Peaches Lets It All Hang Out
Interview By: Chris Azzopardi
‘F*ck the Pain Away’ performer talks childhood trans friend, penis onesies and vagina love
“Look. I don’t have breasts anymore.”
Peaches is reminiscing on a dear friend she grew up with, when he showed up at her door, and came out to her as transgender. Memories of their summers spent together spill out of her as if they happened yesterday.
They didn’t, of course. Those summers are long past. But the influence of Sean (then Susan) on young Peaches endures because it was “quite big,” the music-making provocateur reveals as she traces her own path to self-discovery.
The Toronto-born, Berlin-based Peaches is 46 now, and as a revered wielder of raunch, she has devoted her 20-year career to cutting down gender norms with her electroclash throwdowns. And sex – she sings a lot about that too.
After dropping her 1995 debut Fancypants Hoodlum, released under her birth name, Merrill Beth Nisker, she ignited a sexual frenzy with “Fuck the Pain Away,” a song that’s about as subtle as its title. With a colorful tracklist that includes “Vaginoplasty” and “Dick in the Air,” Rub, her latest queer contribution, doesn’t beat around the bush either.
In conversation, Peaches is just as freewheeling. During our interview, the performance artist talked penis onesies, menstruation and learning to love your vagina.
You studied theater but then ended up going into music. How surrounded were you by queer culture during that period in your life? And how did what you experience shape you and your desire to explore queerness in your art?
It was an arts culture, but it wasn’t necessarily queer at that time. But I did have a serious relationship at the time with a woman – or a girl, or a girl becoming a woman – so I was growing up spending my summers, from when I was 7 to 14, with one person. Her childhood name was Susan, and she told me when she was 7, “I’m a guy. I don’t know why I’m in this woman’s body.”
She used to punch me in the stomach and be like, “See how strong I am!” She was just a very strong character. Also humorous but scathing too – quite tortured. And then slowly, she became a man. At 18 she came over and said, “Look. I don’t have breasts anymore,” and became who he wanted to be: Sean. So early on I was already questioning these things through the experience of the one person I spent all my summers with.
When did you feel you had a handle on who you were?
I was pretty spaced out for a long time and then, I don’t know. I guess, like, 30. (Laughs)
How would you describe Rub to a 12-year-old kid?
“This is an album you listen to to make your parents angry.” It’s exactly what a 12-year-old wants to listen to. You wanna giggle along to “Dick in the Air.” Kids are way more advanced now. They can handle this.
You think so?
Yeah. And if they can’t, then they have very good mechanisms of denial. I know I did in my head, and then years later, I’d be like, “Oh wait, I like that song” or, “That thing I didn’t understand – I get it now!” I remember hearing that song by Berlin called “Sex (I’m A)” on the radio and being like, “What was that?!”
How did you first learn about sex?
Wow. I don’t really remember, which is funny. I do remember being in the shower with my mother and asking her what a period was.
How did she explain a period?
Just very matter of factly. I remember kids three years older than me being like, “Do you put a period at the end of a sentence?”
Yeah – see. It’s probably why I’m so punny.
Why has sex – and not just sex, but visceral, in-your-face sex – been such a muse in your career?
It’s not just sex. My concern is, why aren’t people comfortable in their own bodies? Why are we denying ourselves talking directly about what it is that makes us tick, and why do we have to cover it up? And then also, just in pop music – back then, why was it always skirting around the issue? Literally skirting around the issue. Pun intended.
It just amazed me, the imbalance of how men would express themselves in classic rock songs. Rod Stewart stuff. “Spread your wings and let me come inside.” Why am I singing that? Why is half the population singing that? I wanna sing my way. So I did it my way, wondering why there was this imbalance and why I like these songs. I’m singing along with old blues songs too. But, actually, old blues songs were more balanced, like Bessie Smith: “I need a little sugar in my bowl; I need a little hot dog on my roll.” You know, there’s nothing subtle about that.
