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Music

Amanda Palmer returns with a politically charged ‘stand-up show about abortion’

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Singer, performance artist and author Amanda Palmer
(Allan Amato )

Amanda Palmer never planned to release another album. She certainly didn’t need to: Since 2012, the singer, songwriter and performance artist has relied entirely on her fans to fund the piecemeal creation of her new work. Palmer says she grosses more than $100,000 a month from her nearly 15,000 Patreon subscribers, who have sponsored everything from demo tracks to blog posts to, more recently, a choreographed video performance about the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations.

None of her piano-driven music required packaging or marketing. In fact, much of it is only available to her patrons, effectively shielding it from the scrutiny — of which there has been plenty — of a wider audience.

“I had found a platform that meant I could make a perfectly decent living. Pay my staff, pay my bills and never have to explain myself again,” Palmer says in a phone interview. “Which maybe just goes to show how wounded I was. Instead of stepping into the quote-unquote arena every couple of years to hock my wares, I just wanted to get into a car outside the arena and drive away very fast, and never go there again.”

Seven years after burrowing herself deep into what she calls her “off-grid fan cave,” Palmer is driving back into the public arena at full speed. “There Will Be No Intermission,” an unconventional album about a series of personal tragedies — rape, miscarriage and the death of a close friend among them — was released in March.

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Palmer also published an accompanying book, which is part memoir and part liner notes. It includes lyrics, stream-of-consciousness essays and lush photos of the 43-year-old artist, sometimes nude and styled like Renaissance-era goddesses. It is already sold out on Palmer’s website. She is currently touring a stage show that incorporates readings from the book and a recorded introduction by her husband, sci-fi author Neil Gaiman. She’ll be at Theatre at the Ace Hotel Saturday night.

A substantial part of the show involves Palmer’s three abortions: Two in her 30s and one at age 17.

“There was no part of me that woke up one morning and said, ‘I know what would be great. I’ll go out and sit onstage and talk graphically about my abortions,’” says Palmer, who frequently speaks in metaphors and has an affinity for profanity. “But the state of the union seems to insist upon it.”

Palmer is referring to the “scary” six-week abortion bans signed into law this year in states including Ohio, Mississippi and Georgia. She is offering abortion providers free tickets to her shows nationwide as an attempt to show support and normalize access to reproductive healthcare.

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“The truth is really liberating,” Palmer says. “It’s one thing to read it on the Internet. It’s another thing to sit in a room with someone and say, ‘Listen, this is how I felt when this happened. You are not alone and you are not crazy.’”

Palmer says the political climate gave her the push she needed to make “There Will Be No Intermission,” for which she began to entertain the idea about two years ago. At the time, she’d been pestering producer John Congleton, who has worked with St. Vincent, Angel Olsen and Goldfrapp, to collaborate with her on one-off Patreon projects. He kept telling her, “Call me when you’re ready to make a record,” she recalls. “If I’m going to work with you, we’re going to get into a studio for real.”

It was a nerve-racking proposition for the onetime frontwoman for the cabaret-punk group Dresden Dolls. She’d vowed to stay away from “the shackles of the idiotic album cycle” after leaving Roadrunner Records in 2008. But the backlash came in 2012, when she raised $1.2 million — the largest sum ever crowd-funded for a music project on Kickstarter — and then put out a call for unpaid musicians on her tour. The move garnered accusations of exploitation and turned her into a subject of ridicule online. She defended herself in a TED talk called “The Art of Asking,” and later, in a memoir of the same name, which only seemed to inflame her critics. Then there was, of course, the sympathetic poem Palmer wrote about the terrorist behind the Boston Marathon bombing. That did not go over well online, either.

“In truth, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. The gantlet that I wound up having to walk through, for having a Kickstarter that large and for having to make a public defense that public, really forced me to reckon with my philosophy and the fact that it was at odds with the rest of the industry,” Palmer says.

But she also figured that no one would pay attention to her — and her political messaging about reproductive rights — unless she played by the music industry’s rules and released a full-length album. “I knew I would only be able to get on the phone with someone from the L.A. Times if I put a record out. I know how it works.”

For three weeks in the fall of last year, Palmer left Gaiman and Ash, their 3-year-old son, at home in upstate New York and holed herself up in an Echo Park Airbnb to record the album. To reduce distractions, she “lived a completely monastic, athletic existence.” She went for jogs on Baxter Street, did yoga at Yogala and went to bed at 10 every night.

The tracks on the resulting album are so dark that “A Mother’s Confession,” a 10-minute-plus song about Ash falling from a shelf Palmer placed him on as a baby, almost sounds comedic by comparison. “At least the baby didn’t die,” she sings in the chorus. Palmer says she and Congleton joked about titling Palmer’s third solo album “The Saddest Record in the World.”

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“We were both into the idea that this would be an unapologetic record of vulnerability. It was obvious to me that this was not going to be a commercial record,” Palmer says. “All that mattered was that John and I were going to try and make this record as beautiful and as honest as possible.”

There’s a lot to unpack in Palmer’s dense new album, but she’s no longer interested in promoting it. “Now all I care about is expanding the conversation about abortion, because I think the country is in trouble,” she says. “Every journalist and everybody out there should be trying to help.”

Plus, she insists, unlike the album, the show is very funny. “It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever done. It’s like a stand-up show about abortion.”

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Amanda Palmer

Where: The Theatre at Ace Hotel, 929 S. Broadway

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $45-$60

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Info: theatre.acehotel.com


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