Making music with a little help from her friends

Amanda Palmer, of Dresden Dolls fame, tells Nick Duerden how fans gave her $1m to record her latest album

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Two years ago, Amanda Palmer self-released a seven-track EP of Radiohead covers, which she interpreted with little more than the assistance of a ukelele. But Palmer, a 36-year-old New York-born cult artist who had previously found strictly cult fame with her cabaret act The Dresden Dolls, has a loyal fan base. So loyal, it seems, that they will purchase anything her name is attached to.

"Within the first week, I had raised over $100,000 in advanced orders," she says. "That's when I realised the potential in all this. And that's when I knew that when I put my real-ass record out, it was likely to go mental."

"Mental" is certainly one way of putting it. In April this year, Palmer announced that she was going to make her new album independently through Kickstarter, the online crowd-funding platform for creative projects. She'd been signed to a major label previously, but the relationship had turned so sour that she resolved never to have anything to do with a traditional music business model again.

Within a month, she had received more than 25,000 pledges, totalling $1.2m (£760,000). Some pledged as much as $5,000 and $10,000 (each had their own particular incentive: for $5,000, a ukulele-toting Palmer comes to yours for a house party; for $10,000, she comes to your house and paints your portrait). But many pledged merely the bare minimum – $1 – for which they would receive the completed album, Theater is Evil.

"But even at a dollar, it's overpriced," she says. She laughs, but insists she isn't joking. "I deeply believe that musicians today should accept the fact that content is free.

Instead of putting up walls and barriers between content and audience, we ought to be spending our time working on how to learn to virtually busk. We need to make our music available for free and then anyone who enjoys it can support us if they want.

And guess what? It works."

I ask her if she felt any undue pressure with the album, given that it was funded by her fans. And fans, as any act will sometimes all-too-readily tell you, can be a curiously demanding bunch.

"No," she says, "because I have a special relationship with mine. We've been through a lot together."

She certainly seems to maintain constant contact with them, tweeting incessantly to almost 600,000 followers and updating her blog daily. And the relationship is, she insists, entirely symbiotic.

"If it's a choice of going out to the movies or staying home in front of my laptop and, say, looking at their artwork or reading one of their short stories, then I'll do that," she says.

But the woman is recently married – to British graphic novelist Neil Gaiman. Doesn't he demand some of her downtime? After confessing that they actually live separately – she in Boston, he in America's Midwest – she says: "Look, he's an independent cult artist as well, and so he understands. In many ways, ours is an open marriage. The other relationship we both have is with our fans. It works for us."

Palmer is readying herself for a 14-month world tour, which she promises will be wilder, more theatrical and, for her, more costly, than any tour she has mounted before. But with still a good chunk of the $1.2m in the bank, she can certainly afford to splash out. Palmer is worth seeing, chiefly because, though it scarcely seems possible, she gives even more of herself onstage than she does online. Recent performances have ended with her taking off all her clothes and inviting the crowd to autograph every inch of her body.