Peaches is an artist with many talents, all of which are hard to ignore, thanks to their sheer levels of diversity and brilliance. She's best known for her disregard of gender norms and her ear bending sound. Her music has been featured in everything from Mean Girls to Lost in Translation - famed for shooting her, and her controversial lyrics, to notoriety - and she has collaborated with everyone from Yoko Ono to Christina Aguilera. This year brings us Peaches the movie star, in her semi-autobiographical, Peaches Does Herself. ION asked JJ Brewis to chat with her about her work, life, and play.
"I always like to prove that I have the biggest balls," boasts Peaches. Interestingly, this was the least interesting phrase out of her mouth during my conversation with her. On the phone from Berlin, on a break from an extremely busy production and activism schedule, Peaches revealed a few surprises, but shock value was not one of them.
The performer, born in Toronto as Merrill Nisker, is a long way from home and more than a decade into her musical and performance artistry career. Well-known for brash lyrics, over-the-top live shows, and a penchant for breaking down social barriers, Peaches has made a name for herself using visual and oral shock as a means to bring attention to gender, queer, and equality issues. Not that she feels a need to discuss the process. "I don't set out to shock. I'm shocked that people are shocked," she says. "I just want to say something straight up. I feel like these things have been said before and they're not shocking." But in using in-your-face tactics, Peaches has brought awareness and aimed to change international vantage points on gay rights, sexual representation, and gender politics.
Though she's been representing and activating political and social issues for years, Peaches' work is far from over. Some parts of the world have come a long way in the past decade, but Peaches sees the battle as a worldwide issue that remains as vital now as when she began her career. "It's just as important in somewhere like Iran where you can be hung for wearing pants, you know?" Recently, Peaches helped spearhead a movement entitled "Free Pussy Riot," which garnered international media attention and acclaim. The movement challenges the Russian government's detainment of three members of Russian female punk group, Pussy Riot, after their political protest at an Orthodox church against re-election of President Vladimir Putin.
The turn of events not only has Peaches politically charged, but also artistically moved. "I decided to make a "Free Pussy Riot" video shoot. I decided to write a song and make a video from the action [at a protest] yesterday." Always feeling like she can lend a hand against political indiscretions, Peaches has gone viral on Twitter, formed a petition, and pledged for the immediate release of the three women, who are now viewed as political prisoners.
"I was the link between the celebrities and the people on the cry out," she says. "On call, 250 people showed up just to walk with me in the video. It was insane." The result saw a huge draw from international media outlets covering the entire process. "It became a media circus which is good. That's what it's for, getting attention to this," she says. So yes, we may celebrate equal rights in Peaches' homeland, but her work isn't done until the whole world re-examines its views of human equality. "I think that in North America, gender fucking is quite a trend right now. It's trendy. But it's just as important in somewhere like Russia where you can't publicly hold hands with someone of the same sex."
With a firm interest in the political dichotomy, Peaches is still inspired, four album cycles into her career. Where other artists from the early 2000's have dropped off the radar, Peaches sees her multi-disciplinary work as a shape shifting force to be reckoned with. "Some bands' goals are to headline Glastonbury or Coachella constantly," she says. "I don't have that goal." Keeping her career interesting and constantly changing the face of her work with film, performance, writing, and installation refreshes her desire to create. "It's whatever I want it to be and I don't have to be afraid of it. I'm so glad I set my path out the way I did because I can just roll with it now."
In the meantime, Peaches has managed to divert her filmography to focus on another subject: herself. Influenced by the "jukebox musical" movement, Peaches has opened up her catalogue, and her past, in self-reflective biopic send up entitled Peaches Does Herself. Debuting at this year's Toronto International Film Festival alongside a brand new triptych instillation piece at Toronto's Drake Hotel, the film is based upon and recorded during a live performance of the same name. "It's an anti-jukebox musical," she says. "The story is a mythical history of my career, with some truth and tons of exaggeration and fun, including all the mythical things people have said about me and thought about me."
Inspired by the impressions left by early childhood viewings of films such as Phantom of the Paradise, Tommy, and Rocky Horror Picture Show, Peaches has always been known for live shows that emit an extremely cinematic feel. It was no stretch that she should reformat her own catalogue into a musical. A huge Queen fan, Peaches watched the musical We Will Rock You, and found herself underwhelmed at the result. "I don't really like the story that they put together," she explains. "I wondered why they don't take the actual music and what it means to that person and make something real." The result of Peaches' self-written, directed, produced, and starring feature is a cacophony of an electro rock opera that tells an entire story relying purely on her own tunes, without any trace of non-musical dialogue.
So whether it's DJ-ing every weekend in Berlin, or starting a political revolution online, Peaches remains an enigma constantly at the disposal of her own inspirations. "I'm just interested. I don't have to answer to anybody," she says. "I don't have any pressure. Just the pressure on myself and when I wanna do something, I can do it." With everything she's been through, and giving no sign of slowing down, Peaches is still a full speed steam train of activism, art, and everything in between. Her passion for the entire process pulls her through from one project to another. "When I started, I was like 'I am a musician! I am a musician!' because people were calling me a performance artist or whatever," she says. "Now I'm like 'Yeah, I'm a performance artist, I'm a film maker, I'm a musician, I'm an activist.' I just don't really need to prove myself now."
Peaches Does Herself will be Premiering at TIFF, check out schedule for show date, and At POP Montreal for her DJ Extravaganza, presented by ION Magazine, on September 20th.