Amanda Palmer brings daring, dark and deeply personal music to Bexhill

Amanda Palmer. Picture by Kahn and Selesnick
Amanda Palmer. Picture by Kahn and Selesnick

Alternative singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer heads to Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion next month with her new solo tour, There Will Be No Intermission.

The doors for the gig open at 6.45pm on Wednesday, October 16.

Amanda Palmer. Photo by Kahn and Selesnick

Amanda Palmer. Photo by Kahn and Selesnick

Formerly the frontwoman for Boston punk cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls, Amanda, 43, is now an acclaimed solo artist, known for her deeply personal lyrics and intensely atmospheric style of music.

Her most recent album, her first solo record since 2012, has been racking up rave reviews for its sombre and stirring tunes that tackle the themes of life, death and grief.

The accompanying live show will be appropriately stripped back – just Amanda on piano and ukulele.

“It’s such an incredibly personal record,” says Amanda, when asked about her decision to perform without a band. “It’s the most minimal I’ve ever recorded, so it didn’t really need much. I think that, even if I could have afforded it, it would have been doing this album a disservice if I had been trying it with an orchestra.”

Amanda Palmer. Picture by Kahn and Selesnick

Amanda Palmer. Picture by Kahn and Selesnick

“I wanted this to feel more like a catch up over a glass of wine than a big, you know, production.”

Storytelling is an important element of the concert, Amanda explains, and she wouldn’t want a band to have to sit politely and wait for her to finish a particularly hard-hitting anecdote.

“I wrote these songs over the past seven years of my life and they were really difficult,” she continues, explaining that she never planned to have this album turn out as it did.

“I went through two abortions, a child-birth, a miscarriage, I lost my best friend to cancer... and music has always been an incredibly important, therapeutic tool for me,” Amanda says.

“It’s not like I cracked my knuckles eight years ago and said: ‘I know what I want to do!’” she laughs. “I really want to write a darkly humorous album about all sorts of human trauma.”

Gallows humour aside, Amanda is proud that she’s become a highly responsive and emotional artist over the past few years. She feels confident to take the raw material of her life and transform it into art for her fans, even though this can be challenging.

“It can feel dangerously narcissistic or masochistic or entitled if you don’t get the combination right,” she says. “Especially when you’re dealing with topics like birth, life and death and loss and grief.”

But these are truly universal themes, Amanda says, and she gets real satisfaction from exploring them in front of her admirers.

“I’ve also watched the ripple effect it’s had through the community and I’ve never felt like a more useful artist, if that makes any sense. Even though I’m talking about my own personal stories, the amount of relief and recognition that I see in my audience has been taken to a new level, beyond the kind of stuff that I used to feel with the Dresden Dolls.”

The strength of Amanda’s engagement with her audience is plain for everyone to see. Just hop on to her Patreon and you’ll see more than 15,000 patrons who support her creativity. Even back in 2012 Amanda’s Kickstarter smashed indie crowd-funding records by raising over $1.2 million for her Theatre is Evil album and art book.

“My online community is incredibly supportive, both artistically and financially,” Amanda says. “And one of the things I’ve found is so liberating and inspiring about Patreon, beyond the fact that I have a secure, sustainable financial safety net, is the fact that I have one consistent group of people who really have my back.”

Amanda can experiment with songs in front of people, workshop ideas, offer her fans demos or even get help writing lyrics via blog posts.

“‘Drowning in the Sound’ and ‘The Ride’ were based on patron comments,” she explains. “I basically threw out a prompt, read everybody’s comments, churned them up in the pot of my own imagination and then brought back an offering that I thought was most like the emotional zeitgeist of my community.”

She used a similar technique to write ‘Voicemail for Jill’, arguably her album’s most challenging and potentially controversial track, in which Amanda reaches out to a woman making her way to an abortion clinic.

“I had a really clear intention of what I wanted the subject of the song to be, which was not the case with ‘The Ride’ and ‘Drowning in the Sound’. I wanted to attack writing a song about a really difficult topic. I wanted to write a good song about abortion.”

“This was like my white whale of songwriting,” she continues. “I have been trying to do it for decades and found it really impossible. But I wrote a blog and said: ‘you know, in one or two sentences, what would you tell a woman who was heading out today in America to get an abortion? What words would you arm her with?’ You can still go read that blog – there’s 1,500 comments there archived on the internet.”

Amanda read them all and saw the compassion that they conveyed.

“Hundreds of women got to use that moment for their own strange form of healing because they got to pen the words that they wished someone would have said to them when they were in that position.”

“These moments are incredibly powerful,” she states. “Sometimes it feels like the song itself is the tip of the iceberg, but there’s a much more important, fundamentally connective thing happening between me and the world and my community when I sit down to write.”

“I like to think it touches an older, higher purpose of why we made music in the first place, which is to gather everyone together this mutual recognition.”

So what is it about music exactly? What does this medium allow Amanda to do that straightforward story-telling wouldn’t?

“It’s funny I was just talking to my writer husband (best-selling fantasy novelist Neil Gaiman) about this this morning,” she replies. “Different media have different kinds of power. There are things you can do in novels that you can’t do in songs, there are things you can do in comics that you can’t do film, that you can’t do in theatre.”

“At this point I’m sure there are plenty of TED Talks (Amanda herself did one in 2013) and scientific explanations behind why it is that music has a particular unlocking power over our emotions that other artforms do not. But I only have to be sitting on a stage behind a piano, playing the right combination of chords and singing the right combination of words, while looking out at a sea of people crying to know that if I were able to explain it I don’t know that I would want to.”

She laughs: “I just know that it’s real and it works. Whatever the secret ingredient in music is...I’m not even sure we should be questioning why.”

Looking ahead to the upcoming tour, Amanda is glad she’s performing in some venues she hasn’t played before, like the De La Warr Pavilion, which she’s heard nothing but good things about.

“There’s always a little bit of ice-breaking that I have to do,” she says. “But my community usually does that work for me because I already have such a deep sense of familiarity with the people coming to my shows.”

They know Amanda through her music, through the internet and even through her 2014 book The Art of Asking. And they know it won’t be your standard pop concert.

“There’s a different set of rules and a much wider allowance for expression and emotion,” Amanda states, “The only thing I would say for readers who are totally unfamiliar with me is basically not to be afraid.”

It’s a dark concert, she warns, but it’s also very funny.

“This show is an open invitation for people of all walks of life to sit down and have a kind of moment of communion with an honest artist. It’s not just for the initiated.”

So, beyond the latest tour, what other projects does Amanda have planned?

“There is a rumour that there might be another Dresden Dolls record coming,” she hints. “Which is very exciting. And I’m going to be taking this touring show and making a theatrical version of it at The Public Theatre in New York.”

“But my biggest project right now is my four-year-old,” she laughs. “He’s actually one of my main creative projects in the next year because after all of this touring I’ll be ready to take a bit of a break.”

Tickets for the Bexhill gig cost £23.50. Call the box office on 01424 229111 or visit www.dlwp.com.

Follow Amanda Palmer on Twitter or Facebook.

The Drifters head to Hastings with all their classic hits. Click here to find out more.

Boyzone and Westlife stars join forces for a huge show at White Rock Theatre. Click here to find out more.

Keane set to perform new album in Bexhill. Click here to find out more.

East Sussex entertainment listings, September 13-19. Click here to find out more.