There was a time when it was taboo for females to be frank about their sexuality. You really blazed that trail.
And I’m really happy about that. (People) would be like, “Why do you write these songs?” And I’d be like, “I feel like this is a missing link in what we actually need to evolve into,” and also, yeah, questioning what was mainstream and saying, “I don’t want to bow to the mainstream; I want the mainstream to come up to me.” Now, 15 years later, the mainstream actually is coming to me. So I’m like, “Woooohoooo.”
What is your opinion of sex in mainstream culture these days?
The same. What do you think?
Not because I like it, but what comes to mind is that J. Lo and Iggy Azalea video for “Booty.”
Ack! It just doesn’t work as a song. If it worked as a song, maybe it would be interesting. I would think more of Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé’s “Feeling Myself,” and (Nicki) says “I’m feelin’ myself, jack rabbit” – that’s such a good line. I think that Nicki Minaj broke it. And people say, “Peaches, how can you like Nicki Minaj?” I’m like, no, she broke through hip-hop. She slays all these guys and they know it. It’s undeniable.
Beyond sex, you’ve famously subverted gender norms.
Yeah, make it all fluid.
What kind of influence do you think Miley Cyrus and Caitlyn Jenner are having on the gender dialogue?
They’re just opening up the dialogue. Let’s see if it’s a trend or if we’re really gonna change things, because things are moving exponentially in every direction. I mean, we still have Kim Davis. I love that whoever wrote “Eye of a Tiger” (Survivor frontman Frankie Sullivan) sued her for using the song. I’m so happy. When she got out of jail she did this whole speech, but she’s obviously mentally imbalanced. And Donald Trump too.
And anybody who’s going by these completely heteronormative patriarchal attitudes – what are you hiding from? Not them specifically, but why do you find what I do, which is like, “Hey, let’s be open,” offensive or transgressive? It’s about being open so that everybody can actually become the person they are and feel comfortable in their own bodies. We do all these things to get away from our own bodies, but we live in them. I wrote a song called “Vaginoplasty” because people are like, “Oh, my vagina looks horrible; I need plastic surgery on my vagina” – not because of gender reassignment, not because of accidents, but purely for cosmetic reasons. And it’s like, “You came out of that thing – why are you so afraid of it?” It’s ridiculous to me.
It’s ridiculous how we deny our bodies and have all these stipulations and family values, which are just patriarchal family values, it seems. Like Ashley Madison websites – come on. That is not a normal way to live, where you have all these secrets because you can’t keep that front. There are urges and things we really need. Why are we denying ourselves that?
There’s always been subtext to your hypersexual songs. And there are layers and layers there, and listeners can choose to dig and dig or purely see them as bedroom bump songs.
Then goal achieved. Thank you. It should be a bedroom bump song or a party song, or you go like, “Oh, what am I singing about? What am I singing along to?” And then you’re like, “Oh. Cool. Wow.”
In that way, regarding multiple purposes, I relate more to female comedians like Tina Fey, Natasha Leggero, Amy Schumer, Tig Notaro and Margaret Cho because they do the same thing – they make you laugh, and then you’re like, “Oh my god, she’s right. Holy shit. What are we really doing?” So I realize that I relate more to, actually, a lot of older female comedians and performance artists than I do musicians.
When it comes to Rub, what do you want the primary takeaway to be?
It’s just a celebration. Seriously. I want it to be like a post-gender and post-age celebration of becoming who you are.
Is it a reflection of who you are at this point in your life?
Definitely. Do you want to get into the breakup songs yet?
Yes! Let’s talk about those.
Yeah, because that helped in the middle of (working on) the album. Especially a song like “Free Drink Ticket,” which is a very angry song, but it’s a real emotion that everybody can relate to. When hurt happens to someone you love the most and then it becomes complete hate. It’s amazing that someone you love becomes someone you totally wanna murder, at least for a few months.
And this is how you felt after the breakup you experienced while recording this album?
Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of people do. “I wanna kill that person!” But then you get over it. It was an interesting twist of events, not unlike Kim Gordon or Björk – very similar situation. It was just bizarre that I was in sort of the same position; they’re both in my age range, so it was kind of like, “Wow, how am I gonna deal with this?”
Have you ever had sex to your own music?
No! Are you crazy? That’s disgusting. Someone tried and I was like, “Forget it, buddy – get out!” Actually… it was a woman.
Where can I get a knitted dick onesie like the one you and Margaret Cho wear in the video for “Dick in the Air”?
A friend of mine found those, so I think you’ll have to knit one yourself. Also, I found a documentary online where they used these outfits to talk about family units, and it’s funny because they blur out the knitted penises and the knitted breasts. It’s amazing.
But what she found were five Caucasian outfits – an old man, an old woman, a young boy, a young woman and a person with both breasts and dick – and then there was a brown person’s costume, and a yellow one for Asian people and also a redhead with a very little weenie. Actually, the Asian one had the largest penis.
What’s it like wearing it?
Um, very hot and sweaty. We were in L.A. I chose the old man’s outfit. I wanted to know what it’s like when your balls hang low.
Luciana Teams with Filmmaker JB Ghuman
Interview By: Bebe Sweetbriar
What happens when you combine musical and visual geniuses together on a project about freeing our inhibitions? Well, in the case of the Queen of Electro Luciana teaming with Spork filmmaker JB Ghuman, Jr. to create a music video for Luciana’s latest high-energy release Tearing Down The Walls, you get a Priscilla, Queen of the Desert journey to the Willy Wonka chocolate factory. Since 2009, Luciana has given us a string of #1 dance music hits (I Like That, I’m Still Hot, Something For The Weekend, Electricity & Drums) combining her luscious vocals with electrifying beats. After working with JB (director of the Double Duchess Good Girl Freak Out music video featuring Kelly Osbourne) on Cazwell’s Guess What? Music video, Luciana found the other half of what has developed into an undeniably dynamic duo. Teaming up on Luciana’s Primitive and U B The Bass videos, JB and Luciana were really running dress rehearsals for what is surely Luciana’s most message driven track to date with Cave Kings’ produced Tearing Down The Walls. The music video is more than just fun and invigorating. It’s a piece of art, depicting elements of fire, steam, transformation and release. Both artists have creatively worked together on this project to express their contention that there is always room for growth, change and raising the levels of consciousness by tearing down one wall at a time.
BeBe: Luciana, you have put out a wealth of material over the years, do you still get excited about new releases such as Tearing Down The Walls?
Luciana: It’s really funny with this particular release, it’s different because it’s with JB, and I’m so in love with JB. When he told me about the idea for the (music) video, I just got excited. The fact that this particular video is out without (the backing of) a record company, it feel like we are just doing it for the sake of art. We basically satin a cafe one day, and we were both crying. This is where Tearing Down The Walls stems from.
BeBe: Luciana, I know that part of the process you go through in writing a song is keeping a journal full of lyrics that pop in your head at any time. Tearing Down The Walls is typical Luciana with its bounciness and high energy, but it has a strong message. How did you, Luciana, come up with the lyrics for this particular song? And, JB, how did your involvement come about?
Luciana: The original line for the chorus was “like a tiger I will roar”, then Katy Perry came out with Roar. So we changed it to “tearing down the walls”, which is still such a brilliant message. It has the same sentiment. At the time in writing this song, I felt a bit despondent with how things were moving. Things felt a bit slow and an uphill struggle. So, this particular track does have more of a message, and I’m glad that the lyric chain works.
JB: Luciana, of course, started this and I just sort of helped finish it. But, we were at a cafe one day just talking about life, and through that, we started talking about transformation and what we were both going through in our situations. I had heard this song of hers but Luciana was just sort of sitting on it and it wasn’t in her paradigm to put it out because it didn’t fit with the type of stuff she had been putting out. And, I just said I wanted to do something with this track. So she said let’s just do it for the art and for the fun of it. I have always been super inspired by alchemy and what it means (the process of transformation) and thought it would be neat to apply it to this song.
