The shuffler: Amanda Palmer, half of white-faced "cabaret-punk" duo The Dresden Dolls. Palmer sings and generally beats the shit out of her keyboard with drummer Brian Viglione, an intense spectacle captured on the group's new DVD, Live At the Roundhouse, London.
Loudon Wainwright III, "Be Careful, There's A Baby In The House"
Amanda Palmer: I actually downloaded this record basically out of sheer curiosity, because I had been told about him and was reading about him, and I just wanted to check it out. Basically, I'll just do this sort of exercise with myself on tour, where I'll download a couple of records and listen to the whole thing through in one sitting to try and educate myself. I just did that a week ago with a Laura Nyro record. Laura Nyro is one of those people who everyone just keeps telling me, "You've gotta listen to it, you're gonna love it!" And I'm like, "Oh, I don't know." I listened to Eli And The 13th Confession like five years ago and was sort of turned off, didn't really love her voice. It's the same thing with Pet Sounds. Like, every six months, someone will be like, "Pet Sounds! It's the best fucking record ever made!" I'll be like, "Okay, God, they're so emphatic I should go back and listen to it—again." [Laughs.] And every time, I'm like, "I don't get it." Did you know there's an actual flame war between Pet Sounds sounds and Sgt. Pepper's sounds? People fighting at parties over such shit. The Loudon Wainwright, I listened to that record all the way through and got a taste for it, but it didn't blow my mind. It was more like I was just trying to get a taste for it, and there it still is on my iTunes.
Whiskeytown, "Ballad Of Carol Lynn"
AP: I have a whole collection of albums on here, most of them Whiskeytown. I think I have every song and album ever released by the Silver Jews, given to me by my friend Ben, and that's a long story in itself. Ben and I got together, and we had this great date where we sat in a restaurant and didn't talk to each other. [Laughs.] We didn't know each other really well at that time. I was working on the Dresden Dolls record, and I said, "Do you want to listen to a track?" And the only way to listen to it was by popping open my computer. And so we were sitting there in this restaurant, and he had his headphones and his iPod, so we just popped open my computer and put it on. And he was like, "Wow, that song really reminds me of this Silver Jews song. You ever heard the Silver Jews?" And I was like, "No." "Ah! You have to hear them! Wait, put this iPod on!" Then, for the rest of the night, we didn't talk. We actually turned it into this game where, if we had anything to say about the songs we were listening to, we would type it onto a sticky note. We actually sat there until my computer battery drained out. [Laughs.] Then we went back to his apartment and he gave me every album that he thought was essential for me to have. And then a few months later, he died. So I thought it was absolutely sacrilegious to delete any of those albums off of my playlist, so the Whiskeytown album is one of those. There's a nice morbid fucking story right there. [Laughs.]
AP: I love this record. This is Singles Going Steady. I got into the Buzzcocks kind of late. I had a friend when I was living in Germany when I was 21, he was one of those very, very hardcore, "I only listen to records" people. I remember being at his house one time, and he had a Buzzcocks record on. And I was like, "Holy shit, this is awesome!" And he was like [in German accent], "What, are you fucking kidding me? This is the Buzzcocks. Amanda, you are so ignorant." [Laughs.] I actually never really got too much into punk, because, like, I remember being 13 and my friend giving me a Sex Pistols tape, and I was like, "I don't like this. It sounds too noisy." [Laughs.] But there are some serious exceptions to that, like I loved The Clash in high school. Then when I discovered the Buzzcocks—they're fantastic songs. The playing ability aside, that doesn't even really matter, they're just incredibly well-written songs with great lyrics. I'm always excited when I can find an artist in a genre that I'm pretty sure I can't like. It even crosses over into music that should be potentially embarrassing, like some people are proud of genres that they can't stand. I'm basically ashamed of any genre I can't stand, with maybe very few exceptions.
