"I feel like the right artist in the right time with the right tools." Even without hearing a note, it's fair to say that the American singer, artist and performer (not to mention wife of British author Neil Gaiman) has achieved something extraordinary with her forthcoming album Theatre is Evil.
Signed to a major label for much of her career, Palmer decided to pay for her new album independently through Kickstarter, the online crowd-funding platform for creative projects. Her campaign launched at the end of April. When it closed a month later Palmer had attracted almost 25,000 backers and had raised just short of £1.2m, which will be used to recoup costs and fund promotion, a tour and related projects. "The funny thing is that it didn't exceed my expectations all that much," she says. "We were hoping we'd raise $500,000, and if it really caught fire we'd get to a million. We weren't shocked that it happened, we were just really pleased it worked and the fans stepped up and supported."
Palmer has never sold truckloads of records but she inspires the kind of intense loyalty and borderline devotion many artists would swap for a corridor-full of platinum albums, forged through years of intense interactivity via blogs, forums, "ninja gigs" and Twitter. "I'm really intimate with my fan-base," she says. "I know how they are, I know how they act, I know how they spend, I know what they like."
She describes the Kickstarter campaign as "a big game. It's a lot more fun to support my album in league with a bunch of other fans than it is to drive down to your local store, walk down the soulless music aisle, grab a CD and have it rung up by a cashier who doesn't give a f*** about you or the music. Everything about this exchange is really energising and fun and cool. The entire fan-base can take pride in it. It felt like a beautiful group effort."
This is a potential boom time for musicians with entrepenurial spirit. Palmer is sympathetic to the shy, awkward musician with no desire to network online but points out "artists have always had to hustle."
She clearly enjoys it. A straight-talking 36-year-old born in New York and raised in Massachusetts, she is accustomed to direct action. Her background is in street theatre, busking and performance art.
As long ago as 2000, when Palmer formed "dark cabaret" duo Dresden Dolls with drummer Brian Viglione, she saw that the old industry model was beginning to crumble. "I recognised the way the wind was blowing when Brian and I bought our own CD burner. It was a very small-scale, but we thought, 'Wait a minute, we're literally doing what the industry is doing: we can make CDs and get them to our fans.' That's how we made money in the early days, and it was a liberating moment. I knew that the alternative wasn't going to last very long."
Despite all that, Palmer still signed to Roadrunner, a scion of the Warner Bros group, for the Dresden Doll's eponymous debut album and follow-ups Yes, Virginia (2006) and No, Virginia (2008).
"I knew they could promote us much further and wider than we could ourselves, but I signed that record contract with the comforting thought that if everything went south I could still distribute my music to my fans. That actually made it easier to sign."
She eventually became engaged in a very public spat with Roadrunner, succinctly summarised in a song called Please Drop Me. She got her wish in 2010. "It was so obvious I was the wrong kind of artist to be on a major label," she says. "Now I can be as impulsive as I want."
She has proved true to her word. Palmer's music is occasionally transgressive, sometimes indulgent, often controversial, but rarely dull. Many of her side-projects have seemed like deliberate exercises in commercial suicide: a concept record about conjoined twins, Evelyn Evelyn, was followed by a ukulele album of Radiohead covers. "My label would have laughed me out of the office, but my fans know I'm a weirdo and will at least check it out. I'm just doing what I want and everyone is invited to the party."
Her new record will not be so esoteric. Theatre is Evil, her first solo studio album since Who Killed Amanda Palmer? in 2008, is the pop record that the girl who grew up on The Cars, The Cure, Gary Numan and Depeche Mode always promised herself she would one day make. "Part of it was just allowing myself to do it," she says. "There's always been this creeped-out part of me that shies away from my poppy side. I had to feel that I'd built up enough cred that I was allowed to write my pop record. I'm really happy that I'm making it on my own terms, with total control over it."
Next week she arrives in Edinburgh for an appearance with Gaiman, the graphic novelist and author of Coraline, The Graveyard Book and American Gods. Having married in January 2011 (characteristically, they held a non-binding "flash-mob" wedding a few weeks before), the pair manage to enjoy a collaborative relationship without stepping on each other's toes. "It's important for us that we work together but not on anything terribly important," she says. "We don't ever want to argue about anything like that – both of our lives are complicated enough. Doing stuff together that's not very high-pressure and makes us feel like our worlds are combining is wonderful."
She promises their Edinburgh performance will be "not very planned out". It has its roots in a short US tour they undertook last autumn. "We wanted an excuse to take a road trip together," says Palmer. "Neil would read a poem, I'd do a song, he would read a short story, we'd do a number together then take questions. It was pretty lo-fi, a little hootenanny. Neil used to be the singer in a punk band and he loves the spotlight. I take great joy in dragging him back to that part of his life."
Palmer will spend the next 14 months on the road, after which she and Gaiman plan to settle in New York and she hopes to "pay a visit to my domestic goddess. I want us to have a wonderful home. I know you have to spend time on that. You never know, I might actually take some time off."
An Evening With Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, on Sunday.
Theatre is Evil is released on September 10
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