IT’S OUT! Listen to “Surface Pressure” with Me, Jherek Bischoff & The Black Quartet
HELLO MY LOVES!!!
OH MY GOD.
Links to Mp3/WAV downloads are here for $3+ patrons: https://www.patreon.com/posts/63848737
I am so, so proud of it and the way this all came together, and how the patreon fueled the whole thing from beginning to end. Jherek’s arrangement is phenomenal, the Black Quartet SLAMMED IT, and the engineers (Steven Marr, I’m looking at you) did an absolute masterful job on the sound.
Also, I haven’t delivered a vocal performance this powerful and raw since recording Theater is Evil (I think it gives DIE DIE DIE DIE section of “The Killing Type” a run for its money).
I NEEDED THIS. IT WAS VERY CATHARTIC.
AND OH MY GOD, THE ARTWORK. Look at the ARTWORK that Alfredo Richner made…just the artwork alone makes me cry.
Alfredo, who’s from Puerto Rico and a long-time patron and collaborator of mine, put his hand up when this cover started coming together…and my lord, more perfect artwork could not have existed.
HOW DO I LISTEN/SHARE???
You can listen to the song RIGHT HERE IN THE POST (just press play, above).
If you’re a $3 patron, we are sending download codes in a moment (all patrons, you can always up your pledge at any point to open that link: https://www.patreon.com/posts/63848737)
If you want to SHARE this song with the public (and please, PLEASE do), you can either forward them this post (https://www.patreon.com/posts/63918580/), or send them to
I’ll be posting up a storm on social media…please share the posts and comment!!
The Whole Story….so we have it one place.
This whole joke started on a webcast in which I actually wound up covering a Depeche Mode song (“Enjoy the Silence” – which we’ve only put out to the patreon and haven’t taken “public” yet, don’t worry, that’s coming).
You can watch that webcast here…but somewhere in there, my old pal Kya Farquhar (whose family took care of me and Ash for the first year were stranded/waylaid in New Zealand) was like YOU HAVE TO DO SURFACE PRESSURE.
We had all watched “Encanto” together – her whole family and ours – and Ash was already obsessed with the soundtrack. There was a live up=voting process going on, and “Enjoy the Silence” was in first place…but “Surface Pressure” was a close second.
A few days later I made a silly random post on Facebook while changing the oil in my car during a roadtrip with Ash, saying we were jamming to Encanto for the gazillonth time….
…and the comments went wild and EVERYBODY WANTED A SURFACE PRESSURE COVER. JESUS. EVERYBODY WANTED IT.
So I decided, after recording Depeche Mode, to just fuckin’ go for it.
This entire process – almost ALL of it – was WEBCAST live to all patrons, including two prep video calls with Jherek, and the whooooole long day in the studio where we tracked the quartet, the piano and the vocal all in one huge wallop.
All of the calls and webcasts are archived, and available for all patrons to watch:
PREP CALL WITH JHEREK #1 – https://www.crowdcast.io/e/taqjhe7j
Brainstorming ideas, with much chin-scratching:
WATCH HERE: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/taqjhe7j
PREP CALL WITH JHEREK #2 – https://www.crowdcast.io/e/5obnffgm
Finalising the arrangements…
(caption contest, anyone?)
WATCH HERE: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/5obnffgm
RECORDING STUDIO DAY (PART ONE) – THE STRINGS AND PIANO:
The strings recording…
Jherek conducting via THE MAGIC OF THE INTERNET…
Recording the piano…
WATCH HERE: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/5g4l8eoa
And then, since we ran over Crowdcast’s time limit, we had to spill over into a SECOND STREAM…..
RECORDING STUDIO, PART TWO. THE VOCALS:
Vocal booth FEROCITY…
A word from collaborator and arranger-extraordinaire,
Always a pleasure to be in your company.
It’s safe to say that I wait by the phone for another text or call from Amanda with another idea for a song that she wants to make!
I really love these projects. They always are on a super-tight time crunch and are always pretty ambitious. I love working on tight timelines where you can’t second-guess your work. I feel like we both kind of thrive in that situation.
Patreon is such an incredible outlet, even for that reason alone.
I am sure you’re all aware, but back before these crowdfunding platforms, we musicians would make a recording and have to wait months to years for it ever to see the light of day. And sometimes, they were never released.
With this kind of direct support from you, we can write/record/mix and, in a couple of days, have it to you by the end of the week. Or faster sometimes!
It is so wonderful and freeing.
I have worked on so many records with different artists over the years. Something not uncommon is for an artist to start a record, and they have to step back for a time, whether due to lack of funding, not finishing lyrics, etc.
