I first got the idea to put together a really simple, stripped-down, record-it-in-my-underwear-in-my-apartment-in-boston kinda thing. I had a collection of solo songs that were defined, very clear by their lack of drums. That was the only criteria. Otherwise, they went straight into the pile of Dresden Dolls tunes.
The original song list looks something like THIS….this is a scan out of my journal from Friday, June 9, 2006.
Ambien (this didn’t make it on the record, but I love it. Later…)
Blake Says (this did make it)
Ampersand (as did this one)
Rhyme and Rhythm (this didn’t make it on)
Strength Through Music (this did)
Night Reconnaissance (this wound up on the next Dolls collection, “No Virginia”)
Another Year (this made it)
Manner of Speaking (this was a tuxedomoon song I sometimes cover, got nixed)
Needlepoint (this was re-titled The Point of it All, and made it)
Long Way Out (this was re-titled The Living Room and didn’t make it)
The Gypsy (I never finished writing this one)
This list was put down before I even wrote Guitar Hero and Leeds United.
So a month after I wrote that list you just read, the Dresden Dolls website got an email from a Mr. Ben Folds. It went like this:
From: ben folds
Subject: from ben folds and housekeeping ladies everywhere
Date: July 20, 2006 10:47:40 PM EDT
To: Amanda Palmer
dear amanda and brian,
you've now made two of my favorite records ever. thank you thank you. both of you.
i'm in tokyo right now, so i'm bowing to you a hundred times like the housekeeping lady just did.
there's a lot of great music out there, of course, but not much of it all that valid in my humble opinion. if that makes any sense. there's plenty of valid music that is not very good and i'm happy to listen to it because it at least it means something, although you have to overlook or embrace people who can't play or sing very well. but then there's plenty of really good music that's totally invalid and it always makes me feel like not listening to music at all. so we all try really hard to have music we're excited about but it always has seemed like effort, (at least when we're talking about the mainstream and not what i heard the housekeeping lady singing in arkansas because SHE was really good). what you do defies all of that because it's just true and exctards, ellent and it keeps me company like a small handful of records have over the years. (i used to categorize music as 'hairy' and 'hairless' but that didn't make sense to people who would point out that for instance kenny loggins has a beard although i thought i was obvious that his music was hairless. i've moved on since 7th grade to the valid/good theory.)
anyway, your music is inspiring and i could pontificate (like i did in the letter i just wrote and didn't send) for three pages about why it moves me, but you can just take my word for it. this is my first fan letter ever and i think i might send another to an english guy named mike skinner now since i'm on a roll.
good luck out there. i think as long as you're doing exactly what the fuck you want to be doing and not a note or word differently, life will be good.
i just hit my forehead on the desk bowing.
After deciding that this was indeed the REAL Ben Folds, I peed my pants a little bit and then we started a genuine email correspondence. Ben invited us to meet up with him in Australia a few months later, where we were touring on “Yes, Virginia” and where he was going to be playing with several symphony orchestras. Brian and I joined him on stage in Brisbane and Melbourne for a couple of tunes, and after the Melbourne show Ben and I went out for drinking treats. We hit it off. We’re both, at the heart of it, total theater dorks and we just talked and talked into the night. When I told him I was about to record my first solo piano record, Ben generously offered me the use of his studio in Nashville. And oh, was I looking for a producer? Sure, Ben. So without even thinking twice (I inherently knew I could trust this guy) the game was on. We set recording dates in Nashville and I started sending Ben lists of songs. Here’s my first one:
From: Amanda Palmer
Subject: amanda pre-pro list
Date: January 27, 2007 8:28:37 PM EST
To: Ben Folds
Cc: Amanda Palmer
here is more details on the songs....
i am starring * the ones i think are keepers, fo sho songs, you know. the awesome we must do these songs.
questions down below, keep readin....
this is my "see how many velvet underground references i can fit into one song" game.
i could see strings here, its sort philip glassy.
this one sounds great with drums but brian doesnt like it, so here it is. so much we could do, but i like what the piano suggests more than becoming literal (ie with the "breaking music box" theme)
THE POINT OF IT ALL
could so so good solo or with more, esp in the bridge.....
i hear strings.
not sure what to do with this one, it could be a playground.
this one i think we may not want to include b/c its too aggro, but not sure.
