Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

By Deb Draisin

The ever-evolving Amanda Palmer is at it again, this time in collaboration with The Legendary Pink Dots’ founding songwriter and vocalist/keyboardist, Edward Ka-Spel. The release and coming tour for their co-album I Can Spin A Rainbow commences shortly. Amanda and Edward were kind enough to spare Jersey Beat a few moments of their time (from opposite oceans) to discuss these two worlds colliding. Below is Amanda’s segment. Edward’s follows below.

Q: Ms. Amanda Palmer, how are you, my dear?

AFP: Hi! I am great.

Q: It is beautiful here today, how is it where you are?

AFP: I’m in upstate New York right now, and it it’s fucking awesome.

Q: How are the allergies? Because I am sneezing my ass off.

AFP: I have not been bitten by allergies yet, but what sucks is that we are a week or two behind the rest of the flatlands, so we will see.

Q: I used to have to sleep sitting up in the mountains. So, obviously, the world wept with you as the original recording of “I Can Spin A Rainbow” was delayed in 2015 due to the unfortunate passing of Anthony. As someone whom cancer has also punched in the face over and over again, can you walk me through the process of having to try and channel that tragedy into a positive?

AFP: By the time Edward and I sat down to make the record, it was exactly a year since Anthony had died, and I had done a lot of my processing. But the funny thing about Anthony’s death is that I think I had processed most of it before he died, because he was so sick for so long. You know, I watched my friend disappear, and I watched our friendship vanish into the cancer, because he just was not able to be present – he was dying for four years.

Q: Poor thing.

AFP: I felt the strongest grief, weirdly, before he died. By the time he died, it was almost just peaceful.

Q: It’s not that weird, Amanda. I did the same thing with my mom: I screamed and cried and yelled at the sky, and then, when she went right in front of me, I was just like “Oh. Okay then.”

AFP: “Here we go.”

Q: Yeah, it was a confusing, strange reaction, but I know what you mean.

AFP: But, you know, maybe that’s the more normal thing for a prolonged illness? Because, when you know that they’re going to go, and they’re going, you just want to be there. You don’t want to be wracked with grief and carrying on in some dramatic way. You just want to be present in the moment that they’re leaving the world. It’s such an honor to be able to be with someone when they die.

Q: I guess. I never thought about it like that. It seems like such a tragic thing, but I suppose it is.

AFP Yeah, but it’s fucking not, because you know what? We’re all going to die.

Q: I know.

AFP: I mean, yes: a three year old getting hit by a car, that’s a tragedy. But, we all, as soon as we he hit adulthood, it’s like: when is your number going to come?

Q: Yeah…

AFP: Oh my God, just thinking about it makes me excited: “Got to live in the moment today! Look, a rock! The sky!”

Q: You’re right, you do appreciate every breath you take so much more.

AFP: Yeah, and you know, I think a lot of what I was feeling while I was making the record with Edward was like a kind of peacefulness: life was going on. A year had passed, and we had gone through fall and winter, and now it was spring again. My husband and I had had a child, and I was back at work. And I just thought: here we are, life continues. I feel like the biggest gift I was given is the gift that I give back, which is to just continue being creative, and not get hung up on the details.

Q: It’s hard not to, though.

AFP: Dude, listen, I’m with you! (both laugh.)

Q: Well, you know, you did the perfect circle of life, which is prolific – and your boy’s named after him, which is really cool. What was it like to work with someone who has been your hero since you were a kid?

AFP: It was thrilling and delicious, and I’m so glad that it manifested itself exactly when it did. Edward and I first discussed maybe doing something together ten years before we actually made the record, around 2006 or 2007. The Dresden Dolls were on tour in Germany, and the Pink Dots were opening up for us. I think I approached Edward casually and terrified, saying “Perhaps someday, we can do a recorded collaboration.” Edward said “Yeah, of course, absolutely! I’d love to collaborate” and I died a little bit inside.

Q: Whoa, I’ll bet!

AFP: I said “Okay, well there’s the top of my bucket list.” And, yet, I don’t think that, at that time, I would have the presence of mind, the appreciation or the patience to enjoy the process as much as I did when we finally got around to making the record. In 2006, I was still quite preoccupied with impressing everybody.

Q: Oh! Interesting.

