Ten days and 65 years after the Normandy Landings, Amanda Palmer will have her very own D-Day. It’ll be the day she finds out whether or not she will be allowed to devolve from Roadrunner Records, the major-label subsidiary she says has sabotaged her album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer. The D in this case will stand for either ‘drop’ or ‘disaster’. June 16th 2009; mark it in your diaries.
“I may have a little party,” she says with a sharp, arch laugh as we perch on stools in the kitchen of a bijou Camden flat. “Maybe I’ll make it a vigil. Maybe we’ll go on a symbolic fast… or a binge! Everybody eat to get Amanda dropped and send in pictures of your ever-fattening bodies to my A&R guy!” Cake in the name of liberation? Now that’s a concept I can stand by.
The delicious irony of Amanda’s pro-gluttonous idea has a short yet tragic history. In November last year Roadrunner execs had what can at best be described as a total awareness bypass, and at worst a cheap and tacky (though admittedly successful) attempt to gain free publicity for an album they refuse to support, instructing Amanda that certain shots in the video for her song Leeds United would have to be edited out because she looked too fat. I’m sorry, what? Fat is what’s blocked up their central retinal arteries; Amanda Palmer is perfectly normal, at least in terms of body shape.
It’s on London’s now consecrated Snow Day that I trudge up to Amanda’s temporary home and ring the doorbell. A clatter of footsteps rains down from the upper floor, the door opens and Amanda appears much like a character on Sesame Street might, her head perpendicular to the doorframe. “I’ve just built a fucking snowman!” she beams.
But all is not so rosy as our cold-blushed cheeks. Just a few days before she arrived in London, Amanda was told that her next planned single, Oasis, had UK radio in uproar over its “controversial” lyrics that “make light of date rape and abortion.” That’s one interpretation, and according to Amanda any interpretation of art is valid, but it’s probably the most narrow-minded.
Amanda is adamant that they have missed her point entirely. Sure, it’s a catchy Beach Boys-styled pop number about a teenage girl who has an abortion after being date raped while drunk at a party but is more concerned with getting a letter from Oasis‘ Gallagher brothers, but Amanda maintains it is deeply ironic and essentially a commentary on girls not taking themselves seriously. Not overtly political, just “a character sketch, a very real one, because I do see a lot of hazy denial and lack of ownership.” Amanda is pro-choice “but anti-stupid.”
“Everyone is reeeally fucking touchy right now,” she tuts, alluding to the hysteria surrounding the Sachsgate radio ‘scandal’ involving Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross. “There’s definitely a fine line between a sense of humour and offending, but you have to be able to push the line otherwise you end up in a fascist society.
“The beautiful thing about art is that it can be whatever you want.”
– Amanda Palmer
“The beautiful thing about art is that it can be whatever you want; you cannot pin it down. You as an artist can have your own interpretation of it and you can defend that to the death, but if someone wants to see your still-life painting of fruit as a representation of white power, they’re allowed. It’s all subjective.”
This rather begs the question of why Amanda is making such a big deal about the airplay ban, but with Roadrunner making little effort to publicise her album you can hardly blame her for making a stance. Radio bosses are entitled to their opinions, but Amanda’s beef is with their refusal to let their listeners find their own interpretations in the song. “A song like Oasis has to be able to exist, and you have to be able to make art like that so that things can move forward and so that people actually can feel comfortable talking about things like abortion and rape.
“The fact that I’m a woman singing about it should count for something, and the fact that I have actually had those experiences shouldn’t totally matter one way or the other but I feel like it gives me extra points.” She giggles, almost inviting further questioning on the matter, but I don’t take the bait. “I would have to be completely on Mars to be singing something like that if I thought it was going to undercut the idea of empowering women.” And with that she declares her little rant over.
We get on to the topic of her new DVD. Out this summer, it’s a collection of all the videos made to promote Who Killed Amanda Palmer, with a few exclusive extras including a 20-minute two-way interview between Amanda and longtime video director Michael Pope filmed in her home. Of course, it won’t count as an album under her Roadrunner contract, though they will release it. She currently has no plans to start recording a proper follow up, certainly not before next winter, and would like a longer break than she’s allowed herself thus far.
For now her motivation is to keep her career going, connecting with people and making music. With relations at Roadrunner now irreparably soured, Amanda says she is less interested in selling more copies of her album than she is in just having new people hear it. “Every gig that I play has less and less to do with the record company and the record itself, every moment,” she says.
“I’m just biding my time until June. The label are fighting a losing battle because I will continue to tour, sell merchandise, publish books, and earn income in all these other ways, while the record sales are just going to decrease over the next few years. If they think it’s valuable enough to have me on their roster as a dangling carrot for some idiotic incoming bands stupid enough to sign a contract, then they might opt to keep me just because they can.” She trails off briefly. “I hope they don’t. It would make me sick.”
Amanda hasn’t given up on her album yet though, harbouring a hope that the record she loves so much will take on a life of its own through the internet and that people will share it. Surprisingly, she says she often meets Dresden Dolls fans who don’t even know her album exists. “I have a lot of faith that it’s actually going to work,” she smiles. “That’s what happened with the first Dolls record. It had a little push at the beginning, but not much. It was years and years of word of mouth.
“I still see posts all the time saying ‘I just discovered this fantastic band the Dresden Dolls, you should check out Half Jack and Coin-Operated Boy.’ And I’m like, well, it’s 2009; the debut came out six years ago; so hopefully in 2014 people out there will be finding Who Killed Amanda Palmer, and that record will stand the test of time. I think it’s fantastic.”
Two days later, during a thoroughly ramshackle show at Camden’s Electric Ballroom, it strikes me that Amanda was right; her performance had very little to do with anything but Amanda giving to and feeding off her fans. She answers to no one but her instincts, and love or loathe her music, you can’t help but admire that.