'Being there for the [8th amendment] referendum literally helped fuel the way I’m doing this stage show' Amanda Palmer on making the personal political

Amanda Palmer is back on the road and is bringing her deeply personal show to the four corners of Ireland, which she says was done with purpose and meaning. As told to Emmet King.

Amanda Palmer show

Hey Amanda! How are you?

I’m great. I’m in Prague and I’m in the middle of one of the longest runs with no break on this tour so things are a bit crazy but things are great.

How does it feel to be back on the road touring again?

It feels very natural because I’ve been doing this non-stop almost since I started touring in 2001. But this is a very different kind of show than I’m used to doing. This is more like a piece of theatre and more like an intimate catchup than a rock-and roll show. My last big international tour on a record was with a loud rock band and (you know), lots of synthesisers and high loud energy and this is just me and a piano and some really incredibly personal stories. It’s also the most political show I’ve ever done. Mostly because the stories are so personal and I’m just talking about a lot of taboo subjects.

(So it feels like) I didn’t plan this. It’s not like I sat down with an agenda five years ago and said “hey in 2019 I’m going to roll up my sleeves and tour around the world and talk about climate change and abortion- that sounds like a blast”. I didn’t make a blueprint for this. But it came together in a way that felt necessary on both the personal and political level so I just kept following the bouncing ball and the bouncing ball took me to this show.

This is just me and a piano and some really incredibly personal stories

On ‘There Will Be No Intermission’ there are older songs as well, not just new material there’s ‘Bigger on the Inside’ and ‘Judy Blume’ did you think these songs would make it on an album?

My grand plan when I started my Patreon which is a critical element in the story on this tour and this record because none of this would have happened without my Patreon. I was hoping to live in an album cycle free future when I started my Patreon. I really thought that I would be done with releasing albums once I had a sustainable ongoing crowdfunding system. A few factors changed my mind, one of those factors was that the producer that I love most dearly in the world John Congleton didn’t want to work on piecemeal projects he only wanted to work together to make a record.

When I got to the point where I had a collection of songs that obviously fit together, I decided that I would merge the new media side of my life and the old media side of my life and I would take everything that I had created with the Patreon but feed it to the universe in a format that it could digest which is still a record.

Honestly the decision to put out a record actually fuelled some of the best songs that needed to exist to finish the record. Once I decided to write a record, to collect together a record I sort of looked at the song that I had and I saw the songs that were missing.

The show that I’m going to do in Dublin- holy shit. That experience I had being there for the referendum literally helped fuel the way I’m doing this stage show

The songs that were missing, if I was going to put out such a personal autobiographical record, were a song about miscarriage and a song about abortion and I realised; fuck now I have to write this.

As an artist whose been through a lot and who has seen and felt the power of making myself vulnerable to my audience I actually think I could meet myself there and accept the challenge which I did.

So much of this tour and this album is more organically connected than I’m used to. If you look at the ‘Dresden Dolls’ records and ‘Theatre is Evil’ it’s like great, I made this thing now I’m gonna get on a bus with a bunch of people and I’m gonna talk about this and I’m going to do this thing.

In the case of this tour, the places that I’m going are part of this story. The show that I’m going to do in Dublin- holy shit. That experience I had being there for the referendum literally helped fuel the way I’m doing this stage show and wrote one of the songs on the record.

I’m going to Belfast where abortion is still criminalised. That show is going to be its own unique piece of art and history that won’t have anything to do with the show in Prague. It’s not like I haven’t been a reactive living performer, responding to the things around me.

Of course, I always have been/but this point, given what’s going on politically I am feeling my place in the zeitgeist in an entirely new way. Up to and including being in Paris on Saturday and shifting the focus of my show from abortion to politics, terrorism and compassion because I’m playing the fucking Bataclan on purpose.

I wanted to go back there and play there again. And talk about what happened when that happens and how the art and the world are not separate entities. All of this is a very long winded way of saying – I can’t even remember what you asked-

The only way that I could have done a show this personal is by knowing that the people that I’m bringing it to already have my back

You’ve answered several of my questions there! I was asking basically how did this album come about with older songs featuring alongside newer songs. You’ve brought me along to the next question: You were inspired for ‘Voicemail for Jill’ in Dublin, then you’ll be in Belfast where abortion is criminalised and back to Limerick in the space of a few days, how do you feel about sharing this song with Ireland, both sides of the border?