AFP: Not that I still don’t have that streak in me – of course I do - and I think every artist does somewhere down in there. But, I think I’ve learned so much in the last ten years – especially creating the “Evelyn Evelyn” record with Jason Webley, leaving the Dresden Dolls, collaborating with dozens of other people, and really getting to know my own voice. I’m just so glad it happened when it did, not that it would have been a wasted opportunity, but I just don’t think it would have manifested quite as wholeheartedly, or as beautifully, if we hadn’t waited. So, I think it all happened for a reason.

Q: What is Edward like as a collaborator?

AFP: He’s magic; a magic man! I’m sort of like “Where are these ideas coming from? Who are you, and what is that?”

Q: He has so much material; he is a whirlwind of creativity.

AFP: He’s like a conjurer. He has his collection of loops and fragments, and sort of waves his hands and pops down a cup of tea, and can just let it flow absolutely on command. It was so inspiring, and humbling, and ass-kicking just to sit next to him. I felt like my own process was just so prissy and precious, because here is this guy just working and writing and stumbling out his magical conjuring right in front of me without any shame, and I’m so…

Q: Overthinking everything that you do?

AFP: Not just overthinking, but to me, songwriting has always been such an incredibly personal, private, intimate act. So, the idea of doing it in front of someone always horrified me, as if you were asking me to share a toilet bowl with someone while I took a shit.

Q: Is that why you prefer to self-produce, so that you don’t have to worry about that

AFP: Well, but there’s something about arranging and recording that’s different from writing. Once I’ve written a song, I’m finished with the absolute gut-busting personal part. It took me actually many years to get to the part where I could just bring my songs into a studio somewhat dispassionately, and have people tweak mics and pick things apart while I sat there and poured out my feelings.

Q: That sounds brutal – how did you do that?

AFP: I found that fucking impossible at first.

Q: Oh, hell yeah – I would cry.

AFP: Actually, my first few times in the studio, I just couldn’t believe how impersonal it all was. There I was in the studio singing, crying, pouring out my soul, and on the other side of the glass, you’ve got someone going “Hey, can you do that take again? I’m going to fix a mic.” And I’m just like (in a sobbing voice) “What? You don’t understand, oh my God!”

Amanda Palmer and Edward Ka-Spel

Q: I can imagine. I’ve always thought that has to be brutal.

AFP: It was. It is. It’s brutal. And here’s the thing: it doesn’t change. But, I think, like a good actor, you develop a professionalism that allows you to protect your ego.

Q: A professional detachment.

AFP: But not a real detachment – an ability to impersonalize certain parts of the process, while simultaneously keeping other parts absolutely, gutturally personal, and it’s really hard. It’s the same when you’re standing there shaking and crying because your father has just hit you, and someone’s like “Oh shit, a light blew. Hold on, we have to do that take again.” Because that’s life: that’s the way art gets made – it’s not always perfect. Your job, as a good artist, is to not be a fucking diva and just go “Well, okay, then I guess I just have to stay in this very dark place, or go in the corner, have a cigarette and come back, and do it again.” (laughs)

Q: You know, I never thought about it like that for actors, because those are somebody else’s words that you’re saying. I mean, I know you’re supposed to process them, but they’re still somebody else’s words – it’s like doing a cover.

AFP: I know, but if you’re a really good actor, you take those words on as your own – they become you.

Q: Sure, that’s how it should be, if you’re doing your job. Well, you know, you’ve been called the “Queen of Overshare” many times.

AFP: Good!

Q: Yeah, that’s always nice. What do you make of artists who are cagier than you are when it comes to continuously reaching out with their emotion so directly, rather than more loosely through their art?

AFP: I wouldn’t differentiate in that sense between artists and anybody. I don’t think it’s anybody’s job to share anything that they don’t feel like sharing. We’re all built in incredibly different ways, you know? Just look at my husband! We all have our own systems to share, and the beauty of humanity is how incredibly different those systems are. If we all expressed ourselves in the same way, this would be a very boring fucking place to be – especially within the arts. So, I love and appreciate every single artist and human being on the spectrum, from J.D. Salinger to Liza Minnelli, and fucking everyone in between.

Q: Nice one, I love that. I actually want to put that on a poster, showing them side by side, and talk about the comparison.

AFP: Go for it!