BeBe: We all do the tearing down of walls at some point in our lives. You introduce the chorus of the song with “keep on tearing down the walls”, and I think we forget that tearing down the walls is a continuum in life, not a onetime occurrence. That message is a good premise to develop a film from, I am amazed how we are able to get that message from a three and a half minute music video.
Luciana: Yes, this is absolutely true! Now, you know, I deejay and I have a mood board that is directly above my DJ decks. And, I look at my mood board now and it says “it’s getting electric in here”. But, one of the things it continually says is “I’m a work in progress” and “I’m under construction”. It is a continuous thing of the peeling away of layers. Like an onion, it’s about getting through the layers. You keep tearing down the walls whether it’s internally where you are growing or externally to get things moving.
JB: I have always been a visual person. I was doing whacky short videos before I started doing movies. Working on script development and all for films is fun, but going back to video is not hard for me. It is actually easier for me to tell a story with no dialogue. It was fun taking a track like Tearing Down The Walls and make it a visual diary.
BeBe: JB, there is a lyric line that Luciana sings in Tearing Down The Walls that goes “I am the original, my DNA is irresistible” , and then at the very end of the music video you inserted a voice over that says “there is no competition because we are the best here.” Did you choose that audio as a relationship to Luciana fore mentioned lyric line?
JB: It totally did. You are very keen. Good for you! In the creative world there is this fallacy that everything created has been done before. And the connection I’m trying to make is that your DNA makes you the original, it is unique. So if you create from your fingerprint or from your heart or from wherever it is you create, it really is one of a kind because there is only one you.
BeBe: You have huge LGBTQ following and for me it seems like this song comes at a good time for our community because I have personally noticed that after we have gained federal marriage equality protection, that things have become a bit stagnant. I think Tearing Down The Walls” can remind us that we are always a work in progress and there are more walls to tear down.
Luciana: It’s a continuous thing, isn’t it? Without sounding like I’m repeating my own lyrics, we must continue to tear down the walls.
BeBe: Tearing Down The Walls is the third project for Team Luciana/Ghuman. There is obviously much chemistry between the two of you. What is that chemistry?
Luciana: When I first met JB at his home while working on the Cazwell Guess What? Video, he was sitting there with a Mickey Mouse ears cap on, and I as looking at him thinking you are crazy fabulous. I don’t know planet he is on, but I want to be on it with him. He can ask me to skate naked down a hill with just a scarf on, and I will do it. I love living vicariously through his vision. He is amazing!
BeBe: Outside of yourself, when you say or her the verse “tearing down the walls” is there a person that comes to mind that you feel fits the phrase?
Luciana: For some strange reason Steve Jobs comes to mind. He is someone who has torn down the walls.
BeBe: JB, if I were to say to you “in order to reach our dreams or realize our full potential, we should expect to have to tear down walls”, how would you respond?
JB: Absolutely! We ask for many things and have many questions, and more often than not the answers are probably walls. I believe the way we need to grow should be based on the mountains we have to climb. Tearing down walls generally brings out the best in us.
Bleona is Taking over the World
Interview By: Bebe Sweetbriar
Two years ago, clubbers were introduced to Take It Like A Man (2013) and F**k You I’m Famous on the dance floor by, at the time, the little-known-to-the-U.S. Albanian artist, Bleona. But, since then, Bleona has taken on the challenge of conquering the world. The international recording artist has recently released her American debut Take You Over that exudes her trademark “in your face” style of music, accompanied by a high fashion concept video directed by Dennis Leupold (Rihanna, J-Lo) and filmed by Jeffrey Kelly (Beyonce’s Drunk In Love). The Rock star (Chris Brown) produced Take You Over is a blend of American pop and global dance beats. It is easy to see how gay audiences have been drawn to Bleona’s undeniable classic glamor and magnetism, but it is her talent as an entertainer (as demonstrated in her performance at the 2014 White Party Palm Springs 25 Year Anniversary Music Festival) that keeps her audiences coming back for more. Already one of the biggest-selling recording artists n Eastern Europe, Bleona is ready to use her soaring vocals and brash persona to take over the world.
BeBe: The music video for your new single Take You Over is uber sexy, especially the water shots! How involved were you in the video’s concept?
Bleona: (Laughs) I have been involved in every second of the creative process, including hair make up and styling, and in every frame of making the video. I just can’t help it! I know exactly who i am as an artist and the style of music that I represent. I just wanted to make sure that my first introduction to America through this video was done right. We chose this particular song and decided to do this particular video for it because this song and video is definitely what represents me as an artist and a person. I also wanted to make sure that we bring something unique to the table… something stylish and different that would get people’s attention.
BeBe: You consistently have the best remixers work magic to the dance mixes to your singles. Is there any that you admire that has yet to remix one of your songs?
Bleona: I love, love, love Dave Aude and Ralphi Rosario (remixers on Take You Over). I think I will not have any new single without having these two amazingly talented people do my remixes. But I would definitely love to get a collaboration with David Guetta and Calvin Harris.
BeBe: Take You Over may be about taking over a person, but it could just as well be about taking over the world. You are a Celebrity Judge on X Factor Albania and a star on BRAVO’s Euros of Hollywood. You are conquering it all. Should we start calling you Bleona the Conqueror?
Bleona: (Again, laughs) that’s nice to hear! Yes, I love to be a conqueror, but doesn’t everybody?
BeBe: Your new single Take You Over has the same vibe as your previous hit F**k You, I’m Famous but even more feisty. Is this the attitude presented on most of the tracks planned for your upcoming album I Am Bleona?
Bleona: Well, back home (Albania) I have always been known as a rebellious entertainer, and my music now in English cannot be any different. Fashion, music and crazy visuals are what I do. This is how I express myself. My music on the upcoming album will be dance pop as well, and it will be fun. But, it will also have a very strong message of female empowerment as my previous records do.
BeBe: The music you have released in the U.S. has been pretty much “in your face” dance music. Will we get a softer musical side of Bleona on the upcoming album?
Bleona: Yes, definitely! There is a softer side to me as a person which not many people get to see. There is a particular ballad on my I Am Bleona album called Monster that i really love. It is my favorite so far.
BeBe: Your American breakout singles Show Off and Pass Out, 2010 and 2012 respectively, were produced by one of my all-time favorite producers Timbaland. How did this professional relationship materialize, and how has it been working with such a hit maker?
Bleona: I remember I was in Germany on tour in 2008 when Timbaland came out with The Way I Are, and I said I have to go to America and do an album with this guy. Everyone on my team thought I was crazy. Later that same year, I found myself in L.A. singing in front of “THE” David Foster in the studio. David took me to the Grammys and introduced me to Timbaland. He initially refused to work with me. It took a year and a half and 8 songs with his production team before Timbaland said YES! That was a challenge. W I will never forget the satisfaction of that particular moment, but in general, I live for challenges every day.
BeBe: Outside of music, what other things are on your career agenda?
Bleona: I have a Bachelor’s degree in the Stanislavsky method of acting, one of the hardest methods, and I would like to do more acting. Of course my Achilles’s heel is jewelry and fashion, especially jewelry. I have now designed my own jewelry line and handbags which will be available soon on shopbleona.com.
BeBe: How instrumental have your gay fans been to your success here in America?
Bleona: Knowing that the gay community has a very high performance standard, this became another challenge of mine. Knowing that they have seen it all from Lady Gaga to J-Lo to Ariana Grande, it was very important for me to win them over and make them fall in love with me. That was my challenge. When you can make people, who have never heard for you before, get up and dance to your music, you know you a good entertainer. And, now they actually love me. They have been the key (to my success)! The gay community just gets all my “in your face” type of music.