Amanda Palmer on speaking truth to power through experience
Photo: Allan Amato

Amanda Palmer is not one to keep things bottled up. With a career that began with her trailblazing two-piece cabaret-meets-punk band the Dresden Dolls, Palmer introduced herself as a defiantly confessional singer-songwriter with no reservations on tackling difficult subject matter. Ever since the Dolls came raging onto the scene in the early 2000s, Palmer has had a long career full of rewarding albums that have held a sideshow mirror up to society.

Her newest album, “There Will Be No Intermission,” is a new high-water mark for Palmer as a storyteller. The album finds her stripping back her sometimes frantic and brutal arrangements in exchange for lush orchestrations that surround the songs making her playing — mainly on piano and ukulele — and her voice the centerpiece of her unflinchingly honest narratives.    

Amanda Palmer demands full-attention with her new album "There Will Be No Intermission"

Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer. Photo: Kahn and Selesnick. 

The album is highly autobiographical as it takes the listener on a life-spanning arc through Palmer’s life, from seventh grade to today, a span of time that saw Palmer become a victim of sexual assault, go through the horrendous experience of having an abortion, and build a family of her own in her forties with celebrated author Neil Gaiman. Her stories are woven with a stream-of-consciousness quality, giving the album a sense of importance that ties directly to our current moment.    

“I think that’s why this album can never be really tangled out from this moment in time, in 2019,” says Palmer of her own experiences that provided inspiration for the album. “With #MeToo just having happened, with Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby just having been brought down, with Hannah Gadsby just having taken stage, there’s a realization right now that the truth of our stories is actually the most powerful weapon that we have, and marching in the streets is powerful, and clicking on a petition on change.org can be powerful, and calling your senator can also be powerful. But the sharpest tool in our arsenal, especially as women, is standing up and stating the naked truth of our experience. Because the truth is the f—king truth. And when women simply get up and say it, it’s inarguable.”

 

The standout on the album is the song “Voicemail for Jill,” where Palmer leaves a message for a friend who is planning on getting an abortion in the morning. The song ponders why people throw parties for both births and deaths but not for those who go through one of the most unimaginable experiences possible. The song successfully humanizes the issue of abortion by speaking plainly with a resounding sense of empathy that is missing from the politicization that tends to hijack the issue.

“Of course, there’s a human side to abortions, because for every abortion there’s a human being who has to get up in the morning and go get an abortion,” explains Palmer. “We forget that we get so caught up in the rhetoric and the theorizing and the politics and the policy. But, tons of women in America have gone through this. And every single woman in America has woken up to their alarm that morning knowing that’s the walk they’re going to have to take. And the way things are set up in our system right now is that it’s either a walk of shame or, if not, it’s a walk of secrecy. Because no one wants to rock the boat, and we’re doing such a terrible job as a society taking care of one another. In those moments, and many others. As we can clearly see what is going on in our country right now. We’re just so bad with taking care of each other right now. The number of women who just suffer in silence in the lead-up to an abortion and on the day of and in the aftermath is just devastating. But it’s not a crisis, you know? An epidemic emotion crisis that women suffer is pretty ignorable and is never going to be given top billing on the national agenda. And, I wouldn’t mind adding, the men who suffer through these horrific emotional and complex experiences of abortions are pretty much erased as well. Because I know as many men who have been through difficult abortions as I know women. And no one f—king talks about it.”   

While many songwriters have burned through albums in order to earn the hard-won emotional calluses to be completely open and honest in their lyrics, Palmer had come out of the gate early on in her career with a bravery in storytelling in those early Dresden Dolls albums that announced her as one of the most unique songwriters of her generation. Knowing that only makes the new depths reached on “Intermission” such a revelation for longtime fans. But how does this beyond-skin-deep vulnerability take its toll on the artist herself?    

“Of course, it scares the s–t out of me,” Palmer says with a laugh. “But it also feels like it’s been part of my personal growth to get to the point where I know it scares the s–t out of me but I know I have enough immunity to do it anyway. Because I wasn’t able to do that at 25. I was just barely able to stand up armed with a wall of metaphor, screaming at a piano, and saying things plainly and quietly was way too frightening for me. And that has changed because I feel so much more powerful than that 25-year-old girl.”

Baring her soul has paid off throughout the years, both on a musical and business level. Palmer was one of the first artists to really revolutionize the notion that independent artists could forgo the process of going through a traditional record label cycle and, rather, crowdsource funds for projects, building a more tightly formed relationship between an artist and her fans. Back in 2015, Palmer was able to raise $1.2 million through Kickstarter and since has gone on to write a book and even give a TED Talk on the subject. Given the fluidity of the changing of hands between Palmer and her fans, it can sometimes be a lot playing the part of “Amanda Palmer,” especially with an album this personal.  

“That’s sort of the problem with being Amanda Palmer,” Palmer explains. “When you write s–t that’s personal and you sort of live in your echo chamber and fan cave, it’s frightening to put out a record like this because you just don’t know. I really live in an insular world because I do have a small group of fans who love the stories and love the emotion and love the forthright nature of it, but I know it’s not everyone’s bag.”

Palmer’s tour around “There Will Be No Intermission” will see her playing theaters across the country, where she plans to perform not only songs from the new album and the rest of her robust career but some choice selections from the Disney catalog as well. Because you have to lighten the mood somehow.

“I’ve really distilled what it is I want to say down to about three hours of stories, paired with songs from the album, and it’s a pretty bizarre show and not what I expected to make,” says Palmer. “But it wound up being a cross between a TED Talk, a piece of stand-up comedy and the saddest songs. I’ve performed it a few times in New York now, and there’s a lot of visceral belly laughter and a lot of weeping. And I think I’ve figured it out.”

Check out Amanda Palmer's new album, "There Will Be No Intermission" below and head here to get tickets for her upcoming tour.  

 

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