A few dozen issues ago, I wrote a column for Antigravity about going to a Peaches show in the French Quarter. I’d earned a spot on “the list” by cornering the ever-so- obliging tour manager outside by the bus, only to frighten him hours later when I appeared—unassumingly—backstage, situated next to Peaches’ wardrobe rack! He shook a finger from the threshold of the green room: “You can’t be back here!” Gosh, if I had a nickel…
Anyway, as I’ve continued chasing the cathartic release musical performance affords me, I’ve always sought out the agitators, those unafraid to break the 4th wall and challenge the stale rituals of rock’n’roll spectacle. In Peaches’ case, she’s done this most transgressively with sex—a raunchy display apparently resonating somewhere deep within this recovering ex-Catholic school boy. Years of puritanical conditioning were eclipsed as I sat perched on the foot of the stage, mesmerized by a beautifully fearless performer in a life-size penis costume, spraying a billowing curtain of “jizz” all over a crowd of 200 gay men. I once heard Peaches say, “Everybody can be sexy. Everybody has sex.” Self evident perhaps, but for those who don’t look like the models and movie stars, or those struggling to break free from mainstream culture’s colonization of our bodies, a liberatory notion! It’s important, I believe, to have these role models, whether artists or friends or whomever. Those empowered individuals who remind us that we are beautiful not in spite of our “deviances” and defects but because of them. That we have nothing to feel ashamed of and can all be gods, if we dare! So without further ado, allow me to introduce… Peaches!
For those who don’t know you, could you just tell me—sort of in your own words—what you do?
Peaches: Well, I express my views and opinions creatively through any means possible. I started with music; I kind of said things very directly that made people believe that I was some sort of agitator, when I believed that this is just how people thought. I’ve been called a performance artist. I branched out and did that for around ten years. And most recently, became a director of a movie that I also starred in. So multimedia artist, I guess? [laughs]
Well, you originally went to school for theatre, right?
Yeah. Well, let’s go on about it this way. Peaches, what I do: I make electronic music that’s very in your face and very based upon one person, one individual, what they wanted. Which was very weird around 13 years ago, which now seems to be more of a standard—the idea of just using electronic instruments on their own, or have playbacks, things like that, was weird. Now of course [it’s] everywhere. I started making music before home computers, before people were making music on their laptops. So, you know, you could call me a pioneer, yep! Lyrically and musically. And recently, or a few years ago, a theater (I live in Berlin, Germany) asked me to do a production, any theatre production I wanted to do. Just ‘cause they know what kind of music I make and how theatrical my live shows are and everything. I thought about it for a long time and realized I wanted to answer the question: Why do I hate jukebox musicals so much? Now, a jukebox musical is a musical based around the music of one musical artist. Let’s say, for instance, Mamma Mia is a jukebox musical where you use the songs of Abba and create a whole different ridiculous story that has nothing to do with Abba. Or We Will Rock You, which is about Queen but has nothing to do with Queen. So I wondered: why doesn’t somebody make a jukebox musical that actually has something to do with the artist and the world that the artist comes from? And in effect, I guess that would be an anti-jukebox musical because that’s not what jukebox musicals do. So I decided that’s what I was going to do with my theatre production: I was going to make an anti-jukebox musical. And I was most familiar with my music, and so I thought, why don’t I base it around myself ? So I took 24 of my own songs and arranged them—in my mind—as a narrative, and tried not to use extraneous dialogue, or any dialogue at all. So it was in the form of kind of an electro-rock opera, where the songs would propel the story…
I don’t know if I answered any of your questions, but I just thought I’d let you know about that; because you did ask me if I went to theatre school. No, I’ve never been to theatre school. I mean, I went to theatre school a long time ago for directing. I actually wanted to make cool musicals and then realized, once I got into the theatre program, how wretched it would be to be working with actors, and how much stress it would be with all the personnel, as opposed to music where you get to be your own director and your own writer and your own performer, and I probably would have had a heart attack by the time I was 30. So I never look back on theatre, and I never thought it was really interesting ten years after doing Peaches. Doing my own music and honing my craft and making—as I mentioned—some sort of performance art and music together makes for a very theatrical show. So bring that together and also with my skills in the past as a theatre director was really interesting— that in the end, I got to make a cool musical (which is what I wanted to do years ago), and base it around my experience.
