“I got run over by a car in Belfast about a week ago,” the gorgeously gothic Amanda Palmer tells me, laughing as she scratches at her cast. Her hotel room is like a centrifuge of musicians and tour staff hustling and bustling while we, seated on a couch amidst this swirling maelstrom, chat quietly and sip on cups of strong tea. Wearing a rather risqué corset-esque number covered in black lace and frills, she looks at me from beneath her gothic scroll eyebrows, repeatedly laughing and joking as she describes her experience of the Irish medical system.
“They told me at the hospital that it happens all the time, especially stupid Americans. The nurse gave me this sort of hairy eyeball when I came in. I was, of course, having a panic attack and in complete agony and she came up to me and said, ‘oh, it’s just a wee bit squished, you’ll be fine love.’ It was a very reassuring diagnosis,” she says, giggling quietly behind her hand.
Having started the ‘Brechtian punk cabaret”, The Dresden Dolls in 2000 with drummer Brain Viglione, Amanda is currently on tour in support of her solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? “Ben Folds produced the album. He got in touch with me just to tell me he was a Dolls fan, and then I told him about the solo record then he asked if he could produce it,” she explains.
“We got along famously, mostly because we share the same sick and twisted sense of humour, and we found we had a lot of common ground, which might surprise a lot of people. You know, I think Ben has one foot in the 70’s and I have one foot in the 80’s, but we’d get to the end of our sessions and crank Jesus Christ Super Star and sing at the top of our lungs and that’s where we found our common planet, we’re basically just geeks and we knew it.”
I ask her about her yet to be released book of photography, The Big Book of Who Killed Amanda Palmer. “It’s meant to be a companion to the record and the text is by Neil Gaiman,” she tells me, her voice full of excitement. “I asked him, never thinking he’d say yes. But he did and he came out to Boston and we worked on it for about a week. It’s a ridiculous project though; it’s a hundred photos of me dead in different places with stories by Neil Gaiman. It’s just totally absurd.”
Speaking of absurd, during our discussion the room has been slowly filling up with heavily made up and scantily clad men and women doing vocal exercises and stretching. It turns out they’re actually on tour with Amanda and not just some bizarre burlesque house keeping service popular with ‘the Germans.’
“They’re this incredible theatrical group from Brisbane actually, called The Danger Ensemble. They perform theatre along with the songs onstage with me, it’s hard to explain but it’s really beautiful to watch.”
A midget wearing gumboots that reach his waist appears at my shoulder and I reflexively recoil in surprise, having only recently watched The Leprechaun. Amanda giggles at my sheepishness as she continues.
“Some of it is ridiculous and funny and some of it is tear jerking, beautiful, profound stuff. They’re all trained in really heavy-duty physical theatre, and it’s just been wonderful having them along and the show has been blowing people away. I didn’t have a huge budget for this tour because I’m playing these tiny clubs of three or four hundred people sometimes, but they all came without getting paid and have literally been passing the hat around at the end of every night so we can keep them on the road.”
Despite her sunny disposition, she looks tired and drained, which is understandable considering her touring schedule as well as her broken bones. “Touring is what the business is now, there’s certainly no money coming from record sales, I think we can call it pretty much over, so if you want to do this job, and Godspeed if you actually want to do this job,” she laughs with a tone of weariness, “you’ve basically got to be willing to tour and tour a lot, and tour wherever and however you can. It’s not an easy lifestyle, it’s very strange and unromantic and sloppy and crazy and even at its best it’s pretty unorganised; you have to really love the actual performance. It used to be artists would tour to promote an album, where as records are out now to promote the tours, it’s switched around.”
“We’ve been on tour for two weeks in Europe and this is the beginning of an entire world tour on the record. So after we’re in Europe for about a month we’re going to go to the states for five weeks, we’re going to take a break at Christmas, then we’re going to head back to Europe and after that hit Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania,” she tells me as I laugh at her mentioning Tasmania as a separate country.
By this point the room looks like a mix between The Circus Circus and a Lynch film as The Danger Ensemble wander about either warming up for the performance or just being plain weird. We leave the room to head off to the show, as the performers pile into a chartered minibus as Amanda and I take a seat toward the back.
“My best ideas usually come when I’m in transit and there’s silence,” she tells me as I feel awkward for stifling any of her potential ideas. “I usually don’t listen to music when I’m walking around or driving or anything like that. I used to be a really walkman-addicted teenager, but I haven’t really done that, worn an iPod or anything for years because that’s usually when my brain likes to wander.”
We pull over to a gas station, as one of the midgets needs to use the bathroom. The German service station, the very picture of sterile efficiency, is now overrun by a troupe of Australians dressed as if they’re on their way to a pyjama party at Marilyn Manson’s house.
I turn back to the bus and notice Amanda is furiously scribbling away at a notebook that has mysteriously appeared out of nowhere. Guessing she must keep it in her bra for moments of inspiration I decide to give her some privacy and walk over to the bathroom. The midget is trying to buy condoms but can’t reach the machine. I take a piss, drop a coin in the machine for him and leave laughing to myself at the absurdity.