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On the Soapbox with Peaches

On the Soapbox with Peaches

After more than a decade of being a non-mainstream punk electro icon, Peaches is finally doing herself. And yes, there are strap-ons involved

By Halley Bondy
October 11, 2012

Everyone remembers when Peaches’ “Fuck The Pain Away” razed the planet out of nowhere in 2000. Still in a relatively pre-Internet era, that outright profanity, female sexual aggression, raw production, blatant blend of electronic and punk rock, and the notion that a song could be popular (known by all, including celebrities) and not popular (not on the radio) at the same time — transformed pop culture consciousness forever. No one had ever heard of Peaches before, but her myth followed her forever thereafter: a hero to young women, a badass to men, an inspiration to queer youth, and a revolting shock to squares.

But the difference between the Toronto-bred artist and most people who stir things up and rise to pop icon status overnight is: Peaches never sold out.  Not in any real way. She never bowed down to big labels or deviated from her gender-bending theatrics, fake beards, strap-ons, unflattering costumes, suits that look like breasts with nipples made of Barbie heads, vocal feminism, or open-book interviews. Nor has she taken them to Lady Gaga famewhore levels. Her cult of personality has remained pretty much static since the day she graced the (non)airwaves for the first time, despite the fact that her real name, Merrill Beth Nisker, her theater background, and her somewhat anticlimactic Jewish private school upbringing are public information — and are as integral to her personality as the boob suits.

It’s only now, however, with the release of her documentary Peaches Does Herself, that the wizened, now 45-year-old artist is examining her own myth publicly. And it seems that we never tire of hearing about it.

“I decided to make a fantastical biography about myself in the form of electro rock anti- jukebox musical opera,” she says. “I took 24 of my own songs and made a narrative that included some biographical information, and a lot of mythology based on what people thought I should be, and who I am, and what I should and shouldn’t be. I also was inspired by two other people I had recently met at the time: one is Sandy Kane the naked cowgirl, who stands diligently in Times Square every day topless, singing country songs….And then I also met a beautiful transsexual who came to me and said ‘I lost my virginity in the back of a van to your music, and now I can shake my dick and my tits!’”

View the trailer for ‘Peaches Does Herself, which was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In terms of presence, Peaches is small in stature, comfortably dressed (she was at that moment, anyway) and accustomed to the press spiel. Unlike most celebrities, she answers questions without pause, delivering rare, genuine answers that could only stem from someone with nothing to prove, and a refreshing amount of balls.

“It’s not really about shocking, I know I have a certain aesthetic that’s very straightforward that some people are quite shocked by, and I’m shocked by them being shocked. With all the things that you can do, all the insanity, violence, and sexual acceptance of the perverse, augmented woman’s body — why should the augmentation of a transsexual be so different? That to me blows my mind. So yeah, I’m never trying to hurt anybody. I’m not an angry person. I really have quite a hippie attitude in the way that I think everybody should be who they need to be.”

Her “hippie” beliefs recently led her to protest the Russian Pussy Riot trials on the streets of Berlin, where she currently lives. Four hundred masked protesters descended on Mauerpark to star in a video for her song, “Free Pussy Riot.” More than a speech thing for Peaches, she feels a kinship.

“I would be them if I lived in Russia. If I lived in Russia and I was not allowed to speak my mind or show my creativity in any form, I would take to the streets in certain places and do an action in the actual place where it’s not allowed for me to do that,” she says. “I didn’t want it to be complete chaos. I wasn’t interested in us all getting arrested that wasn’t the point. We have a lot of freedom in Berlin so it wasn’t about that.”

Watch “Free Pussy Riot” by Peaches and her niece, Simmone Jones

The closest Peaches herself has come to getting arrested was a performance of her song “Shake Yer Dix” a decade ago.

“I’ve experienced police interference once and that’s when I was opening for Queens of the Stone Age at the Palladium in 2002, when I wore a strap-on leather dildo, because I have a song, ‘Shake your Dix.’ It’s funny! And they wanted to arrest me for indecent exposure and they were discussing it and you know, it’s not. It’s fun. It’s funny. It’s commenting on all those songs that say ‘Shake your boobs, shake your butt.’ So it was funny for me, especially because I didn’t get arrested.”

But it wasn’t that young Merrill Lisker set out to be a voice for the disenfranchised or some beacon of fourth wave genderfuck feminism, or release albums called Impeach My Bush and Fatherfucker. Her fame, rep, haters, sold-out DJ stints and clout as a name artist surprised her as much as anyone.

“I didn’t know how to play any music. There wasn’t any music in my family or anything…But I wanted to be a theater director. I knew theater. We used to come to New York a lot, see a lot of plays, so that’s what I knew. I don’t know if you can include this, but I actually did acid and decided the next day to drop out. I was like: I gotta try all arts. There’s more.”

Fast forward a decade…

“Even when I was making my first album, The Teaches of Peaches, I had no idea I would have a musical career. I just wanted to continue making music and I was thinking about the Stooges” — she would in fact go on to work with frontman Iggy Pop — “and how literally raw and rift-driven they are, and how it would transfer to electronic music in my head,” she says. “I was thinking about Riot Grrls and I was thinking about hip-hop lyrics…And I didn’t push it or anything, it kind of caught on.”

Since we were all introduced to the bikini clad, gritty Canadian weirdo, she’s honed her turntable skills — telling us “DJing is not rocket science” — as well as industry connections, live shows, and ridiculous costumes. But her beliefs and cult of personality haven’t faltered — in part because the industry has dealt with her from a safe distance.

“I was never pushed in any corners because I was never accepted. Even though I was known by everybody from Madonna and Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, to Pink or Avril Lavigne to Le Tigre to Queens of the Stone Age — everybody knew about me but I was never offered a major record deal, which is awesome cause I didn’t really wanna have that,” she says.

It seems that Peaches’ impact and staying power has a great deal to do with her rarely-tread level of fame. She’s popular but not, beloved by the people who matter and encourage her to stick to an uncompromising voice, making her a veritable icon in her own right. There’s no doubt the world needs more Peacheseses, but in the meantime, the mainstream is steadily creeping up behind her.

At least, it’s had its moments.

“Katy Perry’s cream exploding boobs is incredible. AND she’s jizzing all over Snoop Dogg,” she says. “That to me is incredible, that’s a feat.”

Stay tuned to Peaches’ site for further screenings Peaches Does Herself. In the meantime, her new EP “BURST!” is out on Boys Noize records. Hear the title track below. And click here for our Peaches slideshow.

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