Hell yeah. And that’s Peaches Does Herself?
Yeah, that’s Peaches Does Herself. We had a run in Berlin for five nights, and we video recorded it just to have a documentation of it. Robin Thomson, who helps me a lot with my documentation and video, did that. And then we watched the footage and realized actually, this could be an awesome movie. Even though it’s a stage show, it won’t look like a high school performance, unless we want it to. So we had another run, six months later, and we again recorded every night and we did a couple of close ups in the day where we had some performers coming in. I changed the editing to the musical for the movie, to make it more cinematic, and then we had it. We had a film that had 1,500 edits in it. [laughs] …My hopes for the movie are that one day it can turn into, like, a Rocky Horror-type cult movie where people come singing, screaming, throwing shit, all that.
You have some other actors and performers in the film, right?
Yeah. There’s Sandy Kane, who’s awesome. She’s a 65-year-old stripper/comedian. She plays my sort of fairy godmother and nemesis at the same time. And then there’s Danni Daniels, the beautiful transgender who is my love interest and also breaks my heart.
How did the Peaches persona develop?
It just really evolved. I had a band called the Shit with 3 other people—Sticky, Mocky and Gonzalez. And we were very dissatisfied with the music we were making. The four of us would just sit around, smoke pot, switch instruments, and say whatever we wanted sexually, whatever we wanted to say about each other, or whatever was on our minds. And we would write songs right on the spot there. And it was really liberating, and we actually realized that it connected with an audience way more than any other band that we’d ever been in. But then when all those people moved away, I wanted to continue that feeling, that immediacy. I bought a little groovebox, a [Roland] 505, and decided I would be the drummer, bass player, guitarist, synth player and everything, and make music on that. That’s how it started. It just evolved from there. I wrote songs. I didn’t really have any, like, ambitious career. I wanted to write these songs and enjoy myself. And then I had visited Berlin the year before. I started making that music with Gonzales; he stayed there, and then I would send him demos. It was a small label that was interested, so I moved to Germany. Then they gave my demos out to people, and people were interested—people from all over. It was really weird, because there was no video play or radio play or anything. But people like Madonna, Beastie Boys, and Lil’ Kim knew who I was. Elastica asked me to go on tour with them. And all these things, it was just like, “Whoa, cool!” I just continued on and never looked back, kept traveling and kept making music.
And you’re originally from Toronto?
Yeah, I mean, I started this in Toronto, you know? And it was very weird to people. That’s how I knew I was doing something right.
Yeah, totally. What was the scene like in Toronto back in the day, when you were coming up, making music and stuff ?
I don’t know, it was the late ‘90s— shoegaze, like anywhere else. Indie rock, rock… But Toronto’s caught up now; I mean, it’s quite different. There’s a lot of amazing musicians from there now, very cutting edge.
So you moved to Berlin, and a lot of your career has been out of there. How has living abroad influenced your work? Berlin is a pretty vibrant city.
Well, the minute I moved to Berlin, two weeks later I was already touring, and I toured there for 10 years. But it has given me opportunities to make this play and things like that. But I guess mostly I like it because you have freedom just to create and not have to be so ambitious. For some people, that’s okay, but they never get further. I already had people interested, so that’s why it was cool for me to be there, to be able to hide away and nobody would bug me, you know what I mean?
Yeah. You know, I saw you play at the “Bearracuda” night in San Francisco; you did it without a backing band. And then I’ve seen you play House of Blues here in New Orleans where you did have your full band, and also the crowd was different at the House of Blues shows––the venue, it’s a different vibe. Is there a type of show you like to play, or enjoy playing more than another?
