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A casual phonecall with Peaches about robot pubes and dick suits

Powerhouse feminist music legend Peaches is returning to the country this week on a cloud made of plush boobs and Rapunzel-length pubic hair. Alex Casey chatted to her about dick suits, Westworld, and why her music matters now more than ever before.

If there is one person out there who can pull off saying ‘titties’ with as much glee as Paul Henry after a carafe of red wine, it’s Peaches. The electro/pop/performance-artist is probably best known to most as the woman behind ‘Fuck the Pain Away’, the anthem of my teens when I didn’t know anything about fucking nor pain, but would sing it in a circle with my friends, slurring our way through bottomless cups of raspberry Big Foot and waiting excitedly to grow up.

What I didn’t quite realise in my RTD haze was just how jam-packed her music is with joyous, angry and hilarious feminist messages. Regardless of whether her lyrics are about recognising your worth (“No matter how old, how young, how sick, I mean something, I mean something”), or flipping traditional gender dynamics in mainstream music on their head (“I wanna see you work it guy on guy, two guys for every girl”), it is seldom that you aren’t being fed something a little more nutritious between the sugary bubblegum of a Peaches song.  

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Peaches also wears costumes that make latter-day Lady Gaga look like she shopped at Glassons. From giant piles of boob to futuristic fallopian tubes, her performances seek to challenge and embrace how we present our own gender and sexuality. Lucky for us, she is returning to tour her new album Rub in New Zealand, and genital-inspired costumes are more than encouraged. I got to chat to Peaches in her hotel room about wool dick suits, Westworld’s progressive pubes and why her work feels more important than ever.

I read an interview where you said you were going to stay away from the States for a while if Donald Trump won the presidency. I wondered how you were doing now.

I don’t think that was a very good comment. Now, I think that people need to stay in the country and fight the good fight. I don’t think I really believed that he would become President. I think I will have to not stay away now. What we need to do now is stay in there and make a big stink. Him becoming President is a big kick in the butt. It’s bigger than feminism – we’ve basically got a Neo-Nazi in power. There’s a lot going on there.

I want to talk about how you use your body and gender expression in your performance, was there a moment or a period in your life when you realised you’d be treated differently because of your gender?

I can’t think of a moment in particular, but I remember having certain people a little bit older than me who didn’t seem to fit in with being deemed as ‘a woman’ or having a certain style that was in the mainstream. That started me questioning like, ‘oh, maybe you don’t have to be a certain way’. I had a modern dance teacher when I was younger who obviously had a very fit body but she didn’t care about image or style and was quite relaxed. There were local people growing up that attracted me to their personality because they were not acting in the same way that I had seen in commercials.

I’ve relistened to some of your songs that I loved when I was a teenager, and realised just how potent the messages in your lyrics are. I don’t think I realised exactly what I was singing at the time.

I want people to listen to and enjoy my music first and then think “wait a minute, what am I actually singing along with?” in the same way that I would sing along with very sexist, male-oriented songs that were on the radio. I would sing along with something like ‘Tonight’s the night’, with lyrics like “my virgin child, don’t say a word… spread your wings and let me come inside”. Or like “squeeze my lemon till the juice runs down my leg”, you know?

All those songs that I sang along with growing up had nothing from my perspective. I wanted to sing from my perspective in the same melodies and have people think ‘wait, what was I just singing?’ but make it a positive and not a negative experience. Certain songs of mine weave a huge feminist tale in them and some, I would hope, transcend that into a more universal thing like ‘Fuck the Pain Away’. Guys and girls sing that all the time.

There’s heaps of comedy and absurdity in both your lyrics and videos, how important is humour as a technique to get your ideas across in your music?

Humour just tells people to not be afraid. I think if you position some of these messages in an angry manner, people tend to want to close off. I’ve found that the more fun you have with it, the more people will be open to it.

Where do you get all your good costumes and are they available for purchase?

It all depends, there are so many different places they have come from. It started with me wearing a bathing suit and putting on something that someone had thrown on stage. Then there was the cape and it just became an organic progression. I had a friend who was a designer who started making me little leather shorts, and then there would be other people who wanted to make stuff for me. It just grew that way.

What about… those wool dick suits?

Those are actually costumes that a friend found in a second hand shop in Los Angeles. I asked to borrow them for the ‘Dick in the Air’ video, and I’ve actually had two people come to my shows who have made their own versions. That’s my favourite thing actually, when people show up in their own versions of what I’ve done. Or just huge vaginas, all kinds of stuff.

So huge vagina costumes encouraged to your shows then?

Yep.

Were the dick suits very hot to wear?

Surprisingly no. Wool breathes, so you are much better off wearing that than a polyester dick suit in the sunshine.

