peaches subverts gender and questions identity politics on first record in six years
Rock’s one-woman assault on gender politics remains as ripe – and vital – as ever.
When aerial artist Empress Stah was looking for a soundtrack to her latest performance, she gave one person a call. "She said the performance was an aerialist with a laser light buttplug," recalls the woman she dialed, Canadian-born rock renegade Peaches. "And I was like, yes, yes and yes."
And who else would she call? Only Peaches, who has brought it on the sexually candid, gender transgressive, totally empowered one-woman rock front for the last 15 years. In 2000, she spoiled the rock'n'roll frat party with her progressive, dick baiting electroclash sound on The Teaches of Peaches. She gave us Fuck the Pain Away, the defining alt club anthem of the era that in 2015 is everything if you're hitting Tinder hard.
That's the thing about 46-year-old Peaches, real name Merrill Beth Nisker. She ain't no heritage act. Her swagger, style and sexual provocation is as vital now as ever. She's challenged gender orthodoxy at every juncture, growing pubic and armpit hair Rapunzel style in the video for Set It Off and tackling gendered swearing in the title of third album FatherFucker and hip hop chauvinism in song Stick it to the Pimp. She's way too wild for the mainstream, but her influence is everywhere in empowered female pop.
If you want the raw, real deal, look no further than Peaches' new record, Rub. Her first in six years, it's as strong on identity politics, gender subversiveness and thick, sick beats as ever. And there's a song to soundtrack laser buttplug action, should you need it.
Your work has always challenged the status quo on gender and identity. Is it odd to still have to address these ideas after 15 years?
This album is a celebration. There's a post age, post gender attitude on this album. Before, I was going "the struggle, the struggle"; for this album I am saying "we are there" and let's celebrate it.
Some of the most visible advocates of gender and identity issues-like Laverne Cox or Ellen Page -have said that when they couldn't be vocal, they turned to you.
Yeah, that's true. I feel that those people who grew up with me are now in positions of note. What would they have got from me? Hopefully another perspective. I was always talking about how I wanted the mainstream to come closer to my ideas, and it's kind of happening right now.
What was the idea you had when you first started out?
I wanted this perspective that was missing from the music at the time. Rock'n'roll and hip hop had a very large misogynistic element. I was responding to that. I was singing along to certain songs and I'd be like, "This is not part of my world". I wanted songs I could sing along to or confuse people so they'd be like, "Why am I singing along to this?"
Do you find there are songs now in pop culture that you have to provide an alternative to?
I always try to avoid that word alternative because if something is alternative it's not as important. It's like when they called Nirvana "alternative"; I thought that was funny, the biggest music and they called it alternative.
Why did Fuck the Pain Away resonate so hard?
It's an anthem for becoming yourself and realizing your total freedom. It's a big break-up song.
You've always been a very visual artist and you've made a video for every track on the new record. What can we expect?
The video for Rub is my crowning glory. We had 40 women and none of us had ever been on an all-women set before. There were body performance artists and queer porn stars. A.L. Steiner [from Chicks on Speed], who has made queer lesbian porn and was also a professor at USC, helped direct it. I did Dick in the Air with Margaret Cho. My friend found these naked knitted costumes that are quite cartoonish. It was like, "If we had dicks for the day what would we do?" We sucked our own dicks, Margaret was peeing on the street. We put on condoms and fucked a watermelon. We jogged around the neighborhood…
Has it always been important to you to have a sense of humour about sex, sexuality and gender?
It's very important. I was a big fan of Lydia Lunch [no wave legend], Bikini Kill and Babes in Toyland. But I wanted to add some humor. I sometimes relate more to comedians and performance artists than I do to musicians. Humor helps get the message through, it doesn't block.
Do you think that sometimes the conversation around gender and identity can be too academic to really engage people?
I just think you need to listen to more Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes. Comediennes right now are kicking ass and giving a really good feminist perspective.
You've been name-checked by major talent over the years, but who inspires you?
There are a lot of young artists doing incredible work such as Eisa Jocson, a Filipino artist. Her aunt used to take her to see these male strippers in the Philippines called "macho dancers"; she recreates these dances as a woman. I like Megumi Igarashi, who made a vagina kayak in Japan.
Do you feel that your performance becomes more potent with age?
I try to give as much energy as I can, in the way I see Iggy Pop giving everything. But I do feel very relaxed. I don't feel like I have something to prove when I play, but that doesn't mean that I don't give everything. It's not like I'm resting on my laurels.
What is the most LA thing about you?
I was having a really LA conversation the other day, talking about a really healthy restaurant. I get really excited about that. I don't have a dog, so I can't get excited about that and I no longer have a car, so I can't get excited about traffic. In Berlin, the conversation is always about how long you stayed out the night before. I always say I want to live in LA in the day and Berlin at night.
What is the most boring thing about you?
I take really long, almost embarrassing pees and then it just becomes boring.
Text Colin Crummy
Photography Daria Marchik