Peaches On Her New Film, Rock Opera and Going All the Way

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I’m a progressive, liberal feminist woman—I’ve lived in San Francisco's Castro district, walking side by side with naked residents exercising their right to free expression. And I've been to Folsom Street Fair (strictly as an observer). What I mean to say is that it takes a lot to shock me. Yet, even I was caught off guard at the vaginas and strap-on dildos on display in in the new rock documentary Peaches Does Herself, starring electro-punk artist, Peaches.

Born Merrill Beth Niske, Peaches' (that’s her stage name) has been called shocking, vulgar, lewd and downright nasty. She has toured with Iggy Pop, protested in the streets for the band Pussy Riot and wrote an album protesting President George Bush titled, Impeach My Bush. Her music has also been featured in several movies including the 2003 hit Lost in Translation.

If you've never had the pleasure of attending a Peaches concert or listening to any of her four albums... beware! They are not for the faint of heart. Expect in your face sexuality and outlandish costumes. The movie is currently on the film festival circuit, screening at the recent San Francisco International Film Festival and will be making stops in Seattle, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Copenhagen and London—just to name a few.

Here's the trailer:

I had a chance to interview Peaches on the red carpet at the San Francisco International Film Festival screening of her film. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would she going prance down the red carpet in leather bondage? Would she even be wearing clothes? Would I need to avert my eyes? None of the above. Despite talking a mile a minute, Peaches was extremely genuine.


Here’s my interview with Peaches.

Peaches and Sandy Kane on the red carpet at the recent San Francisco International Film Festival.
Peaches and Sandy Kane on the red carpet at the recent San Francisco International Film Festival.

KQED Pop: Peaches, it is such a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for chatting with me.
Peaches: Hellooooo radio world.

KQED Pop: Hellooooo Peaches. Your movie is a “rock-opera.” I saw the film this afternoon and noticed there wasn’t any dialogue. Can you tell me about that decision?
Peaches: Right, there isn’t dialogue. I wanted to take my four albums and create a narrative. An “anti-jukebox” musical.

KQED Pop: Are you a fan of musicals?
Peaches: I love musicals! I grew up on them.

KQED Pop: Really? What are some of your favorites?
Peaches: I love Busby Berkeley. I love Singin’ in the Rain and musicals from the 1950s.

KQED Pop: That’s surprising. What about Judy Garland? Does the infamous Peaches derive any inspiration from her work?
Peaches: I love Judy Garland, of course and the Wizard of Oz. But, I also grew up in the '70s. At a very young age I saw things like Phantom of the Paradise, which is a Brian Depalma rocker version of Phantom of the Opera. I was also inspired by Rocky Horror Picture Show. And the 1970s British musical, Tommy, based on rock opera by The Who. Those films are embedded deep in me somewhere.

KQED Pop: Have you ever taken theater or film classes?
Peaches: I did. I actually studied theater directing. I went to college for that. Then I decided I didn’t want to do it.

KQED Pop: Why not?
Peaches: I didn’t want to have a heart attack by the time I was 30 if I had to think about all the sets and lighting and the actors. I would end up just yelling at people because I couldn’t handle everything.

KQED Pop: How did you go from theater directing to becoming the infamous, “Peaches.”
Peaches: I dropped out of college and ended up falling into music. I realized with music you can be the writer and director and do all those things I loved. I built the songs and then built the enhancement on top of it. For example, when I did Peaches Does Herself, it started as a stage show, and then became celebration of ten years of all the work I’m doing. We filmed it just to document it. Robin Thompson, who I work with, he filmed it and edited it in such a fantastic way that we realized we might actually have a film on our hands. We changed the ending to take it out of the stage and make it more like a film. That’s how it went.

KQED Pop: Watching your film reminded me very much of John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Especially because a few characters were gender ambiguous. Did that musical influence you in any way?
Peaches: Hello? (laughing) Yeah, yeah definitely. I love that you said that. It’s really cool to be associated with that movie. I just met John Cameron Mitchell. Both John and I are influenced by the same things. Hedwig definitely fits all into the same kind of genre. Another journalist said the same thing, too. He said maybe Peaches Does Herself is an exploration like Hedwig where there is a complete merge of both genders. So, maybe this is an exercise of what Hedwig is really like in practice.

KQED Pop: The movie has a shock quality to it like large vaginas on screen. Were you going for a shock quality?
Peaches: I made the decisions to put vaginas on stage because I was thinking of all the misconceptions that people see in me and think of my work. I decided I was going to go full on penis-vagina, vagina-penis. I am going to go all in it, not just break out of it. This was a celebration.

KQED Pop: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.