Peaches: She's a Very Kinky Girl

WRITTEN BY
SPIN Staff

By: William V. Meter

Peaches makes dirty punk-rock dance music, but her first lovesare mullets, hot pants, sex and body hair

It's mid-september at Brooklyn's famously decrepit Coney Island. A few weeks ago, the seaside beach park was surging with sunburned children screaming for funnel cakes, men in mesh tank tops spitting out chicken bones, and barkers beckoning passersby to spend $5 for the indoor freak shows. But now school has started, and the place looks more like the setting for a Scooby-Doo mystery--chain-link fences surround the roller coaster and Ferris wheel, plastic bags float by like tumbleweeds. This is more than fine with silver-tongued, she-devil electro-rapper Peaches. She hates rides.

"My aunt and uncle took me to Disneyland when I was a kid," says Peaches, 35, walking noisily in checkerboard-print flip-flops, wisps of unkempt mullet tickling the magenta hickey on her neck. "I threw up my chili dog all over Space Mountain." Two young mothers walk by, one of whom has strapped a large boom box to the back of her baby's stroller, blaring Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It." Peaches turns and stares in delight, as if she's watching a fireworks display.

She last visited Coney Island in 2001, performing at the indie-rock Siren festival. Her half-hour set was cut short when the organizers pulled the plug. "A stagehand was holding a sign that read, say good-bye!" says Peaches. "I said, 'I know what a half hour is; forget it.' I jumped up on the speaker, and I started singing 'Fuck the Pain Away.' So they cut my microphone. I picked up another mic and said,'They're censoring me! They're making me get off the stage!' It turned out some mothers were complaining. They were like, 'Look, that girl's got her hands down her pants. Make her stop! She's masturbating!'"

Most of Peaches' shows are far nastier than her Coney Island appearance. Wearing little more than aviator sunglasses, vinyl hot pants, and a teased Afro, she is hysterical, powerful, and aggressively sexy. She rolls around onstage, shoves the microphone into her panties, and wields dildos as props. She's best known for the aforementioned "Fuck the Pain Away," a ubiquitous club track featuring the horndog lyrics "Suckin' on my titties like you wanted me / Calling me all the time, like Blondie / Checkin' out my Chrissy behind / All the time."The song comes from her 2001 album, The Teaches of Peaches, a masterwork of rudimentary electronics and explicit lyrics that's finally getting a domestic release--along with a second CD of bonus tracks--via XL Recordings/Beggars Group.

"The [audience] doesn't want to have sex with me, necessarily--they just want to have sex," says Peaches. "I see myself more as a conduit for sex. In the middle of one show, my sound guy grabbed his girlfriend and went to the bathroom to fuck."

Before there was Peaches, there was a young Canadian schoolmarm named Merril Nisker. For ten years, she taught drama to children at the YMCA and at private schools. She learned how to play an acoustic guitar to use in class and later performed folk songs in a Toronto bar with a group called Mermaid Café. But she soon felt stifled and left, first playing with local avant-jazz musicians, then forming an improv noise group called the Shit. "We were all dissatisfied with the music we were making," Peaches says, "and decided to give ourselves new names. Like, 'Let's just start fresh.' I came up with the name Peaches after this Nina Simone song 'Four Women.' She describes these women with difficult lives, and after the last woman, she says, 'What do they call her? They call her Peaches!'"

Singing this line of the song, Peaches raises her fist and slowly retracts it to flex her muscle. "I wasn't acting or putting on a persona," she says. "It's just a part of me that I let loose."

The newly christened Peaches, a 5'2" Amazonian sex goddess, went to Europe with Gonzales, one of her bandmates in the Shit. They traveledfrom country to country doing "electronic busking"--singing along to prerecorded beats made on a Groovebox. After seeing her perform at a squat in Germany, someone from the Berlin record label Kitty-Yo approached her. Peaches returned to Toronto, recorded The Teaches of Peaches using her own beats and rhymes, and was eventually signed to a European contract by Sony. When she appeared on the British TV show Top of the Pops, her performance was deemed too racy to be aired. She followed that with a big-budget video for the song "Set It Off,"in which she sat in a locker room as her pubic and armpit hair grew to Rapunzel proportions. Apparently, Sony couldn't appreciate a powerful, hirsute sister, and Peaches was dropped. "Now they want their money back," she says.

But Peaches is well on her way to becoming a cult icon anyway. A second album is half-finished and will be released this year. John Malkovich and fashion designer Bella Freud cast her in their experimental film Hideous Man, and she recently starred in an Imitation of Christ fashion show. A London nightclub held a Peaches look-alike contest, and the number of Peaches drag queens across the globe could form an army. A remix of "Set It Off" is a dance-floor hit, and she's remixed the Basement Jaxx track "Get Me Off." "There's also a large market for my album in Louisville, Kentucky," she says. "All these 40- and 50-year-old swingers are buying it for their parties."

Peaches has been on the road nonstop for almost three years and recently opened for Queens of the Stone Age and headlined the Electroclash tour, which featured such like-minded groups as Chicks on Speed. In 2002, she even toured with director John Waters when he was working the monologue circuit. "I give my youth spies free liquor and poppers to tell me about new rock bands," Waters says. "A lot of people told me about her. I like her attitude. She's tough. And her music is funny. When a promoter came to me with the idea to tour with Peaches, I said, 'Perfect!' I felt so au courant! It was like we were on a vaudeville tour. We just needed a nude juggler."

Peaches' up-front sexuality has occasionally landed her in the feminist firing zone--is she flaunting her sexual power or settingherself up for objectification? But Peaches answers easily: "I thrive on misconceptions. I would hate to be just loved. It's great to have both opinions. I like that people have something to discuss rather than just, 'Oh, I like that song.'" Her stage show has also elicited a lot of brash advances. "In Italy, this guy came up to me and was like, 'Let's go fuck!'" recalls Peaches as she sets her hot-pink golf ball down on the Astroturf green of Coney Island's desolate putt-putt course. "So we did it behind the club, and I got off, and he didn't. He was like, 'Wait!' And I was like, 'Sorry, dude.'"

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