The album is titled “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?”
But it really should be called “Amanda Palmer Killed It!”
The bisexual Dresden Dolls singer-songwriter-pianist is pushing her own brand of dark-punk cabaret music and art on all fronts, more than a year after the release of her debut solo album.
When Palmer performed in Philadelphia last year, it was just her on piano, backed up by a ragtag band of Australian performance artists (who were working for tips) and the occasional sax player. Even with such a minimalist production, she blew the doors off TLA with a powerful yet artistically nuanced show.
Palmer said she had to make the most of what little resources she had, but that it was worth it to interact with her fans.
“The fact that we were touring on a shoestring meant that we had to do a lot of personal reaching-out to the fans for money and whatnot,” she said. “The general vibe — even at the biggest Dresden Dolls shows, where we were making tons of money and staying in hotels — that feeling has never gone away. I really like being down on the floor and connecting with everybody: That’s why I do this. The day I get yanked off stage and whisked off to some holding cell is the day I just quit.”
For her hotly anticipated East Coast tour, which finds her back at TLA Nov. 18, Palmer brings a healthier complement of musicians.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “The opening band is going to stay on as my back-up band. I heard they’re incredible people but I haven’t met any of them yet. We have two rehearsals before the show, so it’s going to be a kamikaze back-up-band experience.”
Palmer said working with a band this time around will affect how spontaneous she can be.
“It’s not like I can tell the band, ‘Let’s play one of the 80 songs that I’ve written,’” she said. “We’re going to practice a certain setlist and that’s what we’re going to have to draw from. But in terms of creativity, there’s a wonderful energy that only comes out of having a gang of freaks on stage that you just don’t get when it’s a girl at the piano. I don’t think there will be any overall lack of spontaneity.”
If you’re wondering why Palmer, who has a sizable cult following in addition to critical acclaim from her work with the Dresden Dolls, is solely footing the bill for her own tour, it’s because she isn’t seeing eye to eye with her label, Roadrunner Records. Actually, she is publicly feuding with Roadrunner because the label, whose roster is populated with hard-rock and metal bands, doesn’t know what to do with her unique brand of music, according to Palmer. But what really set her off, she said, is when the label wanted to edit her video for “Leeds United” because her exposed stomach in the video “looked fat.”
Palmer is campaigning to get dropped from the label and encouraging fans to buy her merchandise directly from her or her Web site.
“I would like to think that I’m winning,” she said of the feud. “I feel very superstitious talking about it because I don’t want to fuck it up. I think I’m doing OK. It’s looking good. They do not have a vested interest in my success. If they had a vested interest in my success, they would be doing things differently.”
Doing things differently is a way of life for Palmer. Most artists are content to put out a record, tour and repeat for as long as humanly possible. Palmer is taking the road less traveled by creating a number of projects connected to “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?” including limited-edition “artisan scents” (that means perfume) and a DVD of songs on the album. There’s also the book “Who Killed Amanda Palmer: A Collection of Photographic Evidence,” a 130-page tome featuring more than 100 photographs of dead and sometimes-naked Amanda Palmers with stories written by her current boyfriend, acclaimed fantasy author Neil Gaiman.
“The book was sort of my pet project that I was working [on] on the side for a long time with my assistant,” Palmer said. “The videos were my idea along with [underground filmmaker] Michael Pope, because we understood at this point that these would never be on MTV. They would pretty much only be viewed on YouTube and on DVD. We played to the medium and said this is specifically what it’s going to be.”
Palmer said she never bought into the standard model employed by most recording artists.
“One thing that I’ve found very confusing is artists who work on album cycles. It never made sense to me. In the early days of the Dresden Dolls, people would be talking about the album, the album, the album. And [drummer] Brian [Viglione] and I were going like, sure, the album, but we’re going to be touring anyway. People want to see ‘the band’ no matter what ‘the band’ is doing, whether we have an album out or not. I’ve never really followed a specific course of putting out an album, promoting it, touring and then stopping and starting that process over again. I look at my entire life as the artwork and touring with constant output and constant input.”
She added that her artistic endeavors come more from spur-of-the-moment impulses rather than from some elaborate business plan.
“I just kind of have an existence mentality,” she said. “I mostly just want to do stuff. It sometimes involves touring and sometimes involves making an album, but I don’t strategize that much. To the dismay of the managers and agents, I find myself saying, what I want to do is go to Singapore so let’s book some shows. What I want to do is make an album and put it out right away. What I want to do is go visit my family in L.A. so let’s book a show. I really try to plan my career around life instead of my life around my career. I realized it does not have to be that way. You can plan your life and make art on the way, and sort of invite people to the party as you want.”
Given that philosophy, it’s not surprising Palmer doesn’t have any answers regarding the future of the Dresden Dolls.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
She did say she doesn’t view Amanda Palmer the solo artist as an entity that has greater or lesser success than the Dolls.
“In the Dresden Dolls, I was functioning the same way and so was Brian. We were doing what we wanted. I think that’s the key ingredient to being a successful artist. You do what you want. The Dresden Dolls was so much, in effect, about my relationship with Brian and, now that I’m solo, it has a lot to do with my relationship with the audience.”
Palmer performs at 8 p.m. Nov. 18 at TLA, 334 South St. For more information, visit www.amandapalmer.net or call (215) 922-1011.