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Category Archives: dresden dolls

Amanda Palmer and the True Fans

On Monday it was Amanda Palmer’s birthday.

Amanda Fucking Palmer holding a keetar. Note how she and Lady Gaga are in many ways the same person.

I have written about Amanda before. She was half the astounding Dresden Dolls before she released a frankly stunning and sadly slept-on solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? and then got intentionally dropped from her label, meandering off to make an album as half of a conjoined twin act, marry Neil Gaiman, and then dabble in the world of ukuleles and Radiohead cover songs.

It’s not the most linear or discernible path for an artist to take, but somehow Amanda not only makes it work, she acquires more new fans at every turn. Not just casual fans. Insatiable, intelligent, invested true fans. I say it is because she is so indelibly real, even when she is being completely ludicrous.

Back to her birthday. It was Monday, and it marked not only the start of another year in Amanda’s life, but the completion of recording a new album with her band Grand Theft Orchestra.

To celebrate, she created a Kickstarter campaign to fundraise for the album release, promotion, and supporting tour. She set the goal at $100,000 – pretty massive for a Kickstarter campaign – but did she have 5,000 true fans willing to chip in $20 each to help her get there?

She made the limit in seven hours. By the next day she had a quarter of a million dollars. At the end of day three she currently sits at the $400,000 mark, with four weeks of fundraising to go. There is an honest chance that Amanda Palmer may briefly become a millionaire before she creates all of the albums, art books, and USB record players that go with the campaign and travels the world with Grand Theft Orchestra to share her new music – and that will be a million dollars well spent.

I gave almost immediately, mostly out of principal. Based on the past few ukulele things I thought the record would be weird and indulgent and I would just be satisfied that I am supporting an artist I admire.

Then I watched this Kickstarter commercial, rife with clips of new songs … every single one of them amazing.

Now I have not only pledged in exchange for music, but I am going in purchasing an Amanda Palmer House Party for Philadelphia, which means after seeing her four times as the Dresden Dolls and two times solo I am now going to see her in a living room with about three dozen other people sitting on the floor.

(Not only that, but she inspired me to shattered a long-running streak of writer’s block, and I already have two peculiar new songs to show for it.)

Amanda Palmer isn’t operating from anyone’s model but her own, and she breaks the mold every time she dreams up a new project.

She is the new music industry. We are the media.

Happy Birthday, Amanda Fucking Palmer.

Music Monday: Tristan Allen, via Amanda Palmer

Last night I watched an amazing webcast of original instrumental piano music from a teenager named Tristan Allen, who has his first EP out today.

The quality and control of it was just astounding. I have a very hard time paying attention to instrumental music, but last night I had no problem.

What’s so interesting, other than Tristan’s amazing abilities as a pianist and composer, is the story of how his album came to be. I love this story to death, and you should just go read Amanda Palmer’s version of it – part 1 and part 2 – but her blogs are way longer than mine, so I’ll summarize for you:

While Amanda Palmer, she of the Dresden Dolls, was recently in Boston rehearsing and performing Cabaret she randomly stopped in front of Berklee College of Music and asked three hugging teens if she could snap their photo. Though they didn’t recognize her at first, just as Amanda made her way down the sidewalk one of the teens chased her down, having overheard her talking about Cabaret.

This was Tristan. He was a huge Dolls fan and composer, and wondered if he could play a song for Amanda. One thing lead to another, and Amanda, Tristan, and his friends wound up in Amanda’s legendary Cloud Collective apartment with Amanda’s jaw on the floor, watching him play.

So, of course, being Amanda Palmer, she broadcasted him to the internet as he played and then created a Kickstarter campaign to raise 2.5x as much as he needed to record an EP, and then went into the studio with him to record, then last night threw him a record release party once again broadcast to the internet at large.

(You can stream the entire webcast on Ustream – Amanda plays a set before Tristan, who starts at about an hour in. His second or third song is where I began to be really blown away.)

