For over a decade, electroclash punk artist Peaches has danced a wild line between pop artist and provocateur. While commercial mainstream pop singers come and go, the 46-year-old Peaches remains as feisty and in tune with her boundary-pushing sensibilities as ever. And now she can add filmmaker to her colorful resumé: With the concert film “Peaches Does Herself,” which opened in limited release this weekend, Peaches directs an expressionistic representation of her stage show, featuring a lively rendition of 22 tracks (“Fuck the Pain Away,” “Lovertits” and “Shake Yer Dix” all get their moments) — and stringing them together with an eruption of lighting schemes, playfully erotic moments and vulgar rants that create the perception of the singer’s persona come to explosive life. Following its Toronto International Film Festival premiere, Indiewire contributor Boyd Van Hoeij described “Peaches Does Herself” as “a ‘Pina’ for the queer and sexually liberated crowd.” And Indiewire’s Peter Knegt put it bluntly: “Peaches rocks the fuck” out of this loud and irreverent showcase.
With so much energy onscreen, it’s almost jarring to discover that Peaches is actually a genial, introspective woman seemingly humbled by any opportunity to discuss her work. At this year’s Locarno Film Festival, Peaches participated on a jury headed by Mexican director Nicolás Pereda and spent the weekend watching a lot of movies unlikely to play far beyond the insular festival world. Enlightened by the experience and in an especially reflective state of mind, she sat down with Indiewire at the city’s Hotel Belvedere to discuss her take on various movies — including, but not limited to, her own — as well as how she cultivated and stuck to her unique brand.
Seeing you on this jury made me wonder what sort of decision you might have made if you’d been in the room with Steven Spielberg and company when his jury awarded “Blue is the Warmest Color” with the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Did you see that movie?
I had some issues with it, given the French history with that kind of eroticism of young girls and older men. This time, it’s just young girls, but it’s still a man’s point of view, even though the sex scenes are really quite good. It’s the best lesbian sex scene I’ve ever seen apart from it porn or something. It’s really hot. And also that scene where they eat after a while in the cafe [and make out]. That tension is insane. [Adele Exarchoupolos]’s face is great. [The director] just left so much of storytelling to her face.
Given the kind of performances you give, do you feel like you need to take a stance on issues of female representation?
I think it’s still relevant and it is a matter of entertainment and freedom of speech and not just women. Of course, it’s the LBGT community, too. When my film was being introduced, [the programmer] said, “If you’re interested in LBGT, you’re in the right place.” And I thought, “No.” It shouldn’t be a ghettoizing opportunity. It should be for anybody. Maybe somebody who’s not in that community would actually enjoy it. A lot of gay people don’t want to be married. They think it’s a crock of shit, but from my perspective they should have a choice like anybody. I personally don’t want to get married, but whatever. They should have the same reasons of anybody else, whether if it’s for better taxes in an union or they don’t want to have the situation where one person dies and the other person can’t access their funds.
Where do you live these days?
Berlin. But Russia is not far away and it is ridiculous right there right now with gay propaganda laws. If you’re a sympathizer and you are visiting Russia and a sympathizer of gay actions, you can also be imprisoned. There is a lot of scary shit right now with the Golden Dawn party, with their feelings. It’s just incredible how much power organized religion can still have in this age. If you’re religious, that’s fine, but let other people be who they are, too.
You grew up in a Jewish community.
Yeah. We had two sets of dishes. The whole deal. No diary three hours after a meal. But you know, I really didn’t feel connected to it. I went half to Hebrew school and half to English school, but I didn’t feel connected to any of it. I didn’t get anything out of it, to be honest. There were Israeli teachers who were disgruntled who were, like, horrible teachers, who they would bring over. It was bad. I didn’t pursue it after grade six. I was like, “Why am I doing this?”
Was there a point in time where you realized your art was going to allow you to express yourself as opposed to just going with the flow of what people told you to do?
It’s funny because it was all kind of go-with-the-flow kind of thing in a way, in that I didn’t have any desire to be completely artistic. I only knew about theater because my parents would take me to plays that we would see when we would visit family in the north. So, that’s all I really knew.
You went to Broadway shows and that was your notion of performance.
That was my notion of performance, right, and also that someone was on stage in front of you. That is the most obvious thing. I remember seeing Gladys Knight & the Pips when I was seven and things like that. I went with my parent’s friends. I was the only white kid there and I was like, “Black people have way more fun at concerts.” BB King opened up and the adults were just way more emotional.
What about movies?
I was really into “Phantom of Paradise,” which I saw at a really young age. I also saw a lot of movies because we had a cottage and there were restricted movies, but me and my friend were always allowed to see every movie. So I saw the “The Sting” when it came out. I saw a lot of movies.
I haven’t seen your shows before, but I feel like I know what they are because I’ve seen your movie. There’s a narrative to it involving how you choose to present yourself.
I’m glad you saw the narrative. [laughs]
Well, it’s a pliable term.
Yeah, it’s an experimental narrative. Because some people are like, “It’s obviously an enhanced live show,” but I watched it yesterday after watching all these other movies with my new jury family — because we had a whole talk a few nights ago as to what the “shocker” was.[laughs] It was funny because we were all at a table and nobody knew what it was except for Nico [Pereda]’s daughter, and she started laughing.
