Q&A: Amanda Palmer on “Occupy” Homage Video


Punk-cabaret singer-slash-Twitter troubadour has released a video for her cover of "The World Has Turned Upside Down," a 1975 Leon Rosselon worker's anthem popularized by Billy Bragg. The video, which she made with Boston filmmaker Michael Gill, features video footage from various Occupy events from across America. You can watch it below.

Palmer visited Occupy events in her hometown of Boston and her current residence of New York, as well as in Los Angeles, Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore., Vancouver and Seattle on her recent tour. That she would find affinity with the movement is not surprising. The Occupy movement is known for many things, one of which is that it was organized almost completely by social media outlets like Twitter. She can relate.

Amanda Palmer found cult success with her piano-drums duo The Dresden Dolls and her 2008 solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer? but clashed with her former record label Roadrunner over business and artistic concerns. She left the label and started using her Twitter account to organize impromptu shows and get her music directly to her fans, and has become one of the most popular musicians on the social media service. She recently paid tribute to this DIY ethos with her new single "Ukulele Anthem,"  for which she crowd-sourced lyrics from her fans and which she has performed at recent Occupy events.

Nonstop Sound recently talked with Palmer about her new video and how she became involved with the Occupy Events.

Nonstop Sound: When did you first hear about the Occupy Wall Street Protests, and what was your immediate impression?

Amanda Palmer: "Since I'm really active on Twitter, I heard about it immediately. I do free outdoor pop-up concerts all the time. I call them 'ninja gigs.' So my fans started asking from day 1 if I was going to show up at Zuccotti park and play. The answer: yes, obviously."

NS: Did you go out of your way to visit different Occupy protests while touring the country, or did you just tend to stumble on them when killing time before your shows?  What did they seem to have in common, and how were they different?

AP: "On the West Coast, I had a tour booked anyway with Neil Gaiman, a writer and my husband. In some cities I had to travel a bit out of the way; for instance,  I visited Occupy Oakland, which meant getting over the bridge on the day of our show in San Francisco. Here's the most interesting thing: me and my team emailed every #Occupy website on my route and in some cases we got answers via email, but it was far more effective to reach out to each site via twitter. The people manning the #occupy twitter feeds were actively online ALL THE TIME, and so I'd usually be on the phone with someone from the occupation within five minutes of twittering that I wanted to head over and play. Twitter is absolutely amazing; it's changed the way I tour and communicate."

NS: What idea came first, covering "The World Turned Upside Down" or making a video using footage of the protests?  

AP: "Playing the song. I've always loved it and I was trying to come up with good, appropriate covers to play at Occupy Boston and Wall Street. It was such a clearly perfect analog to the movement, and I'd played the song before. At most Occupys I also did versions of John Lennon's 'Working Class Hero' and Peter Yarrow from Peter, Paul and Mary and I also did two covers together at a benefit around that same time of his 'If I Had a Hammer' and Bob Dylan's 'Blowin' in the Wind.' Those songs don't get old, they address the same issues that we're dealing with right now. When I wrote the 'Ukulele Anthem,' I was trying to make a universal protest song in the same ilk...a song that will make sense forever."

NS: How did you come to work with Michael Gill?

AP: "He's an old, old musician friend from Boston. He's gotten into filmmaking in the past few years and has been making videos for lots of local pals, we're just connected in 12 different ways. But the main light bulb went on when Mike sent me a video he'd edited of people getting arrested at Occupy Boston. It was an obvious alliance."

NS: Do you see a parallel between the way the protesters uses social media to organize these events and the way you've been using Twitter to book shows and keep in contact with your fans?

AP: "Absolutely. I think Twitter is one of the most powerful and useful tools that the public has to change the status quo. It's the most efficient, uncluttered way for people to share information -- fast, unfiltered and without the interference or reliance on the old guard. I truly believe any effective revolution will be organized and spread using such tools."

NS: What are your thoughts on the recent removal of the protesters from Zuccotti Park?

AP: We're in a very important moment in history: what is Occupy 2.0? Whatever it is, if people stay on topic and on task and continue to communicate and work towards change, this country will see the shift. People have remembered that they have voices, control and can effect real change in their towns and cities. Now that people have realized that, there's hopefully no turning back."

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