Amanda Palmer’s Magical Ukulele

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Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer, best known as the front-woman of the punk cabaret band The Dresden Dolls, just released an album of covers performed with her dad, Jack Palmer, called “You Got Me Singing.” A few years ago, she came out with a record where she played Radiohead's gloomy electro-rock on a cheery ukulele. “I really love when the super light collides with the super-dark,” she explains. “It’s that collision point where your heart opens up.”

Kurt Andersen: You’ve had such a non-standard career, ukulele covers of Radiohead is relatively conventional.

Amanda Palmer: The ukulele Radiohead record came about because, when I first picked up the ukulele, it was to learn the song “Creep.” This friend of mine in Boston was throwing a benefit for this Iranian punk band she was friends with, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I hopped up on the bar and played ‘Creep’ on the ukulele?” It came to me just as a crazy idea. And so I went down the street, bought a ukulele, figured out the chords, and I thought that was going to be it. And it was this beautiful, wonderful thing. I walked away from the experience thinking, “Huh, I don’t think I’m going to hang this thing up on a wall. I think I could really use this.”

You’re a pianist. When you’re playing the ukulele and singing, your voice becomes a much bigger part of the performance than when you’re playing the piano.

The piano is very dynamic, very dramatic. And with the ukulele, you just can’t really play it that loud and aggressively. So it gives me a wonderful boundary that I don’t usually have. I have to focus on the subtlety of the song and the lyrics and the singing, which is not generally my specialty. My specialty is usually loud, bombastic, screaming, dramatic. 

As a little kid in Lexington, Massachusetts, in the 1980’s, when did you decide, “Mommy, I’m a performer!”?

I think I was probably about three. From the first minute I remember, I wanted to be the center of attention. I wanted to be on stage. To me, the Holy Trinity of my preteen era was Cyndi Lauper, Prince, and Madonna. They were flamboyant. There were costumes, there was drama, there were stories, there were crazy videos.

So the theatricality was always appealing to you?

Oh yeah, for sure.

(Originally aired July 30, 2010)


Music Playlist

  1. Modern Moonlight

    Artist: The Dresden Dolls
    Album: Yes, Virginia
    Label: Roadrunner Records
  2. Creep

    Artist: Amanda Palmer
  3. F**ck the Police

    Artist: Amanda Palmer