stage and proceeding to treat her fans like idiots while barely putting any effort into her rapping still ranks highly among my year’s sorest disappointments. Still, you’ve got to take the good with the bad – and, there was so much good to take.

In particular, I point to the Dresden Dolls show at the Enmore Theatre as still one of the best shows I went to this year. For two-and-a-half hours, I partied like it was 2006 and celebrated the reunion of one of my biggest high-school obsessions. Having seen Amanda solo twice before, I already had an idea of what to expect – but bringing drummer Brian Viglione into the mix sent the entire affair to strange new levels. A great one to tick off the bucket list.

Not long after that, I was headed to Melbourne for the first time ever. I had the honour of playing with former A Death in the Family vocalist/guitarist Jamie Hay – eerily enough, on Friday the 13th, the day that AditF had announced their split. He didn’t let the news get in the way of a phenomenal performance, thankfully. The weekend immediately following this show lead to my main purpose of visiting Melbourne – Sugar Mountain.

An awesome initiative from Two Bright Lakes, this night was the first of three times I would see percussive adventurers tUnE-yArDs in this month. Getting to see the delightful Deerhoof and the blistering Thee Oh Sees was the icing on an already delicious cake. The next night at the Corner Hotel, I got to see tUnE-yArDs doing her thing once again. I appreciated a total switch-up of her live set – she even started on the same song that she had closed with the day before, and vice versa! My final time seeing her was a day after returning home, at the Famous Spiegeltent as a part of the 2012 Sydney Festival. I also managed to sneak in a breathtaking set from U.K. chanteuse Beth Orton at City Recital Hall for the Festival, too. Gotta be happy with that.

Onto a far-less cultured festival, the one and only Big Day Out. I only managed to get in a single sideshow this time, but it was more than worth it. Battles shook the foundations of the Metro Theatre like nobody’s business. Having now seen these guys 4 times, I can affirm their status as mind-melting musos that you could watch individually for a set’s entirety and not get bored. That said, their MVP is unquestonably Mr. John Stanier. ‘Tis no man! ‘Tis a drumming machine! Onto the BDO itself: Highlights included the bombastic Kanye headlining set, the world-class rock & roll of Soundgarden, Cage the Elephant and My Chemical Romance and the insane celebratory dance party of Girl Talk. Despite relatively poor ticket sales, BDO was a tonne of fun.

The month finished with a quick visit to Wollongong for day 2 of the Stacked Music Festival. Although I attended almost exclusively for Sydney legends Gay Paris, there were also a few treats thrown in for good measure – local champions The Conspiracy Plan, brattish post-punks Chicks Who Love Guns and the always-delightful folk-rockers The Pennys.

TOP 5:

  1. The Dresden Dolls
  2. tUnE-yArDs
  3. Kanye West
  4. Battles
  5. Jamie Hay

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Jean Grae, plus the shitty local band that opened for Tonight Alive whose name escapes me.

+++

FEBRUARY

I was eased into February quite nicely by one of my favourite events in Blood, Sweat and Beers. This show would mark the first of many times I would see positive-thinking pop-rockers Milhouse, as well as sets from Canberran bong-ripping favourites I Exist, Tassie boys Luca Brasi, country bumpkins Wagons and the brilliant Harmony. With Laneway in town, I caught a sideshow for Canadian sensation Leslie Feist, although admittedly I was going almost exclusively for her support in the delightful Mountain Man. These sweet-singing ladies subsequently wiped the floor with Feist herself, who was half-an-hour late on stage and caught up in her own self indulgences too much to make this show worthwhile.

I then returned to my second home of the Annandale Hotel for three shows headlined by Michigan post-hardcore cult heroes La Dispute. These shows were just as inspiring and engaging as the very first time I saw them back in 2009, but for very different reasons. The 2009 shows were inspiring on account of an American band doing a completely D.I.Y. Australian tour that was done out a pure love for what they do as a band.

These shows were inspiring on account of seeing a relatively little-known band playing a very unfriendly style of music managing to pack out the Annandale for three shows with a huge, hungry and wildly boisterous audience. In other words, they’ve more or less arrived in Australia. We also got some fantastic local supports at these shows: Let Me Down Jungleman, Hira Hira (shout out to Jack Wotton for doing double duty!), Perspectives, Between the Devil and the Deep, Making and the late, great Animal Shapes.

Nearing the end of the month, I got to spend some quality time with some of my songwriting heroes – namely, Dan Mangan and Ben Gibbard. The former played a wondrously joyful set at Notes in Newtown, while the latter lead his band (and one of my all-time favourites), Death Cab for Cutie, into a second headlining show at the Enmore Theatre just up the road. Despite an annoying, iPhone-ready audience, I still had a great time at my third Death Cab show.

