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Family, Autonomy, Nudity & Surgery On Stage

19 December 2016 | 2:17 pm | Cyclone Wehner

"They've had to deal with [me]... literally naked on stage, pulling my heart out of my chest and going, look, look, look, look..."

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Amanda Palmer, punk cabaret provocateur, is one of those artists other artists namecheck. The Motels' frontwoman Martha Davis praised her grunge cover of Total Control — a fluke new wave hit for the Californians in Australia — which Palmer performed with former Bad Seed Hugo Race on RocKwiz. "It's a great song!" Palmer enthuses.

The Bostonian is heading to Australia for three months of gigs, starting with her inaugural Woodford Folk Festival. Palmer will then return to the Sydney Opera House, and also hold a residency at The Gasometer in Melbourne. Palmer has promised spontaneous solo shows, with her singing, playing piano and ukulele, and bringing the cray.

Palmer has proven tricky to pin down for phone interviews - which she wryly attributes to "the curse of baby and schedule". She has just performed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Today Palmer and her husband, British author Neil Gaiman, are inspecting rental properties. She's sitting on a porch. "We've abandoned the baby in the back seat of the car — [the baby] decided to throw up all over himself on the drive here," Palmer says with characteristic honesty.

"We've abandoned the baby in the back seat of the car — [the baby] decided to throw up all over himself on the drive here."

Palmer has "a real affinity" with Australians. She busked here ignominiously (as a living statue) even before touring with her fabled band The Dresden Dolls. However, another reason for this extended run is her desire to avoid the winter, with its "cold air", Stateside. "I really like to be able to walk around naked all the time," Palmer admits. "I don't like having to put on clothes." Palmer will miss Trump's Presidential inauguration with all of its miasma - something she feels guilty about. "I really wish that I could transport myself back for January 20th, because so many of my friends and fellow artists and musicians are all gonna be marching on Washington. I feel like I'm abandoning my comrades."

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Coming up through a performing arts counterculture, "Amanda Fucking Palmer" found success in the 2000s with Brian Viglione as The Dresden Dolls, introducing dark cabaret to the indie scene. She went solo with 2008's Who Killed Amanda Palmer, helmed by Ben Folds. Yet Palmer realised that she was too subversively eccentric for labeldom. Indeed, she cut a set of Radiohead covers on ukulele, Creep included. Determined to be autonomous, Palmer turned to Kickstarter to fund 2012's Theatre Is Evil with her Grand Theft Orchestra (the song Berlin about her stripper past), generating US$1.2 million. She wrote of exploring this new arts economy in her New York Times bestseller The Art Of Asking, itself based on a TED Talk. Palmer has since embraced Patreon, a crowdfunding subscription platform fostering rapport between creatives and fans, for her "weird projects". "I've just been making music as I want." She's grateful.

The communal Palmer is more prolific than ever. In 2016 she released an album with her father Jack, You Got Me Singing — "a bunch of sweet, easy folk covers", its title-track poignantly a Leonard Cohen song. Palmer refers to it as "the dad record". The pair toured together, too. Says Palmer, "It was a wonderful experience." The media has made much of the pair's previous distance, but Palmer is anxious to correct any misapprehensions. "It actually bugs me that the press keeps saying that my dad and I were estranged — that's just not true. It's closer to the truth to say that we just didn't have a close relationship when I was a kid, because my parents were divorced... But there was no battle. That being said, not being close with your dad is traumatic in itself... almost even worse than being estranged," she laughs. "It was like we had no relationship to estrange."

Palmer began building a relationship with her father, out in Washington DC, as an adult. Jack is a singer/guitarist and she "semi-joked" about their teaming for an album. He was "keen". Pertinently, Palmer was pregnant with her first child when they commenced it. You Got Me Singing was "liberating" — and restorative. The singer can now empathise more with her parents. "My life has not been easy for them to understand. They've had to deal with the daughter who, from the time she was 24, was singing openly about her pain and agony and angst and abortions and relationships — you know, literally naked on stage, pulling my heart out of my chest and going, look, look, look, look..." But Palmer remains unconventional — a pop rebel.

Next for Palmer is an album, I Can Spin A Rainbow, completed in London with Edward Ka-Spel — mastermind of cult '80s outfit The Legendary Pink Dots. He was her "teenage idol". "It's unlike anything I've ever written. I absolutely love it because it really merges my songwriting voice with Edward's. Edward's ability to loop and produce electronic music and my very organic human piano sound are threaded together really beautifully. I'm incredibly proud of the record."