- 14 Oct 19
In a fascinating Q&A, Amanda Palmer talks about how the Irish abortion referendum informed her stunning new album, There Will Be No Intermission. Also up for discussion are artistic epiphanies in Iceland, and why the singer’s fans inspire her to be artistically braver.
Emily O'Callaghan: At least one of your songs on your latest album, There Will Be No Intermission, was inspired by your trip to Dublin last year. Can you tell me about that?
Amanda Palmer: My husband Neil (Gaiman) and I were in Dublin, absolutely coincidentally for the Literary Festival, at the time the abortion referendum took place. It was with synchronicity and luck that I met Roisin Ingle, Una Mullally and other powerhouse feminists. Even though I only knew these women from Twitter, they welcomed me with really open arms. I remember landing that day in Dublin with Neil and not quite understanding the extent of the meaningfulness of what was happening. I was standing right in the middle of Dublin Airport, and looking around at all of these people wearing Repeal shirts. They were waiting to pick up total strangers and take them to the polls and I just burst out crying.
You felt a real kinship.
Roisin and all of these wonderful women really invited me into their ranks. I found myself going from pub to pub celebrating Feminist Christmas with them, but also being painfully aware that the battle was ahead of me and not behind me. I’ve been trying all my adult life to write a song about abortion that somehow sincerely encapsulated the experience, and it just felt like an impossible task. I’d written a song before about abortion that was dripping with sarcasm, and I wrote another song on my first solo album that wasn’t dripping with sarcasm. It wasn’t till the week that I came back from Ireland that I sat myself at the piano and cracked my knuckles and said, “Right, I think I know now how to do this.”
You’d found a way into the subject.
I think it has taken me 25 years, but Roisin and Una, and all of these women in Dublin, pointed the way towards this solution. And so I feel really indebted to them: their bravery literally inspired me to write the song. It wasn’t just their bravery, it was the overwhelming sense of sisterhood. Everything is feeling so fragmented now and so difficult, especially in America. Everyone I know is just throwing their hands up and (then) burying their heads in the sand, because it feels like such an impossible task sometimes.
How did you feel about the response from your fans to the new record?
The nice thing about being an artist of a certain vintage (laughs) and not making my first vulnerable, fragile record at 25-years-old, is that my confidence in the material is unshakeable. I also have a really fantastic hardcore community of readers and listeners and patrons, and almost all of this music was recorded in sketch or demo form, before it found its way to the final arrangements on the record. I have fallen in love with this process. It really feels now that every song is a community effort. The first time I played ‘Voicemail For Jill’ was long before the record came out, the week after I was in Dublin. I came home and wrote the song, and then a couple of weeks later, I was in Iceland of all places. I was playing an intimate gig in a totally random venue, with people who only found out about the gig 24 hours before. I showed up there and that’s where I debuted the song, in some weird little bar in Iceland. All I needed was to look out on the faces of the people in Reykjavik to know that this song worked.
Did that give you a renewed sense of belief?
The confidence and the bravery, the faith that I have in my material right now, did not materialise out of thin air. It’s a result of touring for 20 years and really getting to know my community. The more honest and risk-taking I am in my material, the tighter my community holds on to me. There’s just no way I would have had the balls to write an album this vulnerable when I was 25. There wasn’t a community that I trusted enough. That’s something we forget: it’s a subtler narrative around what it means to be a songwriter with longevity. This audience has become like a family to me. Their support and willingness to listen encourages me to write braver material.
Is this braver material also a reaction to what’s going on right now in the world?
I’ve seen a wave of emotional risk-taking in art, music and literature over the past two years. It feels like all of these artists were totally knocked off-course when Trump was elected. After we all got over the initial shock, and saw that rational discourse had been thrown out the fucking window, a lot of people realised that the sharpest weapon we have in our armour right now, as female artists, is just the fucking truth. It is the strongest and most powerful defence we have against the insanity. I think that’s why you’re seeing a lot of attention around artists like Hannah Gadsby and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. There are artists who are knocking it up not just one notch, but 10, in terms of brutal honesty. It’s the only real escape hatch we have from this particular hell (laughs), and the beautiful thing is that just like with the Me Too movement, there’s a knock-on effect. Every woman who kicks down a door, a stigma or a taboo leaves that door kicked down for the next woman to walk through.
It’s infectious – it’s like there’s a plague of awesome truth-telling spreading around a community of female artists. And you know, high fucking time. Because it is fundamentally the antidote to what has been ailing us. We’ve been living in a system that’s been telling us to be silent, and shut up about our experiences and what they mean for way too long.
I couldn’t agree more. Do you feel that some healing comes from the reaction to your work?
Oh my god, yes! This album and this tour has a lot of it. I have noticed that the deeper I go on a personal level, the more universal my message winds up being. It feels like a paradox in one sense, but makes total sense if you understand anything about art. The show that I’m touring is really difficult. It’s not just difficult on an emotional level, it’s a really hard task to get on stage for three hours and tell incredibly traumatic stories in the correct order, without making any mistakes on the piano. And yet every single time I leave a stage, I feel a couple of pounds lighter. It has not ceased working its magic trick on my soul – there are people out there also feeling their own catharsis when I play those songs.
Amanda Palmer plays Cork Opera House on October 23; the National Concert Hall, Dublin (24); Ulster Hall, Belfast (26); and University Hall, Limerick (27).