8in8 member Amanda Palmer recently returned to Berklee to give a clinic to students attending the Summer 5-Week program. Watch what Amanda had to say about touring, songwriting, and a whole host of other topics on Berklee’s ustream channel!
The concept: what if several internet celebrity musicians, who have carved a niche in the industry for an unprecedented level of fan interaction using social media, were to record an album — 8 songs in 8 hours — based on fan suggestions from twitter using the hashtag #8in8, stream the whole recording process live, and sell their work immediately on the web to demonstrate the independence musicians now have from record labels with the advances in technology? And what if those internet-celebrity musicians were, say, Damian Kulash, the front-man of the band OK Go made famous for making one of the cheapest, most enthralling, and most famous music videos ever using only treadmills? And what if this concept included Ben Folds, no stranger to making a record in a day after writing and recording six spoof songs in a single day based on the leaked track-listing for his own album Way To Normal? And what if, finally, this project included the dynamic couple of Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman, the former a Boston-native and member of the acclaimed punk cabaret band The Dresden Dolls, and the latter a British novelist and recipient of both the Newbery and Carnegie Medal? Well…. then you would have 8in8.
8in8, unfortunately, became something of a misnomer, as the group was only able to finish 6 songs in 12 hours, which actually didn’t surprise Ben Folds, who later said in an interview with the Huffington Post that “I think six songs in twelve hours, written from scratch to the final mix, is about as fast as you can go.” But regardless, the band put forth an incredible effort that I deeply enjoyed watching live on Ustream (when I really should have been studying, of course). And between recording for 12 hours straight, having to appear early the next morning to speak about the experience at the Rethink Music Conference, and then preparing to perform the songs – unrehearsed, mind you – that evening, the band was exhausted by the time they took to the Berklee Performance Center stage. But despite the fatigue, the group put on a fantastic performance for the first and very last time of their album Nighty-Night.
But first, to add more material than just 6 songs, the band began by each individually performing songs from their solo catalogues (except for Neil Gaiman, the non-musician of the group). Ben Folds went first, performing the song “Effington” from his album Way to Normal, a personal favorite of mine and apparently a favorite for the rest of the audience as well, as Folds received a huge, raucous response when he began the a capella intro.
Next, Amanda Palmer joked that she knew better than to follow Ben Folds’ performance with her own at the piano, so she opted for a lighthearted tune on the ukulele inspired by a discussion she had with her fans on Ustream about whether Lady Gaga is an artist.
Damian Kulash was perhaps the most at odds with the solo part of the program because, as he explained it, he’s not a solo artist and normally performs with his band Ok Go. But, being a good sport, Damian self-accompanied himself on acoustic guitar to an incredibly supportive BPC audience.
Next, the band recreated the fan-made remix/mash-up of the companion story Neil Gaiman wrote for Amanda Palmer’s album “Who Killed Amanda Palmer” and Ben Fold’s song “You Don’t Know Me.” The result was not only incredibly entertaining, but emphasized the night’s theme of the artists connecting with their audience through twitter, where the song was first suggested.
To perform the last song before the band launched into their new material, Amanda was joined on stage by Tristan Allen to perform a piano duet that Tristan had composed. After a chance meeting last year, Amanda Palmer invited Tristan to her house to perform his compositions on her Ustream show viewed by thousands of her fans and has continued to support Tristan’s musical endeavors ever since, including booking studio time for the 19-year-old pianist to record his work.
But finally the time arrived for 8in8 to debut their album Nighty-Night, beginning with the song “Nicola Tesla.” Amanda’s signature punk-cabaret vocals and lower-register piano style drives the song, which was inspired by a fan on twitter in reply to Neil’s requests for names of famous individuals. Next, Ben Folds and Amanda Palmer performed my favorite song off the album – “Because the Origami.” In response to Neil’s prompt on twitter for “ways in which love goes wrong,” someone on twitter simply wrote “because the origami.” This drew Ben Folds’ attention and became the achingly beautiful, humorous, and melancholy song about a mother and father reminiscing and apologizing for all the activities they tried to give their child rather than their affection.
Damien lead the band in their next song “One Tiny Thing,” which was also inspired by a twitter response about ways in which love goes wrong. And for their penultimate performance, the group performed the song officially called “12 Line Song.” Of course, it’s known by a different name as it was inspired by the prompt “some strange things happen only once,” to which someone responded on twitter “a squirrel committed suicide in my toilet.” Therefore, the moniker “The Squirrel Song.” For a song inspired by a suicide, however, it’s quite bouncy and catchy including a “do do do” section that Ben Fold’s dryly asked to audience to sing, saying “you should do this part because it will make it sound like a famous song.”
And finally, Neil Gaiman made his, albeit reluctant, singing debut with the group to lead the song about Joan of Arc entitled “The Trouble with Saints.” Neil explained that he needed to use the British idiom “hols” (the shortening of “holiday”) for a rhyme in the song and feared that an American singing the decidedly British lyric would be inappropriate. Thankfully, Neil was willing to remedy this issue and share his wonderfully capable and witty voice with the audience at the Berklee Performance Center for their last song of the evening.
But rather than my telling you everything that happened at the concert, why not watch the whole thing on streaming video? In addition to 8in8’s concert at the Berklee Performance Center, you can also stream the group’s panel discussion at the Rethink Music Conference.
– Elisa Rice
* all photographs taken by the author