I think it’s going to feel important. I write differently, the headspace that I’m in when I write a song nowadays is so different from when I was 23. I was spending most of my time struggling with myself and I had no community and I had no audience and I had no voice.

I had a voice but I didn’t have a platform- I didn’t have a microphone. So much of what I’ve learned, touring, blogging, travelling, befriending different journalists and activists around the world and the things that I learn by going to Dublin and sitting down with people like Roisin Ingle and Una Mullally.

There’s a lot of layers to being and artist and I’ve learned how to peel away that needs and wants to impress the “mainstream” and “the media” and the arbiters of what is hip and cool and do something else and have a direct conversation channel to the people that I really want to be talking with.

You don’t necessarily stand up there convincing people you have a right to be on the stage. That feels important.

My audience has evolved and grown a lot but I think the only way that I could have done a show this personal is by knowing that the people that I’m bringing it to already have my back. There’s no way I could have written or had the bravery to do a tour like this when I was in my 20s or even my 30s.

I just didn’t quite have the relationship that would contain that. Being able to get up on that stage with the amount of emotional safety that the audience affords me and sing and say these things especially songs like ‘Voicemail for Jill’ it doesn’t feel an artistic feat so much as a feat of community leadership because I’m not out there pitching myself as a product.

I’m out there pitching things that I already know resonate with people. It’s still frightening to play a song like that there’s a part of me inside that winces that sighs, like if there are people out there in the audience that do not know this is coming.

This might be an incredibly uncomfortable moment- for them and for me – but it’s a lot like being a Minister, you pretty much know whos out there and what they need from you. You don’t necessarily stand up there convincing people you have a right to be on the stage. That feels important.

I’ve never done a full tour of Ireland, I’ve toured the UK a lot, in Ireland I’ve only ever played Dublin and once I’ve played in Belfast (and got my foot run over.) This was not an accident, the fact that I’m doing a show in Cork and Limerick where I can sell hundreds of tickets instead of doing another show in Austria or Germany where I could have sold a thousand tickets; it was deliberate. I really really wanted to sing these songs to those people.

On Patreon you’ve talked about how having a record label would force you to compartmentalise being an artist and being an activist, how important is it that artists like yourself are political and can be political?

That’s an impossible thing to gauge. But I do know that having to compartmentalise myself is really frustrating. In the past week, I’ve played five shows, I’ve gone to a climate change march, I’ve dealt with one of my fans getting sexually assaulted at a show, I’ve had meetings with Extinction Rebellion about what to do for the upcoming protests there.

I’m doing daytime gigs, playing pianos in parks to raise money for refugees and I’ve been thinking about writing a new song for when I attend more climate marches so that I have more material to play. It all feels like the same job.

It doesn’t feel like one is a side project of the other and I think one of the things that can be very frustrating about being an artist is that you have to be so product focused. You can forget that your usefulness to society does not have a correct measuring system given market capitalism.

The things that are worth your time and energy and the things that you have to offer your community aren’t fucking monetizable. If they are, it can get very dangerous talking just about cold hard cash exchange for an artists time.

What the Patreon has done is erased all that agony since I’m able to draw a salary from a lot of people who simply want to support my work. Whether my work is marching in the streets or writing a new song or sitting with a refugee family in their house talking about what’s going on in their lives. They see that all as value instead of just what I’m charting on Spotify which is such a slim measurement of what my value is.

I think its revolutionary. I think as more artists and their audiences and their supporters learn how to create theses sustainable livelihoods for artists, artists will be able to get back to the job that they are best at doing. Instead of spending all their time trying to hock product which is a waste of our time.

So you’re an activist artist and for the current tour I saw you’ve hired your own media and sent them out on the street.

Artists always have a difficult time finding their place in the useful resistance against darkness because we don’t make anything concrete.