Q: Do you think that you have the effect on the artists that you work with, or even on Neil? Do you pull them out of their shells, a little, or do you they push you back into yours?

AFP: Hm…yeah, I do think that, and, I mean: so much of what we’re always looking for, as human beings, is permission from each other to do, and to feel, and to risk. Neil and I are beautifully complimentary to one another that way. He has a wonderful word for it: he calls me his magic feather, which means that there’s shit that he already knows, emotionally and intellectually, but there’s something magical about his ability to say “Oh, Amanda, ask them to do this.” The magic feather of the extroverted wife.

Q: That is so cute!

AFP: I’m like “Whatever you need, Dude, take it.” And, in exchange, watching Neil and his bizarre combination of, on the one hand, being very extroverted, but on the other, being very shy, is constantly fascinating, and, sometimes, entertaining. Like yesterday, going to Story Time with a bunch of parents, and watching Neil slink to the corner of the room and start looking at books because he was afraid to talk to anybody. I was like “You’re Neil Gaiman, and you’re in a library! Why are these people frightening you?” And he comes back in his very small British voice: “But I don’t know any of them!”

Q: Aw. And Neil does a lot of personal appearances – more than you.

AFP: Yes, but it’s not the same in front of a group of people who don’t know who the fuck you are.

Q: Yeah, I suppose that’s true.

AFP: It’s really interesting, and yet our job, in our relationship with each other is not to hold the other up to some condition of ourselves, but to just love their unique weirdnesses. I’ve spent the last eight years learning to love Neil Gaiman’s unique weirdnesses, and he mine.

Q: Very fucking smart. You know, a lot more people would be married longer if they adapted that philosophy.

AFP: Well, God knows we’re never going to change each other, so that plan is out the window (both laugh.)

Q: Have you actually tried?

AFP: Oh yeah, we tried that for years, and that landed us in marital caca. Now we’ve accepted that we’re just going to have to love each other in the “as is” condition.

Q: You know what? I think we should all do that as a human race – it’d be so much easier.

AFP: Right, don’t you think?

Q: This fucking administration, I can’t…I don’t even know where to start. As an outspoken feminist, what would you like to see happen, politically, within the next few years – provided we don’t all get nuked to death in another week?

AFP: Empathetic revenge is what I would like to see – non-violent, compassionate revenge (laughs.)

Q: Like attack them with really squishy things?

AFP: Yeah! No mean things, no throwing, no yelling, no insults, but hopefully a massively alarming call to action. Realizing that this was the moment that we peace-loving people needed to get our shit together.

Q: Do you think we could we be doing a lot more here than we are?

AFP: I think we’re still in shock.

Q: Yeah, well I certainly am.

AFP: I did an event last night in New York City to benefit Planned Parenthood and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and I think we are in a scramble to figure out what to do and how to do it. But I think everyone is pretty much in agreement that we have to just be doing something. It doesn’t matter if it’s the perfect thing or the perfect tone, this four years is going to have to be about resolute action in the other direction. And we are just going to have to grab the pendulum and swing it back to where it should have been heading: more progress, more peace, more nice.

Q: How do we go about accomplishing that? I think we’re all so separate. There’s not a lot of cohesiveness amongst humans these days.

AFP: Yeah, but was there ever? When was the last time you looked around, and the world was all one? I cannot remember that time. So, as a feminist especially, I think the dark underpinnings of why so much progress has fallen apart in the movement toward liberating women, progressing the civil rights agenda, any movement in a positive, forward direction in America in the last hundred years, some of the culprits are just really uncomfortable to talk about. The shit you buy at the store, where your money is going, the ads your kids are seeing, the media diet upon which we are fed, the lies we are constantly telling ourselves and each other – a lot of that stuff feels like now it’s coming home to roost.

Q: For sure. In taking an inventory of my household, I’ve wonder how many of the products in it I shouldn’t have bought, you know? Are they supporting something really shitty, and am I an asshole for not doing my homework before I went to the store?

AFP: On the contrary, you are an enlightened being for even looking around and asking that question, because that is so much more than many people are doing. As First World rampant consumers, we are maybe being handed our bill.

Q: You know, that First World reality hits home really fast once you’ve seen something else. I know that you volunteered at Lesovo recently. I visited a shantytown in Soweto earlier this year. That point gets driven home quickly when you see it in front of your face. What was that like, that experience? Did you feel useful, or did you feel helpless?

