Peachy kino: an interview with Peaches on her motion picture

After a successful international festival run, Peaches Does Herself, the quasi-autobiographical “anti-jukebox musical” from Canadian expat Peaches, is getting a nation-wide cinematic release starting today. Berliners can catch the electro-rock operetta tonight at Moviemento (20:00) or Kino International (22:00) with Peaches, um, herself, in attendance. In this interview, originally published in German in Siegessäule, she illuminates the project’s evolution, plus drops some hints on what to expect from new album she’s working on.

Joey: So, Peaches Does Herself is getting a cinematic release in Germany. It’s had a pretty solid run already at festivals around the world. When did the film first premiere?

Peaches: In 2012 at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is one of the top three film festivals in the world. I was in a category for cutting edge directors. Toronto is my hometown. I used to sneak into the festival all the time. It was an incredible feat for me to be invited there.

Why would you sneak in? You weren’t old enough?

No, because I just didn’t pay. So I hope some people sneaked in to see mine! I invited the whole cast and crew to Toronto, paying for all their flights, just to have a moment onstage together, to take a bow with me after the screening. We also took over the Drake Hotel and performed versions of some scenes throughout the building, ending up with a big party in the basement. The film went on to around 70 cities, to LGBT festivals, art festivals, regular—I don’t know what that word means—film festivals. In Brazil, Chile, Australia, all over Europe. I attended 10 or 15 of them myself, doing Q&A sessions and sometimes performances. One of the more high profile ones was Sundance London, shown on the largest screen in Europe. The funnest screening was in San Francisco, because my dream came true: People started turning it into a Rocky Horror type thing! They were dressed as me and dancing around on stage.

So not only Peaches does herself; everyone else can do Peaches!

There was another funny moment where I was doing a Q&A live via Skype in Portland, Maine. One person was upset, because she thought I was being exploitative with the trans person in the film, Danni Daniels, who loved being part of the production. I invited her to discuss this issue in front of the audience, but she said “No, I’m too upset. I’m just going to go home and blog about it.” So it was kind of disappointing, and really strange. She couldn’t even face me.

It’s interesting how the internet has really opened dialogue on an international level, which is great, but people are forgetting how to have face-to-face communication.

Yeah. But that was one of the few negative reactions I got. Well, there is actually another one. The film has gotten great praise throughout its run, but now that we’re trying to distribute it online, Amazon and iTunes have banned it. Even though Amazon carries hardcore porn, and iTunes can put an “explicit” tag on things. But they have banned it because of the full-frontal trans nudity. Even though there is absolutely no sex in the film, the portrayal of a naked trans body is too much for iTunes and Amazon. It’s kind of fun to say that I’m banned, but really, it’s sad! Let’s just say, hooray for Cape Light, the German distributor of the DVD. There’s going to be a special limited edition run including a video of a concert from the 2004 Fatherfucker tour, which has never been released before. The DVD will also have a lot of extras, so newcomers and superfans can dissect references in the film. Connecting the dots, which iconography was taken from which music video, and so on.

Let’s talk about how the show transformed from a theater production into a film.

The original plan was from Matthias Lilienthal, who at the time was the director of Hebbel am Ufer. He was very forward-thinking, and he loved to screw with everybody’s expectations, and he made sure different groups were represented. He asked me if I would do a theater production. First I did Peaches Christ Superstar – a one-woman version of the musical. After that, he wanted to a big production and get lots of funding. I asked myself why I hate jukebox musicals—musicals that take the hits of Queen, ABBA, Billy Joel, whoever—and turn them into a ridiculous story that has nothing to do with the artist or the music. So I wanted to make an anti-jukebox musical, relating to my own iconography, exploring why I wrote this music, actually centered around me as the artist. Robin Thomson filmed every night, and then we looked at the footage and realized that if we had another run, we could turn this into a movie. So we did, getting close-up shots, and Cornelius Rapp turned his apartment into a surround sound studio to mix the audio, and we changed the ending, which makes me love the film version more than the stage production. Another motivation behind the whole project was to make musicals cool, not insipid fluffy things. I went to university to become a theater director, but I quit because I didn’t want to work with actors. I found music, and through that, I could be the writer, the director and the performer. I developed that until I found Peaches. After ten years, it became loaded with deeper meanings and incredible stage presence and personality. When I was asked to do this production, it was like I finally had the chance to do the cool musical that I always envisioned. Now it went a step further and became a movie.

Stage shows get revivals, sometimes they run for years. Let’s say in another 10 or 20 years, there’s a new run of Peaches Does Herself. Who gets cast?

I would play Sandy Kane’s role, the fairy godmother figure. Mykki Blanco would play Peaches.

Who would play Danni’s role?

I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to the audition!

Have you thought about another stage production, one not necessarily with your own music, perhaps more behind the scenes?

Yeah, but I think theater, to me, has inherent problems that don’t address immediacy. That’s why I shied away from it at the beginning. With film and its close-ups and its intimacy, I’d be more likely to do a film version of Peaches Christ Superstar, with just me and my endurance.

Do you consider the Peaches Does Herself film the definitive version of the work?

I do, and I’m really quite proud of that, because I’d always been a live performer, not given the chance to transfer my talents onto screen. I’d never really been invited to perform on TV. So it was a challenge. A lot of people are confused about who I am and what I do, but this is a new way for people to understand.

You’re involved with another film now, a feature-length narrative by Yony Leyser.

Yes, it’s called Desire Will Set You Free. He asked me to perform as part of the story, inspiring the main character to come out. I sing a Claire Waldoff song. She was Berlin’s ultimate gender-fucking performer in the 20s. I’m really excited to put my own spin on it.

In a way, Peaches Does Herself was a kind of retrospective. It touched on your whole body of work from over a decade. Now you’ve begun working on a new album, a new chapter.

I’m going classic, actually.

What does “classic” mean to you? A beatbox and a mic?

Yeah, I’m mostly using a 505. Just doing what I love to do. I’ve done so many big productions, and now it’s back to basics. It’s really exciting.

Although, you’ve been posting online about some collaborations.

Yeah, it happens when you work in L.A.—people just show up! Nick Zinner [of Yeah Yeah Yeahs] came and did some guitar, and we turned that into a song in one day. Kim Gordon came and took a hip-hop beat—which I thought would be so foreign to her—and she completely rocked it. Feist sang a very important chorus line. Simmone Jones, my niece, lent her vocal and melody support. I became friends with Sean Yseult, the bassist of White Zombie, and she came over.

You and Feist go back a long way, right?

Yeah, we used to be roommates.

Might that come out this year?

No, not this year. Hopefully early next year.