Good to know. I want to talk about your video for ‘Rub’ [please note: VERY NSFW]. Firstly, how did you find that perfect vulva-shaped rock? Did you make it? Did you go searching for it? It’s crazy.

Actually, my friend Dave Katching from Eagles of Death Metal lives up near there. I was asking him if we could stay with him when we were shooting and he like ‘yeah, sure, whatever you want – by the way have you ever seen this?’ He sent me a me a photo of his father, or maybe even his grandfather, pointing at this rock. It’s called ‘The Queen of the Desert’. I was like “oh my god, this is perfect for my video”.

vulvarock

It was about 20 miles away from where we were shooting, so we would have to wake up super early to get to it. We were going back and forth like “oh do we really need it?” But then we saw it and decided we really, really needed it.

‘Rub’ is the first time I think I’ve seen fully-fledged urination from a woman on screen in a full-on, no-holds-barred. Why did you do it?

I just really needed to pee. I turned to my friend Lex and was like “I really need to pee’”and she was like “I really need to pee too” so we just peed. There was no planning, we were actually wanting to have a professional squirter in the scene, but they had to cancel so we peed instead.

Can I ask how you find a professional squirter?

Oh, you can find anything you want if you look hard enough.

Body hair seems to come up a lot in your work, and just this morning I saw this ad for a razor that had all these skinny tanned bikini models kind of coyly shearing a Bonsai hedge thing into different shapes. It always annoys me that no-one is willing to show real hair in those ads. Why are people still so weird about it?

[Peaches puts on a posho English accent] Because it’s not ladylike.

[Peaches goes back to regular accent] Actually, I was watching Westworld with my boyfriend and we noticed that there’s a lot of big bush in that. They were robots, but they had loads of big bush.

I mean this is a whole other kettle of fish, but would a robot know about society’s war on pubes?

Well, if they were programmed by a man like pantyhose were, then they would probably be coded to remove the hair. I guess Arnold just really liked pubes.

peachespink

Beyond talking hair removal, there’s also a growth of more serious procedures like labiaplasties. You deal with this in ‘Vaginoplasty’, does it still freak you out?

There are obviously some valid, medical reasons for it, but there’s been something like a 300% rise in these sorts of procedures in the UK. That’s terrifying. And for what reason? Are you afraid a guy won’t go down on you because he’s going to look at your vagina and get scared? He just wants to get down there, he doesn’t care what it looks like.

Even if you look back at old pornography, everything was hairier and more real. It seems like everything has just been forced to go cleaner, cleaner, cleaner. It’s like the world you know, there’s no dirt and nature anywhere anymore, we’re just watering down and watering down.

Yeah. But it seems like that pressure on women is so strong and almost unfixable at this point. What can you do?

I just try my best to do what I can. I write songs about it, I make my videos. You just have to keep putting yourself out there, and keep being loud and proud.

Do you ever get any negative reactions to the way you present your body? Has that changed as all as you’ve gotten older?

Not really. Once I was in a French music magazine and they made my legs twice as long as they really are. I have no idea why they did that, that’s never happened before and it will never happen again. They also made me put on these high heel shoes. I don’t normally have a problem with heels, but they were a pair that I would never wear. So they weren’t my feet and they weren’t my legs. What’s the point? Why would you do that to me?

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Does that kind of image stuff have anything to do with you declaring once that you didn’t want to be considered a ‘woman singer’?

That was mostly because I didn’t do a lot of singing on my first album. Only now people are saying like “oh, you’re a really good singer why did you never sing?” I didn’t want to be known as a woman singer, I wanted to give a very direct message in the style that I was doing.

What do you consider yourself to be now?

A bunch of things. Whatever I want to be.

Just not someone with legs twice as long in real life?

No. Not unless I’m wearing stilts.

Is there an endgame to your work, like will you ever hang up the dick suit?

At the beginning of the album people were like “your work here is done” and now people are like “oh my god your work is more important than ever”. Everything ebbs and flows, and things like Trump are a big, kick-in-the face, reminder of that. And probably a good one, people were getting too convinced that they were progressing in their own bubble.

If there was one message you hoped people would take away from a Peaches show or song or record, what would it be?

Stop being afraid. People need to be informed now more than ever. Come to the show, have fun and be who you need to be.


Peaches tour dates, buy tickets here:

San Fran, Wellington | Friday December 16, Doors 8pm (SOLD OUT)
San Fran, Wellington | Saturday December 17, Doors 8pm
Kings Arms, Auckland | Sunday December 18, Doors 5pm for a sunset show (SOLD OUT)
Kings Arms, Auckland | Monday December 19, Doors 8pm


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