As much as Evelyn Evelyn might lead one to believe otherwise, Amanda Palmer didn’t end up fused at the hip with Jason Webley by accident. Long before the two formed the conjoined-twins alt-pop act behind the just-released Evelyn Evelyn, they had a feeling they would make a dream team.
“It was really a wonderful, true collaboration,” Palmer says of Evelyn Evelyn’s origins, on the line from a Prague tour stop. “Jason and I, looking back on having written some of these songs two years ago, can’t remember who did what. We can’t remember who wrote which line, who came up with which melody idea. And I think that’s actually a really good sign that our minds really melded during the songwriting process.
“It was like playing a really manic game of songwriter Ping-Pong,” she continues, “where one of us would come up with a concept and we would just bat ideas back and forth over Thai food, cracking each other up. It’s so funny—you can come up with all sorts of artsy, highfalutin ideas and reasons why we did this project, but really, we just wanted to hang out together.”
Casual as that might make Evelyn Evelyn sound, the project is in truth fantastically high-concept. The story, as laid out in spoken-word Evelyn Evelyn tracks like “The Tragic Events of September—Part I”, sounds like something dreamed up by David Lynch and David Cronenberg over absinthe martinis during a triple-feature screening of Twin Falls Idaho, Luther the Geek, and Freaks. Even though they are actually Evelyn Evelyn, Palmer and Webley would have us believe that they discovered the duo on MySpace.
Evelyn Evelyn reveals that the twins were born in 1985 in a small farmhouse on the Colorado-Kansas border. We learn that a young Mennonite girl is rushed, mid-birth, to the local clinic, which is actually a “poorly funded facility housed in a converted Airstream trailer”. The presiding doctor is a “local denture-maker of dubious training with eccentric religious beliefs”, and he delivers girls who are “Parapagus Tripus Dibrachius twins, conjoined at the side and sharing between them three legs, two arms, two hearts, three lungs, and a single liver.”
Such details should be a tip-off that, as far as the official story goes, the magic of Evelyn Evelyn is all in the details, whether it’s the doctor attempting to separate the twins with a gas-powered chain saw, the sisters being dispatched to a poultry farm to be raised like chickens, or Evelyn and Evelyn learning to play musical instruments after doing a hellish stint in a brothel.
Oh, and there’s music, too, all of it just as weirdly fascinating and drama-drenched. Evelyn Evelyn swings wildly from the dark-carnival circus waltz of “A Campaign of Shock and Awe” to the vaudeville ragtime of “Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?” to the strings-and-accordion prog-pop of “Sandy Fishnets”.
Looking back, Palmer has no problem pinpointing the moment when Evelyn Evelyn was born.
“It had a very interesting hatching,” she says. “There aren’t so many things in my life where I can go back and look at the genesis, but Evelyn Evelyn had an exact genesis.”
Webley has a record label, Eleven Records, which he uses to release collaborations with his friends. Having spent time with Palmer while touring with the Dresden Dolls—the band that first propelled her to underground stardom—he decided that they were meant to collaborate on a project.
“Jason was opening for the Dresden Dolls,” Palmer says of Evelyn Evelyn’s birth. “I remember telling him early name attempts of the Dresden Dolls that had failed, including Eleven Eleven, which was taken by a metal band in New Jersey. And Marsha Marsha Marsha, which was taken by some other band. Jason scratched his chin and said, ”˜How about Evelyn Evelyn Evelyn?’ I said, ”˜That’s one too many Evelyns, but Evelyn Evelyn would be a really great name for a sister act.’
“It just toppled down the stream of consciousness from there,” Palmer continues. “Jason and I are both the kind of clowns who will take something like that and put it into practice.”
Three years later, the result is one of the most gorgeously strange records of the year, one that will resonate with anyone whose idea of a perfect Saturday night is swapping stories around a creeped-out-carnival campfire in Weirdsville, USA—with, naturally, Evelyn Evelyn handing out the marshmallows and pouring the absinthe. Except we all know who’s really in charge of the festivities.
“When I’m communicating Amanda Palmer in Amanda Palmer–ese to fans of Amanda Palmer, I have a really specific way of doing things,” Palmer says. “When applied to a project that isn’t about me, I get to exercise a whole other part of my brain, which gives me a freedom I realize I didn’t have with my own stuff.”
The irony of that freedom being, of course, that she’s actually joined at the hip with the other Evelyn.
“But it’s been really great,” Palmer says, “and for Jason too. This is a playground that’s helped us see what we’ve been missing out on.”
Evelyn Evelyn plays Venue on Monday (May 17).