Just take that in. Amanda Palmer just got out of a record contract. She was in a major run of a musical, promoting a new record, mixing another one, and planning a reunion tour for Dresden Dolls. And she took the time out to hear Tristan’s one song – and then fell in love with him and helped him make all of this happen. Oh, and recorded a duet with him.

Now Tristan has an album, at least a few thousand dollars put away for school, and a pretty fare name for himself heading into college applications.

Just amazing. Please listen to the sample and, if you like him, download his EP at any price you name.

Crushing On: Dresden Dolls

Sometimes you find music that is so in tune with your own influences that it seems to be deliberately made for you.

The Dresden Dolls are that.

The Dresden Dolls

The Dresden Dolls are a two-piece band – hard, clanging piano from Amanda Palmer and the best drumming on the planet outside of Scandanavian death metal from Brian Viglione. Amanda sings in a smarmy, cabaret-influenced alto belt which over the years has become a third finely tuned instrument in the band’s arsenal.

Already they are completely up my alley. Then, it turns out the Dresden Dolls are influenced not only by cabaret and punk, but by Bertolt Brecht and David Bowie. They love winkingly nodding to unusual corners of pop culture, like covering the Maurice Sendak poem (and personal anthem) “Pierre” and – on Sunday night – covering an Auto-Tune the News song.

I originally heard about the Dolls from our friend Chaz, but didn’t really get the point of their vicious cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” Then, 2006, we were headed to Bonnaroo and I saw their “Yes, Virginia” on the Bonnaroo artists rack. What the hell?, I thought, and picked it up.

That album became one of my favorites of the decade, and yielded perhaps my favorite song of the decade, “Backstabber.” Virginia transcends punk cabaret to be an awesome pop album filled with hyper-catchy singalong anthems with a subversive bent, like “My Alcoholic Friends” or “Mandy Goes to Med School,” a catchy tune about being a back-alley abortionist.

Sunday night at their 10th Anniversary Concert they played “Backstabber,” “Mandy,” and just about every other song I love, and ended with “War Pigs.”

This time I got the point.

Recommended mix-tape: “Good Day,” “Coin-Operated Boy,” “Girl Anachronism,” “Backstabber,” “My Alcoholic Friends,” “Shores of California,” “The Kill”

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Filmstar and The Substitute People

I want to tell you about one of my fantasies.

(Don’t worry, it’s work safe.)

I fantasize about being a substitute person.

If you don’t know what that means, you clearly don’t watch Elizabethtown as much as E and I do. At one point, Kirsten Dunst’s Claire – a perennial second-place finisher in a life and love, muses:


You and I have a special talent, and I saw it immediately. We’re the substitute people. I’ve been the substitute person my whole life. … I like it that way. It’s a lot less pressure.

I’ve always had the fantasy of being the substitute person, but it took Claire to put words to it. Usually my fantasy goes like this:

A musician I really love – let’s say, Amanda Palmer – is in town, but they are touring without a certain band member – usually a guitarist or harmony singer. I’m at the concert, and when they start to play one of their big hits they stop and ask, “Does anyone know the [guitar/vocal/cowbell/whatever] part to this song? [I raise my hand.] You do? Come up here and try it.”

And then I get up and, of course, play the solo or sing the harmony to perfection, because I am obsessed with it. And then they ask me to sit in for another song. And another one. And then I hang out with them after the show and they fall in love with me.

Sort of like Courtney Cox in the “Dancing in the Dark” video.

I’m sure you have a similar fantasy, even if you aren’t a musician. Maybe it’s about stepping in with a sports team, or filling a hole on a big project in your office. It’s the opposite of the Actor’s Nightmare, where you’re stuck on stage with no idea what to do.

The allure of the fantasy is that we’re the substitute people. Just like a substitute teacher, no one is expecting us to do much more than fill a hole. Then, when we are amazing (or, at least, more amazing than adequate), they fall in love with us.

