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INTERVIEW: Amanda Palmer & Neil Gaiman
Emily Mackay , November 18th, 2013 12:37

Plus, download Makin' Whoopee from their forthcoming live album An Evening With Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer below

Photograph courtesy of Wayne Hoerchel

Experience and evolution tell us that what initially seems like a fuck-up can be the birth of something exciting. In autumn 2011, Amanda Palmer had a ten-date Dresden Dolls tour of the western US planned. Then, she received a phone call from fellow Doll Brian Viglione, saying he had to be in Europe, and couldn't make all the dates.

With nothing to do between points on her itinerary, Amanda and her husband, writer Neil Gaiman, initially thought they'd just take a drive. “And then we realised that we don't actually holiday together terribly well,” recalls Gaiman, talking to the Quietus in Brighton's Grand Hotel shortly after appearing at the World Fantasy Convention being held in the city. “Because we both get antsy to do stuff. And one or the other of us said, 'Let's just take tiny theatres, and I'll read and you can do some songs.' It was meant to be tiny. And then it embiggened as we started talking about it.”

One quick trip to Amanda’s old friend Kickstarter later, the couple ended up with £130,000 from their respective devoted fanbases to do six 'An Evening With Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer' shows, encompassing unreleased songs and stories, Q&As and screwball married couple banter aplenty. The Kickstarter donors received the return on their investment not only in the gigs, but in the form of a lavishly appointed three-disc set and multiple bonus albums, but now a triple album of the best of the six shows is being released, out tomorrow, November 18 - listen and download 'Makin' Whoopee' from the album below. Neil and Amanda (via phone from Krakow on her European tour) filled us in on what to expect from their accidental revue...

Did you base 'An Evening With...' on other similar shows you'd seen, or was it just, 'Let's do this and see what happens?'

Amanda Palmer: Not totally specifically, but I do have a real love of Tom Lehrer. And the way his records work is that they're very particularly live and the introduction is almost as important as the song itself. So I really thought about that when I was performing the shows, knowing that they were gonna be tracked and released, I wanted the story behind the song to live side by side with the song itself. Songs like 'Dear Old House' and 'Judy Blume' work infinitely better with the lift-off of an introduction to put the song into context.

Was it a nightmare trying to decide which bit to take from each show and how to sequence them?

AP: It actually wasn't as bad as you would think. The nightmare part was recording for posterity. Because I'm so used to my live shows being sloppy and mistake-ridden and very, very spontaneous. So playing these songs with the knowledge that I generally needed to get them perfect in one take was kind of annoying... that being said, I actually had to practise the piano which I can't stand doing, so it was probably good for me. The great spontaneousness comes across in the 'Ask Neil & Amanda' bit and the parts of the shows that we're clearly improvising.

Neil Gaiman: The questions were always so gloriously random. And the answers were so gloriously random. Somebody asked about our first kiss. And Amanda's stories are slightly different to mine in terms of what you would pick to offer the world. And then suddenly Amanda's telling everybody about the time that I coughed so hard I threw up. I was sick, I had an infection. And then she kissed me after that and decided that it had to be love because you don't kiss somebody who's thrown up unless you love them.

What are your favourite memories of those shows?

NG: The best thing I got personally out of it was not the weird moments on stage. It wasn't even the fact that Amanda told me I needed to sing and I did, in front of audiences. Which is the kind of thing that would ordinarily give me screaming nightmares. My favourite memories were learning to rely on people more... Amanda would say things like, "Oh, let's tweet for set decorations. We need some armchairs, we need some things, let's let the people provide." And I'd be like, "How can you do that? What if they bring the wrong chairs?" I was very kind of weird and anal and you-can't-do-that. "You can't ask people to take chairs across a whole city, and how will they get them back?" And as I slowly calmed down and relaxed into this, by Portland or Seattle, there was a giant sofa and some beautiful armchairs, and for some reason, a large stuffed lion, all brought by fans. And it's wonderful.

