Palmer was born Amanda MacKinnon Palmer in New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital, and grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts. Her parents divorced when she was one year old, and as a child she rarely saw her father.
She attended Lexington High School, where she was involved in the drama department, and attended Wesleyan University where she was a member of the Eclectic Society. She staged performances based on work by the Legendary Pink Dots, an early influence, and was involved in the Legendary Pink Dots electronic mailing list, Cloud Zero. She then formed the Shadowbox Collective, devoted to street theatre and putting on theatrical shows (such as the 2002 play, Hotel Blanc, which she directed). Another early influence is Judy Blume, an author of children's books.
With an interest in the performing arts, both in music and in theatre, Palmer spent time busking as a living statue called "The Eight Foot Bride" in Harvard Square, Cambridge; Edinburgh, Scotland; Australia (where she met Jason Webley); as well as many other locations. She refers to this line of work on The Dresden Dolls' self-titled CD, with the song "The Perfect Fit":
as well as on the A is for Accident track "Glass Slipper":
At a Halloween party in 2000, Palmer met drummer Brian Viglione and afterwards they formed The Dresden Dolls. In an effort to expand the performance experience and interactivity, Palmer began inviting Lexington High School students to perform drama pieces at the Dresden Dolls' live shows. This evolved to The Dirty Business Brigade, a troupe of seasoned and new artists, performing at many gigs.
In 2002, after developing a cult following, the band recorded their eponymous debut album, The Dresden Dolls, with producer Martin Bisi (of Indie, Brooklyn, New York fame). They produced the album before signing with the label Roadrunner Records.
In 2006, The Dresden Dolls Companion was published, with words, music & artwork by Amanda Palmer. In it she has written a history of the album The Dresden Dolls and of the duo, as well as a partial autobiography. The book also contains the lyrics, sheet music, and notes on each song in the album, all written by Palmer, as well as a DVD with a 20-minute interview of Amanda about making the book.
In June 2007, as part of the Dresden Dolls, she toured with the True Colors Tour 2007, including her debut in New York City's Radio City Music Hall, and her first review in The New York Times.
July 2008 the Dresden Dolls released a second book, the Virginia Companion, a follow-up to The Dresden Dolls Companion, featuring the music and lyrics from the Yes, Virginia...(2006) and No, Virginia... (2008) albums, produced by Sean Slade and Paul Kolderie.
Palmer conceived the musical/production The Onion Cellar, based on a short story from The Tin Drum by Günter Grass. From December 9, 2006 through January 13, 2007, The Dresden Dolls performed the piece in conjunction with the American Repertory Theater at the Zero Arrow Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While Palmer was openly frustrated with the direction of the show, fan and critical reviews were very positive.
Palmer, as part of her solo career, returned to the A.R.T. in fall 2010 for a two-month run of Cabaret, starring as the Emcee.
The Dresden Dolls reunited for a tour in the United States in 2010, starting on Halloween in New York City and ending in San Francisco on New Year's Eve. They performed two shows in 2011, in Australia and Mexico, and seven shows, in Australia and New Zealand, in 2012. They performed shows in Kingston, New York, Boston, and Brooklyn in August 2016.
In September 2007, Palmer collaborated with Jason Webley to release Evelyn Evelyn's debut EP Elephant Elephant via Jason's Eleven Records. Their full-length album, Evelyn Evelyn was released March 30, 2010, followed by a worldwide tour.
In July 2007, Palmer played three sold-out shows (in Boston, Hoboken, and NYC) in a new "with band" format. Her backing band was Boston alternative rock group Aberdeen City, who also opened along with Dixie Dirt. In August 2007, Palmer traveled to perform in the Spiegeltent and other venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, and also performed on BBC Two's The Edinburgh Show. She collaborated with Australian theater company, The Danger Ensemble; both again appeared at the Spiegeltent in Melbourne and at other venues around Australia in December 2007.
