Undressing The Dresden Dolls
Interview by Stacey Peck
Live Photo By Liz Linder
Underneath the lipstick, the powder, the tights and the derby hat what
do Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione really look like? Is there a separation
on-stage and off-stage personalities?
We're both average looking teens. I mean, nothing to write home about.
Except for the fact that I honestly do have no eyebrows and draw them in
every day. We are very relaxed with our on and off-stage personae, anyone
who has come to our live shows notices that we are very much ourselves
on stage, it's not like we adopt different characters when we play. We
just wear make-up...and we never kick around in white face except perhaps
after shows when we don't have time to wash our faces. It's funny...people
are always asking about the costumes and make-up as if it's some highly
original idea of ours. Let's not forget that it was actually the advent
of grunge that safely paved the way for every single band out there to
wear jeans and a t-shirt onstage. Musicians have worn costumes and make-up
since the dawn of time, it just happens to be in a relaxed downswing right
I don't think that there's that much difference between how we are onstage
and how we are off stage. I mean, we're not KISS. We just have a good time
playing music and we're happy if the crowd enjoys themselves. I suppose
I carry around a lot of anger in my life. Playing drums provides a release
for me, so just go with it on stage. Sometimes I feel silly and playful,
other times I don't.
From your appearance on stage, you seem to be performing in a world (an
existence) that is your wildest dream. What's the reality of your life
now compared to what you used to dream about as a kid?
That's a hard question to answer, mostly because I never had a fantasy,
per se, about what being a professional musician would be like. I just
always knew I would do it. Of course, when you're a kid you don't think
about lawyers, managers, thieving nightclub owners, shitty monitor speakers
and all that. Both Brian and I have this weird thing in common; we just
sort of "knew" from the time we were little that this is what
we would do with our lives, it was never really a choice. And I have never
been one to think much about how things will be, I just assume things will
happen and I will them as they come.
Sorry to be redundant, but all of this is pretty close to what I imagined
it would feel like. Not much different. It's a lot of work and I am not
as good as I want to be because I don't practice enough, that's different.
I thought I would be better than I am right now. But everything else seems
pretty by the book. If your band gets busy and involved enough, you have
to get a lawyer and a booking agent and all the people who can do those
jobs that you can't. We actually don't get to play music that much. A lot
of time gets eaten up doing business. It's a real shame. The thing that
keeps me here is playing shows. That's the only reason why I am in this.
I don't really give a fuck about money or exposure. The only thing that
gets me off is playing and connecting with people. So it is a compromise,
you do a bunch of business so you can play more to the people who use your
music to get release and feel happy.
Your live show is insanely and beautifully dramatic. Have you always
been such dramatic performers, or is this an emerging talent that's evolved
since the formation of the band?
It's evolved....as we grow more and more comfortable with each other and
with our audience we take more risks. The more support you have from the
crowd the easier it is to be dramatic and reach deep into the songs to
pull out the guts. But to be honest we're both naturally that way, born
attention-getters and clowns. Brian can't play the drums without getting
very fired up and I can't really sit down at the piano (even at home, alone)
without wanting to pound the shit out of it.
We both feel passionate about playing and that's something that's always
been inside us. The band is just a particular type of outlet for that creative
energy. The music Amanda writes has its own inherent feel and atmosphere
to it. We just have fun with what's already there.
What is the inspiration for the name Dresden Dolls....is it inspired
from the city in Germany, or the street name from Somerville, Massachusetts?
It was inspired by a combination of things...the tragic firebombing in
Dresden was the first thing that came to mind but "Dresden Dolls"
are actual collectable antiques from that city, which was famous for it's
porcelain before it was leveled. I liked the parallel between Dresden (destruction)
and Dolls (innocence, delicacy), because it is very much in keeping with
the dynamics of the music, which sometimes goes from a childlike whisper
to a banshee scream within a few seconds. It's also a song by The Fall,
a fantastic band and old favorite, so that didn't hurt, and a tongue in
cheek reference to a campy VC Andrews novel, as well. Not to mention it
gives a little nod to Weimar Germany and that whole cabaret infatuation
Does the band have any actual fascination with dolls?
No more fascination than your average girl. I was more into stuffed animals
as a child, actually. But they're very striking, visually, often disturbing,
especially when placed out of context. I mean, who would have thought that
making fake little humans out of plastic (to give to children, no less)
would seem so normal?
I used to undress Barbie dolls and make them do it when I was little. Recently,
a few very kind fans have made "Brian" and "Amanda"
dolls and given them to us at shows. They get put to good use.
