Amanda ‘Fucking’ Palmer has proven that when you truly connect with your fans, you can ask them for anything, money included, and it will come.
Anyone interested in the state of indie music today has probably heard of Amanda Palmer by now. Personally, I was just speaking with someone the other day about her and had a chuckle when they posited that she just “came out of nowhere,” but had to agree when she then said that she is everywhere. Featured across the board, from Pitchfork and Rolling Stone to CNN and Forbes, Amanda and her hugely successful Kickstarter project surrounding her new studio album heralds an exciting new revolution in artistry today. However, many, like my friend, still don’t really know who Amanda Palmer is.
I have been a longtime fan of Palmer. On a trip to Boston in 2001, I had a friend take me to see what she referred to as a “punk rock cabaret” act called The Dresden Dolls. Made up of Amanda Palmer on keyboard and vocals and percussionist Brian Viglione, it was a raw, highly theatric, emotionally compelling evening of performance art. Not content with simply performing their strange story-songs about hermaphrodites, self-mutilators, rape, and manic depression, The Dresden Dolls dedicated themselves to ensuring that the audience felt participatory in them. I was hooked.
Shortly after my introduction to them, The Dresden Dolls signed to Roadrunner Records and released two studio albums, as well as a compilation of B-sides and discarded tracks from those sessions. That output inspired an active, passionate fanbase that The Dolls quickly embraced via their online blogs and fan forum, establishing a direct, personal communication with them.
During their tour with Nine Inch Nails, I got to meet Amanda Palmer for the first time. Though I only spent a few minutes with her, the experience was unlike any other I have had with a musician. She was not only engaged, but as interested in me as I was in her. I noticed that she was like this with everyone who approached her, spending actual time with her fans, really listening to them as they shared with her, and sharing as passionately in return.
When The Dresden Dolls took a hiatus in 2008, Amanda Palmer announced that she was releasing a solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer. During her extensive tour behind the album, Amanda and the label butted heads over numerous issues, the main one being that Roadrunner, as a label, didn’t understand her brand of artistry. A protracted battle to be released from her contract ensued and, eventually, Amanda was free. And this is really where today’s story begins.
Harnessing her growing following on Twitter and Facebook, Amanda opened up to her fans like few artists ever have. She blogged relentlessly, tweeted constantly, and began to slowly market new music to all of us who followed her. Through the music distribution site, Bandcamp, Palmer began releasing solo tracks as well as work from some of her burgeoning projects. By embracing a “pay-what-you-can” attitude, she ensured that her music was able to get into every hand that wanted it.
Between releases, Amanda was far from silent. Never far from her fans, she hosted wild U-Stream parties, uncensored, unabashed Twitter Q-and-A’s and basically shared every detail of her day-to-day life with anyone interested.
On the back of this success, Amanda has taken to Kickstarter again to fund her first studio album in 4 years. Backed by her new band, The Grand Theft Orchestra, Amanda is experimenting with a vibrant new sound, as evidenced in the first single, “Do It with a Rockstar,” which, in true Amanda Palmer style, has been released for free. With just under two weeks left, the project has far exceeded its initial goal of $100,000 by 750% and ignited a fire around how artists fund and distribute their art.
What Amanda Palmer has done is nothing short of amazing. She has proven that you do not need the marketing muscle of a label to fund and release an album. She has proven that when you truly connect with your fans, you can ask them for anything, money included, and it will come. It sounds so simple, but in all actuality, Amanda Palmer has become a 24/7 brand that is constantly ensuring that she is touches as many people as possible, as often as possible. And now, the world is watching.
Palmer saw “Polly” as the perfect opportunity to get in the studio together with two members of her live touring band, Chad Raines and Michael McQuilken, with McQuilken also on engineering duty. The record was cut at Yale University (using many of the theater department’s special effects instruments and toys) where Raines and McQuilken just completed the three-year graduate Yale School of Drama program. McQuilken and Raines will be joined by bassist Jherek Bischoff (and many others) this spring to break ground on Palmer’s new recording and touring project, entitled “Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra.”
True to her typical “pay what you will” business model, the “Polly” single is available via Amanda’s website today as well for a minimum donation of $.50, which will go toward PayPal transaction fees and royalties. The video for “Polly,” directed by McQuilken and featuring actors Christopher M. McFarland and Jillian Taylor with a special guest appearance by Blake Brasher, was released February 7th.
It is said that Kurt Cobain wrote “Polly” after reading a newspaper article about a young girl that had been abducted and tortured for several days. Palmer read about this and followed the Google trail…
“Apparently there was a guy (a Nirvana fan) who bragged about raping a girl while the song played, and Kurt spoke out against it publicly. Kurt was, after all, a feminist,” Palmer said.
She wanted the song and video to focus on the song’s history:
“The video stands alone without the backstory, but the backstory brings the disturbing-ness to a whole new level,” said Palmer. “The actress who played the part of Polly had quite an emotional ride during shooting, that’s for sure.“