AFP: I never feel hopeless, I don’t believe in that. I certainly felt frustrated, and I certainly felt like I was handed a needed perspective on things.

Q: Same.

AFP: But it was a very powerful experience. I’m still in a juggle right now to try and find
time to do it justice in writing, because I really want to write about it, it was wonderful.

Q: When I got back from Africa, I really thought that I should have written about it, to enlighten people to all of the issues that they’re facing – things that we don’t see, and don’t connect until we see, but I haven’t found the words either. Maybe we’ll find them at the same time!

AFP: I’m actually going to try and write a long piece and sing it on my Patreon. That is the dangling carrot that’s keeping my ass in the chair, because I’m going to take the money from Patreon and give it back to the camp.

Q: I think your patrons would love that – it’d be an honor. What is favorite song on “I Can Spin A Rainbow” right now, and why?

AFP: I love “The Clock At The Back Of The Cage” - it’s the one I am proudest of on every level: songwriting-wise, arrangement-wise.

Q: And what makes that one stick out for you the most?

AFP: Well, I wrote the lyrics to that one with input from Edward, and it’s far and away, for me, the most personal song on the record, and the most important to get right on the production side, and I just think we nailed it to the wall.

Q: So that was the one that wound up hitting you hardest in the heart.

AFP: Well, it came out of my heart having been hit (laughs.)

Q: Sure, because you had an evolution during the course. Did you notice a change from when you guys first started working on the album and when you got back to it? Did you feel something shift in the songwriting?

AFP: When I got together finally with Edward to work on the record, the last time that I had seen him, exactly a year earlier, I was seven months pregnant and sobbing in a train station. That definitely brought us close together really quickly. We escaped a lot of fussing about, and we allowed each other to dictate the pace of entire thing. I think we both felt like it was an honor to work with the other one, and you can really hear that in how beautifully the record came out. We didn’t hang back, because we weren’t afraid of each other.

Q: Yeah, you can tell the respect level when you run through the record. You can definitely, if you’re an astute listener, who maybe had a little bit more input over here than whom. The piano combined with the electronic element was actually unexpectedly beautiful. You don’t expect the two to go together, but they worked. It was cool (AFP pauses here to kiss Neil goodbye.) That was cute. I actually snuck in a little kiss to my boy when he came in earlier, you didn’t know I did it. Okay, how about a line you’re most proud of having written, a line you wish that you hadn’t written, and a line you wish you had?

AFP: There’s nothing on this record that I’m not proud of. There’s one song where I really, really wish I had pressured Edward more to turn the bass up, but that’s it. There are certain records where I go back and I get those cringe moments, but this record is not one of them – I’m just proud of it from head to tail.

Q: As well you should be, it’s a beautiful record. So, what’s next for you when the tour wraps up?

AFP: After this tour, I am going to take the summer with my family, and then I am going to work on a giant, awesome, secret surprise project that I can’t tell you about yet.

Q: Come on, not even a little hint, Amanda?

AFP: I can tell you this much: I am going to make some incredible music with an incredible collaborator.

Q: You always do. Sounds exciting. So, after the summertime, we can start looking for blurbs. I guess we will see you in May then. Thank you for your time, Amanda.

AFP: You are so welcome. I’m really glad that you enjoyed the record, that makes me fucking phenomenally happy.

Q: Is that always a worry, or do you not care at all?

AFP: More on this record than any others.

Q: Because it’s such a departure for you.

AFP: Yeah, and I hear it through the filter of me at fifteen, because, to me, it sounds like an awesome Legendary Pink Dots record, and I love that music. But the Legendary Pink Dots are some crazy, cult-y band who many people are an acquired taste, even though, to me, they’ve put out some of the most phenomenal music in the world. It really did feel like cooking up a dish that I wasn’t sure that I would necessarily know how to eat.

Q: Or what spices to use, yep. You know, I’ll tell you this: when I did see them open for you, I remember thinking that their set was really badass, and the girl next to me going “I don’t get it, I just don’t get it.” So there you go.

AFP: It’s a particular lineage, and even though I love songwriting that showcases cabaret and a piano slamming against a piano, I think it might seem shocking to some people that I like this repetitive, looping, psychedelic band. But, to me, it was always about the beat and the weird, authentic sincerity of Edward’s songwriting. You could put that guy in front of anything, and I would listen.

