The Anti-Jukebox Musical: ‘Peaches Does Herself’

By Nadja Sayej


Photos by Lynn Lauterbach

Before our interview in Berlin, Peaches and I met at the Bauhaus. No, not the real one. The fake one. Bauhaus is a massive chain of hardware stores in Germany (think Home Depot). Of course, she was in the LED-lights section. We bought Tupperware bins for her cables and then took a cab to her new studio in the north of the city. It's her fourth recording studio in Berlin, and it’s inside of a sauna. We listened to a shitload of hip-hop, found a Buddha made of glass, and took pictures inside a giant pink pussy.

The Hebbel am Ufer theater in Berlin just hosted the European premiere of Peaches's rock opera cum feature film, Peaches Does Herself. The film showcases 22 songs like "Rock Show," "Talk to Me," and "Fuck the Pain Away," with no dialogue in between. It stars Peaches (obviously), a gorgeous transsexual named Danni Daniels (who fucked for the first time to a Peaches song) and the New York stripper/comedian, Sandy Kane (she sets her tits on fire with firecrackers).  Oodles of other talent flies in and out of frame over the course of this epic nod to Rocky Horror, the “anti-jukebox musical,” but Peaches is its definitive star, offering a semiautobiographical take on her exuberant and provocative career as an artist and performer. The film is the most expensive project Peaches has produced. She also stole a pink wheelchair from the London airport.

VICE: I saw you perform Peaches Does Herself live at HAU theater in Berlin, and now you’re showing the film version at the very same location. What has changed?
Peaches: The ending. The most prominent change is the ending. For the audience, it’s a surprise. It’s a complete Peaches ending. I love the ending so much. I’m so happy I could make the film. During the performance, we just all sing "Fuck the Pain Away" and everyone jumps onstage and dances. That’s the difference between live and film: You can’t just show that and make it a film. It’s more intimate; there are close-ups and cutaways. It’s the exact theater production with a different ending.

What was it like putting this feature together?
It was exciting and exhausting. There are over 1,500 edits in the production. Robin Thomson filmed and edited everything. At first it was going to be just documentation. I have footage from the beginning, from everything I’ve ever recorded with my own camera—everything I’ve ever done. The footage looked really good. We did two runs of production. We had a second chance. During the performance, we had people painstakingly come in and do the scenes with the proper lighting to get close-ups. It’s exciting it actually worked. We made a film that actually worked.

You’re accompanied by Danni Daniels throughout the film. How did you meet Danni?
I met Danni in London. I was doing a Perez Hilton party in London with Kelis and this school choir from London. Danni showed up there and said, “I lost my virginity at 14 to your music in the back of a pickup truck in Florida, and now I can shake my dick and my tits.” I was like, “Wow nice to meet you!” Two weeks later I broke my ankle. I had to do a show the next day, so I went to London and decided to do a wheelchair show and stole a wheelchair from the London airport. We studded up the chair. I called Danni and asked, “Could you be my nurse tranny and wheel me around the stage?” I knew Danni was in London, and Danni said “Sure!” Danni came on tour as my naked, tranny nurse wheeling me around the stage.

How did the theater show come about?
The HAU Hebbel am Ufer asked me to do a production. I had to think about it. I didn’t know what to do. I slowly realized that I wanted to do an anti-jukebox musical because jukebox musicals never honor where the music comes from. They just devise some hideous story to string the music along. It really depresses me, especially in the case of the Queen musical, where you have this incredible character Freddie Mercury, and you could imagine what his songs are really about: his life. But they made up these ridiculous stories that have nothing to do with the characters. It was like, “The world is ending with robots, and we have to find the secret guitar behind the wall to save emotion.” Give me a break. So, I thought I would make my own. I’m going to make a narrative building on the mythology of what and who people think I am. That’s where the idea came from.