THE LIVING ROOM
this needs HELP in the production dept because its so long and repetitive. it was written "as a hymn" and should be treated as a church song.
this one is gooood but same problem with the aggro-ness. i think with this and night recon if we skip DRUMS we can get away with it....i'm thinking about sea change as my measuring stick for everything.
WILL ALSO EMAIL YOU OLD DEMO VERSION, ITS GORGEOUS. i attached.
i love the delay on the recording.
I BELIEVE IN AIRPLANES
this song isnt finished but could be really really strong.
BOYFRIEND IN A COMA
i'm not nuts about this tune but it might be worth something.
RYHME AND RHYTHM
oh god, so morrissey. this is a great song but always manages to get cut out of my live set because it's a little too much like everything else, including straight, with which i often get it confused.
i think if we do both those songs we need to produce waaay differently.
mostly for my records but also for you to peek at:
these are in the to-do, to finish up, or to record for you, or to email you files dept:
JUNE IS BUSTING OUT ALL OVER
SONG FOR HOLITHA
HAVE TO DRIVE
i have these all in mp3 and will email now, one by one.
GROWN MAN CRY
just finished this. it's one of the best i've ever written, havent recorded yet.
just finished this too. another AMAZING song but maybe too aggro, probably too agro….
STRENGTH THROUGH MUSIC
YOU MAY KISS THE BRIDE
these are all oldies, don’t have recordings.
ANYWHERE BUT HERE
SCREAMING SOMETHING AWFUL
SICK ON OPENING NIGHT
ALL THE CAKE
this are all songs that are about 78% done and need finishing. i've been working on berlin and it's great, conor is also amazing.
here be the question:
should i bother to sit down and record these for you on my little disc guy so you can listen or do you think it's equal to just play them for you down
there? i'd assume the former and can go ahead and do that in the next few days if you want
In the spring of 2007, I headed down to Nashville with a huge folder of lyrics, mostly for the songs listed above, and a few drafts of almost-finished songs that I thought I might finish while I was down there.
We started out our epic session (over the course of the next year, I would go back down to Nashville a total of about 5 times) by just having me sit at the piano and play through every single song I’d brought with me; Joe and Ben would sit in the control room and record. Even if the song was unfinished, I’d play it so that Ben could get an idea of what the song sounded like. We did this over the course of two days and then one by one Ben started chopping away at the list and narrowing the songs we were going to record down to about 15. Then we started working on what instruments were going to be used for which songs. There were certain tunes where Ben had a really specific vision in his head and would work on the songs while I was away. These moments were like daily Christmas, because I never knew what Ben was going to come up with. I would fly back to Boston and Ben would send me a file and I would get to sit in my kitchen, listening to the magic he was creating on my headphones, thinking I was the luckiest bastard in the world to be working with such a passionate dude. I would email feedback about what I wanted to change, and Ben would send new mixes. We worked like this a lot. Email has changed everything.
Here are a bunch of photos I took of the studio.
This is the leslie cabinet and the Wurlitzer we used for “Guitar Hero”
Yours Truly doing vocal takes
Ben’s weird-ass Russian synthesizer
The piano with no lid, behind the organ, is Ben’s original little grand piano that he used to tour with. He’s since turned it into a tack piano (where you literally put thumbtacks onto the hammers giving the piano a kind of harpsichord sound). We recorded “Blake Says” on this piano…
The two grands. Steinway to the left, Baldwin to the right. We tested out different piano sounds for different songs…and mostly defaulted to the Steinway.
The Wurlitzer, set up for “Guitar Hero,” with my lyrics taped to the stand, and Jared’s bass.
Ben’s drum set-up….
The upright, most famous for recording “Brick,” Ben’s hit back in the 90s.
This piano had a gorgeous sound.
Here’s a clip of my dad playing it when he came down for a visit (and to record the bass vocals with the “Have To Drive” chorus…)
Here's Ben and I jamming on "Runs In The Family" -- the pages falling were totally spontaneous: