Boston Globe - Ma 8, 2005
Dolls have their day: Local cult favorites the Dresden Dolls are on the rise, with a record deal and a major gig
By Joan Anderman
Boston punk-cabaret duo the Dresden Dolls are the current poster children for nonconformists hoping to make it in the big bad music business. Pianist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione, who formed their band following a musical mind meld at a Halloween party in 2001, have a fondness for face paint and songs about surgical blunders and a live show that merges the theatrical whimsy of Kurt Weill and the raw fury of PJ Harvey. They quickly became local cult darlings, won the WBCN Rumble in 2003, and self-released an eponymous debut CD the next year. Roadrunner Records shortly snatched them up, as did Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, who invited the Dresden Dolls to join his band on a tour that stops at the Orpheum for two sold-out shows later this week. We checked in with Palmer and Viglione during one of their increasingly rare stops back home.
Q: What's the worst thing about having your career take off?
AP: The challenge for me is to let go of control. Before, it was me and Brian against the world. We did everything ourselves, gluing together CDs and answering e-mails all night and playing every show we were offered. Since we got a manager and a label and a booking agent, things have been very easy. It takes a burden off. But it's hard to not be running the show.
Q: On the flip side, you're the opening act on the Nine Inch Nails tour. Are you pinching yourselves?
Q: Word is someone sent Trent Reznor a Dresden Dolls CD and that was that.
BV: Apparently he liked what he heard and got some strong recommendations from trusted sources about our live show. When we finally met him -- we'd never exchanged an e-mail or spoken on the phone -- we said, ''Thanks very much, and how did this happen?" He said, ''I saw your video and thought, what the [expletive] is this?" He watched our whole set from the side of the stage.
Q: Does quality of life improve on the big rock tour?
BV: We have a tour bus. It's great. We've been in a bus for the past two European tours, too. Recently we did a week tour of the Eastern Seaboard and were reminded of van living. Getting back in a van was incredibly difficult.
AP: I felt like a cat being taken to the vet.
Q: All of a sudden you're playing for big crowds in large venues. How does that change the feel and dynamic of your performance, which in the past has hinged on an intense proximity to the audience?
AP: The biggest venues we've been playing have been 2,000-seaters, and for me that feels right on the threshold of getting too impersonal. Right now it's piano and drums onstage and we play. But I'm looking forward to facing the challenge as we work on the show creatively. With my background in theater, my mind is on fire with ideas about using sets and video feed and space that's not on the stage. What it comes down to is connecting with the person in the worst seat.
Q: Speaking of your theater background, tell me about the Brigade.
AP: We invite anyone who wants to do any kind of performance or interactive art piece at any of the shows in any city [these are shows the Dresden Dolls headline, not NIN shows]. It all happens through the Net, and it's anything from living statues in the lobbies to people playing accordion in the bathroom. This one girl in Liverpool took decks and decks of playing cards and wrote messages on them and handed them out. It's very simple but very powerful.
Q: What about new material? Amanda, you don't seem the type to crank out tunes in hotel rooms.AP: It's very hard for me to be away from home. Very hard. I'm a homebody. I enjoy being on the road for lots of reasons, but there's very little privacy. To think and create and write I can't be in a room with other people.
BV: We pair up in hotel rooms.
AP: I'll notice that months have gone by and I haven't written a single song. I'm only able to do that alone in my apartment with the door locked.
Q: You're going into the studio with Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade in September to make a new album. Do you have songs for it, and a sense of your musical direction?
AP: I've been writing here and there, so there's plenty of new material. I was 25 when I met Brian, and I had a huge catalog of songs. We're still cherry-picking from that material. We've got too much material. I have a feeling it will have the same sort of eclectic, wandering feeling as the last album. I intuitively ignore genre.
Q: What does your record label, Roadrunner, think about that?
AP: As much as anyone is, they're able to understand us. But we showed up with a finished package, with a record and a video. All they had to do was get us out there. I have a feeling that when the new record comes out, we may start to feel more of the qualms of being on a major.