Amanda Palmer lets go of all restrictions

Million strong
By BARRY THOMPSON  |  September 5, 2012

WE HATE IT WHEN OUR FRIENDS BECOME SUCCESSFUL "There's a fundamental black heart that beats at the core of this city," says Amanda Palmer of her home base of Boston. 

Just when hemming and hawing about the future of money in music had grown dreadfully redundant, leave it to Amanda Palmer to resurrect the dead horse and prompt the American square community to ask, "What the fuck is Kickstarter, who the fuck is this frequently naked lady with painted-on eyebrows, and why did the Internet send her a million dollars to record an album?"

Then again, Palmer was about as close to unprecedented as a musician could get before becoming the de facto spokeswoman for a business model that could reverse the implosion of the music industry . . . for under-the-radar artists with substantial cult followings, at least. She attracts fawning adoration from some and eye-roll-punctuated flak from others, but anyone who can garner more than $1 million of crowd-fundage from expectant fans is inarguably doing many things very right.

The still-sometimes Dresden Dolls songstress explains why crowd funding is just the new version of her original method of making money off creative enterprises — standing super-still and elevated in a wedding dress on a Cambridge sidewalk. And just in time: Palmer's equal-parts sullen and ecstatic synth-sprinkled return to art-rock impeccability, Theatre Is Evil, becomes available for purchase this week (off her own 8 Ft Records).

"I've been drawing a direct parallel between street performing and crowd funding," says the Lexington native in a leafy attic-type room in the South End's borderline-historic Cloud Club artist collective, where she continues to pay rent and keeps her stuff despite near-constant globetrotting. "You're standing there, giving your content away for free, asking for support from those who are passing by. I learned an excessive amount of what I'm using in my career right now from standing on a box in front of Au Bon Pain next to the T station in Harvard Square."

A lot's happened in the 10 years or so since Palmer's street-theater days. She and Brian Viglione went on to make "cabaret punk" a buzzword with their run as the Dresden Dolls. After two proper Dolls records and one solo, she begged for an honorable discharge from monolithic major label Roadrunner Records because (let's face it) they are stupid jerks who couldn't market her effectively and called her fat. Then, amid a period of wackiness when she played Radiohead covers on a ukulele and pushed an ill-advised Siamese twin-themed side project, she wedded famed fantasy novelist and comic-book writer Neil freakin' Gaiman, eliciting a tandem exclamation of, "Whoa, really?!" from gothy nerds worldwide.

Then there was the already well-documented triumph on Kickstarter this summer. Palmer's predilections for new media and anti-establishmentarianism made her uniquely situated to the task of making online crowd funding a bigger thing. "One thing I've seen people be concerned about is this idea that, 'Oh no, now artists are going to be at the mercy of their fans,' " she says. "If they [the fans] know me at all, and they do, they know that the one thing I cannot abide by is being told what to do."

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  Topics: Music Features , Boston, Music, Dresden Dolls,  More more >
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