If enough time passes and their ideas change, the artist changes or something big happens in their life, sometimes, what they were working on may feel stale and old or just not sound like what they want it to anymore.
While it’s not inherently bad to change, it can be a problem when you’re in the middle of making a record! Over the years, I have felt that it is best to work quickly because that is where you are at that moment in time.
Yes, you will change, and your tastes will change, too, but you can save that for your next record! I haven’t ever really actively listened to Ani Difranco. I know she and Amanda are buds, and there are probably a lot of fans here; I have a lot of respect for her.
She seems rad. Years ago, I was on a road trip, and a friend put on one of her records. There was a lyric that, after only hearing it once, I still think about all the time. I don’t even listen to lyrics typically!
But she was talking about the word “record,” something about how records are indeed just records of a time and place, like a journal entry.
Maybe it will ring a bell to someone here, and I can revisit! That really has been in my mind over the years making records. Rarely is something ever going to be perfect, but a record is just a moment in time; it’s like a very elaborate journal entry.
All that said!!! I love this way of working because I find it’s so much more honest. You are getting where we are RIGHT NOW, what we are doing RIGHT NOW! Not how we were feeling months or years ago!
We made this thing within a couple of weeks, and I finished mixing it LAST WEEK!
Maybe my skills as arranger or mixer will be better, or I will have better tools in a year, but this is me now; this is Amanda now.
I am so thankful to work with Amanda and you, her patrons, and provide you with an elaborate journal entry. Also, getting to do those crowd cast chats and let you all into the process was so fun for me. I never really do that kind of thing because I don’t feel like I am great at it, but Amanda makes it so fun and easy, which is, of course, one of the many reasons you are here! Lastly, I just want to shout out the rest of the team. The Black Quartet were AMAZING. So good. I have worked with hundreds of quartets, and I can assure you, they were top-notch. Also, the folks running the studio – dang, it sounds so good. Real professionals. And, of course, Amanda: thank you.
You continue to inspire me so much, and I love and miss you!
OH MY GOD I LOVE YOU JHEREK BISCHOFF SO MUCH.
Back to the story….for this recording, we needed STRING PLAYERS….and we worked with the BLACK QUARTET here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
I JUST SO HAPPENED to be with a music biz pal that day – I WAS ON A PLAY DATE WITH ASH – who knew about the quartet, and I was musoing aloud that if I was going to tackle this song, I’d need a quratet, but I didn’ tknow one in New Zealand. BOOM, over kids eating sandwiches, my new plan Mikee gave me Mahuia’s phone number, I texted, and they took the gig the next day.
Here’s a little bit about them:
Eclectic and diverse, the Black (string) Quartet draw on their love and experience of a vast sea of musical influences from blues, rock, roots, folk, jazz and pop to create their own signature take on this classic ensemble. As artists, producers, and solo players in their own right, the Black Quartet brings virtuosity, freshness and flair to their craft. As lifelong musical friends, they not only perform together, but compose, improvise, arrange, and record in a distinct, modern style. The quartet has featured in the WOMAD NZ and Auckland Arts Festivals, and has collaborated with many international and New Zealand-based artists.
Here’s a note from the violinist, Mahuia Bridgeman-Cooper:
Working with Amanda on Surface Pressure was a blast!
We have done loads of recording sessions, but none that have been live streamed. To be honest, sharing the slightly secretive process of tracking a string quartet for a hugely popular song is not the first thing that we would wish for as artists.
However, once Amanda explained how this was about opening up the magic of creating a piece of music in the studio, it didn’t seem so daunting. It was totally refreshing – in this restrictive time of COVID – to hear Amanda chatting to the ‘audience’ of Patreon people as if they were in the room with us.
Which they kinda were.
And speaking of being in the room, even though Jherek had arranged the score for string quartet, there is only so much that the notes on the page can communicate. So, having Jherek on screen, beaming in from the West Coast in real time, to give us his words of guidance and encouragement was reassuring. We often worry about recreating other artists’ strings in a way they like. As you would have seen the stream, we asked Jherek about everything from chords and other stuff in the score, through to how to get the right ’scrape’ sound from the viola (and yes, the viola is capable of many, many kinds of different scraping sounds…)
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the session with Amanda was the confluence of different artist to audience contexts. That is to say, there’s a singer, a piano, a string quartet with bass, an arranger, all recording a cover in a studio.
But then there’s an artist directly supported by members of her global audience, making music requested by that audience, with that audience in attendance during the process of making the track. It’s a meeting of the session musician’s usual type of gig with a 21st-century, global, internet-based interaction with an awesome, unique and organically-made track at the end.
It’s a trip, that’s for sure!