Having the substitute fantasy doesn’t mean you don’t like your life. I love being half of Arcati Crisis. But, every time I listen to E’s Filmstar demo record I catch myself thinking “I could walk right up and play all of those bass parts, if they needed me to.”

Well, two weeks ago life put my fantasy to the test when I wound up behind a microphone at a Filmstar rehearsal with a brand new bass hanging off my shoulder.

To make a long story short, Filmstar found themselves without a bassist, and I was called on my flippantly mentioned substitute-person fantasy of playing with the band.

I did know their songs pretty well – well enough to noodle along to their EP. Well enough to play bass on all fifteen of their songs? I didn’t necessary know every key, chord, and rhythm.

Oh, and there was the little detail of my not having played bass for seven years.

I decided that didn’t matter – I wanted to be their substitute person. E asked me to fill in on a Thursday. My new bass arrived on Friday. I arranged all the songs for myself on Sunday. I knew all fifteen of them for rehearsal on Wednesday.

We played every one.

This photo of me playing bass is nine years old, and this is as big as you're ever going to see it.

Was I awesome? No. Am I a bassist? Not by trade. But as a substitute person I was solid – I showed up able to fill the entirety of the hole in their lives, probably better than they anticipated I could.

I don’t know how long I’ll keep substituting with Filmstar, or if I’ll keep loving it. At some point a long-term substitute becomes your permanent solution, and surprising adequacy turns into lingering disappointment.

I’ve decided i don’t want to think it through that far. For the moment, I’m living my fantasy, and playing in an awesome rock band with my wife.

Sometimes we get we want in the most unexpected ways. What’s your substitute people fantasy? Have you ever got what you wanted?

I laugh until my head comes off (Amanda Palmer’s “Idioteque” debuts)

See that Radiohead lyric in the title? That’s my past two days. Work + House has reached absolute critical intellectual mass. Whatever that means.

I love Amanda Palmer, even if I don’t always love everything she does. When she said her next release would be an album of Radiohead covers on ukulele I was beyond skeptical.

The skepticism has ended – behold, her cover of “Idioteque,” released literally minutes ago.

<a rel="nofollow" href="">Idioteque by Amanda Palmer</a>

I love it. I just love it. I’ve always loved the song, but the icy, withdrawn version on Kid A has never totally connected with me. Amanda’s sounds instantly familiar, as if it was the version I was hearing in my head all along.

For more on her upcoming album hit her “Idioteque” blog post; of note:

[buy “Idioteque for] a minimum donation of 40¢ (9¢ going to radiohead and the rest to paypal)

the album will be available … for a minimum donation of 84¢…some stuff i’d like you to know about that 84¢:
– 54¢ of it is going directly back into radiohead’s pockets (the cost of selling my covers of their songs)
– the remaining 30¢ will be going to paypal to cover the transaction fee

There is no physical release beyond a limited edition LP, and anything beyond the minimum donation for digital is 100% gross profit for Amanda, which will help her recoup her production costs.

Is this the new model of indie music? I hope so, as it’s exactly what I would do. I guess we’ll see soon enough.

Monday Morning Remainders

Some links I’ve been meaning to share for a while that don’t quite merit their own posts, but work well traveling as a pack.

Last week Ad Age ran a great article on Social Media taking cues from indie music. They highlight four artists taking the lead in connecting to their fans on the web, and the #1 example is my personal fav Amanda Palmer, about whom they gush, “[She is] more sophisticated than almost anyone on the internet — musician, brand or otherwise — when it comes to gathering her audience around her and keeping the conversation going.”

In a not-dissimilar topic, NYT ran an article highlighting how bands are increasingly eschewing labels in favor of self-releasing or seeking alternate funding. Fluffy on content, but features Metric, whose self-released Fantasies is killer. Metric is my Garbage replacement while Shirl and the boys chill out. Metric’s manager just detailed the funding behind the record in an open letter; dense, but a fascinating peek into the Canandian indie industry.