Right now the Dresden Dolls have an established and loving home amongst
the punk-cabaret-goth-burlesque subculture. Do you see the band emerging
in the future into a mass culture form of entertainment and is that what
you aspire to be?
Well, our audience is actually very mixed-up, which I think is a good thing.
The goth kids are certainly into us, but that doesn't prevent intellectual
types in their forties or indie kids from coming out to see us, which they
do. We've been surprised at how much response we've gotten from really
young kids, and my god, when they decide to like a band they are RABID.
But it's quite fun, playing a show and looking out into the audience and
seeing some little fifteen-year-old goth kid next to a tweed-jacket fellow
who is fifty. I love it. I won't ever try to target some certain audience.
People will find us, and if they like us, fantastic.
It's been wonderful watching the band act as a safe forum in which totally
different people, who otherwise have very little in common, connect with
If we make enough money to eat OK and tour a lot then I'll be all set.
If I am evolving as a player and feeling good from playing the drums, my
aspirations will have been met. It's pretty simple.
The Dresden Dolls definitely seem to be from another time and another
place, do you think you will stay in Boston or Are their any plans to relocate
the band to another city?
I have a very love/hate relationship with Boston but I can't imagine leaving
anytime soon. We'll be touring like mad for the next several years...so
re-locating would be meaningless anyway. I live in an absolutely amazing
house with a bunch of other artists and it's very much my home, even though
the roof leaks and it's fucking freezing here all winter.
What is "next" for the Dresden Dolls? Will you be adding any
new elements to your live show, and what do you see for yourselves in the
next three years?
We just got a major international distribution deal for our label (Eight
Foot Records), which means we'll be touring all over the place to promote
the record. I'd like to amp up the stage show by adding more multi-media
elements (like film), but that's tough to do without a larger crew and
more money. We are shooting several more videos to be released over the
next six months or so ("Girl Anachronism", our first, just came
out to rave reviews, it's up at www.dresdendolls.com/video/index.htm) ...we're
working with my good friend and genius filmmaker Michael Pope, god bless
his freak soul. We'll be putting all the material out on DVD in the fall
and I expect that'll be a huge project. After that...who knows.....we'll
go where the wind blows us. Secretly, I'd like to put on a musical, but
don't tell the Boston Rock Scene. They'll think I'm gay.
5 Questions for Boston Bands:
1. Describe the first show you saw in Boston. Where was it?
It was The Legendary Pink Dots, at Axis. I was 16. No moshing or beer-spilling
at that one, dear. I do remember going up to Edward Ka-Spel after the show
(quaking and quivering) and telling him that it was my dream in life to
write music as honest as his. He smiled and said thank you. I also remember
that the club didn't allow them to play and encore, even though the crowd
was cheering at top volume....no, they had to turn the club over for 70's
disco night. Bastards.
I saw TREE and Non Compos Mentis at the Middle East Downstairs and I got
to live out all of my little small town moshing fantasies. I had only ever
been to crappy little VFW punk shows in tiny New Hampshire town before
so this was the big time for me. The next show I went to was to see Honkeyball
at Mama Kin's, and I asked Claude, the bass player his advice for getting
into a band around here. He was really cool and gave me the 411 on where
to hang up flyers. I went home on a mission and the rest is history.
2. What has been the most amazing moment of your career so far?
Meeting and playing with Brian. I still can't believe we were so lucky
to find each other.
I have to agree. The first night that we jammed together was one of the
most exciting times I can call to mind. When you first play music with
someone, it can be a very intimate experience and you feel very vulnerable.
But when the chemistry is strong, the feeling of creating music with someone
else is transcendental.
3. Besides yourself, who is the greatest Boston Band of all time?
Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, with the Cars coming in a close
second. Do the Pixies count as a Boston band? I've always wondered. If
so, they win hands down.
4. Do you think Boston gets its due respect for its music scene?
I think it gets the respect it deserves, and no more.
Yep. I think it does.
5. Will the Red Sox ever win?
Only if I get a seat behind homeplate and am able to work my powers of
seduction on Andy Pettite.
Well, we tried to fight of the Curse of The Rumble with a big picture of
the band who survived it, maybe the Red Sox can fight of the Curse of the
Bambino by burning a big effigy of Babe Ruth in the middle of Yankee Stadium?
I think they should do the honorable thing and just all commit mass Hare
Kari in the middle of the bamboo stuff in the Fens.
to Dresden Dolls' Artist Page