Yeah, in fact they’re drawing a better salary from me than they would be from say The Guardian, and they are able to travel with me, they’re not even interviewing me. They’re just with me and they’re following along what’s happening, they’re interviewing a lot of people from the community.

They’re coming to all the extra gigs and the climate marches, they’re there on my patrons dime and my patrons are thrilled to be able to directly support independent media and once again I don’t have to spend time on the phone pleading with a publicist to please please get someone out from the newspaper to cover this.

Fuck that- let’s just cover it. One of the most frustrating things about being an artist on the road is you don’t have time to be your own journalist and God knows I’ve tried doing that for 20 years. One of the most frustrating parts of this job is trying to blog at the speed of light when I have ten engagements a week and I haven’t slept and my voice is shot and I barely have time to pee.

Bringing on actual photographers and actual writers to think about this kind of stuff and do it for a living it feels like its a fantastic solution and its also resistance at the same time because the state of the media is just as fucked as everything else.

All props to the New York Times and The Guardian but they’re flailing just as much as everybody else is and they’re desperate to stay afloat. All of their arts funding is getting cut they’re having to put up really sleazy headlines for clickbait. There has got to be a better way. So we’re just making it. We’re making a better way.

It feels like this is so much more than a tour, its a journey, every place your going was chosen for a reason and bringing journalists to let you share that journey.

This tour is different to any you’ve done before and this time you’re playing concert halls, with the exception of the Bataclan in Paris, why did you choose concert halls for this show?

This is a very…. What’s the word. It’s a sit down, quiet show. It requires full attention. It’s closer to a piece of theatre and that meant there was no way the venue could be standing and I did not want to deal with any noise from the outside or any bar noise.

So these places were the most appropriate setting for this show. I knew that I needed to do theatres and concert halls. I didn’t think about it at the time that I booked but being in some of these places has infiltrated the tone of the tour itself- Especially being in Vienna in some of these concert halls, sitting there writing my notes about climate change, abortion and miscarriage when looking up at busts of Wager and Beethoven thinking this is fucking epic.

I’m in a hall that has pretty much only played and celebrated the music of dead white men and I’m about to get on stage and do this. This feels incredibly poetic.

As you’ve said the one notable exception is the Bataclan in Paris, why did you make this exception and what do you hope people take away from this show?

If the show has a single unifying theme its the role that art and artists can play in combating the dark, the personal dark and the darkness that seems to be coming at us like a freight train from outside.

Artists always have a difficult time finding their place in the useful resistance against darkness because we don’t make anything concrete.

It’s a really beautiful experience to sit in a hall full of likeminded community and take a second off to think about and share these things.

We make but what we make is theatrical and direct and yet so essential to the human experience. I have a lot to say about that and if I could condense it into one sentence to you, (I would not beg you to come see my three and a half hour fucking show but..) there is a lot of examples from my own story in my own life that has illuminated how interconnected and important art and compassion are to politics and to activism and to basic human survival.

I can’t imagine that these themes wouldn’t resonate as we’re sitting there in the Bataclan thinking about what happened four years ago.

You’ve never been closer to your fans thanks to Patreon, if you could give one message to all of your fans on the island of Ireland what would you tell them?

That I love them. I think I would encourage people. One of the things that I’ve seen with this show is that people are a little scared to come. They’re not quite sure what to expect, they’re not quite sure if its for them,they’re not quite sure if they can handle it, they’re not quite sure if they can come alone.

I would encourage them to throw all caution out the window and come to the show. It’s a really beautiful experience to sit in a hall full of likeminded community and take a second off to think about and share these things.

Since I’ve never played in Cork or Limerick before- this is a pretty wild show to start a relationship with. Usually if I were touring in a city for the first time I would be doing my jazzhands and playing my Radiohead covers and playing ‘Coin-Operated Boy’ and just delighting everybody.

I feel to much urgency right now to do that. The message I would send out, especially to the people outside of Dublin is to trust me and come to the show. Even if you have to come alone there will be people there to take care of you.

Amanda Palmer brings an evening of piano, pain and laughter to Cork (October 23), Belfast (October 26), Dublin (October 24) and Limerick (October 27).

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