Evelyn Evelyn (Amanda Palmer’s latest project with virtuoso multi-instrumentalist Jason Webley) has been gathering a lot of buzz in the blogosphere due to a slew of high profile guest artists, including 17-year-old Frances Bean Cobain, My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way, and Tegan and Sara, as well as the controversy surrounding the mythical twins who supposedly wrote the music. What hasn’t been tweeted about enough is just how good this groundbreaking concept album is.
From the opening title track, we’re drawn into the escapist dreams of conjoined twins Eve and Lyn who wonder “should we be firemen, can we be astronauts” as they debate leaving the freak show that has become their lives. Throughout the hour-long album, we grow attached (bad pun, we know) to the girls as we learn about their family and friends, including a similarly paired set of elephants, delightfully named Kimba and Bimba. The music is equally lush and eclectic, with touches of folk and vaudeville blended with a healthy dose of indie charm that climaxes with the ’80s-infused anthem “My Space.”
We caught up with Palmer and Webley to talk music, find out about their upcoming Evelyn Evelyn tour, and get to the bottom of who really wrote these great songs.
Amanda Palmer: Jason Webley and I met about ten years ago in Australia, when we were both street performers.
Jason Webley: It was at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. I was doing something similar to what I still do. I was out on the street stomping, screaming, and playing the accordion. She was a human statue. This was before the Dresden Dolls. Years after, when her band had started, she reached out and I ended up opening for them and touring with them a bunch. We became good friends.
AP: We have similar work ethics. We both really love to work. We took a liking to each other the first time we met. I’ve found the best musical and creative chemistry usually comes from doing projects with people you like really well.
On their influences:
AP: I grew up in the theater, and a lot of my early musical influences were stage musicals. As a kid, I really loved whatever musical I was in at the time from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Cole Porter — until I hit around age 14 or 15 and someone gave me my first Kurt Weill record. That moment changed my life because I heard music that I finally really deeply connected to. I really like the lack of sentimentality in his work specifically, and that’s how I ended up writing my own songs. In general, though, the theater world wasn’t a place I wanted to be because I wasn’t finding my friends there, so i picked up and went in the other direction to become a musician. I’m actually going to be doing a musical this fall at the American Repertory Theater in Boston.
JW: They might not sound like the music I make now, but I’m much more inspired by the Sound of Music soundtrack, the Michael Jackson Thriller album — the things that hit me when I was seven or eight. I love the Monkees and Billy Joel. Some things that aren’t really good taste, but shaped aspects of me as a songwriter. I also like to go back to listen to my old punk records for nostalgia.
On the Evelyn Evelyn process:
AP: The process was a long and involved one, so things created themselves and then created other things. Nothing happened in any particular order. The story invented their lives and the songs are imminently connected. The Dresden Dolls material is much more personal, since I wrote it. This record is not about me. I think the fact that it’s not at all egocentric made it much more liberating.
JW: It kind of came hand in hand. There were a bunch of threads of ideas, and we started working to try to tie them together. Pretty soon it was apparent that a world was created. It’s a more linear story in a lot of ways. We did our best to weave our ideas into something that feels complete.
On the birth of the twins:
AP: It was really long and drawn out. You meet the twins. I don’t want to say that they were lazy, but they certainly weren’t impetuous. And our schedule involves a lot of touring, so we tried to get everyone together at the same place and time. The record ultimately took two years. We didn’t write the songs. The twins wrote the records. They would write the material, and then we would sort through the stuff that they’ve written and decided which songs should go on to the album. They were up for anything we wanted to do.
JW: Obviously, there are two stories. We’ve been publicly playing like the twins are separate people from us. The official story is the idea came when we were touring in New Zealand, and we were sent MySpace friend requests from these conjoined twin-sister singers/songwriters. We fell in love with them and produced their record. The actual story of how it came about was just years of Amanda and I hanging out, slowly developing this fun story and writing songs to go along with it. We didn’t ever plan for it to be a full album.
Historically, a lot of people have been fascinated with conjoined twins. I don’t want to call it just a metaphor, because it’s something real, but as a metaphor it’s a place for us to explore a lot of really different things that we experience. Everyone in the world has relationships that are complicated. In one way or another, we’re stuck with people and have to work it out. I think that part of why people are fascinated with this idea is that no matter what, the twins can’t walk away from their problems. They’re in it together.
AP: You can definitely see the deep metaphors in being permanently attached to another person for better or for worse.
JW: A big theme throughout the project is alienation from society and feeling separate. With the whole history of freak shows, the conjoined twins are a way of exploring these ideas.
On their upcoming tour:
JW: Compared to my normal concerts, these will be highly theatrical shows, but as someone with a background in theater, I don’t really look at it that way. It’s still going to mostly be us getting up and playing these songs. We’ll be playing them in character, and there will be a backstory. We actually have a director, Stephen Bogart, who Amanda has been working with for years. He directed her Neutral Milk Hotel musical last year.
AP: We’re all going to be in Boston in April to rehearse a week before we leave for Europe. In New York, we’re going to play the Lucille Lortel, a wonderful little theater in the West Village. It’s really perfect for the project.
Evelyn Evelyn’s self-titled debut album drops tomorrow on Eleven Records.