Eminem, "Ken Kaniff (Skit)"
AP: I have a special love for Eminem. I don't know, I sort of have these special loves for different mainstream pop artists, and I just think Eminem is a talented fucking guy—and, you know, an asshole. I also got into Eminem way, way after the fact. I think this [The Marshall Mathers LP] was the first record I got, and then I got the Slim Shady record, and everything after that felt kind of dumb. It just wasn't as good as his first two records. When I was in Santa Cruz last week, this guy was riding in a car which had mix-tapes of Eminem radio shows where he freestyles, and you can tell how fucking talented the guy is, despite the fact—I mean, say what you want about his personality and his decisions in life, there's a poetic talent there. I also like looking at it the same way I listen to Avril Lavigne: It's a really guilty pleasure, but there's also listening to it with my intellect, I feel like I'm listening to it and deconstructing it at the same time.
The A.V. Club: Do you feel like you have to do that with mainstream dreck?
AP: Yes and no. I sort of have to get into character for it. I got really into this Avril Lavigne record, Under My Skin, which is her second record. I didn't like the first one, and I think the new one is total schlock. And they're all total schlock, but that's the beauty of it. I could listen to that last record, and I could so totally imagine being a frustrated, suburban 13-year-old girl in, like, Duluth, and listening to that record, and just losing myself in it. And it was one of the first times that I listened to music that way and thought, like, "Wow, I can imagine identifying with this, even though I don't," because I was somehow once close enough to that world where I could see it.
Legendary Pink Dots, "The Lovers (Part One)"
AP: This is actually one of my favorite songs by them off of the record The Lovers. Actually, it's not an album that I'd recommend, especially not for beginners. It has a couple of really beautiful tracks on it, but it's sort of one of their more difficult records. I think I have pretty much all of their records, and I think if you count the side projects, they have dozens and dozens. I think someone once did a count and it was 60 or so, which makes 'em a hard band to get into. But it's really hard, it's sort of like trying to get into Frank Zappa—like, which record do you buy? [Laughs.] Like, out of all of these records looking at me, which one do I pick up off the shelf and take a chance on?
AVC: So is this a really accessible song from this record, or is it just a good song?
AP: I've actually covered this song. It's basically just a vocal-and-piano song—it's beautiful. "The Lovers (Part One)" and "Part Two" off of this album, I used to just select and put on repeat on my stereo, and I'd sit there for five hours all the night listening to these songs back to back. I mean, I don't think I did that more than once, but I do remember doing that once when I was in high school. [Laughs.]
AVC: How goth!
AP: Yeah, it was pretty fucking goth—but whatever, I was a teenager. I was allowed.
The Dresden Dolls, "Coin-Operated Boy (live at Kerrang! in London)"
AP: It's not released, it's a song we played live on radio for Kerrang!, which is this UK music magazine. This actually was a really good session, and it's sort of hard to figure out what to do with all this stuff. We tour and we play all these radio shows and sometimes we collect all these really good tracks. But I don't know, we'll probably throw it up on MySpace or something like that some day when we've completely run out of ideas, and I can't write songs anymore. [Laughs.]
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, "Witch's Web"
AP: Which totally coincidentally—I have all of their records on here—I actually played on that song. It's from their new record. So I was in Austin for SXSW, and I knew the guys from Trail Of Dead, because I'm a huge fan and we've played shows together. And they asked if I was sticking around town and asked if I wanted to come by the studio and just like randomly put piano on whatever. I said sure, and I showed up a couple of days later. It's one of those things where I wonder if this song would have showed up on the record had I not been on it. [singer] Conrad [Keely] was sort of sitting around, like, "Well, uh, you know, there's a song… It could have piano on it." It's basically this really simple four- or five-chord song for piano, guitar, and drums. Doni Schroader, the drummer, came by and didn't have half of his drum set, so had to cobble together a drum set, and actually it ended up sounding very cool. I think we did two takes of this song, we played it live, and that was it. I was really shocked that that ended up on the record. [Laughs.]