Nerd Boyfriend is a photo blog that posts modern and vintage photos of well-dressed nerds you’d probably like to date, and offers suggestions of how to match their look. Their Scott Walker post is one of my recent favorites, both for fashion and photography.

How to decide if you have a good job” is a fantastic post about start-ups, stress, and loving your life. It also give a bit of background inside into, a novel start-up that regularly delivers all of your household necessities to your home at a discount over big box stores.

On the flipside, big box corporations are co-opting the “buy local” movement, the same way they’ve all undertaken “green-washing” their businesses. Disappointing on the surface, but there is certain a local element to chains with e-tailing encouraging people to continue to hit their brick and mortar locations or customizing their sales to a regional audience. Neither are bad things.

Um, the melting arctic has released a torrent of “biological goo” on the Alaskan coast and we are not alarmed why? Sounds like the beginning of a terrifying episode of X-Files to me. (via Cecily of Uppercase Woman).

September is a month dedicated to raising awareness of cancer in children. I’ll be busy planning Blame-a-Thon, followed by my corporate charity campaign. If your month isn’t so insane, you could host your own Alex’s Lemonade stand. If you don’t know much about Alex’s history, check out how Alex’s little stand can teach big marketing lessons.

That should be enough to keep you occupied on your lunch break.

Lefsetz publishes Amanda Palmer, lashes the Billboard Top 100

I am suddenly a fan of savvy music blog Lefsetz Letter, who provided me with the link that inspired my previous post.

I found him via Amanda (fucking) Palmer, who sent him an email about the power of twitter and why she wants to get dropped from her label – the intersection of which is that she had to explain Twitter to the VP of Media at her OZ label, who dished it, and she proceeded to put together a TwitMob event in under 24 hours.

Between this and not liking her video because she looked “fat” RoadRunner records are looking like total asses. No wonder she wrote this charming song about them, to the tune of “Moon River.” Stick with it ’til the end, it’s hilarious.

Meanwhile, back @ Lefsetz, he apparently does a weekly analysis of debuts and big climbs and drops on the Billboard 100 album chart. This week he was pretty harsh, laying out the reasons why a dozen albums aren’t going to make back their production costs, let alone go platinum.

The one he singles out for praise? Lady Gaga. Not because she is fucking ubiquitous in dance clubs (I know this because I just went to one, so there), but because she has gangbusters viral marketing and can sit alone on a stage and do this. Which, honestly, so can I. This one is a bit better.

So, basically, if Amanda would produce a matching album of bangin’ club versions of all of her songs she would rule the charts.

And, scene.

(ps: check out a bonus Amanda interview I was kindly asked to blog a few months ago and got lost in the honeymoon morass.)

Amanda FUCKING Palmer

As to the rest of my awesome weekend, there was the bit where we moved an entire house of belongings from one place to another in less than 90 minutes of manual lablor, and then there was the bit where I slept for a really long time because I was not feeling super, and then there was Amanda FUCKING Palmer.

(Actually, I skipped the bit where I walked up and down South Street belting out Dresden Dolls harmony vocals to see if I could attract the attention of anyone on the tour who would introduce me to Amanda, which in my opinion is a way more effective version of stalking than most of her fans might undertake. But, I digress).

Elise and I (and many of our other friends) are tremendous Dresden Dolls fans, so we all took the news of Amanda’s impending solo record with several grains of salt. Would it be an indulgent glamour project where she indulged all the inane songs Brian refused to drum on?

In a word: no.

Who Killed Amanda Palmer? is a fantastically layered, nuanced album that runs the gamut from heart-rending ballads to two massive pop blitzes catchier than anything the Dolls have undertaken (and this is coming from someone who has “Backstabber” tattooed on my brain – it’s my #1 most-listened to song in iTunes).