Q: And you got to listen by yourself in a studio, which is so fucking cool. I think a lot of people would be surprised by what an artist listens to outside of their own material. People tend to pigeonhole you guys into what you sound like, and that’s not accurate – you have to pull from everywhere.

AFP: Yeah, but whatever – at the end of the day, that’s not my problem. I always felt the same way about The Cure, and Robert Smith. I was listening to all of their music, and it was so diverse and so weird and so varied. And you just got the feeling that nobody knew that. Everyone just thought that they were this kind of boring, drummy goth band.

Q: I think they thought that they were whiny emos, and they didn’t bother paying any more attention to the contents of their lyrics.

AFP: Oh, I know! I mean, Robert Smith is one of the most experimental, beautiful, diverse songwriters of the 80s and 90s. And, if all you knew was the pop hits, and if all you saw was the goth-y pictures, you just had no idea. I think it’s sort of the same with The Dresden Dolls, and with me. If you don’t bother to dig, you’re gonna find nothing.

Q: And also it can be argued that if you’re not being provocative, you’re not doing your job correctly, right?

AFP: Damn straight! It’s been awesome talking to you.

Q: Lovely talking to you, too. Have a wonderful rest of the day.

AFP: Thank you!

Read up, listen up, watch a vid:

Give Amanda a shout (Edward doesn’t like social media):

by Deb Draisin

Q: It's a pleasure to meet you, Edward. How are you? Is the weather as nice there as it has been here?

I'm fine and the weather is tricky in that British sort of looks good from inside but is ,in fact , out to get you when you're foolish enough to step outside.

Q: When did Amanda first make contact with you - was it the first tour you did, back in 2010, I think it was?

I've been friends with Amanda since 1993 when she put the entire Legendary Pink Dots touring party up at her family home close to Boston.

Q: What did you make of her aesthetic at that time, knowing that the Dots have been such a huge influence on her since day one?

I first heard Amanda's music in 1995 (or was it '97?)...She gave me a cassette and it just floored me (it just stood out like blade of new grass in the big plastic mountain of cassettes that were put in our hands on those tours.). Sure I heard The Dots in there, but her sheer originality , honesty ,passion and craft were the qualities that made me turn it up to 11 many times on those long journeys in the van.

Q: Did you enjoy the collaboration? I think it stayed true to your aesthetic, with some intriguing blending of styles in place.

I enjoyed it immensely and I'm pretty sure we'll do this again. Amanda shares my need to literally keep going until I drop. We even wrote most of the words together , passing the paper across the table- so new for me. I learned a lot, and that kind of intensity is addictive.

Q: I know that I Can Spin A Rainbow got put on hold for a while, as Amanda had to rush home to say goodbye to a friend. Do you think that the album took on a different shape once you picked it back up again? How so?

Hard to say. the session from the year before was just 3 hours although it produced one song "The jack of hands" and and one improvised / spoken word piece (Eight Mile Bride- which is on the new EK album, "High On Station Yellow Moon").

Q: How did you guys come up with the album title? Do you feel that the album has a theme to it? Your albums always tend to, and in pairs (i.e China Doll, Illumina, Scapes.)

I guess it came from that dreaded spinning ball which pops up when the computer wants to give the user a middle finger but is forced to sweeten it with all the colours of the rainbow. We tended to dwell on this paradox.

Q: You've had such a prolific career. What keeps you motivated? How do you keep the creative juices flowing?

A hunger .Cannot adequately explain this. It's a need , and a big universe to explore.

Q: Psychedelic music is so open to interpretation - do you prefer that? What message would you say that you would like to put out there with your songs?

Well, you said it yourself...make your own conclusions, interpretations...and yes , you DO have the time to turn off the phone and listen to it again.

Q: How are you hoping to connect with audiences on the road for "I Can Spin A Rainbow?"

Hopefully in a seismic sort of way...

Q: What's next for you once the tour wraps up?

The new Tear Garden album. We just finished it (The Brown Acid Caveat) and it feels like our finest hour (actually its longer than that). Time for TG to finally hit the road.

Q: A statement that you'd like to leave us with? About art, life, anything you wish?

However dark it gets , we'll laugh about it in 5 years time. is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

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