10/25/2010 08:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Amanda Palmer on Life, Art, Music, and Smashing Paradigms: So Much is Possible, and I Want to Do it All!

The fact is, talking to Amanda Palmer can very well cause one to feel like a complete slacker, no matter how much of a workaholic you happen to be. Because in fact this woman is going two hundred miles an hour, and in just the past three months, she has achieved the following:
  • Starred as the Kit Kat Club's Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret at Boston's American Repertory Theater for a sold out three month run
  • Performed several nights a week onstage after the Cabaret performances in Boston, with a revolving cast of special guests, in a series of shows called the Late Night Fucking Cabaret
  • Self-Released an EP called Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukelele
  • Discovered a Young Pianist, Tristan Allen, on the street in Boston, and initiated a Kickstarter campaign to fund his first studio recording, which she produced
  • Co-wrote the Evelyn Evelyn graphic novel with Jason Webley, which will be published in December, with incredible artwork by Cynthia von Buhler
  • Announced the long-awaited return of the Dresden Dolls, with their 10th Anniversary Tour starting on Halloween in New York City
  • Masterminded a Live Loft Party/Webcast Salon Soiree in Brooklyn starring Zoe Boekbinder, Bitter Ruin, Natti Vogel, Meow Meow, Lance Horne, and Sxip Shirey as well as her own bad self
  • Recorded a track for Lance Horne's debut album, which has its own Kickstarter project, and features his songs sung by a star studded group of artists including Alan Cumming, Ricki Lake, and more
  • Recorded tracks for a soundtrack EP of Cabaret to be released next spring

In a recent chat, Amanda admitted to being exhausted, but also happy. "I take too much on," she admitted, "I'm not an expert at scheduling, that's for sure." As for the production of Cabaret that has been a screaming success, with sold out shows from day one and rave reviews, Amanda said the whole thing had been just like a dream. "I've been fantasizing about doing this production with this director [Steven Bogart] for ten years. Literally." Bogart had been her drama teacher and mentor at Lexington High School years ago. "It's been as perfect as I fantasized...I'm really, really happy I chose to do it." The three month run ends later this week. After each show, Amanda has hosted what she's called the Late Night Fucking Cabaret which, each night, features a different roster of special guest performers.

Oh, and on top of all of these things, she's got a staff of five who are working diligently behind the scenes to help her change the world. I don't intend any exaggeration here, because Amanda has made it her mission to smash the paradigms of the music industry and create and sustain a patronage-based working business model. It's working for her - and quite a few others (Kristin Hersh, for instance). Will they be living in a mansion a la Jay Z anytime soon? Probably not, but that was never the point.

In July, she released the EP Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukelele to wild critical acclaim and a download price of as low as 84 cents for the entire record - 7 songs. There was also a limited vinyl edition of 1,000 (now sold out) plus a number of other package deals that ranged in price up to $1,000 (this package included a 3GS iPhone and a DVD-R of music videos, outtake photos from album shoots, alternate album art, a personal phone call during which Amanda played the song of your choice from the record, and a recording of your very own haiku sung by Amanda accompanied by the aforementioned magical ukulele).

Had it been a success in real terms? "Absolutely. And I think every project I put out I may do slightly differently, but for me and where I'm at in my career and with my fan base it was a great experiment. And I really like the idea of making things dirt cheap with an additional space for donations because I think that's the way people need to mentally head in order to make the music industry even viable and to make a world possible for working class musicians. I think that's honestly the key."

The music industry is so far behind the curve on this, because there's no place for them anymore in this scenario. Gone are the days - for the most part - of a record company advance which must be recouped from an artist's royalties. The artist was responsible for bankrolling not only the recording of the record itself, but also - partially - the costs of promotion and touring. The only artists that made money in these scenarios were the hugely successful ones - on the level of Bowie, the Stones, U2, Springsteen.

