Fittingly, considering her just-released third studio album is titled There Will Be No Intermission, Amanda Palmer is busy working her ass off these days, with the singer as excited about what she’s doing on-stage as she is about battling for a better world off it.
Reached in Kansas City in the middle of a 20-date North American tour, the famously outspoken singer is more than happy to elaborate on her schedule. First up, she’s doing something about the fact that years and years of U.S. political, economic, and social advances are being rolled back by what she rightfully describes as old, rich, conservative white men who are desperate to hold on to power they’ve had for far too long. Emboldened by Republican president Donald Trump, lawmakers and lobbyists have been busy trying to turn back the clock to an uglier time, which is part of the reason Palmer is often booked between shows.
“I don’t know if you’ve been following the abortion politics in the States, but they are pretty rowdy, especially in Missouri and other states that I just happen to be touring in right now, ” the singer says, sounding surprisingly relaxed. “So I’ve been really busy—I spoke at a rally in St. Louis yesterday and have been putting together all sorts of other political actions because it’s crazy what’s going on down here. It’s nice to not only be in a position of power, but also touring at this time.”
Having a devoted following dating back to her early days with alternative-cabaret oddballs the Dresden Dolls and continuing through to her critically lauded solo career has indeed given Palmer a valuable public platform. And it’s one she puts to excellent use on There Will Be No Intermission.
As stripped back as the record is musically (songs are mostly built around warm piano and bright-eyed ukulele), Palmer displays no shortage of lyrical ambition. Her last solo full-length, Theatre Is Evil, came seven years ago, which might as well have been 700 years in this ADHD era.
A lot has happened since then—the death of her closest friend from cancer, the birth of her first child, losing another through a miscarriage, and the rise of Trump’s right-wing America. Palmer’s way of dealing with all of that was to write her most personal songs to date.
The singer sets the scene for There Will Be No Intermission with “The Ride”, in which—over dark cabaret piano—she lets her fans know that she’s on their side with “I want you to think of me sitting and singing beside you/I wish we could meet all the people behind us in line/The climb to the crest is less frightening with someone to clutch you/But isn’t it nice when we’re all afraid at the same time?”
In the hour that follows, Palmer pulls back the curtain on her sometimes messy life, turning the spotlight on everything from her once-fractured relationships to the insanity that comes with parenthood. A lot of the subject material is heavy, with “Voicemail for Jill” dealing with a friend’s right to choose, “Machete” exploring the way we’re able to love those who don’t always share our politics, and “Bigger on the Inside” reflecting on how social media can turn the most trivial issue into an ugly online lynching party.
What ultimately shines through is not only humour, but also a sense of deep empathy, with Palmer trying to find the best not just in friends and family, but also in herself.
“Ultimately, you have to start with yourself,” she acknowledges. “I believe in radical compassion, and sometimes the most difficult person to have compassion for is oneself. But, pretty much like that cliché about love, if you can’t start at the beginning you don’t get very far.”
Her empathy extends to the world around her, Palmer says, right down to the show she’s currently touring. In many ways, she sees herself as almost morally obligated to keep fighting on the street.
“As an artist, these are really interesting times to live in,” she opines. “My own personal journey, through my life and my artistic career, is always going to intersect with the field of politics. And it’s so fascinating to me that the moment I was really finally ready to write and share, vulnerably and sincerely, about reproductive issues, writing about abortion, writing about miscarriage, writing about death and loss, that it all landed smack-dab in the middle of the year that America went into crisis about these very topics. That’s not lost on me.”
Also not lost on her is that she pays the bills as an entertainer. And that explains why she’s so excited about her current tour. That There Will Be No Intermission is so personal has taken her shows to an entirely new level of intimacy.
“I tell a lot of really difficult, personal stories on the stage,” Palmer says. “I describe having multiple abortions, I talk about miscarriage. But I deliver it all with a lot of humour, because there’s no other way to dish it out to make it palatable. Ultimately, though, it’s a show about empathy. It was a galvanizing fire that I’ve walked through the past eight years—losing my best friend, losing a pregnancy, having multiple abortions, losing an ex to suicide—it was just one thing after another. But at the same time, I’ve never found a stronger sense of self, and that comes across so loudly, both on the record and the stage show.”
Just as things are stripped down to basics on There Will Be No Intermission, shows feature Palmer mostly at a piano. Armed, she says, with stories designed to move people in the most hopeful of ways.
“I worked very hard on this show,” Palmer notes. “I could have just gotten up and played the record and then a few of my old favourites, but instead I really set myself up with a task, especially having seen Hannah Gadsby and Bruce Springsteen do incredibly powerful, scripted shows where they not only delivered their musical material, but also gave audiences a story that really forced them to try harder. So I’m more proud of this stage show than anything I’ve ever created. It feels like my final exam, not only in musicianship, but also in truth-telling.”
Amanda Palmer plays the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Thursday (June 6).