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Between the Acts: Amanda Palmer returns with an intimate masterpiece.

On the cover of her new album, There Will Be No Intermission, Amanda Palmer stands stark naked, wielding a sword. The image (and for that matter, the title) parallels the the album itself. Palmer has never really been one to separate life from art, but Intermission takes things to a whole new level. It's billed as her most personal album to date-and it's easy to see why. A lot has happened to Palmer since her last solo effort, 2012's Theater Is Evil, and much of it-losing a close friend to cancer, having an abortion, being misunderstood by the media, not to mention bearing witness to the atrocities that all of us have seen under Donald Trump-wasn't pretty. In the press release I was sent with the album advance, she is quoted as saying, "This isn't really the record that I was planning to make. But loss and death kept happening in real time, and these songs became my therapeutic arsenal of tools for making sense of it all." So Palmer isn't just naked literally on Intermission but also figuratively. She bares her soul.

Fans expecting something similar to Theater Is Evil will be disappointed. Then again, longtime fans know that Palmer never makes the same album twice. This is still an Amanda Palmer disc, of course, and it's a great one; it's not like she's pulled a Liz Phair and is now looking for mainstream acceptance and hits on the charts. But where Theater was a band album and sported a New Wavey rock n' roll sound, Intermission goes in a completely different direction. With few exceptions, this album is just Palmer and her piano. There are only 10 songs on Intermission, yet the album runs over an hour in length. That is due not only to the songs themselves--most of which are between five and 10 minutes long--but to the fact that there are shorter instrumental interludes between each of the longer pieces. Intermission was funded entirely by Patreon and recorded in L.A. with producer John Congleton.

The 10 proper tracks on Intermission add up to a song cycle in which nothing feels out of place. The centerpiece, to these ears, is "A Mother's Confession," which clocks in at more than 10 minutes, arrives three-quarters of the way through, and is basically a diary of Palmer's experiences as a new mom (her son, Ash, is now 3). It's a stream-of-consciousness piece, alternately frightening, funny, and poignant. We follow Palmer from place to place as she grapples with being a new mom and also deals with the day-to-day challenges all of us face. At the song's climax, Palmer sings, "I wonder if I should have had a child." When I tell her that was a pretty ballsy thing to write, she replies, "I really wanna tell the truth. I'm never gonna be the kind of person who [will] paint a picture of motherhood that's all about balance and roses and home-cooked soup. I'm gonna continue to be rock n' roll ..."

"That song was written when my baby was 4 months old, and I was traveling solo, with a baby on my back, to visit [some] friends in the States," she says. "There is this really insidious narrative that's foisted on us as women, that we can be useful as artists or we can be useful as mothers, but we can't do both," she adds. "And even if we intellectually know that that's not true, the fear is very hard to escape ...! [also] think women all over the world are waking up to the power of storytelling. And particularly the power of shameless storytelling. We have been disconnected from one another by the patriarchy for so many years. [So] to see a whole new generation of women waking up to the fact that when we unabashedly tell one another the truth, and share our experiences, this is the antidote to what has [kept] us down for so long-it's a real revelation. Even for someone [like me] who has been a feminist from Day One," she says.

"Even I am waking up to how much fear I have had around other women and how competitive I've been. Watching #MeToo happen, and watching an open celebration of women who support one another, has totally changed the playing field. It's no longer cool to be fiercely independent and competitive. And that is, in my opinion, the ticket out of this hell-women realizing that we have much more power when we help one another and share our stories with one another than when we try to defeat and compete with one another."

The second proper song and the first single from Intermission is also the only one that could really be considered rock n' roll. "Drowning in the Sound" is an excellent tune, but it's a little more abstract and a lot more produced than the other songs. Its theatrical arrangement sometimes recalls the genius of Kate Bush. The lyrics are also unusual in that they were inspired not only by Palmer's personal experiences but by pop culture, global issues like climate change-and even her fans! "That song was written as an exercise in fast art," she explains. "It was a speed test. I booked two days in the studio [and told my patrons], 'I don't have a plan. I'm writing a song tomorrow, recording it the next day. I wanna know what's going on with you. So hit me with comments.' And I cut and pasted a lot of their comments into the song! I specifically put together an 'exquisite corpse' of what was going on in my life and in my head, and their comments-and tied it all together with metaphor. I also had been listening to Dilate by Ani DiFranco non-stop that week." Not the first time she has cited Ani as an influence.

Palmer pays more direct homage to another influence elsewhere on the album. "Judy Blume" is a song about the woman who wrote groundbreaking YA novels like Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret. "I didn't recognize how massive an influence on me she was until one day it hit me like a ton of bricks ... It's not that she didn't make the cut-she never occurred to me! When I went backward and did the math and thought about her books-and the topics-my brain just exploded. [But] it was not until I wrote that song that I did a little homework and realized how lucky I was as a kid in Massachusetts to take for granted that her books would be freely available. I had no idea that her work was so heavily censored and burned in other states in America. ... So that was a 'check your privilege' moment. I was privileged to grow up with Judy Blume's books."

Even though she is married to writer Neil Gaiman, and is now a mom, Palmer is still refreshingly candid about her sexual orientation. "I have slept and hopefully will continue to sleep with everybody;' she tells me with a laugh. "In the immortal words of Margaret Cho, I'm not gay or straight or bi; I'm just slutty. I've always identified as bi, but I [prefer to] identify myself as wide open. No pun intended."

Palmer is planning an extensive tour in support of Intermission. She will kick things off in mid-March, right after the album is released, and hopes to stay on the road most of the year. It will be an unusual tour for her in that it will not feature other musicians. This will just be Palmer and her piano--intimate and minimal--performing mainly in theaters. And in case you're wondering, there will be an intermission at every show. "I'm really excited to take this album on the road to parts of this country that are nowhere near the coasts," she says. "I'm really excited to take this record to Kansas and Utah and states [like that]. In the shadow center of Trump, I'm excited to go out on the road and be more flagrantly political than I've ever been."
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Title Annotation:MUSIC TALKS
Author:Steinfeld, Dave
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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