The Art of Amanda Palmer

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By Andréa Baker and Kristen Scott.

theartofasking_imageIt’s official. US punk cabaret superstar, queen of social media and crowd funding pioneer, Amanda (F****ing) Palmer loves St Kilda.

She even wrote a song about it, “From St Kilda to Fitzroy” on her famed, yet controversial, 2012 album Theatre is Evil.

“I love St Kilda, if you were going to build a city for Amanda Palmer, this is the city. It’s got all the right ingredients…Good coffee, great food. There is enough art, and the people are really real and the connections are real”.

I felt we also had a connection the day we meet to discuss Palmer’s recent memoir The Art of Asking, which is largely based around her highly acclaimed March 2013 TED talk about her kickstarter crowd funding success.

The Queen of DIY, Palmer was not ashamed of asking 25,000 of her loyal fans (“her crowd”) to kickstart her album Theatre is Evil to the tune of over $US1.2 million.

But this action cuts out the middle man in the music process (major labels, giant marketers, media outlets) and gathers critics along the way.

Love her or hate her. Amanda F Palmer is a polarising figure who rose to iconic status as the most successful musician worldwide to use the Kickstarter funding platform.

So what is the book about? “It’s about music, asking and relationships”, she replied.

“So when it comes to asking, you have got your triangle of vulnerability, art and the act of asking, that is the currency that makes the relationship with the other person on the other side of the table real”, Palmer added.

So in terms of vulnerability in what ways was it different to writing The Art of Asking as opposed to writing songs such as “From St Kilda to Fitzroy”?

“The most obvious difference is that in my music I easily fictionalise, and over fictionalise to throw everything off. Every time I fictionalised in the book I felt inauthentic. But there parts of the book that I had to fictionalise to protect people”.

“With writing a piece of nonfiction, there was a real struggle between sharing the information, protecting the human being, and protecting myself. I wanted to get that balance right and not come across as pretentious or phoney”, Palmer noted.

Palmer rose to fame at 25 with the punk cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls, which she formed with drummer Brian Viglione. Three years later in 2003 the duo signed to the metal rock label Roadrunner Records, which was a subsidy of Warner Music.

“I never would have though broken in Australia if I was not on Roadrunner Records, and The Dresden Dolls have been the darling of ABC JJJ all of 2003”, she said.

But the nexus behind The Art of Asking is Palmer’s disagreement with Roadrunner Records.

The record label was disappointed with The Dresden Dolls’ record sales of 25,000. They also wanted to edit out parts of Palmer’s stomach in the video, Yes Virginia. This infuriated Palmer and the memoir details how she dramatised feeling clucky to get off the label.

Years later Palmer asked those same 25,000 loyal fans to crowd fund the album, Theatre is Evil, with her new band the Grand Theft Orchestra, which recorded in Melbourne.

This is the art of Amanda F Palmer, her connection to her fans, and she is not afraid to talk about it, or write about it.

“The fan base has been like one big significant other to me, a thousand-headed friend with whom I have a real committed partnership”, she says in her memoir.

Some reviewers have called Palmer’s memoir a “book of contradictions” and that she has “helped but also hindered the music industry”.

Palmer responds:

 “I would like those people to tell me what the music industry is? I see the music industry as a collision of something that was, and something that is becoming. Because the music industry right now is still major labels, giant marketers, huge media outlets, and your Justin Bieber’s and Lady Gaga’s.”

 “But it’s also my ability just to connect directly with people and skip over all of those steps. It does not exist to the mainstream media because they are not involved, but it certainly exists and I am certainly able to make a living from it”.

 “Is it the music industry? Or is it just Amanda F Palmer and her fans in exchanging things. They are getting music and I am getting the money and nobody gives a shit?”.


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