Amanda Palmer on writing a song about abortion: “Women are becoming shamelessly and infectiously truthful”
“All you have to do is look at the way the dominos are falling and how women are becoming increasingly less afraid of the threatened consequences of telling the truth”
Amanda Palmer has spoken of her openness in tackling ‘abortion, miscarriage and death’ on her new album ‘There Will Be No Intermission’ – as well as being inspired by “shameless and infectiously truthful” women.
Last month saw Palmer release ‘Voicemail For Jill’ – a song penned after a visit to Dublin during the landmark referendum to legalise abortion, having struggled for over 25 years to write about the subject.
“I’m going to crib something that Neil [Gaiman, husband and author] said about his book The Graveyard Book,” Palmer told NME. “He said he got the idea for it when he was 24, but he was a good enough writer back then to know that he wasn’t a good enough writer to write that book yet. He tried and just looked down at the pages and said, ‘I don’t have the chops to do this yet’. Every few years he would drag it out and try again, but he didn’t write it until he was in his ‘40s.
“I sort of feel the same way about ‘Voicemail For Jill’. I had the basic architecture of this song that I knew I wanted to make, but I didn’t have the skillset yet to put up the scaffolding, do the work and have it mean what I wanted it to mean. I knew I could do a slapdash job with these sloppy tools as a 29-year-old or a 32-year-old, but it wasn’t until I sat down at age 41 that I knew I could actually hit all of the notes that I needed to hit.”
She continued: “It really felt like some back office in my brain had been working on this song for me since I was 17 or 18 and finally brought it up to head office.”
Speaking of the decades of struggling to write a song about abortion, Palmer said she couldn’t figure out what the tone should be or “who should be speaking” in the lyrics.
“I wrote drafts of an abortion song while I was pregnant with a baby that I wouldn’t keep where the song was actually from the point of view of the foetus,” said Palmer. “How do you write this song without being sentimental, without being self-deprecating, without being preachy?
“I just couldn’t figure out what the voice was, and it was being in Ireland during that vote and feeling this surge of power from these men and women who advocated so hard to get this legislation changed. Being there and seeing these women openly dancing in the streets pushed me in the direction of thinking that I needed a song that didn’t describe my experience. That’s not what the world needs. I need a song that women can actually use. I need a song that’s like a cross between a little mini manifesto and an abortion handbook that anyone can email to any of their friends going to get an abortion and say, ‘Hey, I heard you’re going to get an abortion tomorrow – take this with you’.”
She added: “The voice became clear: it’s a woman speaking to another woman. That’s what has been happening lately and has been happening for millennia. Women have always had this underground railroad of powerful information that they have shared with one another and often had to hide from men.”
Following on from recent singles ‘Mr Weinstein Will See You Now‘ and ‘Drowning In The Sound‘, it’s the latest cut from the frank new record from the Dresden Dolls singer; with her third solo album ‘There Will Be No Intermission’ dealing with ‘miscarriage, cancer, grieving and the darker side of parenthood’.
“It’s so impossible to disentangle the personal and the political,” Palmer told NME. “Perhaps now that’s more true than ever because women all over the place are becoming shamelessly and infectiously truthful with one another – and it’s working.
“I couldn’t tell you how much of an influence the election of Trump and the downfall of Weinstein and the inspiring surge in the women’s movement has had on my album, but I can tell you that it lands somewhere around ‘A Whole Fucking Lot’.”
Asked about the many ways in which life took its toll over the last seven years, Palmer told us how “experiences of abortion, miscarriage, birth and incredible loss” have all shaped ‘There Will Be No Intermission’ to make it her most personal work to date.
“I lost a lot of people in quick succession; some suddenly and some after long and traumatic cancer battles,” said Palmer. “We forget that every artist who has ever lived is a total product of their historical context; even the artists who aren’t ‘political’. You don’t get an Emily Dickinson in the same way that you get an Emily Dickinson if you stick her on the internet in 2019. You get a different beast.
She went on: “If nothing else, I’ve found all of the infectious truth-telling around me almost like an armour that I could put on when I sat down at my songwriting desk. I just felt a little less afraid every time that I sat down. Every micro-decision I made about lyrics and what I could and couldn’t address – all of the fear was just hacked away at by people like Hannah Gadbsy and Margaret Cho and Christina Blasey Ford. They were just helping me kick my own artistic doors down.”
With a ‘sea change’ in women feeling more open and free about their experiences, Palmer said that she felt this was providing a ‘megaphone’ for females across society.
“All you have to do is look at the way the dominoes are falling and how women are becoming increasingly less afraid of the threatened consequences of telling the truth – in all industries,” said Palmer. “It’s been such an insidious, shameful topic for so long that opening up the door and watching all the bugs crawl out is really disturbing. It’s not a cause for celebration. No one wants to be happy about suffering.
“There are two kinds of truth. There’s the truth that you tell yourself, what you know in your own dark night of the soul in the bathroom at midnight, and then the truth that you perform for the rest of society.
“If anything else, this record and my own evolution as a songwriter and an artist can’t help but reflect that personal road that I’m on.”
Check back at NME soon for more of our interview with Amanda Palmer
‘There Will Be No Intermission’ is released on Friday March 8.
Palmer will be taking the record on the road for a run of UK shows in the Autumn:
Wednesday 16 – BEXHILL ON SEA De La Warr Pavilion (United Kingdom)
Saturday 19 – CARDIFF St David’s Hall (United Kingdom)
Sunday 20 – CAMBRIDGE Corn Exchange (United Kingdom)
Wednesday 23 – CORK Opera House (Ireland)
Thursday 24 – DUBLIN National Concert Hall (Ireland)
Saturday 26 – BELFAST Ulster Hall (Ireland)
Sunday 27 – LIMERICK University Hall (Ireland)
Friday 1 – DUNFERMLINE Carnegie Hall (United Kingdom)
Saturday 2 – GLASGOW City Halls (United Kingdom)
Sunday 3 – MANCHESTER Albert Hall (United Kingdom)
Monday 4 – YORK Opera House (United Kingdom)
Thursday 7 – NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Tyne Theatre (United Kingdom)
Thursday 5 – LONDON Union Chapel (United Kingdom)
Friday 6 – LONDON Union Chapel (United Kingdom)