By Christine Leonard
CALGARY — An innovative and iconoclastic artist with a heart of gold and the warpaint to match, Peaches was already rocking the boat of Toronto’s club scene when she debuted her first solo outing Fancypants Hoodlum (Accudub Inc), under her given name Merrill Nisker, back in 1995. But it wasn’t until the electro-rocker and rapper was transplanted to German soil in 2000 that her musical career truly began to flourish. Signed to the Kitty-Yo record label after an unforgettable one-night stand, Peaches followed her water-testing Lovertits EP with the release of her breakthrough album The Teaches of Peaches in the fall of 2000. Evidently, she had found a home for her soul and her art in the cultural Mecca and has stayed on to return the city’s embrace.
“Well, I’ve lived here for 16 years and I just think Berlin is still a super cool city,” Peaches says. “It’s very open to night life, and music, and art, and performance, and experimentation, and I’ve received a lot of it and met a lot of international, super-talented people that make their way through. Being in Europe you get a little more of that, because people float through a little easier and also in terms of funding and collaborations and other things like that.”
A tour de force with Marilyn Manson and Queens of the Stones Age further established Peaches’ reputation as a dynamic on-stage presence with a talent for smashing gender-norms through her glamorously riveting performances. Deemed too racy for Britain’s Top of the Pops, she went on to flaunt a full-beard on the cover of her 2003 album Fatherfucker (XL), which featured Iggy Pop on the single “Kick It.” Continuing to defy the odds and social conventions across borders, her subversive songs were suddenly accessible to a mainstream audience, popping up on the soundtracks for movies like Waiting… and Mean Girls, as well as on television series such as South Park, 30 Rock, True Blood, and The L Word. Meanwhile, everyone from Pink to REM were queuing up to have some of that erotic Peaches magic spread upon their labours.
“I’ve always been mostly interested in performance art, and video, and music – the fashion thing was never really a concern of mine, that just kind of organically grew out of what was happening. I think I’ve just found more likeminded people, not that there weren’t in Canada, but it just seems like a good flow. And, I’ve had a little stint doing different projects in a theatre here and met different people. There’s just a really good conceptual and contemporary art scene. So, I don’t need to push. I just try and do my thing and it just seems to like build organically, which is really, really good.”
After marrying her polti-punk passions to those of Joan Jett, Josh Homme, Beth Ditto, amongst others, for her next LP Impeach My Bush (XL) in 2006, Peaches returned to command the dancefloor in 2009 when she unleashed I Feel Cream (XL). A glittering trans-disco fantasy, teased-out by the show-stopping single “Talk to Me,” the album was buffed to perfection by the skillful ministrations of co-producers Simian Mobile Disco, Soulwax, and Shapemod. The next year in, 2010, Peaches gained the ‘Electronic Artist of the Year’ award at the 10th Annual Independent Music Awards in Toronto, and performed a one-woman version of Jesus Christ Superstar at Berlin’s HAU1, entitled Peaches Christ Superstar. For her latest full-length outing, Rub (I U She Music), featuring Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Peaches tapped into her love of filmmaking to enhance and contextualize each of the album’s carnal capers.
“From the beginning I used to make a lot of Super-8 movies for the songs, so it was always part of it. I’ve made a movie that I’m in and also directed a lot of the videos that I’ve made throughout the years. I’m also enjoying making videos for every song on Rub. The track “Rub” has its own six-minute video and was made using a deliberately all-women cast and crew of 40 in the desert with me and Lex Vaughn, who spent a lot of time in Canada, and A.L. Steiner, who made the lesbian porn film Community Action. There’s already five videos that have been put out for Rub, including ‘Dick in the Air,’ which is a collaboration featuring me and Margaret Cho.”
Other NSFW vignettes for the album include the Peaches-directed “Light in Places” starring U.K. laser-butt-plug aerialist Empress Stah, “Free Drink Ticket” directed by Sara Sachs, and “Close Up” featuring Sled Island 2015 performer, Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth, Body/Head). Directed by friend and collaborator Vice Cooler (who performs alongside Peaches at the 2016 festival), the combative-clip for “Close Up” finds Peaches taking on the role of a pro wrestler.
“I’m glad that they [female martial artists] exist,” the composer of the ultimate walk-out song, “I Don’t Give A …,” confirms. “That video was born out of my relationship with Lucha VaVoom, they’re a Mexican wresting and burlesque troupe who perform four times a year in L.A. and they’re friends of mine so it was a nice collaboration. We actually found me a stunt-double, a pole-dancer and wrestler who was sort of my build, so that was really cool. The director, Vice Cooler, also coproduced that album with me. I have a little house in L.A. and we spent a year in my garage making the album from scratch there. It’s not so glamorous, it’s just a garage, but it was fun.”
That album, Rub, and its accompanying eye-candy provide a galvanizing glimpse into the marvelous psyche, of an ambihelical performer who channels Prince and Bowie, while embodying the spirit of rebellious artists from history who have refused to choose between sexual identity, and self-expression. This assertion is echoed by Peaches appearance on the silver screen in the motion picture Desire Will Set You Free (2015 Amard Bird Films), directed by Yony Leyser and is also Peaches’ selection for Sled Island’s film lineup.
Having called in favours and utilized her impressive network of contacts to assemble an avant-garde dream team of bands and artists to fulfill her role as curator and festival queen diva, Peaches looks forward to bringing a taste of her adopted hometown to Sled Island and the Canadian Prairies.
“A lot of these acts will give people a Berlin experience,” she says. “Hyenaz, Planningtorock, and Born In Flamez will sonically blow people’s minds. Just come as you are and be like you wanna be!”
As for her own flagship concert, the Sled Island headliner Peaches promises to bust out the ultimate Rub experience for her audience when she mounts the stage at Flames Central.
“The first half of 2015 was about finishing the album and getting it ready. It came out in September and I’ve just been touring like a crazy woman since then. It’s been business as usual, which is not business as usual, which is just super exciting and fun as usual. We have done so many shows and so many festivals. Mostly America and Europe, I’ve done Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal, like I usually do, but it’s good to dig a little deeper. The show is Rub-focused for sure, but with some classics thrown in. I’ve only done all the songs from an album in order live once; I’ve played Teaches of the Peaches backwards so ‘Fuck the Pain Away’ would be last. This show is pretty true to the new album and working the songs out in their pure form. It’s like a big mess, but in a really good way.”
Peaches performs at Flames Central on June 25th with her curator picks Vice Cooler and Lafawndah.
CORRECTION: This article incorrectly stated that Peaches a.k.a. Merrill Nisker’s debut solo record Fancypants Hoodlum was released in 2005. It came out in 1995. We apologize for the error.AB, Alberta, Flames Central, Peaches, Sled Island 2016