Sandwiched in-between Dan and DcfC was SoundDave, a DIY all-day festival held at another one of my Sydney “homes,” Black Wire Records, curated by Milhouse/Between the Devil and the Deep bassist/FBi radio personality/all-round heartthrob Dave Drayton. I was a volunteer for the entire day, and was so happy to be involved. Highlights including decidedly bitchin’ sets from Epics, Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt and Surprise Wasp, fronted by Gay Paris bassist Dean “Slim Pickin’s” Podmore. Top stuff.

Although I gave Soundwave a miss, I still managed to wrap up the month with two great “Sidewaves” at the Metro Theatre. The first was the final Sydney show from Thursday, a band that I will gladly admit meant a hell of a lot more to most people in that room than me. I was a late bloomer for Thursday, only really getting into them later in high school. And I was a War All the Time guy, as opposed to a Full Collapse guy, which was the album they were playing in its entirety. Even so, I came out of that show with a mountain of respect for what they accomplished in their time, and it was an honour to be a part of it. Finally getting to see Circa Survive live was also a treat.

A few days later, on a rare February 29th, I got a triple-horned hardcore treat with Enter Shikari, letlive. and Your Demise. Each put on a great set with their own style and energy, but I’d be kidding myself if I wasn’t there to get properly mental to letlive. After discovering them in mid-2011, I vowed that I’d be front row centre as soon as they toured. And so it was – I screamed, I jumped, I climbed on things and I essentially acted all of the ways a 21-year-old really, really shouldn’t. And it was GLORIOUS.

TOP 5:

  1. La Dispute
  2. Dan Mangan
  3. letlive.
  4. Death Cab for Cutie
  5. I Exist

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Feist. Sorry, babe. Maybe next time.

+++

MARCH

A pinch, a punch and some motherfucking MASTODON for the first of the month! Don’t mind if I do, thanks. With French destroyers Gojira and Norwegian warriors Kvelertak in tow, my brother Chris and I were treated to one of the most brutal shows I’ve seen all year. This was also the first of three shows at new Sydney venue The Hi-Fi I would attend this month, and all within a few days of one another. The very next day, I saw the delightful Ben Kweller doing his thing, while on the Sunday I’d finally get to see Manchester Orchestra live. Along with my ridiculously similar appearance to Andy Hull, I love all of their albums, especially Mean Everything to Nothing. Watching the band play “Everything to Nothing” live is one of the few gig moments from 2012 where I’ve actually teared up. Truly incredible stuff.

With Future Music Festival in town, I had yet another chance to see Die Antwoord after catching them at both the 2011 Big Day Out and at their show with M.I.A. the very next day, at which they completely blew her off the stage. Here, I found them in the illustrious surrounds of the Enmore, which was decidedly packed full of people from the Zef Side of Sydney. Despite going on late, they put on a truly fantastic show – bounding energy and a seemingly endless supply of bangers.

Next up was a return to Black Wire, to see the hilarious Battle Pope get rowdy along with Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt, The Reverend Jesse Custer and Jesus Christ Posse. Right there is four of my favourite heavy bands in the country, so that was more or less a dream come true. Another festival in March was Golden Plains, and from the cool streets of Portland came the femme-fatale quartet of Wild Flag. Lots of dancing to be had at their show at the Manning Bar with Love of Diagrams and impressive upstarts Unity Floors.

I’ve had the chance to do multiple shows on tours a few times this year, as evidenced back in February with La Dispute. These next two shows would be the first of two times I’d double up on some Children Collide action this year, bringing my grand total to nine times of seeing them live. For what it’s worth, they never let me down. Although the turnout for their Metro Theatre show was abysmal, they packed out the Patch in Wollongong and put on a truly hectic show for all involved.

During the final song, I decided to flip myself off the foldback and into the crowd. Half-expecting to fall to the ground, I ended up being carried all the way to the back of the venue, eventually toppling downward in-front of my bug-eyed sister, who could not believe her baby brother had just crowdsurfed like an absolute champion. Good times. Shout out to the killer supports, Deep Sea Arcade and Palms.

Nearing the end of the month, I was back at Black Wire to see two of my favourite Australian musicians, and people that I’m honoured to count as friends – Jamie Hay and Jen Buxton. I also had the pleasure of meeting Jen’s little dude, Eli. He has the biggest cheeks I’ve ever seen. I showed a world of restraint for not just sinking my teeth directly into them. Don’t tell her I said that, of course.

Oh yeah, I also saw Evanescence. The less said about that, the better. At least Blaqk Audio were pretty good.

TOP 5:

  1. Manchester Orchestra
  2. Mastodon
  3. Die Antwoord
  4. Children Collide
  5. Jamie Hay and Jen Buxton

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Evanescence. Childhood memories tainted forever by this soulless display of mediocrity.