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Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer

Monday 14th February, 2011 10:53AM

Amanda Palmer returns to Australasia with an album dedicated to this part of the world. UTR caught up with the performance artist to discuss her affinity with Australia and New Zealand, the (not so) hidden meaning of 'Map of Tasmania' and why people should dance to music with messages.

Where are you at the moment?

I am in Tasmania.

And you’ve just played a Summer festival, how did it go?

It was brilliant. It was a really great bunch of people and a fantastic festival. The headliners were me, Grinderman and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and it was just a total explosion of awesomeness. It’s been really really fantastic.

How did an album that’s about Australia go down in Australia?

Well, I guess I still have to find out because I haven’t done the tour proper yet, but certainly there has been a heavy amount of appreciation especially for the ‘Map of Tasmania’ song. It’s been very popular.

What inspired you to pen an album about Australia?

Well, it sort of all happened slowly and by accident. I realized that I had a collection of songs - ‘New Zealand’, ‘Map of Tasmania’ and ‘Australia’, and it was originally just going to be a set of touring songs, but I kept adding songs and I added some cover songs and a couple of collaborations and before you knew it I had a twelve song record.

Did you just come here and feel an affinity for Australasia? Tell me how you started writing about the place?

Australia’s really special for me and I’m drawn here like a moth to a flame – I keep coming back every year because my shows are always absolutely wonderful and I keep making more friends and finding more people to collaborate with. You know I tend to gravitate towards where I’m happiest and lately I’ve been happiest in Australia, so I just keep coming back. The songs ‘New Zealand’ and ‘Map of Tasmania’ were both written backstage in fifteen minutes when I was at the end of my tour the year before, and they were kind of written in desperation because I was absolutely out of my mind with exhaustion. I needed something to perk me up and so those songs were espresso shots for the soul. I never thought they would have made it on the album, but they did.

And you’ve got some collaborations on the album, tell me a little bit about those.

Um, the collaborators are two people that I’ve made genuinely good friends with in Australia over the years. One of them is Tom Dickens from The Jane Austen Argument and we’ve known each other for ages. I think he’s a fantastic up and coming songwriter so I was happy to give him real estate on the record to show him off. Michael Angelo is one of the most entertaining people I have ever met and I love that the song we captured on the record is still totally improvisational. We actually learned the song a few hours before performing it and you can hear us fucking up left and right but the fact that this guy was willing to hop up on stage with me at the Sydney Opera House and just try a song we had barely rehearsed - which is kind of a classic Amanda Palmer landmine - speaks volumes and the fact that we managed to pull it off and make it work and capture it on the record is just great.

Tell me about the ‘Maps of Tasmania’ video clip.

That whole song got absolutely out of control because it started as a joke. It started with me joking when I performed it that I wanted someone to upload it and to steal it and remix it, then I was like to a friend: ‘You know, if you are up for it, you can remix this really stupid song’ and one thing led to another and the next thing you know he actually remixed the song and it came out kind of the way I imagined, and after that we decided to make a stupid video for it and the next thing you know it turned into the single for the record. But that’s pretty typical for me. If I look at the last five years of my life I would be looking at a series of happy accidents, and you know you have to kind of be the kind of person who is like ‘oh my god this is so creepy it just might work’ again and again and again. You’re talking to someone who will put out a record about conjoined twins who escaped from a circus and think that’s a great way to spend six months of their life.

In saying that all these things are happy accidents and some of the tracks are massive jokes, they all have inherently serious messages, right?

Oh absolutely. I have yet to make a joke that didn’t have some underpinning of message in it. I mean the song I got into big trouble for a couple years ago ‘Oasis’ was sort of the same thing. It was a really really silly pop song about a really serious subject, and ‘Map of Tasmania’ and the subject of whether or not to wax or shave your pubes might not necessarily be the most profound subject but actually it is brings up a really important question, which is do you feel like you have a choice about how you spend your time and energy and how you look? And I think one of the really sad things these days is that really young teenage girls – and I’m talking 11, 12, 13 or 14 – are waxing down there because they don’t think they have a choice and so I’m never going to tell you what to do but I would like to wave a flag over in my corner and say ‘Hey, you actually get to decide’ and you can do whatever you want – you can shave and cut off ever hair of your body but just know you have a choice. It’s kind of terrifying even in my lifetime the difference between how teenage girls are dealing with their bodies versus ten or fifteen years ago, there is some really scary shit happening and so you know if my only purpose is to just make sure they know that the beauty standard is flexible - it’s not just a giant rulebook that you have to follow - then I’ve served my purpose. The irony being that you know, I shave and I don’t shave and I make different decisions depending on what I’m doing and how I’m doing it and how I feel and that’s true freedom. Feeling like you shouldn’t shave because then you’re not a feminist. That’s not feminism, that’s actually just as oppressive.

And one of the best things about your controversial material is that it’s often packaged in the most accessible format?

Yeah well I think that’s often the fun package to deliver a message in, you know, make people dance to your message.

You marry dance and performance with Amanda Palmer. What makes you want to present this multifaceted performance?

Well I think people forget that music is performance and that we’ve only separated music from performance in the last 100 years, but music and theatre kind of used to be the same thing, so I think historically if you look what music is for and how it works, they live together.

When you’re penning tracks or thinking about concepts, what is the focus of the creative process?

I think the mental rule that I subconsciously follow is the music comes first – the lyrics and the music – and then I figure everything else out later. You know, when I wrote ‘Map of Tasmania’ I was not imagining a video in which a bunch of random people in New York would be exposing their private parts – that wasn’t there at the beginning, but it is now.

Courtney Sanders


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