“Millenium Actress” – A Duet with Conrad Keely (…And Will You Know Us By The Trail of Dead)
Hello my loves.
**Long story short: this is a brand-new duet/collab, “Millenium Actress”, with one of my fave indie bands, …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. There’s a little youtube video for the song – including studio footage of my vocal take – here. Their album is out now.
-$3+ patrons have download codes (mp3/WAV) of the song waiting for them here.
-$5+ patrons are getting sent a video of the whole vocal take here.
Greetings from Woodstock, NY.
I am home. But feel homesick. Stumbling, but maintaining balance.
It’s too much right now, to even contemplate. Too much to digest – and to do – all at once. Sleep is short, skies are wide, things feel blurry.
But small things are keeping me afloat. You are all keeping me afloat. I thought this USA landing would be softer, but I have hard feet from New Zealand, where the ground was volcanic. I am a different person, with different feet: I can walk on anything now.
And from my confused little perch here, mid-stumble, I’ll send word. I think I may try to give you some poetry in a few days, it feels like what the moment is calling for.
I need to write it, for myself, and there you are, to catch it. A few of my friends have been sending me poems and they are helping. To re-create the world, through metaphor, when it seems to be in short supply, feels like the only way through right now.
We need art. At least…I do. A lot. I’m tired, but full.
Still slightly “under construction”.
So, I thank you for your patience and for hanging in there while I adjust to this new country, this new world, this new life. It is not what I imagined.
(But what ever is?)
Meanwhile, to cheer us all…some ART.
I have a very special Thing for you this month: a beautiful, orchestral, bombastic and heart-shattering duet that I hope hits you right in the feels where it hit me when I recorded it.
If you read below, past the movie poster images, I’ll write a little bit about what it feels like – and felt like – to do a vocal like this.
This is a collaboration that I tracked almost one year ago (August 2021, oh my lord) in New Zealand with my long-time pal, the astonishing songwriter/artist Conrad Keely and the other inspirational musicians from one of my all-time favorite indie bands …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead.
The song is called “Millenium Actress“, it’s embedded here, and download/$3 patrons are being sent an M3P download code.
I first discovered …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead when they released their magnificent (seriously MAGNIFICENT) sophomore album, Worlds Apart.
I loved this album more than anything (and listening to it gives me chills to this day, especially the opening two tracks…gahhhhhhh).
The Dresden Dolls and Trail of Dead became band-friends back in 2005/6, and played a good handful of shows through the years, and I was always blown away by their live energy. TWO DRUMMERS! LOUD! MELODIC! And so much passion. Conrad is a visionary artist…he writes, he arranges, he draws, he paints. (I’m one of his patrons, by the way, and it’s a lovely group.)
Fun Fact, this isn’t my first collaboration with these guys: I also sang and played pretty piano on on a Trail of Dead song – back in 2006 – for the song “Witch’s Web” (from the album “So Divided”) which you can listen to here. It’s pretty. But it doesn’t hit me in the hard feels like this new one.
So, about this beautiful, beautiful duet.
The song is a single from Trail of Dead’s forthcoming record, “XI: Bleed Here Now”(it’s their11th album….get it?).
It’s out TODAY, July 15th, and you can get it here on bandcamp.
The lyrics of the song are based on a Japanese movie of the same name:
Millennium Actress (千年女優, Sennen Joyū) …
is a 2001 Japanese animated drama film co-written and directed by Satoshi Kon and produced by Madhouse. Loosely based on the lives of actresses Setsuko Hara and Hideko Takamine, it tells the story of two documentary filmmakers investigating the life of a retired acting legend. As she tells them the story of her life, the difference between reality and cinema becomes blurred.
Here’s some words from Conrad, written just for y’all patrons….on the inspiration behind the song/lyrics:
Hello Patrons –
I was familiar with this movie for some time before I wrote the song.
Being a lover of anime, this one stuck out for not being about robots, mutants, people with special powers, or fantastical worlds. Instead, it was a story about the golden age of Japanese film. Growing up in Hawaii (and Thailand), we were raised with a familiarity with Japanese culture. Unlike the mainland US, they had their own dedicated TV channel. So this aesthetic has always recalled childhood memories—Kamen Rider X, Star Blazers, Godzilla, etc.
But to have an anime about something other than people with superhuman abilities was kind of special. The story of a vulnerable young woman who had the bravery to take life on her own terms, become an actress despite her mother’s disapproval and bitter competition. But then the mystery—why did she disappear? What made her turn her back on her fans and reject the outside world? What secret to her past does the key she is given represent? The key she says, “unlocks the most important thing in life.”
Because the song sounded like a dialogue between an idolizing fan (the documentary director in the movie) and a celebrity actress, I thought it would be cool to have a male-female harmony lead on the vocals.
My mind went immediately to our old friend Amanda Palmer – I thought her style would perfectly match the emotion and theatricality of the part. And the performance she sent back from New Zealand definitely exceeded our expectations. It was an added bonus that she had made a video of herself performing the take as well, because it made it that much more poignant to have her in the video….
