No one knows how to push buttons quite like Peaches. Whether she's writing and directing her own autobiographical musical or organizing a Free Pussy Riot campaign, this electro-punk (aka Merrill Nisker) is always a few steps ahead of even the most radical of sex-positive visionaries. In advance of her DJ extravaganza at the Summit Music Hall this weekend, complete with her own East Berlin dancers, we checked in with the queen of queer to discuss M.I.A., humorous sex and why punks hate dance music.
Westword: So much of your music blends electro-dance with punk: Why do you think this wasn't done sooner? Why have punk rock and dance music always been at odds with each other?
Peaches: When I first started, people saw electronic music as something phony, something flash-in-the-pan, something that was only for five in the morning. And punk was all 'Do it yourself, do it yourself, man; electronic music isn't REAL music, man.' But it makes so much sense now, with technology being so available. It's a funny time to be doing it yourself, because now there's no other way.
Often musicians whose music is overtly sexual will take offense to the suggestion that their lyrics make people laugh. Am I wrong to think your lyrics are funny?
Sometimes something you think is funny, someone else might get angry at. It happens a lot in queer culture: Someone who's not comfortable with it has to get angry at it. It's interesting that there's such a polarization between people who find it funny and people who think it's something be angry about.
But do you actively inject comedy into your music? Do you see it as funny?
I see it as just straight up. Just straight up. Very direct. Yeah, there are some funny things, but rap is often funny. Whenever you're dealing with wordplay, things are gonna make you laugh. When you hear I'm so high I'm an addict/I'm so high I'm the attic, it's funny; Nicki Minaj is funny. When you have a message to deliver, adding a bit of humor helps.
Early on in your career, you were surrounded by so much yet-to-be-discovered talent -- Feist, M.I.A. -- as well as established talent like Justine Frischmann [of Elastica]. Do you think talent feeds on itself in groups like this? That you're more yourself creatively when surrounded by like-minded people?
It was funny, because we never really talked about music very much. Justine was stopping her music career, and mine was just beginning. Feist and I lived together.... I guess when you're at a certain point, you meet the people that you're supposed to.
And M.I.A. wasn't making music yet, either. What was she like at that time? I hear you were the one who encouraged her to play around with the Roland MC-505.
She was a filmmaker then, but she was a huge hip-hop fan. And I like to encourage people to express themselves in whatever form they like. I feel like people are more than musicians, more than doctors, you know? She watched me every night when I performed, because she was making a documentary on Justine, and she was asking questions about my machine, and I was like, "Go ahead, check it out." And she really wanted to. I wasn't like "Do it or die!" She got inspired, and it was so cool.
Do you also encourage yourself to branch out into other forms of creativity?
Yeah -- I just made a movie. It was in the Toronto Film Festival. It hasn't come out yet. It was a stage production; I wrote a narrative based on a fantastical biography of myself. I directed it, I wrote it, I made the music -- and we had a cast and crew of forty. We're gonna do a few more festivals and figure out its life. You can watch the trailer online.
How do you feel mainstream culture is benefiting from the existence of queer culture?
It makes mainstream culture cool. They get everything from queer culture. Queer culture is always first on everything: politically, musically, fashion -- everything.
Speaking of politics, you hosted a campaign to free Pussy Riot. How did that come about?
There were all these other people like the Red Hot Chili Peppers who were writing letters [to Russian authorities] just saying "stop it." But they were just saying that because they were about to play there and they were feeling guilty. Meanwhile, there was all this underground movement working to free them that wasn't getting any attention at all.
And I was completely busy, but I was like, "I have to do something." So I wrote a song called "Free Pussy Riot" -- and you can watch the video online -- and I got a call from the people who made Pussy Riot's masks, and we arranged a march and were filming a video for the song. We thought only thirty people would come, but like 400 showed up. And then other people made videos and sent them to us -- the Hives, Kate Nash, Lykke Li, Mike Snow -- a bunch of people.
So we started a campaign at freepussyriot.change.org and got a petition with 200,000 names in four days. Then Madonna got involved, taking action as a celebrity instead of just writing a letter. And then at the end of every one of my sets, people would chant "Free Pussy Riot!" I wasn't just looking for attention for myself. If I lived in Russia, that could've been me. Would've been me.
I must admit, the juvenile in me giggled every time I saw the words "Pussy Riot" on the CNN news crawl.
Yeah, and not just on CNN. That name was on every news channel all over the world. Every country. They pretty much won by getting everyone to say their name.
Last year, you collaborated with the Flaming Lips on the Pink Floyd song "Great Gig in the Sky." What was the experience like, collaborating with a band on a song that so many people already treasure?
Well, they had their own idea of what they wanted to do. I sang the shit out of it, and they put it through all these effects and stuff -- so you can't really hear how I sung the shit out of it. But we got to do it live in L.A., and it was great. I've been opening my DJ set with that song.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.