How did you meet co-star Sandy Kane, the naked cowgirl?
I was obsessed with Sandy Kane, a 68-year-old stripper comedian I met through Gloria Viagra. I had Sandy open for me for a few shows in the States. I warmed her up to the idea of being in the musical. To me, she is the character I would be if I were born a few generations before my own. Maybe I would have been Sandy Kane. I might have to be a stripper and a comedian at the same time. Or is she my future? To me, she is the gauging character and had to be my weird fairy-godmother figure and nemesis in the production. I needed another, younger love interest. Danni came to mind. After we did the wheelchair thing in London, I asked Danni, who is not an actor but was really excited about it. I could build a great narrative that involved dreams, power, disappointment, love, heartbreak, and self-realization. There’s a lot in there.

This project is kind of a homecoming. You studied theater at university, right?
I studied theater at York University. I wanted to become a theater director. That was my dream. I didn’t know anything about art or conceptual art when I was growing up. There was no musical talent in my family. But they had this amazing theater program at my high school, the AY Jackson High School in Toronto, where they offered an independent study trimester where the kids in grade 11 were the actors, the grade 12 students were the producers, and the grade 13 students were the directors. I thought it was so cool. I couldn’t wait to be the director; then I went to university. It was the first time they had the director’s program at York. To be honest, I dropped acid one day and I thought, No way. I want to get the fuck out of this program. I don’t want to work with actors, I am going to have a heart attack by the time I’m 30 if I do this. This is not what I want to do. So I took art classes and fought with a lot of profs at York. I would take the multimedia classes with a musician’s point of view, but I wasn’t a musician then.

They always gave the musicians the certain roles but everyone else was mixed. It was challenging. I fell into music and realized that’s the best because I can do directing, acting, and have immediacy. That was the biggest thing; theater didn’t have the immediacy. It was great coming home to the Toronto International Film Festival to premiere the movie last fall and also to do theater. I had all this experience and a love of musicals, which I know so many people hate. I want people to like musicals for the right reasons. That’s why I did Peaches Christ Superstar as a one-woman show because the ostentatious productions don’t give justice to the music. It’s horrible. It’s not for any age group I know. People like that music. This was the next step. It all started with my video for “Lose You.” It was a HAU theater project. You go on a tour and you get someone’s apartment for five days and you can do whatever you want. Only two people can come in for ten minutes, and it switches over. I gave people the experience of being in a musical without even knowing it. For Peaches Does Herself, I wanted to do musicals I love and go beyond.

You said it’s about what people perceive about you?
When I started my career, people were wondering if I was a girl, a guy, a stripper, a crazy feminist? Do I hate men? Am I an angry person? In the production, I get enveloped with my fans and turn into a transsexual with big boobs and a big dick. No balls. What good is a big cock, if you don’t got any balls?

Is there anything about yourself people don’t know you’d like them to know?
I think I’m pretty straightforward of who I am. People get disappointed. They want me to be ridiculous and wild all the time. I live my life, too. Surprise! People want to challenge that. When they see me at a bar and they take off their clothes and shove a beer up their pussy. Great! Glad, thank you. Sometimes they’ll do it as a way of honoring me. Once I got this private puppetry of penis show. I get a lot of perks being me and what I sing about. 

How did you finance your life before making a living off your work?
I taught kids music and drama. I got a job busing tables two nights and broke all the plates. They gave me another chance, but I didn’t want to do it. I got a really boring job in a day care and I used to sneak kids away and started to play guitar and tell stories. They would role-play. It was awesome. The director saw me and said, “I would like you to teach teachers to do this.” I started to teach teachers and got hired to teach nine classes a day. I would teach rich kids in their homes and I made good money. It got to ten years and all the while I was doing music at night, three times a week. I always felt like I would get fired tomorrow. One day, things started moving. I got an offer in Berlin. I never thought I would have a music career.

What’s happening next?
Making my studio over again, this is my fourth studio in Berlin. Start to make some music again. Let’s see what else comes out. Anything could happen.




@nadjasayej

 

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