As Peaches gets ready for one of her legendary DJ gigs in Dublin, she talks to Lisa Connell about the use of gender and sexual orientation in pop music, the longevity of her biggest hit, Fuck The Pain Away, and speaks about the trans best friend she had as a child.
It’s been 13 years since Peaches, the high priestess of electro-punk, released her breakthrough single, ‘Fuck The Pain Away’. Yet the song remains a staple in both the queer and alternative straight clubs the world over, still as vital as if it was recorded just yesterday. I’ve been a major fan since the release of the album that contained that single, The Teaches of Peaches, so I was both nervous and excited about interviewing her. It was hard to know what to expect. Her fearlessness as a human rights campaigner, her fierce, larger-than-life stage image, suggest that Peaches is a woman who doesn’t pull her punches, but when we finally met over the phone from Dublin to LA, I found a soft-spoken woman with a definite air of shyness about her.
Maybe this had something to do with the fact that Peaches was suffering from a cold, with a very sore throat. Maybe it was to do with the phone line, which was terrible on both ends, but I found myself having to coax her out of her shell a little.
Peaches career has spanned over a course of 15 years, with four albums so far, which include numerous collaborations, with artists ranging from Iggy Pop to Christina Aguilera and Pink, along with performance art projects with the legendary likes of Yoko Ono. Björk, Madonna and Karl Lagerfeld number among her celebrity admirers .
In 2010 she mounted a one-woman show, Peaches Christ Superstar, in which she sang all of the songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. It lead to another rock opera, this time chronicling Peaches own life and career, first performed in Berlin in 2011 and now doing the rounds of cinemas across the festival circuit as a concert movie, edited from multiple performances of the show.
Having lived in Berlin for the past 15 years, Peaches wanted to “do something about the history of burlesque or Marlene Dietrich for the show, but then changed her mind. ”I realised that actually, I could make my own sort of performance and develop my own iconography in performance,” she explains. The resulting show and film consists of 20 of her own songs, spanning an epic career. She says of the process that it was “really exciting to have a body of work full enough to make into a narrative”.
Gender roles and expressions play a huge part thematically in Peaches’ music and in the film. I want to know if it has been important to her to challenge the social norms and conservatism around gender and sexuality since the beginning of her career.
”At the beginning, I never understood why the mainstream was as it was, not including lots of different types of people. America is still so Christian, but there is so much more LGBT visibility on American television now, so much more talk about bullying in the mainstream.”
Peaches has always been a spokesperson and ally to the outsider, the bullied freak. So, what does she think about the appropriation of those messages by the pop industry at large. Is it highlighting prejudice or does she see it as a marketing ploy?
“I am never against anybody speaking up,” she says. “Someone like Ke$ha writing a song like, ‘We R Who We R’, you know I’m not against that. I don’t think it’s appropriation of culture, obviously she feels that way. Madonna did that too. I guess some messages are more mainstream; I’m more of the outsider version. Yeah, it may well be a marketing tool but there are still the lyrics and there are still the words, so once you put it out there it doesn’t matter because the message will get attention.”
Peaches does admit that she’s come under criticism for exploitation too. Peaches Does Herself stars a trans woman called Danni Daniels, as Peaches love interest.
“I just want people to be who they are,” she says. “Why don’t people complain that I’m exploiting a 65 year-old stripper comedian in the show (Sandy Kane)? I am not, of course. I am just showing people as they are. I mean, that is Dani, that’s who she is.”
Peaches credits a childhood friend with her early awareness of trans identities. “My best friend from seven to 14, she was a girl I spent every summer with and she would tell me: ‘I’m a guy.’ I went through a lot of that struggle with her. She wanted to become a man, have a wife, have kids, and you know she finally got to do that. He got married; his name was Sean. Unfortunately, Sean passed away but I think that shaped a lot of my thinking at a young age.
“He contacted me when I started my music career, and he was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s all the stuff we talked about when we were seven’.”
Another criticism that Peaches has faced is that her image supersedes her music, but she cites ‘Fuck The Pain Away’ as a counter argument. “There are a lot of people who know that song and have no idea who I am,” she says of the song, which has been used diverse soundtracks, including Lost in Translation, Jackass: The Movie, True Blood and South Park.
“I am fucking proud as shit about that song,” she tells me. “It’s a classic song without ever being on the radio, without ever having an official video. It predates Facebook, predates the Internet but everybody has heard of it. I am regularly introduced to new people who will reply, ‘You mean Jackass Peaches?’ or ‘Lost in Translation Peaches?’ Everyone has their own connection to the track.”
As a True Blood fan I really want to know if she was happy with its use in the show? “I’m a big fan too. I was trying not to tell my friends that it was in it, so we could just watch the show, but I got too excited and told them.”
Her favourite use of the song though, is in the South Park episode, ‘Butter’s Bottom Bitch’. “That episode was incredible!” she laughs.
The anticipation for her Dublin DJ’ing gig is palpable. She’s known as an extreme show-woman, as described in Rolling Stone.
“I usually jump on decks and DJ standing on them,” she tells me as our conversation comes to an end. “Or I add my own songs or spontaneous raps, or dancers, or I spray champagne on people. It’s just the regular kind of Peaches vibe, but for DJ’ing, which means total mayhem.”
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