Last month, in the wake of David Bowie’s sudden death, Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff got together to record the Bowie tribute EP Strung Out In Heaven. But Palmer and Bischoff were also working on something else: A new song called “Machete,” Palmer’s first full-band production in about four years. Palmer sings and plays piano on the song, while Bischoff is on bass and string arrangements, Ben Folds plays drums, and Ryan Lerman plays guitars. It’s an intense, choppy, six-minute song, one that veers from vaudevillian fury to quiet, personal moments. Below, you can listen to it and read a note from Palmer about it.
Things have gotten pretty weird in the world of song releasing…every hows-yer-life conversation I have with my working, touring songwriter/musician friends lately is about whether or not we should bother with labels anymore. Sustainability, What About Streaming, What About Crowdfunding, Are Albums Obsolete, What About the Artifact…what about the fact that we are all freaking out about how things are going to work.
For the past year I’ve been quietly building a foundation of backers at patreon.com/amandapalmer; I now have 7,000 kind, intelligent patrons all pitching in a buck or more every time I release a song. They don’t fund me for exclusive content, they aren’t hopping a paywall to get to my songs: they fund me so I can make music at my own pace and share it for free. It’s contradicting the current model of scarcity in the streaming business, but it’s working for me and for a handful of other musicians, artists and journalists who are happy to make a real relationship with their audience on an ongoing basis. Kanye, take note.
A little song background: I’ve released ten pieces of patreon content this year and this one, “Machete”, is my first full-band production since recording “Theatre is Evil” in 2012 with John Congleton. Since then, I’ve been pulled and stretched by lots of off-road opportunities: a kickstarter, a kickstarter kerfuffle, a TED talk about the kickstarter kerfuffle, a book about the TED talk (which wound up being more of a meditation on the art of asking), a pregnancy, and (wait for it) a baby. All the while, over the past four years, my best friend Anthony was suffering from – then dying of – a rare form of leukemia. He was 24 years my elder and moved next door when I was nine; he served as my spiritual mentor, the one who taught me yoga, compassion, Fugazi and John Lennon. He was the ersatz-parent who constantly reminded me not to take myself, or him, too seriously. Wise words, because he was a total goddamn contradiction. He yelled at waiters, he yelled in traffic, he gave me my first can of mace, and he collected guns, sabers, brass knuckles and nunchucks. He had boxes of exotic knives. A Buddhist weapon-obsessive. His private therapists’ study where we did our deep talking and bonding, my teenage haven, was decorated with boxing gloves and rifles. We did not hold the same stance on gun control. I told him I wanted all the guns to be bought back by the government and hurled into the ocean.
He often told me he would leave me the whole collection, and when he died this summer, I knew there was a song in there somewhere. And there was; it emerged about five months after he died and two months after I gave birth to me and Neil’s son (we named him Anthony). I recorded it about a month later with the loving encouragement of my friends (Ben Folds, who played drums, Jherek Bischoff, who played bass and did the stunning string arranging and conducting, and Ryan Lerman, who came in on guitar at the recommendation of Ben). We used my patreon budget to record it over two days in two studios in LA while I was there for Christmas visiting relatives.
I still don’t know what I’m going to do with the arsenal.
Maybe I’ll leave it to the baby when I die and he can deal with it.
A HUGE thanks to Stereogum for hosting the premiere of this track.
I hope you enjoy it. I recommend headphones, there’s some nice panning.
If you want to read more about the song and the process, join the patreon (and support more making of more music with more people.)
p.s. The photo was taken a week after the song was recorded in LA by photographer Allan Amato and a twitter-crowdsourced Machete care of Erin Routson.
You can pay what you want to buy the song from Palmer’s Bandcamp.