A few years ago, punk-cabaret queen Amanda Palmer asked herself where she was going to head and what she was going to do next. “I can say to myself honestly now I don’t care too much about my next project bringing me success or money,” she says. “What I really, really want to commit myself to is working with the right people, being around the right people and keeping really good company.”
Palmer realized that dream in the form of Evelyn Evelyn, a highly collaborative and vaudevillian project in which she and accordionist Jason Webley literally join forces to play conjoined twin musicians named Evelyn and Evelyn Neville. The project has been more than three years in the making, and the self-titled debut album hits stores on March 30.
“We’re made of similar ratios of dorky and intellectual and absurd and serious, and I think our pie charts would probably look kind of the same if you were to graft our brains onto each other,” Palmer says of Webley.
The neat trick is that Palmer and Webley speak of their conjoined characters as though they’re real people. They invented a backstory in which they met the Neville sisters on MySpace after they had escaped from the circus, and eventually produced their record. The Evelyn Evelyn Twitter feed is written from the Evelyns’ point of view. In concert, Palmer and Webley dress up as the conjoined twins and play instruments such as the piano and ukelele together. The unsuspecting who listen to an Evelyn Evelyn track or look up a video on YouTube discover that the twins seem eerily familiar.
Evelyn Evelyn is a musically eclectic concept album that takes the girls’ story into greater depth and detail. While the songs tend to flesh out individual characters and experiences in both dark and humorous ways, the Evelyn sisters also narrate their past—which includes an attempted chainsaw severance, a two-headed elephant and the twins’ introduction to Twix—across three spoken “Tragic Events” tracks. “The Tragic Events were conceived to be kind of a radio play to describe the twins’ lives so their record would have some context, because their story has always been a big part of putting the record out—their actual life story, which Jason and I have only gotten to know gradually as the project grew,” Palmer says. “We were faced with the choice of, well, do we share their story separately from the record and hope that people will understand who they are and where they’re coming from, or do we actually really include it as part of the record so it can’t be an ignorable element?”
The tracklist notably pairs light and dark songs. Listeners barely have time to recover from the grisly first “Tragic Events” tracks before the upbeat ditty “Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?” hits. “You know, that wasn’t deliberate,” Palmer says. “We didn’t sit down and map out our record—at all. This record really wrote itself, and it wrote itself really organically. When the record was sequenced, we tried to think of some logical order that wouldn’t be too psychotic.
“It’s such a hallmark of both of our styles to do that,” she explains. “If you look at my last record, it’s the same thing. You’ll have a song like ‘Oasis,’ which is this upbeat, Beach Boys-y tune with full production backup vocals about date rape, back-to-back with a song that takes itself totally seriously. But somehow it makes sense because that’s actually part and parcel of my personality—that when I’m serious, I’m very serious and I expect to be taken seriously, and then the next minute I’m tearing myself apart. And to me, the really fun part about making art is making this nice context in which you don’t have to take yourself seriously. You don’t have to take anything seriously. You can poke fun at your own last song within your album.”
Palmer released Evelyn Evelyn jointly on 8ft. Records and Webley’s 11 Records in part to slight her own label, Roadrunner Records, with whom she’s publicly struggled. However, Roadrunner hasn’t reacted. “When it comes down to it, Roadrunner Records isn’t going to react to anything, ever, in my life unless I’m making millions of dollars on any of the projects I’m involved with,” Palmer says. “Their only concern’s with where the money is. And since this record is never going to be making bank, they won’t concern themselves with it. Which is fine with me.”
Evelyn Evelyn is available in a variety of preorder packages, from the plain ol’ CD to an Over The Moon Bundle priced at $11,111,111,111. “If you order that, you actually get to take the Evelyn sisters to the moon,” Palmer deadpans. “They’re actually really hoping that someone will order that. They’d like to go to the moon. They’re a little scared. They don’t like flying in regular planes, but I think the idea of being out in space is somehow strangely appealing to them because they feel very naturally solitary. Well, you know, as a pair.”
During a recent stay in Australia, Palmer spent six days in a studio recording music such as Radiohead covers on the ukelele and songs about New Zealand and Australia for a possible tour CD next year. “I did what I had never done before—I booked studio time with no producer and no plans,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to just go into the studio and fuck around, so I did.”
Palmer received many bottles of the Australian food paste vegemite after expressing her repulsion for it in song and on Twitter, but have the Evelyn sisters tried it? “If we bring them down to Australia next year, I’ll test-drive some vegemite on toast—on Evelyn. Evelyn is more experimental with food than Evelyn is for whatever reason.”
Right now, Palmer and Webley—err, the Neville sisters—have no plans to write new music, but it’s possible they might. “I won’t say too much about it, but the girls have been making noises about wanting to go solo,” Palmer says. I joke, “I’ll support Evelyn.” She replies, “I’m definitely on Evelyn’s side.”