Amanda Palmer's only played Red Rocks Amphitheatre once, when the Dresden Dolls opened for Cyndi Lauper's 2007 True Colors tour, and she describes the experience as "phenomenal." So as she thinks about kicking off Friday's performance featuring the Colorado Symphony and DeVotchKa (who has also toured with and opened for her), Palmer's enthusiasm is clear.
"This [is] really a dream gig. In the dream venue. With the dream symphony," says the 37-year-old punk-meets-cabaret artist. "It really is all beautiful things colliding at once."
That's partially because joining her is "super visionary arranger with his star on the rise" Jherek Bischoff, the bassist in Palmer's band, the Grand Theft Orchestra. The two have been creating arrangements specifically for this evening.
It's collaborations like this that Palmer thrives on, and allow her to take on not just the music world but a larger audience. The Indy spoke with Palmer last week about making art for a living, the influence of social media, and her now-viewed-more-than-2.3-million-times February TED Talk, "The Art of Asking," a pitch for building community through personal connections.
Indy: Were you a TED Talk fan before you did your TED talk?
Amanda Palmer: Yeah, I was. I came across TED, probably three years ago, watching Jill Bolte Taylor talk about her stroke. Don't know if you've seen that one? That's sort of the classic. Someone sent me that link and that was my gateway talk. ... When I was invited to talk, I was over the moon.
Indy: What was that experience like for you?
AP: Oh. Very nerve-wracking, because it was a 13-minute monologue, and you only get one shot at it. I had a lot of performance anxiety. [Laughs.] ... I had tailored the talk to be about artists, and musicians, and that's who I was aiming it at. And it actually did surprise me that it seems to resonate way beyond just the musicians — that it kinda hit a universal nerve.
Indy: Do you feel like there's starting to be more of a shift into, or a call for, real connection now?
AP: I think that call has been there since the beginning of human history, honestly. If you look back through the ages, it's an ongoing theme: how we can break through the barriers to actually connect with each other authentically. As a musician, I always felt like I was playing my own little role in connecting, within a small community and then a larger community.
I always approached my job as an artist and as a musician, as a connector more than anything else. And being a performer was part of that, but I saw my role as a performer kind of as a service role for other people to connect through me to each other, which is why the fan base, and the maintenance of my fan base, has always been so important to me. Because I didn't want to just get onstage, do my thing, get paid and take off. I always wanted to create a group of friends, of which I was one. [Laughs.]
Indy: You're all over social media. Do you ever feel like it's taken over your life? ...
AP: I think I feel very similar feelings to everybody else, whether they're performer, musician or celebrity or not. ... I feel the pros and cons as much as anybody else does, and possibly sometimes more, because social media and the ability to use the Internet to reach my fans really is my life's blood. But it does also mean it's inescapable. And you know, luckily, the way I'm built, I do constantly want to connect, and so it feels very natural to me.
Indy: What would be your piece of advice for artists of all sorts today?
AP: Uhhhh, is that different from yesterday? [Laughs.]
Indy: It might be. I don't know. [Laughs.]
AP: ... The one thing I feel that I learn more and more as time wears on and I get older — and I get perspective on what it means to choose to make art as a living — is that the minute you second-guess yourself, and you go against your instincts, is the minute you start to travel down a dark hole. And I still make this mistake all the time.
But as an artist, you no longer have the safety net of a rule book, or a pre-trod-upon path. You as the artist have to stand there and make a totally unique choice about what to create or how to run your business or how to communicate. Because the very essence of being an artist is to create something that no one has created before. And that can be a very lonely job because it is you, and you, and only you making the decisions ... but once you break through those moments and study yourself and make and stand by your decisions, the benefits and the joy and the wonder that is waiting for you on the other side is phenomenal. ... That's what separates a visionary artist from a forgettable one.