In June 2008, Palmer established her solo career with two well-received performances with the Boston Pops.
Her first solo studio album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, was released on September 16, 2008. Ben Folds produced and also played on the album. The title is a play on an expression used by fans during Twin Peaks original run, "Who killed Laura Palmer?" A companion book of photos of Palmer looking as if she were murdered was released in July 2009. Titled Who Killed Amanda Palmer a Collection of Photographic Evidence, it featured photography by Kyle Cassidy and stories by Neil Gaiman, as well as lyrics from the album.
"Strength Through Music," a track from Who Killed Amanda Palmer, indirectly references August Strindberg. The song contains an audio clip of a web cartoon called Strindberg and Helium; the cartoon almost exclusively quotes Strindberg's work.
In late 2008, she toured Europe with Jason Webley, Zoe Keating and The Danger Ensemble, performing songs mostly from her debut solo album. She did most of the shows with a broken foot she had sustained in Belfast, Northern Ireland when a car ran over her foot as she stepped out into a street. In April 2009, she played at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
In 2009, Palmer went back to her alma mater, Lexington High School in Massachusetts, to collaborate with her old director and mentor Steven Bogart on a workshop piece for the department's spring production. The play, With The Needle That Sings In Her Heart was inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel's album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and The Diary of Anne Frank.
NPR's Avishay Artsy interviewed the cast on All Things Considered.
Palmer began using the ukulele during a concert as a goof, but soon it became a regular part of her repertoire. Later, she recorded a full album with ukulele accompaniment: Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele.
On April 20, 2012, Palmer announced on her blog that she launched a new album pre-order on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter project was ultimately supported by 24,883 backers for a grand total of $1,192,793 — at the time, the most funds ever raised for a musical project on Kickstarter. A widely reported and commented upon controversy emerged from the related tour when she asked for local musicians to volunteer to play with her for exposure, fun, beer, and hugs instead of money. She responded in the press and changed her policy to one of paying local musicians who volunteered to play with her on this tour.
The album, Theatre Is Evil, was recorded with The Grand Theft Orchestra, produced by John Congleton, and released in September 2012.
On November 9, 2012, Palmer launched the first music video from Theatre is Evil for "Do it With a Rockstar" on The Flaming Lips' website. The video was co-created and directed by Wayne Coyne, lead singer of The Flaming Lips. Subsequent videos were released for "The Killing Type" and "The Bed Song".
On August 9, 2013, Palmer made her Lincoln Center debut.
She can shock the audience sometimes by performing naked
In November 2014, Palmer released her memoir, The Art of Asking (ISBN 1455581089), which expands on a Ted talk she gave in February 2013. The book made the NY Times bestsellers lists.
On March 3, 2015 Amanda began soliciting financial support on the crowdfunding platform Patreon. Palmer spoke at the 2015 Hay Festival about the prospect of reconciling art and motherhood. The talk was recorded for the BBC Radio 4 series Four Thought and broadcast on June 21, 2015. Also in 2015, she served as a judge for The 14th Annual Independent Music Awards.
During the first months of 2016, she released the completely patron-funded song, "Machete", and a David Bowie tribute EP, entitled Strung Out In Heaven: A Bowie String Quartet Tribute.
Amanda Palmer collaborated with her father, Jack Palmer, to record an album, "You Got Me Singing". The duo performed several concerts in July 2016 in support of the album.
Amanda Palmer collaborated with Legendary Pink Dots frontman Edward Ka-Spel to record an album, "I Can Spin a Rainbow". The duo toured in May and June 2017 in support of the album, backed by Legendary Pink Dots' former violin player Patrick Q. Wright.
Palmer resides in Boston, Massachusetts, with other artists in a cooperative named the Cloud Club.
