The Art of Asking

Amanda Palmer by Terry Check  IMG_1895-1Cliché: Whatever label one tries to attach to your music, punk cabaret, rock, or simply yourself, your lyrics are so real. Do you write your lyrics? If so, what are your inspirations? Tell us the story behind “The Killing Type.”
Amanda Palmer: I write songs in all sorts of different ways, but there are a few musts: I must be alone, I must have a workspace with nobody listening, and I must have an audience in mind. When I was a little girl, the audience in mind was imaginary, but they were still there. I always have to envision the target, where the song is aiming. I may be weird like that, but it’s the only way I know how to write: directed… even if it’s a total fiction. “The Killing Type” came to me while walking down the street after having a heavy, emotional dinner with my sister in Amsterdam, where she’s lived for a long time. I had tried to find a cab back to where I was staying but I couldn’t, so I walked the three miles home. Walks are excellent for songwriting, especially if you’ve got no phone service. And the phrase “I’m not the killing type” popped into my head. And it sounded just… hilarious. Not the killing type? Like… not the outgoing type? Not the salsa-dancing type? I decided that it would be an excellent lyric. So I followed it down the dark path and wrote pretty much the entire song, with simple chords chugging along under it in my head, on the walk home. That’s a pattern, actually: you can often tell the songs I’ve written away from an instrument by how incredibly simple the chords are.
How do you view yourself as a person, a wife, and music icon to your fans?
I don’t. I can’t. I’d ruin it all. Viewing yourself as anything is like death.
Your reading of “The Wasteland” at the United Nation’s Wounded to Death was very moving. Have you personally experienced violence against women?
Well, real physical violence… luckily, not very much directly. I’ve fell into minor fisticuffs with a few lovers when I was younger, and that’s always interesting to look back at—how we were, how we acted, who felt power, and why. Within the demographic I hang in, where there isn’t a lot of direct physical abuse, I pay a lot of attention to the smaller violences, the emotional violences, the self-violence and heart-violence people inflict on each other and on themselves. I feel like so many women I know destroy themselves—commit violence against themselves—subtly in the name of cultural acceptance. And I think direct violence is a huge issue in a lot of places, but we also mustn’t forget to connect the dots, finding the link between the giant media dictates—like advertising—that quietly raise our children and lead to the violence they then inflict upon themselves. It’s a lot more insidious and paying attention is crucial.
Kudos to you for leaving the record label and self-funding your solo album, Theatre is Evil, from Kickstarter. Your goal to produce the album was $100,000 and you raised over $1,000,000. Could you have produced your record if you raised only the goal of $100,000?
Absolutely. It was scaled. We would have had to produce a lot less product if only 2,500 people, instead of 25,000, had ordered a copy that we then needed to put into the post. It would have been fine.
Will your Kickstarter fans fund your future records?
I’m sure some will, and some won’t. The fan base is really supportive of me in general, as an artist who continually “works.” So I have the inkling that they’ll support me no matter what platform I choose to use. Right now I’m in between projects so there’s no need to worry about it.
Congratulations to you for the TED presentation, The Art of Asking. Together with millions of viewers, I was intrigued by the concept of giving and asking. Tell us about the need for you, and maybe for all of us, to connect the others, to love and be loved. Can someone connect with others who despise you (us)?
Anyone can connect with anyone. I find it incredible that some people just refuse to believe this. We all need to be seen, recognized, and loved. We all crave connection with each other, in some form or another. We are social creatures. You certainly don’t want to go wasting your time on this planet trying to connect with those who refuse and refuse—you’ll burn yourself out. But not keeping your heart open to the possibility that love can—and does—come from just about anywhere makes your world, and your life, very small and sad.
Looking five years down the road, where will you be? Where will the music industry be?
I try never to plan more than a year ahead, lest I get into a trough I can’t get out of. After I write this book, I’ll be concentrating on a theater project, and having two huge creative projects already on the burner is about my maximum. But spiritually, I’m trying to settle a bit. I’ve been on the tour-road, constantly traveling, for about ten years, and I am starting to feel the indoor wear and tear on my brain and my body. So I’m thinking of trying to create some moments where I can sit still to balance all that shit out. Henry Rollins does this: he takes an inhale year (consume art, contemplate, rest) and an exhale year (tour, scream, reflect back to the world, create). I’m with Hank. And it’s time for some inhale… I’ve been exhaling non-stop and I’m a bit dizzy.

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If you love her music, check it out at If you want to watch her TED presentation, go to, and if you want to follow her, get started at @amandapalmer.
Written and photographed by Terry Check / Retouching by Pixel Polisher Studios

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