Roadrunner Records - from which she was ecstatically liberated earlier this year - had been Amanda's label for years, since the Dresden Dolls. "I remember going into Roadrunner six months after {Radiohead's} In Rainbows came out, and I was in the office of the top executives, and one of them said to the other, 'and did you hear about this Radiohead thing?' And one of the guys was like, 'no, what's the Radiohead thing?' 'Oh, well, they put their record out for free' and I was like - 'where were you guys? What newspaper were you not reading that you could have possibly missed this?'"

This is obviously a subject that she's spent a hell of a lot of time thinking about and figuring out, and she recently attended a kind of summit to figure out how the music industry can effectively be re-structured. "I feel like if society in general and fans and audiences and artists can all kind of come to an agreement that patronage is a really viable system, that's going to solve a lot of the problems. Obviously punishing people for sharing what is in reality free digital content is never going to work. Monetizing it has proven to be like an impossible task and everyone has tried something different and stuff's not really working, and sales are tanking."

"I don't think people give enough credit to people who love music - and that they actually like supporting it. {The music industry} doesn't have enough faith in people to see that ... it's not just about money and the bottom line, and dollars and cents, and I don't think they realize how good it makes people feel to support artists. People actively love giving money to artists who touch them and change them, or make them dance. So I think the key to unlocking this whole dilemma is going to be in there, if people are willing to go there, and say you know what? It's kind of a messy system and you lose some stability and you lose some predictability, but you never really had that to begin with."

In fact, just a few days before our interview, Amanda had spoken to a journalist from Rolling Stone for an article about crowd funding, which had apparently finally made its way to the mainstream enough for them to write about it - though I wish they'd been talking to her about the amazing trajectory of her career instead. Which brings me to the recent project she did with young Tristan Allen who she met on the streets of Boston last month. In a matter of two days, using the Kickstarter platform, she raised three times the money needed to produce and record his first studio recording. I don't know about you, but that kind of blows my mind. I asked her if she could imagine doing more things like that in the future with other artists.

"Yeah, absolutely. What a cool fucking way to run a record label! You obviously have to have some credibility to begin with, but I'm basically saying to my fan base, and to the public - trust my taste, fund this record, and I will go in and produce it, I'll make sure it's awesome. I'll make sure the packaging is beautiful and I will make it worth your while. And you know, so they have to trust me, but it's also like when you used to trust a record label and you actually signed up for their 7-inch of the month program because you trusted that you'd want what came in the mail - it's a faith based, trust based system."

She went on to add, "It's also such a web 4.0 phenomenon with Tristan because I think a lot of the people who funded the album were literally reading my Twitter feed when I ran into the kid on the street." She's been accused of oversharing on Twitter, which seems ridiculous, frankly, because Twitter is nothing but a scrolling billboard of oversharing from anyone and everyone. Last time I checked, she had almost a half million people who were interested in her musings - which range from discovering Tristan to the link for her latest blog to dropping her iPhone in the toilet and a thousand other subjects.

As I expressed my incredulousness about the 9K that was raised in two days for Tristan's record when only 3K was needed, Amanda agreed: "Yeah, it's amazing. But it's also totally personal. No part of the story is mysterious, the fan base is following the whole thing. The only moment they weren't there for is the moment where I'm standing in the shower saying, that was awesome." She admitted that ideas like this are the ones that tend to derail the scheduling problems she already has in spades. "Maybe I should take my one weekend off and - in parentheses, this is why I fucking suffer but that's fine - and make a record with the kid; why not? And that's also where I get into trouble, that's where we veer into the conversation of Amanda, why are you such a wreck. It's because I want to do everything. So much is possible, and I want to do it all!"

That being said, we both agreed that yoga and meditation are something that provide what Amanda called a "meta-grounding": "Because you're just awake to what's going on...but it's just about having that extra layer and that perspective of not being completely caught up in your story." She went on to say that a daily practice, yoga since her teenage years and meditation since her early twenties, was essential. "You have to make the time to take care of yourself in that way or your insides get chipped away."

Did she, in fact, see in the future taking some time off figuratively puffing on a corncob pipe and watching the sunset over the mountains from a porch swing? "Probably!" she said. "I'm committed to making myself happy. One of the things I think, especially as a touring musician, I'm constantly redefining and having to accept my own redefinition of what makes me happy, and it's really hard to do."