She has identified as bisexual, telling afterellen.com in 2007: "I'm bisexual, but it's not the sort of thing I spent a lot of time thinking about," Palmer said. "I've slept with girls; I've slept with guys, so I guess that's what they call it! I'm not anti trying to use language to simplify our lives." Palmer has spoken out on feminist issues and about her open relationships, stating in one interview that "I've never been comfortable in a monogamous relationship in my life. I feel like I was built for open relationships just because of the way I function," Palmer explained. "It's not a reactive decision like, 'Hey I'm on the road, you're on the road, let's just find other people.' It was a fundamental building block of our relationship. We both like things this way."
Palmer has said that she once worked as a stripper named Berlin. She has stated that the song "Berlin" was written about this experience.
On her blog, Palmer has stated that she had an abortion at age 17. In the same blog post, she stated that she was date raped when she was 20 years old.
Neil Gaiman and Palmer confirmed their engagement in 2010 and Palmer hosted a flash mob wedding (not legally binding) for Gaiman's birthday in New Orleans later the same year. The couple legally married in a private ceremony in 2011. The wedding took place in the parlor of writers Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon. Palmer gave birth to the couple's son, Anthony, on September 16, 2015.
Palmer practices meditation and wrote an article titled "Melody vs. Meditation" for the Buddhist publication Shambhala Sun, that described the struggle between songwriting and being able to clear the mind to meditate.2012: Artist & Manager Awards - Pioneer Award
2012: Twitter Feed @amandapalmer in the Boston Phoenix's Best 2012
2011: Actress in a local production: Cabaret – Boston's Best, Improper Bostonian
2010: Artist of the Year – Boston Music Awards
2010: Cover of "Fake Plastic Trees" (Radiohead) named 13th of Paste magazine's 20 Best Cover Songs of 2010
2009: No. 100 on After Ellen's Hot 100 of 2009.
2008: No. 6 on the Best Solo artist list in The Guardian's Readers' Poll of 2008.
2007: No. 6 on Spinner.com's "Women Who Rock Right Now".
2006: The Boston Globe named her the most stylish woman in Boston.
2006: Listed in Blender magazine's hottest women of rock.
2005: Best Female Vocalist in the WFNX/Boston Phoenix Best Music Poll.
Songs from 1989–1995... (1996)
Summer 1998 Five Song Demo (1997)
Who Killed Amanda Palmer (2008) No. 77 US
Theatre Is Evil (2012) No. 10 US - as of 12 September 2012
Jack & Amanda Palmer: You Got Me Singing (2016)
Piano Is Evil (Acoustic version of Theatre Is Evil) (2016)
Amanda Palmer & Edward Ka-Spel: I Can Spin a Rainbow (2017)
Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under (2011)
Several Attempts to Cover Songs by The Velvet Underground & Lou Reed for Neil Gaiman as His Birthday Approaches (2012)
An Evening With Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer (2013)
Map of Tasmania (2011)
Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele (2010)
Amanda Palmer & Jherek Bischoff: Strung Out In Heaven (A David Bowie Tribute) (2016)
Amanda Palmer & Jason Webley - Sketches For the Musical JIB (2016)
"Leeds United" (2008)
"Oasis" (February, 2009)
"Do You Swear to Tell the Truth the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth So Help Your Black Ass" (April 6, 2010)
"Idioteque" (Radiohead cover, June 10, 2010)
"Map of Tasmania" (December 2010)
"Polly" (Nirvana cover, from Newermind, 2011). Remixed and re-released February 2012.
