SINGER Amanda Palmer has an unusual memory of Ireland. “Neil Gaiman and I actually lost our virginity to one another in Dublin,” she says. “I was on a world tour. He was famous Neil Gaiman. He told me that if we were going to date, we’d have to fly to each other. So I said ‘OK, I’ll come to your film premiere in Dublin’.”
I remember her visit. She and Gaiman performed together in a Dublin bookshop — he read, she strummed a guitar and sang. She laughs. “Yes, though I can confirm we didn’t have sex in the bookstore.”
This was 2009, when Gaiman was an acclaimed graphic novelist and fantasy author, and Palmer was a little known singer, one half of the (since defunct) Dresden Dolls. Six years on, she and Gaiman are married (the couple are expecting their first child) and Palmer is a counter-culture celebrity, albeit for reasons not entirely connected to her gorgeously melodramatic music (which, in a good way, suggests Kurt Weill and Tori Amos brawling in a ukelele factory).
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Her fame is overwhelmingly owed to a 2012 crowd-funding campaign in which she raised $1m. This was in the early days of artists ‘Kickstarting’ albums and Palmer was one of the first to demonstrate how musicians could leverage their popularity. She followed that up with a 2013 Ted Talk entitled ‘The Art of Asking’, which has received 3.5m YouTube hits, and with a best-selling book of the same name. She has become a poster-child for a new way of forging ahead in the music business.
“Having been a street performer, crowd-funding feels as natural to me as a fish swimming in a lake,” she says. “So much of it is about taste — [criticisms of Palmer] are really about people not understanding the fundamentals of human exchange. I am articulate enough to get up there and explain it to people. I feel it’s a noble pursuit, worthy of my time. Do I want to spend the rest of my life convincing people that crowd-funding is not begging? No, I don’t.”
Palmer’s second career, as a champion of crowd-funding, has perhaps been to the detriment of her stature as a musician. Amid the excitement over her Kickstarter campaign, the resulting album, Theatre Is Evil, was overlooked and does not enjoy anything like the profile of its predecessor, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? She is not oblivious to this.
“My one regret,” she says, “is that the noise of the discussion around crowd-funding drowned out the fact I think I had made the best album of my career — and a lot of people didn’t seem to notice.”
There was also a backlash, with critics panning Palmer as attention-seeking and self-promoting. She gave as good as she got, leading to the widely-held perception that she relished confrontation for confrontation’s sake. Nothing, she says, could be further from the truth.
“It is upsetting to me that people assume I go courting controversy. That is never the case — I haven’t not ever gone to do that in my life. It does seem to find me. That’s because I’m opinionated and female… so, yeah, it’s not surprising that I end up stepping on some landmines. But I never go landmine hunting — that is not of interest. I would much rather be happy and offending no-one. When you’re an artist and an opinionated woman, that is pretty difficult.”