I really love to play alone, because I think it’s so crazy to be able to just have nothing, basically, and give everything. And to see the joy on peoples’ faces and the direct focus and know that there’s just so much joy, and so much surprise—just from fully giving myself. Yeah, that’s what I like. Well, of course, I love to have a band, too, because, you know, live and stuff… But I just love the fact that you can just plug in and play the songs. There’s still so much going on, even though there’s nothing there.
You did a music video in support of Pussy Riot.
Yeah, they got out last week. You know, it’s awesome of course. It’s definitely a PR move by Putin because of the Olympics coming up. Of course, it was requested by Amnesty International. Many people were freed, including Pussy Riot.
For your music video for them, you had like 400 people or something come out?
Oh yeah. I just made a Facebook call and said I would like to make a protest video for Pussy Riot; please join me. And then 400 people showed up. I thought like 30 would show up, but [it was] 400. It was mostly people in bright colors and masks. I just wanted to show solidarity, because I know if I was in Russia, I would feel the same way. Freedom of speech is so important, and it’s still really fucked up in Russia and it’s fucked up all around the world. And it’s ridiculous that places—even in Spain—are deciding to bring back abortion laws from, like, 1985, you know? It’s like people are going backwards; it’s ridiculous. So in some places, we’re having same-sex marriages and then in other places— like in Uganda—it’s ridiculous. I will never understand the world.
When you were starting out, writing lyrics or whatever, did you see yourself as having a sort of political trajectory?
Yeah. Well, when I was making music it was always about questioning mainstream attitudes, questioning gender roles and gender ideas in songs and things like that. I just thought that that’s what people should do. Not inherently political; that’s just what a thinking human being should consider. [laughs]
So you just come at it from a personal place; you’re not writing it to have a platform or whatever?
Yeah, I didn’t think of it that way. But obviously, specifically, the Pussy Riot song was a platform to help raise awareness. Because there were a lot of people who were making protests, making songs, making videos; and they were great artists, but they didn’t have any sort of a name, so they weren’t getting attention. And then there were big stars—it was before Madonna had actually made an action—who were actually playing in Russia, who were writing letters (like Sting or Red Hot Chilli Peppers). But nothing was happening. I don’t know… I just felt like I needed to do something that was sort of that middle ground.
After being in “the business,” or in the game or whatever, for so many years, what have you learned?
Always do things the way you want to do them. Always be in control. l mean, look at the music business: it’s fucking dying and people are totally scrambling to get their own control and be independent. It totally works that way now. I’ve never been on a major label… I remember I was making my first album—and I produced it—and it was really like, I’m not going to ask any of your opinions so much because I don’t want you to tell me “You should do this; you should do that.” Because you have to find your own way, your own creativity. Or else it’s just going to sound like everybody else.
Have you come up against people in the music industry trying to tell you how you should look or what you should wear, things like that?
No, I’ve been very lucky. They know not to fuck with me. It’s funny, because I’ve stuck it out so many years that now I’m respected. [laughs] People were like, “What is she doing? This weird performance art, this one trick pony, blah blah blah.” Now people are like “Wow.” I get a lot of, you know, “You really were ahead of the game, you really did know what was going on; this is really cool. Wow, how you’ve inspired people!” I’m totally happy with where I’m at as an artist. It doesn’t mean that I’m successful because I’ve made tons of money, because I haven’t. But I feel successful in what I’ve done and what I’ve said; it feels really good.
I heard an interview with you years back where you talked about how in the early days of making music you would smoke pot, masturbate, and then make beats and I guess I’m wondering: what’s your creative process like now?
Oh, it’s still the same. [laughs]
If there was some type of legacy, some type of lasting impression that you as Peaches wanted to leave behind on the world as an artist, what would that be?
Oh, I don’t know. I’ll be gone; I’ll let other people decide that.
Prytania Theater will be screening Peaches Does Herself, followed by a Q&A with Peaches afterward, at 10pm on Thursday, January 23rd. The following night, Friday January 24th, she will be performing at One Eyed Jacks with Vice Cooler opening. Doors at 9pm. For more info, check out peachesdoesherself.com