I was actually glad to have not seen the movie before tracking the song.
I learned and rehearsed the lyrics trying not to understand them too literally, and I liked the idea that Conrad had done what many of us do – ransacked a favorite film to create a further impression, a further story. (Some of my favorite songs are based on other pieces of art: see “Killing an Arab”, “Charlotte Sometimes”, and “Bananafishbones” by my old fave The Cure, and let’s not forget, oh, “Wuthering Heights”).
Conrad sent me what we in the recording business call a “guide track” …. basically, a track of him singing my part for me, even though we have different ranges (I will not embarrass Conrad by trying to share that recording, the same way I hope my other musician friends never embarrass me by sharing MY guide tracks – we all usually always sound terrible, which is why we’ve asked our FRIENDS to sing it the way we actually want it). This was what I listened to over and over to learn the part (as many of you know, and if not, you know now: I don’t read sheet music and I learn everything I play by ear).
I liked the track, and it took a bit of deep listening to hear what Conrad was going for…but it wasn’t until I got into the studio that something changed.
I did a long round of warm up takes, and then….
There was something about the lyrics
“‘Cause even though
I’m your Millennium Actress
All that I’ve acted in
all that I love still belongs
To someone else
but not me…”
My god. It was the “not me”.
Even though I understood the context of the film by then….having talked about it with Conrad…these words twisted a knife into my core.
As those words escaped my throat I got this barrage of emotions stuck there as well: my body of work, my own songs, my own image, whatever you want to call a “persona”, and lastly, Ash. This deep and complicated feeling of “ownership”, and how it doesn’t really exist.
Conrad is such a stellar songwriter, because of the way the melody infuses the words, the lyrics, with meaning. Some songwriters are just masters in this department (John Lennon is one of them). These lyrics could have been put to any melody. But my god, singing these words, with this melody….it just does the thing.
Music is just alchemical magic sometimes. I don’t know exactly how it works, but it does.
All that I love still belongs…
To someone else….
but not me.
There’s such a resignation to it, but there’s also such grace.
This is what I’ve been feeling in my life lately, so maybe that’s why it struck such a chord.
The lack of control over what I can a cannot change, effect, move, bend.
I love music, and words.
It starts with an anime, it goes through the blender of Conrad, it winds up on a new canvas on a new heart.
I wonder what you’ll feel when you listen.
Put on some headphones and do your own rorschach.
I’m listening to you.
Here are some photos taken by Victoria Bell that day in the studio – Stebbing Sound in Auckland. This place is a real throwback, built in 1946 and family-run the whole time…you can read about the studio’s history HERE….it’s SO OLD SCHOOL.
Our engineer at Stebbing, Steve McGough.
We also live-streamed on Instagram during the process of recording, you can watch an adorable bit of footage here, of me PSYCHED myself into trying to get this in one take (which I, ahem, did not):
Victoria recorded a WHOLE BUNCH of footage from the session, so $5+ folks, keep an eye on your inboxes, we’ll be sending you some more goodies very soon.
And….if you want something visual, that’s not TOO abysmal….here’s a full little MUSIC VIDEO to boot:
Conrad took some of the studio footage that Vic recorded and used it in a collage-style video that’s absolutely lovely…a little visual smorgasbord….and you can see me singing my little heart out into the mic….in full vocal-take mode.
(And again, $5+ folks, we’ll send you a video of that whole vocal take and some other goodies….watch your boxes).
Scenes from the life
of our Millennium actress
Photos framed up on the walls
People will stop her to ask for an autograph
Faces look up as she stares through the window
Wondering which way the rain will fall
Would you rather be someone that no one
Knows and no-one cares about?
(…knows and no-one cares about)
Cuts ever soft
The frames of the reel
Can’t save your face from
The shame you must feel
And even though you’re our Millennium Actress
All that you’ve acted in,
All that you love still belongs
To someone else but not you
The beasts that you ran from when you took to the country
Have found a new reason to hunt you down
The walls of your home won’t protect you from being caught now
Don’t let our demons divide us alone
The flowers have wilted, the tea has soured
You were always the one in the poster that I
Loved and I adored
Peer through the lens from the end of a rope
Hasn’t endeared me to this fake new world
You say you’re all actors,
but have you learned how to act calm?
You think that I’m someone you feel that you know
Outside of my face in the photograph
The Millennium Actress that died
Long before you were born
(long before you were born…)
Don’t let the light
That bleeds through the film
Trick you to think that I’m here
and I’m real
‘Cause even though I’m your Millennium Actress
All that I’ve acted in
all that I love
To someone else
but not me
(to someone else but not me)
One last word; the band didn’t pay me for this track, or for the studio. I was able to give them my time for free and book the studio with patronage money, because I am “Thinging” this – and Conrad (and the label they’re on, Dine Alone) graciously allowed me to share the files with you. I don’t take that for granted, and neither should you 🙂
All that I’ve acted in,
all that I love,
——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.
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3. see All the Things (over 150 of them) i’ve made so far on patreon:
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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/
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