AP: The look on Neil's face when I delivered him a song from Guys And Dolls for his birthday. Complete with stripping dancing girls. It didn't make it on the record, thank god, because it was a very silly moment of the show, and we used a ridiculous karaoke backup track to sing it. But we did a fully choreographed version of 'Take Back Your Mink'. Neil sat in a chair, grinning from ear to ear and beet red. I got together a burlesque troupe in Seattle and they came up with a whole dance and a striptease, and it was really beautiful.

NG: I loved when we were in Vancouver. And before we went to the gig, we went and visited Occupy Vancouver. And everybody there was in a state of shock because a 21-year-old girl had died the night before. A bright, nice kid had died of a heroin overdose in the Occupy camp the night before. And Amanda dedicated a song to her. And there were friends of hers in the audience. And Amanda played 'I Will Follow You Into The Dark' on the ukelele for this girl. And that was just one of those moments where it felt like the entire hall was swept up in this thing. It was magical.

Did you find it difficult to encourage Neil to sing, Amanda?

AP: No, he wanted to! I often say that Neil has a passionate love affair with his own awkwardness. Like many British people. He genuinely loves performing, he loves to sing songs. He used to be in a punk band when he was in a teenager, and then he abandoned that to become the Neil Gaiman that we know. But he's a real natural entertainer. He's a much more subtle entertainer than I am. He's really good at it. He has a very unique stage style where he relies heavily on his own Britishness and awkwardness and sense of embarrassment to endear people to him and it works beautifully.

It makes you quite a good double-act in that way. A comic foil to each other.

AP: Yeah, I'm the brassy, obnoxious, unembarrassable American and he sort of gets to play the straight man. But occasionally we'll turn the tables on each other and those are always very magic stage moments, where Neil actually manages to embarrass me. He does it occasionally.

It must be quite a strange experience, working together as a couple.

AP: Yeah, we definitely were putting ourselves in a petri dish to see what would happen and the two of us are both very accustomed to being in total control of a stage when we're on it. Neil does a lot of readings and Neil Gaiman shows and he's a master at controlling the stage. And I've been a solo performer for years and I'm a master of controlling the stage in my own way. And we definitely butted heads when it came to little decisions about how things were gonna run or what order we were gonna do things in... But like any experience like this in a marriage, it was a learning and growing experience. I mean, you really could look at shows like that as a fantastic metaphor for marriage in general. Because you're in a space which necessitates listening and compromise and dual strategising because you've chosen not to do a solo show [laughs]. You've chosen to do the double-act and that comes along with its own mountain of pros and cons.

NG: There's so much stuff we won't do. This is like this tiny sliver of an intersection of a Venn diagram. This is the place where we will do it. And we'll have fun. But people say, "Oh, why don't you do a musical together? Why won't you do a big project?" And it's like, no. Both of us like having somebody to come home to where we can say, "That person I'm working with is an absolute idiot." And the idea that you couldn't leave work at work, I don't think either of us like that idea. And the nice thing about 'An Evening With Neil & Amanda' is that we can do it every now and again. It doesn't have a setlist. It's just the stuff that we feel like playing and the stuff that I feel like reading... And we both see it also like... one of the nice things about weddings is that they're the place where the bride's friends and family and the groom's friends and family actually come together and get to meet and all be in the same room and sometimes discover that they have things in common, they get to laugh at the same jokes and cry at the same things. And that makes me happy.

AP: Our fanbases are respectively so intelligent and open-minded and awesome that there was no worry that there would be any schism. And there wasn't. It was wonderful. If anything it did have that wonderful feeling of being at a giant wedding party and everyone's very excited to see and meet each other... It seems like it will be an ever-morphing excuse for Neil and I to just be onstage and bring our fan communities together. And the definition of it will change as the years go on, but it's always going to include Neil reading things, me singing things, us doing silly stuff together, inviting our friends onstage to share their readings or music or whatever may be. It's an expanded living room. That's the way I look at it. An expanded living room with a ticket price.

Stay tuned to the Quietus for a Baker's Dozen from Neil Gaiman later this week