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Working girl

Amanda Palmer reflects on the Dresden Dolls’ breakthrough year
By MATT ASHARE  |  June 6, 2007

RAWK: “I think what’s interesting is that after all these years of the band being around, people fail to recognize that fundamentally we’re a rock band.”

It’s no surprise that the big local winners in our Best Music Poll tend also to be the hardest working bands and artists. They also tend to at least be on the verge of a national breakthrough, even as they remain visibly rooted in the local scene. Letters to Cleo, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Dropkick Murphys are three of the more recent examples. So there’s nothing strange about the strong showing the Dresden Dolls had in this year’s poll. It was a year in which they supported their second proper studio album, Yes, Virginia (Roadrunner), were invited by Perry Farrell to play Coachella, and were taken on the road by Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails.

They’ve also maintained a strong local presence that’s included a collaboration with the American Repertory Theatre in the original production The Onion Cellar. And the next year promises to see more, as they prepare to join the eclectic True Colors tour with Cyndi Lauper, Erasure, Debbie Harry, the Gossip, and, yes, Margaret Cho. In the meantime, vocalist/pianist Amanda Palmer’s halfway through recording her first solo album, with Ben Folds producing, and drummer Brian Viglione’s been playing with Humanwine.

I caught up with Amanda over the phone in Bordeaux, France, where she was supposed to be on vacation.

So where are you?
I’m in heaven.

What particular sector of Heaven?
Well, the Dresden Dolls played two years ago in Bordeaux. And I did a long walk around town and it was just one of those love-at-first-sight things. I just decided this was a place I was going to come back to and retreat and spend some time. And I didn’t even research the city. I just said “I’m going to go there. I’m going to go back.” I tried to plan the vacation for two years. And then when our schedule finally stopped, and all the touring and everything came to a halt, I called our promoter in France and asked him to help me find a sublet, because I didn’t want to stay in a hotel. And he was like, “Sure. I hook it up for Snoop Dogg, I hook it up for you.” And the next thing I know, he’s got me this government-subsidized artist residence. It’s literally a 10-minute walk from the center of town, in a totally private courtyard, with no other apartments around so I can make as much noise as I want. I rented a keyboard and an amp. So I’m sort of beside myself in complete happiness. Last night I drank wine in my apartment and communed with my keyboard. So I guess you could say that I’m in the French Quarter of heaven. I can’t even start to tell you how magnificent my day and my night have been. I got here like three days ago. And things in general have been going so well that I’m sort of afraid there’s going to be some terrible karmic payback. Things are getting dangerously good.

Are you working on new material while you’re there?
My proposal to myself for this trip was that I would bring a bunch of stuff, like books, DVDs, CDs, and sheet music, rent a piano, and whatever I felt like doing on a particular day, that’s what I would do. Like I wouldn’t put any pressure on myself. But I also know myself well enough to know that I don’t do nothing very well — after one day of doing nothing, of just reading and whacking off, I actually go crazy. So I have spent the past two days reading and whacking off and I’m pretty much ready to get back to work.

What kind of work?
I pretty much hadn’t left the apartment until earlier tonight. The Kaiser Chiefs were playing, so I went to see them. In recent times, they’re my most frequently seen band. It’s interesting watching their history as it rolls along. They are a totally different kind of band. They are about as opposite of the Dresden Dolls as you can possibly get. They’re a fucking everyone-hold-up-your-beer-and-sing-along kind of band. And, I don’t know, I have a real weakness or love for certain veins of just get-your-rock-on, get-your-party-on kind of music. But it’s funny you should mention work because I’ve been feeling sort of half-guilty all night about that. This trip, which is only two weeks, was supposed to be very deliberate downtime. But I got really caught up and excited tonight, and I met this guy at the show who offered to show me around town. So he drove me all around, and he took me to this great bar where I met the owner and I ended up booking a show at the bar for this Tuesday. I’m just going to play piano.

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