I have a confession to make: I didn't "get" Peaches until her fifth album, I Feel Cream, came out in 2009. When she broke through years before with "Fuck the Pain Away," I was a glam-goth undergrad, and while I enjoyed the visceral rhythms and verbal bawdiness of the song, I filed her away with Dirty Sanchez and Avenue D—another fun but vapid electroclash novelty act.
Peaches has proved over the last 15 years that she's anything but.
Merrill Nisker, the gap-toothed, Canadian Jewish girl people threw rocks at when she was a kid has grown up into a kind of superhero—performance artist, rapper, producer, lyricist, cultural satirist, and sex-positive queer feminist crusader. Her lowbrow has become high art, to be considered alongside the likes of Yoko Ono, Grace Jones, Leigh Bowery, Chicks on Speed, and Marina Abramovic. In recent years, she has performed the lead male role in Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo and transformed Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar into a solo show, called Peaches Christ Superstar obviously. Both are well worth a google. She released a tour film, Peaches Does Herself, and more recently, a photography book, What Else Is in the Teaches of Peaches, featuring intimate candid photos from her life on and off stage and tribute essays from the likes of Ono, Michael Stipe, and Ellen Page.
Her new album, Rub, on which she returns to her classic minimalism after years of slick production, was released on September 25.
When Peaches came to town for Bumbershoot, I was dying to interview her. We spoke by phone before the festival, in person at her "Scary Feminist" panel, and backstage after her show at KeyArena. Like many of the world's great provocateurs, Peaches is soft-spoken and thoroughly gracious in person.
The lyrics to "Light in Places" (the first single from Rub) are less punk and more utopian than much of your work. Do you think your music is getting less aggressive?
No, I think that songs like "Rub" and "Dick in the Air" and "How You Like My Cut" and "Free Drink Ticket" are a whole new form of aggression. "Light in Places" was made for Empress Stah [the aerialist in the music video], she asked me to write that song for her act. Her act came first, and my music came second. It was a different kind of collaboration.
Your collaborations aren't limited to music. They run across the spectrum of performance and art.
I think it's important. I'm collaborating to become a better artist, to become a better producer and musician. I'm collaborating to create a community that I like and a world I want to live in.
Do you think Rub reflects the recent stage work you've been doing in L'Orfeo and Peaches Christ Superstar?
Not at all. After making four albums and touring, it was time to do other projects. I was lucky enough to be able to do those projects, but I left them all at the door and got them out of my system, and then I could go back to doing a Peaches album.
Are there questions that you're sick of getting asked or that you wish journalists would move past?
Yes, of course. Read Wikipedia or read any interview, and don't ask me why my name is Peaches or why I moved to Berlin or what my opinion of my work is, because it doesn't matter what my opinion of my work is. The interesting part is the perception that other people have too, and so whatever I'm doing is what I'm doing, but don't ask me what I think the audience should get out of it. They get a whole whack of different things out of it, as you can even see today.
They loved you, though. There were kids with braces, and they were just totally into you.
I know when I was little, if I would've seen something like [my live show], I probably would've vehemently hated it, and then years later gone, "Oh my god, that was so cool!" You know like when you're really young, the things that you hate—like when you're a little kid and you like somebody else in your class, and you're like, "I hate them!" and then your older brother or sister or your parents say, "It's because you like them!" I've had that experience with music or things I saw when I was little. I'd be like, "I hate that," and then years later, "Oh I love that."
You do raunch that's very empowering as opposed to objectifying. What's your advice to other artists on how to accomplish that?
I think it's happening more and more. I think that we've moved past that. People know what they're doing. If they are doing objectifying things, they want to. I think people have control over what they're doing... Look at Nicki Minaj. She looks so ready to be objectified, but she spits these hardcore lyrics. That's a mindfuck, but it's awesome. People are playing with it much more. Miley, in whatever way, letting it all out... I don't like her music, I haven't been touched by a song, but you know, whoever the current trend is, people ask me [adopting a pseudo-formal interview voice]: "What do you think of—?" Younger kids five years ago would be like, "Are you trying to be Lady Gaga?" and now they're like, "Are you trying to be Miley?"
Speaking of people who borrow, idolize, etc., who's your dream collaboration?
Well, there are a lot of them. Right now, when I do Peaches stuff, there's always collaborators and stuff going on. I would collaborate in a very serious vocal way with Mike Patton [of Faith No More].
On title track "Rub," you talk about "circle jerk girls who spray," and right after that you say, "I can't talk right now, this chick's dick is in my mouth." Is that second lyric specifically about trans women?
It's whatever you want it to be about.