"This is a weird career. There is absolutely nobody to guide me, whether to do this or do that, play with these people, reform the Dresden Dolls, do another solo tour, or make another album, quit and do theater, go off to an ashram - everything seems possible all the time." She noted that no one hands you a guidebook and says, this is how it's done, which makes it all the more difficult, and you're constantly wondering if you want to do something, "or if you're listening to the distant traces of other selves who once wanted what you think you still want - it's very confusing."

Amanda admitted, "I find it hilarious especially when young musicians come up to me and say, you obviously have all the answers, what am I supposed to do? And I just look at them and laugh heartily - because if they think I've got it figured out... I mean, good God!" to which she commenced to laugh heartily.

A week after this interview took place I was Amanda's guest at the Saturday night webcast on October 9th she had set up in a friend's Brooklyn loft. The show began with the incredible Zoe Boekbinder, formerly of the twisted folk cabaret duo Vermillion Lies. Composer/Lyricist Lance Horne (Cabaret's Music Director), whose debut album project is now on Kickstarter, featuring his songs performed by many luminaries (read about it here) performed, as did Natti Vogel (who had just finished touring solo through China), Bitter Ruin (a duo from England who are described as noir indie-folk and not like anything you've ever seen - incredible!), and the redoubtable Meow Meow (she makes you feel like you're kicking back in a brothel in Shanghai watching the best stage show you've ever seen, sipping a brandy snifter).

After these good folk performed to the cozy crowd within and those watching on the web, and to finish out the evening Amanda did a 12 song set which included Dresden Dolls favorites like Missed Me (sung by Meow Meow), Delilah, and Sex Changes; a couple of songs from Cabaret; her haunting version of Radiohead's High and Dry; songs from the Who Killed Amanda Palmer record (Ampersand, Astronaut); a new song (The Bed Song); an old song (Massachusetts Avenue); and John Lennon's Imagine, performed in honor of his 70th birthday that day.

When we discussed the webcast the week before, Amanda told me she intended to treat it as an experiment to do a full concert in a small space but keeping the focus on the interactivity with the web audience watching. "It's going to be an interesting night because it's kind of part family, part fans - it's going to be really interactive, it's not just going to be a one way conversation and I'm going to be doing a lot of back and forth with the people watching the webcast."

Sunday October 31 is the kick off date for the Dresden Dolls Tenth Anniversary Tour which will conclude on New Years Eve in San Francisco. Opening night at New York City's Irving Plaza sold out in a flash. Amanda is looking forward to reuniting onstage with drummer Brian Viglione. "Yeah, we're a force." It's a real tenth year celebration as they met at a Halloween party in 2000. "Brian says he saw me play and his jaw hit the floor and he said, 'I've got to be in a band with this woman.' We started jamming in his rehearsal space and then my basement the week after that, and the band was born - it was like coup de foudre!" (that's Français for lightning bolt, mes chères)

What's in the cards for 2011? Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under will be released in January, distributed in the stores in Australia where she will be touring until March. Here in the States, the record will be available via internet download and mail order. "And after that, I'm not sure. And I'm really happy not being sure. What I'd really like to do is take a few months off and I'd like to spend some time in New York, and I'd like to connect with myself again and not throw myself headfirst into the next project, which is always really tempting," she said. "I might schedule some little shows in New York, but I won't schedule any touring, I'm not going to start making a new record, I'm not going to commit to anything. Even if I go broke doing it, I'm just going to let myself live for a little while."

She also has a record finished in her head - the follow up to 2008's brilliant Who Killed Amanda Palmer - and part of her wants to get into the studio and start recording although she knows that's at least a year and a half commitment. "I don't think I'm ready to jump back on that train yet. Especially because it's so good," she giggled, "I think I need to give this one my full on planning and time and the attention it deserves. In order to do that I need to shut down, power down, reboot, empty out the trash, etc."

"I also think I'm at the point I think if I disappear for a year it's not like anyone's going to forget about me," she mused.

That's for damn sure.

Dresden Dolls Tour Dates here

Amanda Palmer's website here

Amanda Palmer's Twitter here