As she gears up to play Dublin’s Academy on November 6th Along with Mother DJs, Peaches talks to Lisa Connell about the art of NSFW videos, why she won’t be voting for Hillary Clinton, and why she never gets tired of singing ‘Fuck The Pain Away’.
When her debut solo album Teaches of Peaches was released at the turn of the 21st century, Peaches (real name Merrill Nisker), not only ripped up the rule book for women in music, she set it alight, breaking the mould at every turn; musically, lyrically, visually and culturally. Teaches, branded “a porn soundtrack without visuals, a feminist tract without politics” by Pop Matters, turned the Canadian multi-media artist into an international queer icon.
Sixteen years later, with the release of her sixth studio album, Rub, she is as relevant and vital as ever, possibly even more so to Irish fans, given the current movement to repeal the eighth amendment.
Feminism, queer visibility and gender fluidity may be in the pop spotlight now, but Peaches has been dealing with these themes in avant garde, hilarious, ass-kicking ways for the entirety of her career. Rub is no exception to the rule. With tracks like ‘Dick in the Air’, ‘Vaginoplasty’ and ‘Light in Places’, the album is Peaches in the best possible taste, and has been a hit with critics and fans alike.
Like much of the 49-year-old’s work, Rub circumnavigates principles of pleasure, power, and pain, all centred on the potency of the female body. Peaches demands respect between the sheets, on the streets, and on the dancefloor.
Overall, it’s an album that sounds like it was great fun to make, with Peaches at the height of her capacity to make people dance to a radical beat. So, naturally that’s the first question I asked her when we chatted over the phone from Berlin, in advance of her visit to Dublin to play the Academy, the one- year anniversary celebration of the day Ireland said Yes to same-sex marriage.
Was it as fun to make Rub as it is to listen to it?
Yeah, it was. You know, I’m in such a great situation where I just do what I really wanna do and that’s how I’m accepted. It doesn’t matter, though, because I’m going to do it anyway.
There are some great collaborations on the album, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth fame features on ‘Close Up’ and Feist on ‘I Mean Something’. Did you have those people in mind when you were writing the tracks?
You know, Kim was just hanging around LA and so was I at that time, so that just kind of happened. She came in and nailed it, got it just right in one take. And with ‘Feist’ I wanted to have her on it. She’s been the only consistent collaborator; she’s been on three of my albums. When I was recording Teaches of Peaches, she was my roommate. I didn’t know how to record so well, so I used to call her in to help me. Itwas nice to have her do a real feature on ‘I Mean Something’.
You’re bringing your latest live show to YEStival this month. How have the reactions to it been so far?
The shows are way of knowing where people are at. They’re mad and all sold out and great, but you know in America there is still this fear of me, like I haven’t really been on late night TV, even though I’ve been around for 16 years. They just think I’m going to do something that they can’t handle, which is ridiculous. It’s amazing that someone’s afraid of me. It’s the same with the larger festivals. Even though when I play a larger festival I change minds. People are like ‘Oh, this isn’t scary, this is really fun’, but they still won’t allow me at like, Coachella or Bonaroo.
In a recent interview you said: “I was weird, now I’m important. I was waiting for the world to catch up with me.” Are you still waiting?
I’ve never been driven by sort of any sort of label money or advertising. Especially with the first album, it was completely word-of- mouth. Even something like ‘Fuck the Pain Away’, the biggest song on the album, was never allowed on the radio. At the beginning people were like, ‘Oh, her personality overshadows the music, it’s just a one-trick pony’. So, it’s been a slow constant build of what I do and if you’re around long enough people start to take you seriously, which I find funny, so I just continue doing what I’m doing.
You have a wonderful voice and could have been singing from the get-go. Was it a creative choice not to sing?
Yeah, especially on the first album, I just didn’t want to be a female vocalist first. I wanted it to be more of a distinctive, direct message and also a new kind of music, which I thought was more exciting than just showing off my voice for the sake of showing it off. So, that’s why I did that and I leave my, as I call it, secret weapon of singing more to projects where I can expand Peaches, like where I sing the whole of Jesus Christ Superstar or engage in an opera or something like that.