I’d tell you more about the album, but I’m already entrenched about 2500 words deep into my review of it, so it’ll have to wait. Instead, a word on the concert.

It wasn’t a concert.

At least, not in the sense you would typically expect. It was truly a cabaret – songs mixed with spoken word, mime, question and answer sessions with the audience, and unplugged performances on ukelele. It was an interactive, unconcertlike experience. At one point Amanda and The Danger Ensemble did a choreographed dance to the entirety of Rhianna’s “Umbrella” (which I had mercifully escaped hearing up until that point).

If that sounds like a damnation by faint praise … well, only a little. There were definitely points where the act of Amanda got slightly tiresome, and the show visibly bled audience at those points. In the past that blood has been me. But, on Saturday it finally felt like cabaret and not a concert, maybe due to the absence of Brian, and maybe because of how much Amanda chatted directly with the audience – explaining the funding behind her tour, or asking us to send her a text message.

It was much about atmosphere and attitude, texture and taste, as it was about playing all the hits. Case and point, perhaps my favorite song of the night wasn’t any of the ones I was hotly anticipating, but a take on her hilarious collaboration with Neil Gaiman, “I Google You” (explained hilariously via a blog comment chain by Neil), the best bit of which is definitely,

And I’m pleased your name is practically unique
it’s only you and a would-be PhD in Chesapeake
who writes papers on the structure of the sun
I’ve read each one

At the end of the night she came out for an encore of her current single, the hot horny mess of “Leeds United,” slapped onto the record complete with an “Oh! Darling” losing-my-voice single-take vocal. Introducing it (or maybe earlier), she mentioned that her record company didn’t like the video as-is because she looked “fat.”

We’re talking about someone on my list of five famous people I’d sleep with. Fat doesn’t really enter into the equation. Behold:

Right. Fat. Sure.

In any event, I loved the concert, and I’m happy that Amanda is getting the chance to make her own music away from the Dolls. If any of this sounded interesting (even if you don’t love Amanda’s music) I would suggest you check out her mammoth story of recording the record, which is more detailed and frank than any episode of Behind the Music.

(wow, that was supposed to be a short post)

My Favorite Trio Tracks: #1 – Up & Down / So Hard (from Trio Season 3, #5)

My favorite Trio tracks have documented many memorable musical moments from 2000 to 2004. Songs made their debut, found their fans, and were gradually refined or radically transformed.

However, sometimes the best part of Trio is playing a song – old or new, well known or obscure – and playing it very, very well. This became my mission throughout all of Season 5, with outstanding results, but up until then a specific pair of Season 3 tunes were the best example.

I remember very specifically burning them to CD and listening to them on the train ride to Elise’s house, and as soon as I arrived pushing the disc into her stereo, ignoring that one of the tunes was a touch explicit and Elise’s 10 year old brother was sitting on the floor playing video games. Not to mention that the cover in the middle of the two songs was “Untouchable Face.”

(Little did I suspect that years later I’d take him to a Dresden Dolls concert where backup dancers would pantomime giving each other back alley abortions, alternating the Charleston with pulling doll parts out from under their dresses. That made me feel so much better about blasting “Untouchable Face” in his living room.)

Check out “Up & Down” and the debut of “So Hard” from Trio Season 3, #5. And, tune in next week for the first Trio of Season 6.

Success to the successful… oh, nevermind.

Well, it took nine years, but i officially have learned my second guitar solo. I can even play it along with the record (with mild ad-lib).

Of course, now that it’s all learned i just watched a video of it being played and part of it is in a different position. Fucking Hal Leonard and their Authentic Transcriptions can kiss my authentic transcriptionist ass, i knew their tab was too easy to be true.

I swear, if i ever get popular enough to warrant a sheet music book it’s going to have full standard notation of all music and vocals, complete guitar tab, and piano arrangements for every song – all approved by me. I’ll arrange it all myself if i have to. You know, just like the Dresden Dolls book (which is amazing).