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Peaches: From her folk music past to becoming an eclectic artist

Merrill Nisker is a musician better known by her stage name, Peaches. She’s worked with artists such as Iggy Pop and Christina Aguilera, and her new album, “Rub,” — out September 25 — features collaborations with Feist and Kim Gordon.

Like most of her work, Peaches’ new album is explicit and, for that reason, we couldn’t play much of it on the air.  

But if you look beyond the FCC's red flags, Peaches’ music and lyrics go far beyond shock value — they take up difficult topics such as gender identity and ageism. And Peaches has been branching out with film and theater projects as well.

Peaches came to The Frame’s studios recently and spoke with senior producer Oscar Garza.

You’ve got a new album coming out, but it’s been six years since your last album. You’ve been busy on a few other projects though. Tell us about what some of those were.

You know you get into a routine when you make albums. You make an album and then you tour for two years. And then you make an album, blah blah blah, tour for two years. And I did that four times... I don’t really burn out during the tour, but then after you [exhale]. But it was more just the routine of it and the inspiration involved and things like that. So I [thought], I’m not going to go right into another album. And chance would have it, a director from a very great theater company asked if I would do a production out of nowhere ... That turned out to be “Peaches Does Herself,” which is sort of like an anti-jukebox musical in response to jukebox musicals where [you hear]the music of the artist, but the story has nothing to do with the artist...

So I wanted to make mine more like a rock, electro-biography about myself. But it was funny, when I talked to the director who asked me to do this production, the first thing that came out of my mouth is, “I want to do ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ as a one woman show. I wanna sing all the parts." And he’s [said], “That’s great, that doesn’t seem like too much work at all.” So I was already involved in two productions.

There are some artists who are critics’ darlings and you certainly have your fans among critics. I would say you’re a darling of your fellow artists. You’ve worked with everyone from Iggy Pop to Christina Aguilera. Your new album has collaborations with Kim Gordon and Feist. How did those two come about for “Rub”?

Well, Feist is a dear friend of mine. We lived together in Toronto for a while. And she was actually the only one on my first album, when I was recording in my bedroom and she was recording in her bedroom in the same apartment ... I didn’t know how to overdub stuff so I would just do everything live on an ADAT [tape] machine ... [On the new album] she helps with background vocals. Just like, speak-singing. But this was a good way to really feature her because she’s such a powerful force, but in a completely opposite presentation. I think her superpower is how quiet she can sing and it still be so powerful and emotional.

You also have a photography book that was recently released, it’s called “What Else Is in the Teaches of Peaches.” The book has an essay by Yoko Ono. You performed a work of hers a couple of years back at the Meltdown Festival in London. And in her essay, she wrote that that piece will never be performed again with such eloquence. How did your connection to Yoko Ono come about?

Well, Yuka Honda, she used to be in the band Cibo Matto, she’s also in the Plastic Ono Band. She gave Yoko my earlier albums for her birthday one year. And then Yoko had asked me to do a remix of “Kiss Kiss Kiss” for a remix album they were making. And then months later she did the Meltdown Festival where she curated 10 days of whatever she wanted. And she asked me to do her seminal “Cut Piece.” It’s standing still onstage, not speaking, while there’s a pair of scissors in front of you and audience members come up and cut the clothes off you until you have no more clothes on ... I would never perform this piece unless it’s something she asked me.

I always like to ask musicians what else they listen to, what they’re currently listening to. Anything that might surprise your fans?

I’m a big Rachmaninoff fan. So maybe that’s surprising.

I asked you that question in part because I was wondering if you would mention any folk music, because that’s kind of how you started out, right?

Yeah, I was learning music and I played an acoustic guitar. I had a girlfriend at the time and she played acoustic guitar and we ended up having a folk trio actually because another friend joined us... And it was called Mermaid Cafe.

It’s a big leap from what you’re doing now — what you’ve been doing?

That was like 1989. And it was funny because then I actually listened to Sonic Youth and Pavement. And then I was like, “Oh yeah! This is great.” And I was a big Bongwater fan. It wasn’t like I wasn’t in to other music. It was just this folk trio. It started to get attention and then we would just write songs every week. Then I didn’t want to be a folk musician so I just kept trying out other music.

People that may be hearing Peaches for the first time may not know that we can’t play much of your music on the radio — not just public radio, any radio. A lot of the songs on “Rub” and a lot of your music is quite provocative. It’s very sexually direct and it’s been described as transgressive. What do you think about in terms of your audience and the way they’re receiving your music and how you want them to receive it?

I want them to celebrate. I mean, I don’t think my music is any more sexually direct than a lot of music out there. But somehow people find what I do [more direct], maybe because the beats are more minimal or something. Or maybe it’s my deadpan delivery. I’m inspired actually by all of the misogynist music that I grew up with. In terms of classic rock and early hip-hop and things like that. I didn’t really feel like the mainstream was representing everybody. And I didn’t feel like it was representing me. So that was my trajectory for making this music.