THANK YOU, MAHUIA, your quartet is INCREDIBLE. I hope we get to work together again and again…
Some behind the scenes photos, studio photos all by Aura Torkington, my newly found (via patreon!) internet and studio unicorn:
Being a rockstar in 2022 means masked-up admin on a laptop in the back of an Uber:
I BOUGHT A FANCY DRESS FOR THE OCCASION:
And the ARTWORK.
Patron and long-time collaborator Alfredo Richner reached out as soon as he saw this was brewing….and offered to create some artwork for the release – we’ve worked together in the past on merch designs (including the patron-exclusive Queen of Hearts pin), so I jumped at the chance, and I love what he came up with.
Here are some words from him about his process and inspiration…
My name is Alfredo and I’m a designer and music journalist from Puerto Rico.
I haven’t written anything longer than a tweet or Facebook status in so long that this —writing to you— might be the scariest collaboration with Amanda in almost a decade now.
You might have seen (or own) some of the stuff I’ve designed for her before, like the Theatre Is Evil European Tour shirts and posters (I’ll come back to that design eventually), the “sign-able” Ampersand shirts for The Art of Asking Book Tour, or the special Patreon-only “Queen of Hearts” enamel pins we made right before the There Will Be No Intermission Tour (you know, before all of this –picture me waving my hands frantically— happened).
I’ve enjoyed all of these collaborations immensely.
Amanda is always encouraging and enthusiastic during the creative process, and incredibly generous with her trust.
I get the sense that she knows exactly what she wants, but also knows that I’ll figure out how to get us there.
So how did this one come about? In great Disney fashion —sort of magically, I’d say.
After a year working almost exclusively designing all sorts of assets for a line of COVID testing kits (think instruction manuals, packaging, app screens, whatever the client throws at me), I found myself a few weeks ago in dire need of a more creative project.
Don’t get me wrong, this is probably the most rewarding work I could have wished for in the middle of a pandemic ––I feel like I hit the design jackpot, really— but after the umpteenth swab-in-nose illustration, I thought I’d earned a bit of a break. I remember thinking: “Maybe, I’ll write Amanda… See if there’s something I could work on for her”.
But before I could get around to that, Amanda had published a Patreon post titled: “I’M COVERING “SURFACE PRESSURE”, LIVE w a quartet!”.
What’s a “Surface Pressure”?, I thought (bear with me, I don’t have kids; I arrive a bit late at these things).
So I clicked on the Youtube link and… I don’t think I was a minute into the song before I posted a comment on the Patreon post. To my delight, Amanda responded quickly.
(Hey, Amanda, is this an advice column? If it is then, my first piece of advice is to jump at opportunities when you see them.)
My first assignment was to watch Encanto, right then.
I called my friend Carla, who knew it by heart, and we laughed and cried under our face-masks until the very end.
What a beautiful film, right?
It made me miss my abuelita.
I would be designing this with her in mind. And also this, a little bit of serendipity: As an assignment, my older brother’s therapist told him to listen to “Surface Pressure”.
Isn’t that the one you are working on for Amanda?, he called to ask me. Indeed!
The challenge at hand for me (my assignment) was to come up with an artwork that reflected the spirit and sound of Amanda’s cover of “Surface Pressure”, while echoing some of the visual and narrative themes from Encanto.
And to do this really quickly (I agreed to turn in my artwork 2-3 days after the recording session). Fittingly, this is A LOT of pressure. But thanks to my COVID testing kit job, I had developed increased familiarity and speed with the software I would be using (mainly Illustrator), so I felt confident I could deliver. (My second piece of advice for artists is not to agree to terms you don’t feel comfortable with ––best to avoid that panic attack.)
“Having a good idea” is the most difficult step to factor in this type of situation, because of its unpredictability. Sometimes, if you are really lucky, it hits you immediately. Sometimes, the hard part is making that idea work. But how do you know if you are going to have a good idea on time? One that you’ll be able to execute on time? The best you can do is prepare (preparation nurtures confidence, and I’ve found that I need plenty of confidence to make quick decisions as I design against the clock). I do this by:
(1) Setting up an “inspiration” folder on my computer that a fill up with all sorts of reference images that might help me during the design process. These include everything from posters and album covers I like, to pictures of specific things I might be thinking of incorporating into the design, to movie stills from Encanto. I think of this as an armory of sorts.
(2) Taking time to sketch ideas freely, without any sort of “design” pressures. These, for me, are usually really rough, tiny sketches that might end up not having any bearing on the actual design. This is one of the most valuable lessons I (begrudgingly) learned in architecture school, and now pass on to you. Just getting stuff out into the page allows your mind to relax a bit and takes some of the pressure off of trying to come up with a good idea.