Each track on Rub has an accompanying video. Did you feel strongly that you wanted to have a visual presence for the songs?
I always want a visual presence. Even from the beginning, with the first album I made seven Super-8 videos to go with it. I don’t see videos as advertisements, they’re more than that space. With the last album [I Feel Cream] I did a video for every song also, and I paid for all but two of them. I was signed to XL records, which is an independent label, so those videos aren’t fully mine, because they own the masters to the songs. This time I made sure I put out the album myself, so that when I made the videos I’d have no one to answer to and I could do whatever I wanted with them after they were shown.
You certainly did what you wanted with the video for ‘Rub’, which is definitely NSFW!
I feel bad for people that have that not suitable for work thing. Get a new job! It’s so silly. Why is that the standard? It should be the other way around actually. Absolutely suitable for viewing at work.
When a group of my lesbian friends and I watched the video for ‘Rub’, the reaction was polarised. Some people were scandalised, some were thrilled. What do you think about the reactions people have?
It’s funny, the reaction. Like some people in the queer community, the lesbian community, it’s too much for them and then there’s like straight guys who are seeing it from the perspective of what I’m doing, and they’re writing me saying, ‘Hey, I know I’m just a straight guy, but I just want you to know I think this was a very powerful video.’ So I think across the board it was a way of opening up a conversation, and also I think it’s a good piece of art.
What do you make of what’s happening in America now, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage?
Well, it’s obvious that there’s a patriarchal hold that is just trying so damn hard to keep it going, even though it’s falling apart for the best possible reasons. You know these people have are about to lose their jobs; they’re about to lose their positions, so they’ve no choice but to try harder. It’s ridiculous. The Bathroom Bill? Give me a fucking break.
What’s your take on the Presidential race?
Bernie Sanders is obviously way ahead, but everybody’s so afraid that there’s this wheeling and dealing going on, so that if it doesn’t happen with the Republicans, Hillary will get in. It’s very interesting because people are saying to me: ‘Why aren’t you voting for Hillary? She’s a woman!’ People have to understand that feminism is really about making the right choices, not just going with a woman because she’s a woman. You have to go with the one who is making the revolutionary changes. It’s interesting to see everybody switching over to Bernie Sanders because a lot of the times you’ll have a revolutionary candidate, but people are too afraid so they vote more down the middle. I think there is really a chance now.
Do you think Donald Trump’s campaign is helping bolster Democratic support?
I think that they can just get Trump out of there. There’s this talk about the disgustingly horrible Paul Ryan becoming the candidate. If Trump wins the candidacy, the Republicans can just say, ‘sorry we’re going with Paul Ryan’. It’s like, who are they? It’s still that old school patriarchy deciding things. And of course it’s super interesting that you have Trump who is not a Republican and Sanders who is not a Democrat. Neither of them are part of those parties.
As an outsider, it’s all slightly terrifying when you watch Trump.
He’s gives absolutely no detail, he just says, ‘They’re the worst! They’re the worst! I’m the best!’ And then he’ll say things like, ‘millions of people say I’m right’. There is never any detail.
And there are horrifying things, like what he said about women and doctors being punished for abortion. Something even a pro-lifer wouldn’t say!
Are you aware of the Repeal the 8th campaign in Ireland?
That’s unbelievable! In the Philippines women have to have back alley abortions, where somebody sticks their hands up there and pulls the foetus out, and these girls are dying. What are the reasons for these abortions? Why are they happening? How do they happen? How many of them are a result of rape? There are so many questions around it.
Before I go, can I ask if you ever get tired of performing ‘Fuck The Pain Away’?
Whenever I sing ‘Fuck the Pain Away’ people go crazy and I realise what it means to people. It’s a kind of a rite of passage song in some ways, you know, for when you go away to college or get out of your house for the first time, or you get hurt for the first time, or when you decide to be in charge of your own sexuality. What an incredible position to have written that song.
Peaches is live at The Academy on Sunday November 6. Tickets €22.90 including booking fee from Ticketmaster.
For our earlier interview with Peaches, click here!
Tickets for Peaches’ November 6 gig can be found here.
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