Could there be a better fit? The Dresden Dolls, champions of sexual freedom and activists for the culturally dispossessed, are taking their weird and wonderful act on the road this summer as part of the TRUE COLORS tour, a project created by Cyndi Lauper to benefit the Human Rights Campaign, the national gay and lesbian advocacy organization. Joining Lauper and the Dolls on the tour (launching June 8 in Las Vegas) will be such idiosyncratic musical talents as Debbie Harry, Erasure, The Gossip and The Misshapes. The hilarious Margaret Cho, no stranger to mouthing off about issues important to the GLBT community, will serve as the tour’s emcee.
With a sound that’s impossible to pin down—“punk,” “cabaret,” “Broadway,” and “glam” are all words that have been bandied about—the Boston-based Dresden Dolls, comprised of writer/singer/pianist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione, have always refused to pander—or market--to any specific audience, choosing instead to create their fan base one eccentric soul at a time. “This band is about freedom of expression, whether it’s sexual, musical, or aesthetic,” says Palmer. “There’s a power in not being part of any one group or genre. I try not to stake my political flag and declare my views—I try to keep my songs deliberately interpretable.”
According to Palmer, the band has garnered a fair share of GLBT fans since releasing their self-titled debut album on Roadrunner Records in 2004. “To me, it seems clear as day that this band would appeal to someone who was gay or sexually out of the mainstream,” Palmer has said in a past interview. “I figured out I was bisexual when I was a teenager, and Brian is a completely straight guy who is so passionate about cross-dressing.” Their critically acclaimed second album, Yes, Virginia and live DVD, The Dresden Dolls—Paradise, have only enhanced their status as one of music’s most fearless—and fascinating—bands.
Palmer talks with ChicagoPride.com about the TRUE COLORS tour, her excitement at going on the road with her childhood idol Cyndi Lauper, and her highly anticipated duet with friend Margaret Cho.
Q: How did you end up on the TRUE COLORS tour?
AP: (Amanda Palmer) I believe that Cyndi reached out to our manager. I’m hoping it was because she saw that we were this freaky, like-minded group of bohos. Looking at the whole line-up, it’s really brilliant. Between us, the Gossip, Erasure, Blondie and Cyndi Lauper, it covers every base.
Q: How do the Dresden Dolls fit in with the philosophical message of this tour?
AP: The Dresden Dolls have always waved the giant flag of expressionism and individualism. We’ve always been very clear that we’re a trans-friendly, gay-friendly, freak-loving band.
We express that through the way we dress, the way we perform, the way we tour—in all ways.
Q: What kinds of fans are drawn to your shows?
AP: Our shows are like all-inclusive art party. One of the things that I’ve found, without being intentional or obvious about my sexual agenda, is that we get a lot of trans and gay folks at our shows because they connect with our message. We’ve become a beacon for people who are on the fringe.
Q: You have talked about being bisexual in our last interview. Is this something you talk about freely in interviews?
AP: The fans know, but it’s not something that I go around preaching about. For anyone who’s ever asked me, I tell them, And for my fans who follow my story, they know it. I’m a heavy blogger, so that’s another way that people know. But I never discuss my actual sex life because that would be rude to whomever I’m involved with. I’m bi, and so is everyone else. I don’t think twice about it.
Q: Have you experienced prejudice or ignorance from people who don’t approve of the way you live your life?
AP: I feel blessed because I’ve never had to worry about it. I come from a city and a music community that is so open-minded. I’ve just never had to fight for the right to live my life the way I want. But as I’ve connected with our fans around the country and around the world, I know that’s not true for everyone. I’m constantly reminded that some people live within close-minded communities and families. It really makes me appreciate where I come from.
Q: Have you always been so open about your sexuality?
AP: As long as I can remember. I’m from Lexington, Mass., and when I was in high school, some friends and I actually formed a group that fostered discussions on gay issues. That was in 1993 or ’94. There was nothing controversial about it at the time. We got sanctioned by the school, and we would just hang out and talk. After we graduated, people renamed the group and kept it going. They created a much more legitimate group.
Q: Have you gotten the sense, from your younger fans, that’s it easier to be openly gay in high school these days?
AP: I like to think it’s become much more acceptable to experiment with your sexuality today. When I was in high school, we wouldn’t necessarily walk around and declare it. But meeting kids today, they say, “Oh, yeah—I’m bi or gay or whatever.” They just talk about it like it’s just a matter of course. If you’re a alternative kid, experimenting with your sexuality just seems like something you do.
Q: Cyndi Lauper has had a big influence on many artists over the years. Has she been an influence of yours?
AP: Cyndi Lauper was huge in my life when I was growing up . One of my first records was She’s So Unusual. She is such an icon to me.
And hers was the first concert I ever went to--she broke my concert cherry. I had terrible seats, and she was like a flea onstage, but I didn’t care. She made such a big impression on me. If you had told me when I was ten that I was going to meet her, let alone go on tour with her, I would have laid down and died right there.
Q: And I know that you’re a big Margaret Cho fan as well.
AP: Margaret Cho and I have already been working together. She emceed our DVD shoot in London. We’re planning on a doing a song with her on the tour. I’m really looking forward to being around the women on this tour. I’m so excited to learn from them. I usually see mostly guys on tour, so I’m eager to watch how women are on tour—how they pack, how they are with their crews, how they find time for themselves. I mean, they’re Debbie Harry and Cyndi Lauper—they’ve gotta have some answers. I feel so honored to watch them in action and see how they roll.
Q: Talk a little about Brian. What should new fans to your music know about him?
AP: Brian is fearless about expressing himself completely authentically onstage. He’s not afraid to wear high heels and a dress onstage, even though he’s basically this heavy metal drummer. He’s not afraid to do anything onstage--he’s a total freak. It’s such a powerful message—to be that in touch and that unafraid to express who you are in a music business that’s so incredibly sexist and macho. He gets so much respect from me and from our fans for just being that way.