"Do It With a Rockstar" (June, 2012)
"Institutionalized" (Suicidal Tendencies cover, from A Tribute to Repo Man, 2012)
"Bigger On The Inside" (March 9, 2015)
"The Things About Things" (March 9, 2015)
"All I Could Do" (August, 2015) Amanda & Jack Palmer (Kimya Dawson cover)
"So Much Wine" (August, 2015) Amanda & Jack Palmer (The Handsome Family cover)
"A Mother's Confession" (February 25, 2016)
"Machete" (March 9, 2016)
"1952 Vincent Black Lightning" (May 3, 2016) Amanda & Jack Palmer (Richard Thompson cover)
"Purple Rain" (May 31, 2016) Amanda Palmer & Jherek Bischoff (Prince cover)
"Laura" (June 23, 2016) Amanda Palmer & Brendan Maclean (Bat for Lashes cover)
"The Sound of People Dancing" (July 31, 2016) Amanda Palmer with Thor & Friends (Thor & Friends cover) Live at Le Poisson Rouge
"On The Door" (September 2, 2016) Amanda Palmer & Brendan Maclean
"Everybody Knows"/"Democracy" (December 14, 2016) Amanda Palmer, Jherek Bischoff and Neal Gaiman (Leonard Cohen covers)
"The Angel Gabriel" (December 24, 2016)
"Floating in a Cocktail Glass" (January 31, 2017)
"The Hands EP" (May 5, 2017) Amanda Palmer and Edward Ka-Spel
"Drowning in the Sound" (September 1, 2017)
Who Killed Amanda Palmer: A Collection of Music Videos (2009)
The Dresden Dolls (EP) (2002)
A Is for Accident (2003) (live album)
The Dresden Dolls (2003, reissued 2004)
Yes, Virginia... (2006)
No, Virginia... (2008) (compilation)
The Virginia Monologues (2015) (compiles Yes, Virginia... and No, Virginia...)
Elephant Elephant (EP) (2007)
Evelyn Evelyn (2010)
"Trudy" (with Ad Frank and the Fast Easy Women on In Girl Trouble) (2003)
"Circus Freak Love Triangle" (with Hierosonic on Pornos and Razorblades) (2005)
"Warsaw Is Khelm" (with Golem on Fresh Off Boat) (2006)
"Life", "Eight Days of Hell" and "Witch's Web" (with ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead on So Divided) (2006)
"The Lovers" (with Meredith Yayanos on Brainwaves) (2006)
"Stuck with You" (with Voltaire on Ooky Spooky) (2007)
"Everybody Hurts" (with Cormac Bride on Stereogum Presents... Drive XV: A Tribute to Automatic For the People) (2007)
"With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart" appearing as "The Ringmaster" (Lexington High School's Spring Production, 2009)
"Black Versus White" (with Apoptygma Berzerk on Rocket Science) (2009)
"3 Men Hanging" (Murder By Death cover) Murder By Death/Amanda Palmer Split 7" (2009)
"Living in Misery" (with Kill Hannah on Wake Up the Sleepers) (2009)
"Behavior" (Steel Train cover) (with Matt Devine & Erica Iozzo on Terrible Tactics Vol.1) (2010)
"János vs Wonderland" (with Tristan Allen on Tristan Allen EP) (2010)
"The Little Prince" (with Lance Horne on First Things Last) (2011)
Nighty Night (with Damian Kulash of OK Go, Neil Gaiman and Ben Folds as 8in8) (2011)
"Such Great Heights" (The Postal Service cover), with Kim Boekbinder on Such Great Heights single (2011)
"The First Time Ever I Saw Her Face" (with The Flaming Lips) (2012)
"Magicfuturebox" (with Jherek Bischoff) by The Few Moments on The Few Moments) (2012)
"Total Control" (with Hugo Race, single by Rockwiz) (2012)
"Ukulele Anthem" (live on Occupy This Album) (2012)
"First World Problems" (by Weird Al Yankovic on Mandatory Fun) (2014)
"Before Too Long" (by Missy Higgins on Oz) (2014)
"You and Him" (by John Grant) on Grey Tickles, Black Pressure) (2015)
"Pictures Of Me" (Elliott Smith cover from tribute album Say Yes!) (2016)
"The Leary Cloud (Slight Return)", "No-one Can Hear You Squeak", "Stuck On My Eyes" by Edward Ka-Spel on High on Station Yellow Moon 10" (2017)
Asylum Relapse : A tale of four worlds by Patrick Q Wright (2017)