Amanda Palmer is the lead singer of Boston duo, The Dresden Dolls. She plays piano backed by Brian Viglione on drums. They describe their music as "Brechtian punk cabaret" and have so far released a self-titled debut album and a collection of live recordings called A IS FOR ACCIDENT.
What made you choose the name The Dresden Dolls? I've noticed that you use quite a bit of doll imagery in your work, not just the songs themselves but on the website (which incidentally is beautiful) and I was wondering if you collected dolls and/or what fascinates you about them?
Dolls are bizarre, fascinating things ... I see artists using them in all sorts of beautiful and disturbing ways. They are feminine and childish artifice at its most innocent. I've just always been fascinated by them. I wasn't really a huge doll collector as a girl, however. I was into stuffed animals and Legos.
Has your opinion of Brian changed since you first met him?
Yes, of course. We've known each other intimately for four years. Our relationship grows by the hour. If anything, I love him more and more every single day, even if my understanding of him seems to elude me sometimes. He's a weird one.
You and Brian have a very unique image. What made you choose to look that way for your performances?
It wasn't a choice as much as an impulse that resonated well with the audience and stuck. I've been a dress-up fanatic since birth, so has Brian. It just feels natural.
There are lyrics for songs like Boston and Mandy Goes To Med School on the website that don't appear on either album. Are they older songs that didn't make it on or newer ones that haven't been recorded yet?
Both - they're older songs that weren't considered for the album because they either didn't fit or because they weren't yet fully arranged. Right now, it looks like both those tracks will fight for position on the next record.
I heard the song Christopher Lydon was about a Boston DJ. If that's right (or even if it's not) I was wondering if the real Christopher Lydon has heard your song about him and what does he think of it?
Hm ... Mr. Lydon wasn't so much a DJ as a talk-show host. He was one of the over-intellectual NPR hosts (he hosted "The Connection" which was nationally syndicated for years). I had a fantastic crush on his voice. I've heard through the grapevine that he heard the song and was embarrassed and flattered. He's since been replaced by Dick Gordon, who doesn't sound one-eighth as sexy.
Your lyrics are very honest. Do they all relate to your own personal experiences or is there an element of storytelling in songs like Truce or Bad Habit?
Ah, there's always an element of hyperbole, isn't there? Everything is mostly autobiographical at it's source ... then it tends to take on a life of its own.
Why did you decide to do A Is For Accident as a collection of live recordings as well as doing a studio album?
We were desperate for something to release while we were waiting for the studio album to come out, so we slapped that together to have a disc to sell at shows.
I've read on your messageboard that you sometimes do cover versions live (which I'd love to hear). Would you consider doing an album/EP of cover versions as other artists like Nick Cave or Rasputina or even Tori Amos would have done? And to go along with that, I read that Brian was a big hair metal fan when he was younger, so if you had to cover a hair metal song what it would be?
It may well happen, although it's more likely that we'll sprinkle our future recordings with our favourite covers. We'll see ...
You come from quite a theatrical background and you describe the band as a " Brechtian cabaret punk band." How do you think that theatre/cabaret influence affects your work? I also thought you seemed influenced/inspired by that whole sort of Weimar decadence/Marlene Dietrich doing cabaret thing. I just wondered if I am correct, what is it that appeals to you so much about that period and the art that comes out of it?
Ah, all kinds of art and experimentation were just exploding in Weimar cabaret culture. Some people were nostalgic for Haight-Ashbury in the late sixties, I just pin my fantasies a little further back. But there was that same excitement, an "anything goes" mentality about authentic, relevant art and expansion of consciousness that attracts me like a moth to a flame.
Who are some of you favourite pianists? Was there anyone who particularly inspired you? I know people who learnt piano when they were younger and then gave it up because they didn't feel inspired or think it was relevant so I think it's great that you're doing piano music but it still sounds somewhat different to the more traditional female singer/songwriter stuff that people may be used to hearing.
I was very inspired by actual piano playing and piano scores that I was constantly exposed to in choir and musical rehearsals. I was also inspired by my mother's piano playing at a very young age even though she only knew a few simple pieces. She taught me most everything I use today. I took some classical lessons but I barely paid attention (I regret that now, deeply). There was one artist, Peter Jeffries, whose music I discovered in college and I remember thinking "Holy shit! There's someone who plays and writes like I do ... sort of! It's a miracle!" His first two albums, Electricity and The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World are still two of my most cherished possessions --- they're tough to find and absolutely brilliant.
What are your future plans? I read somewhere you were planning to make a DVD of videos to accompany your live shows, how is this going, what sort of videos/imagery have you come up with? I think you are the kind of band who could really inspire some amazing imagery.
We've just finished the video for Coin-Operated Boy which is really quite bizarre and beautiful. It was directed by our dear friend and genius film-maker Michael Pope, the director of Girl Anachronism as well. We're also working on a Broadway musical to be staged in 2008. The fall will bring us to Europe and we'll actually be playing our first UK show on September 20th in London (at Madame JoJos).
Punk Cabaret is Freedom !!!!
THIS INTERVIEW WAS DONE BY E-MAIL IN JULY 2004 AND ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN DECEMBER 2004.
LIVE PHOTOS TAKEN BY SHELLY AT MADAME JOJOS, LONDON IN SEPTEMBER 2004.
NOTE: The Dresden Dolls went on to release two more albums and two DVDs before finally splitting up.