On the day of the recording, I felt confident and ready.
By then, I had sketched out a few things and prepared my folder with reference images. Amanda had sent me a few design prompts / queues that resonated with the ideas I had started to develop —I felt we were aligned in what the design could be. In fact, I already had an idea I felt strongly about (thank the design process gods! or the prep process I outlined above). I even mocked up a collage with a few reference images on Photoshop to help me work out the overall composition.
This is not something I make every single time I work on a design, but in this case it was key to selling me on my own idea before I started drawing on Illustrator. Once Amanda introduced the musicians and started directing The Black Quartet with Jherek, I was more than ready to get to work.
I concentrated on getting the basic design idea down that night, which Amanda enthusiastically approved the next day.
With that pressure off, I moved on to adding more detail, tweaking colors, and finally, adding the text. These steps are more technical ––but more importantly, they are unique to anyone working on a design or illustration, even if you are using the same tools. For this design, I drew some of the shapes on my tablet with a stylus, and others on my laptop, switching back and forth depending on where I thought I might move quickest. I also learned new tricks along the way, which is one of the most exciting parts of the design process for me.
That flowery design that curves around the piano? I didn’t know quite how to make that in a quick and efficient manner, but I suspected it could be done, and I knew enough to know how to ask Google about it.
And so, a detail that might have taken me a solid day’s work, ended up taking me just a couple of hours thanks to a short tutorial. (More advice: Online tutorials are your friends. Are you jotting these lessons down?)
I’ve extended myself enough so I’ll finish by adding one thing: I am extremely honored to be part of this community, and to be able to collaborate once more with Amanda, someone I admire for both her art and her heart.
This year marks a whole decade since I met Amanda and our first collaboration.
When I showed my brother the design for “Surface Pressure” he pointed out to me that it reminded him of the first image I made for her, as a gift, which ended up months later as the European tour poster and shirt for Theatre Is Evil.
That artwork shows Amanda falling/jumping off a stage, being held by a giant hand/others/her audience.
How fitting to draw her ten years later, carrying Ash on her piano through the woods.
But that’s also me up there reading on that piano, and it might also be you.
(Then and now – Alfredo’s work on the Theatre Is Evil tour design, and the Surface Pressure cover)
My god, this fucking whole post is starting to make me cry.
Alfredo….thank you. Thank you for asking, thank you for being such an incredible artist, and just…thank you. For everything. For understanding what it all means. You’re the best. I can’t wait to get back to Puerto Rico and hug you with my tired arms, and be hugged in turn.
We’re at the end, almost, people.
Once again, WHEN YOU WANNA SHARE THIS WITH OTHERS….you can just share THIS POST.
Steven Marr – Engineer
Alexandra Corbett – Assistant Engineer
Amanda Palmer – Piano and Vocals
Peau Halapua – Violin
Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper – Violin
Joe Harrop – Viola
James Bush – Cello
Jherek Bischoff – Upright Bass, Bass Drum, Glockenspiel
Mixed and mastered by Jherek Bischoff at Sweethaven, Los Angeles CA Arrangement by Jherek Bischoff
Aurelia Torkington – Social Media Assistant & Magical Unicorn
Cover Artwork – Alfredo Richner
Jordan Verzar, Michael McComiskey, Alex Knight
I LOVE YOU ALL….
THANK YOU FOR HELPING US MAKE THIS INCREDIBLE THING.
SEE YOU ON THE INTERNET SOON, I HOPE!!
Don’t forget about the surprise webcast in about two hours:
——THE NEVER-ENDING AS ALWAYS———
1. if you are a patron and new to my work, don’t forget your patronage allows you access to ALL of my patreon releases to date. HERE is the link to download my latest big solo record, “There Will Be No Intermission”, and HERE is a link to download the PDF of the art/essay book that goes with it.
2. if you’re a patron reading this post via an email notification, please click through to comment on this post. at the very least, if you’ve read it, indicate that by using the heart symbol. that’s always nice for me to see, so i know who’s reading.
3. see All the Things (over 150 of them) i’ve made so far on patreon:
4. JOIN THE SHADOWBOX COMMUNITY FORUM, find your people, and discuss everything: https://forum.theshadowbox.net/
5. new to my music and TOTALLY OVERWHELMED? TAKE A WALK THROUGH AMANDALANDA….we made a basic list of my greatest hits n stuff (at least up until a few years ago, this desperately needs updating) on this lovely page: http://amandalanda.amandapalmer.net/
6. general AFP/patreon-related questions? ask away, someone will answer: firstname.lastname@example.org