Amanda Palmer on “You Got Me Singing,” a Collaborative Album with Her Dad, Jack Palmer
Father of Mine
Dec 08, 2016 Issue #58 - The Protest Issue Photography by Ray Lego (for Under the Radar)
Amanda Palmer doesn't have a lot of time to talk. Having spent the day rehearsing at London's Royal Albert Hall for a special David Bowie tribute concert alongside Anna Calvi, John Cale, and Marc Almond, which will be broadcast across the country by the BBC, the artist also known for being half of the outlandish cabaret/performance art duo The Dresden Dolls is moments away from enjoying a nice quiet dinner with her husband, acclaimed author Neil Gaiman, and infant son. Palmer's family, strangely enough, is what wholly inspired her newest record, You Got Me Singing, an album of covers performed alongside her once estranged father, Jack Palmer. Featuring songs by Leonard Cohen, Lucy and Carly Simon, John Grant, Richard Thompson, and Kathleen Edwards, among others, the album was laid down in just a week's time during the summer of 2015 in a converted church in upstate New York, all while Palmer was eight months pregnant. The effort is an intimate, unadorned lifeline between a daughter and her father. While her food waited for her on the table, Palmer spared just a few minutes to talk about how the record came to be.
Mike Hilleary (Under the Radar): So you've released your latest album...
Amanda Palmer: Dad record!
Dad record! That's right!
I love the dad record.
How did this record come about?
I started inviting my dad, with whom I was not incredibly close, up onstage with me when I started touring solo in about 2008. And it was my olive branch to him and my gesture of communion, because we did not have a lot to talk about. My dad and I were not close growing up. My parents split when I was a year old and my dad moved far away. So this album was hugely symbolic for me. It was sort of a cosmic excuse to spend healing time with my dad. You can hear that in the music. It's really simple folk songs with very simple messages.
What made you want to reach out to him?
Because he's my dad. Why wouldn't I?
Well was it simply the physical distance that caused the separation between you two or was there something more?
My mom and dad split when I was about 10 months old—almost exactly the age that my son is now—and my dad stayed in New York while my mom moved up to Boston. And it was kind of an arrested development. My dad sort of moved on with his life and my sister and I weren't a huge part of it. We had a cordial relationship. We would see him on occasional vacations but we just weren't close. And I dealt with a lot of the frustration and anger about that in my 20s. Go listen to the first Dresden Dolls record. [Laughs] But my mentor Anthony, who's sort of became my [surrogate] father, my next door neighbor who died last year, he instilled in me a philosophy of eternal compassion and forgiveness and I thought if I can't do it with my dad and with my mom and the people immediately around me I'm not going to be able to do it with myself or with anybody else.
When you started your career in music, was he following what you were doing?
He came to the first Dresden Dolls show in DC where he lived. He was there and curious and supportive. You know my dad is a cool guy. He has great taste in music. He loves Leonard Cohen. He loves classical music. And I thought to bridge the gap using music. It works in a lot of other departments in my life, why not here? And it did. I just got off a two-week tour with my dad and it was incredible. It was really introducing my dad to my life instead of just being the person who shows up at his house politely to have dinner and chat about policies and the weather.
What did he think of the lifestyle?
[Laughs] He loved it. He was as happy as a man can be, even in these shitty, non-air-conditioned dressing rooms in New York City and dealing with janky cables at sound check and rushed door times and signing merchandise. It was the closest thing I could do to taking him to Disneyland. It was awesome.
So what is the state of your relationship now, having gone through this type of experience with him and creating something together?
It would be simple to say it is a better relationship. It would be wiser to say it is a realer relationship. Having created something together and having spent real, quality time together moving through a project and moving through the world and having spent time in each others' homes and breaking a lot of bread we've come to know and understand each other better. That is very real. That's something that I've come to understand about music, one of the things that is so magical about the mundane task of making music and working on arrangements and rehearsing songs and singing with voice and tuning strings and showing up at a club and doing the long, arduous sound check with feedback and selecting the songs and talking about their meanings and deciding what to say on [the liner notes] for the album, and on and on—all of these moments amount to a shared experience that you don't get doing anything else. Because everything comes up. Your thoughts and your feelings and your values and your degree of patience as a person are all on display when you make music together. And that is why touring rock and roll bands become family. It is why playing music around a campfire isn't just about the moment that the music is being sung but about the sharing of the instruments and making of the fire and printing out the lyrics on someone's printer in a basement. All of those moments are connecting threads in our common humanity. No matter what the songs are it doesn't matter. And I really got an unexpected education in making this record. Which seems so simple and fundamental but you can get so caught up in making music for various reasons that you can stray from the fundamentals, which is: making music is profound and profoundly fun, and when you do it with people you become closer. And that is why music is fucking awesome. The end, love Amanda Palmer. [Laughs]
[Note: This article originally appeared in the digital version (for tablets and smart phones) of Under the Radar's August/September/October 2016 Issue. This is its debut online.]
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