But anyway, I didn’t have a burning desire to make a stage show. I went to theater school for directing and I dropped out. I didn’t want to work with actors, didn’t think I could handle all the shit around. Then I literally fell into music and realized I am a writer-director-performance-artist. Not in a calculated way, but I loved the immediacy of it. I wanted my show to have my identity and take it to a ridiculous level.
How many shows did you record for the movie?
We did two runs out of five nights. There are 1,500 edits in it. We used a lot of theater lighting. The biggest part of this production was the color correction. We had a miracle worker. He was a big part of this. I was wearing this gold, glowing suit. Some [colors] are never in the same spot twice.
How much directing did you do while you were performing?
First of all, bringing the concept and vision together and letting people have a frame to work in. With Sandy [Kane], you can’t direct her; she can’t remember lines. But I got her to remember a few. I did have a lot of rehearsals. I had really good people who knew what they were doing. I had a fantastic production designer. Also, Robin Thompson should get a lot of credit. He shot it and edited it. We’ve worked together for a bunch of years. I’ve done stuff that he’s put together just for blogs and stuff. He’s really good and fast at finding the formula.
Do you want to try more projects like this?
I’m involved with two film productions. Marie Losier is doing a movie with me called “Peaches Goes Bananas.” And then I’m also working with Caroline Cogez from Copenhagen on a half fiction, half reality thing for five years now. We did some tests to get some funding for it and it turned into a music video called “Show Stopper.” It’s like a nine-minute short film. She made that part and I put a two minute song into a section with a dance sequence. It’s completely opposite from Marie’s aesthetic, which is Marie’s world, not mine. It’s not a documentary. It’s vignettes and tableaux. We’re going to shoot in December. With Caroline, it’s going to be more of a character study.
Are you finding time to record music in between all this stuff?
Not right now. [laughs] There have been a lot of festivals this year. I’ve done a few new live shows. I created a whole new live show after my last album. I toured for two years after the last album, which was like 2010. I was doing theater and stuff like that. And I did “Peaches Christ Superstar,” which is me performing “Jesus Christ Superstar.” That, to me, was very conceptual. It’s straight-up performance art. But it was important that I sing it well. I wasn’t like, “I’m a performance artist. It doesn’t matter!” I actually feel like that’s my mastery — singing. So I like that I can use that for performance. It was an insane endurance test. It’s like white man metal voice, soul voices, sweet voices, and the choral, operatic singing.
You’ve spent the year getting to know a lot of filmmakers and other people from this community. Do you find it different from the music world in any particular way?
Yeah, it’s definitely different. There’s more discussion, more reflection. It’s funny; with music, you don’t even talk about it. You just make stuff. It’s really good. But the art world is calling to me. I fit in there, too. It’s kind of awesome. It’s great to be respected just because I decided to voice my opinion for real. I’m super lucky and happy. But I also right now feel like I want to use that. I have no desire to be the biggest rock star. It’s not like I want to headline Bonaroo or something like that, you know what I mean? I’ve never been there.
Do you feel like it took a long time to get to this point?
No. I didn’t have that perspective when I was younger. I’m definitely like 10 years later than most art-music people who do this. I had a serious epiphany twice in my life, which is pretty cool.
What was the first time?
When I was 17. It was seeing the world beyond your own walls for real — the point where it could’ve gone badly but it didn’t.
So what happened?
It’s funny, because it was friends saying, “We should all do that free Israel trip.”
You mean Birthright?
Yeah. And I was like, “I don’t really care, but OK, cool, because you guys are going.” And it’s super cheesy, this story, but I was seriously reading “Siddhartha” and decided I wasn’t going to talk to anybody on this trip. Because I was a motor-mouthed obnoxious kid. For the first time in my life, I shut up. I would do things like walking up Masada and be like, “I’m not going to use the staircase! I’m not going to complain that it’s too hot!” I heard these voices that should be me and I took a step back from my own life.
What was the second epiphany?
It’s not a story I ever tell, really, but it changed my life. [laughs]
It was right before I made “Peaches,” the first Peaches music. After I made my first album, I never gave those reasons, because if I would’ve, they would’ve been great angles for stories and stuff, but I didn’t want to be seen as the bleeding heart victim. “Oh, this happened to her? That’s why she does this?”
How do you avoid the pressures of celebrity? Most pop stars have a rough time cultivating their image and holding onto it.
I’ve never taken a major record deal, I’ve never been asked to tone it down. People know who I am but it’s not like a media frenzy. I didn’t choose to live in L.A. or New York. When people want to use my music in movies, it’s usually the subversive scenes. I don’t know if you saw the episode of “South Park” where they used my music. It was called “Butter’s Bottom Bitch,” where the cop is going to jump out of a cake to have a gang bang with this fraternity guy. That’s pretty up there. And he jumps out of the cake to “Fuck the Pain Away.”
How’d you feel about that?
I fucking loved it. And it happens in magazines, too. I was in Hustler. They have the super-airbrushed models and the amateurs. I was in the middle. It looked like someone had slipped their own school project in there. You just have to use those moments.