The teaches of Peaches
Before Peaches wore beards and sang about sex, she taught daycare. Who knew?
Fri, Oct 23, 2009 (1:04 p.m.)
It’s hard to imagine the 42-year-old woman known for prancing around on stage in her underwear and stomping on both sides of the gender line soothing a room full of young children.
Listen to Peaches’ suggestively titled albums and it only becomes more of a head scratcher. This woman used to teach day care?
Before Peaches became an icon of sexual rebellion and musical nonconformity — in other words, before she was Peaches — the Toronto-born musician was Merrill Beth Nisker, a Jewish day care teacher who created a popular program for kids based on music.
“I used to take the kids in groups and, just for my own creativity, just start to play acoustic guitar and role play with them,” says Peaches, who will perform with turntablist Larry Tee on Saturday at Rain Nightclub at the Palms. “I had a popular program and all of a sudden I was teaching teachers how to be creative. I was doing classes in schools and people’s homes. I did that for 10 years, but I was also developing music at the same time.”
Music continues to be an educational vehicle for Peaches, though these days she spreads her message in nightclubs and concert halls instead of classrooms, and the message isn’t exactly G-rated. The persona of Peaches is an in-your-face assault of brazen sexuality. Peaches explores sex as if she’s totally unconcerned with cultural taboos. There’s no tiptoeing here; Peaches delivers her gospel in steel-toed boots.
“I just think that people should really question ... You mean sex the act or sex I’m a man or a woman? ... There’s so many parts to it,” she says. “We call people every part of our body as an insult. That’s gotta tell you something about the way we view our own bodies in our culture. ‘You dick. You cock.’ It doesn’t make any sense at all, so I’m just trying to flip it around. I’m not trying to be shocking. I’m just like, ‘Hey, you’re just getting further away from yourself for no reason at all.’ ”
Over the phone, Peaches is calm and introspective — quiet, even. She’s thrilled that her hit song “Fuck the Pain Away” from the 2000 album “Teaches of Peaches” was used in a recent episode of South Park, and she talks enthusiastically about her upcoming work with the Flaming Lips on a reinterpretation of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Peaches will join the band on “The Great Gig in the Sky.”
“I always wanted to sing that song,” she says. “It’s annoying and amazing, that piece. I once did it as a lip sync. I thought it was funny because there are no actual lyrics.”
Though her soft voice is in stark contrast to her wildly energetic onstage performance, Peaches is merely calm, never meek. When it comes to fans taking her sexually aggressive lyrics a little too literally, she says she has a no tolerance policy.
“I’d like to say that 90 percent of the time they don’t. That 10 percent of the time … I’m very much for action now and. So, if somebody’s doing that, I’m going to give it to them there. If somebody tries to grab me, I’m sorry, but I will kick them in the face. If they want to touch me like that, I will do something back to them,” she says. “Someone’s tried to stick their finger in a place they shouldn’t have. I’m sure I’ve broken a finger once or twice.”
For most of her fans, however, Peaches’ live shows are a chance to connect with the musician’s energy in person and listen to her music as a complete experience. For this tour, Peaches will be playing some songs off her latest album, I Feel Cream, which was released in May and Peaches considers her first album in the dance music genre.
“I’m associated with the dance world, but I never really made a dance album,” she says. “You can call (past) albums ‘dance,’ but it was just the necessity of using machines and growing up with rock and ’80s pop. This was a conscious dance album. I feel like I’m part of the dance world now.”
Dance fans aren’t the only people who claim Peaches as their own. Her music tends to attract listeners from a variety of camps; even Peaches herself can’t explain why.
“I don’t know, but isn’t it cool? I think it’s great. And I think it’s great that at one point, some people can think my music is straight-up porn and other people can think it’s the most empowering feminist music.”
Reaction is important to Peaches, though she says she ultimately makes music to satisfy herself. While today she’s carved out an enviable niche in entertainment just shy of superstardom, when Peaches first debuted on the scene, her outrageous persona was something that not everyone understood, her parents included.
“At the beginning my parents were really like, ‘What are you doing? Why are singing about this? And why are you living in Berlin? You’re Jewish…’ Peaches recalls. “It’s funny because by the time Fatherfucker came out my dad was like, ‘You look really cute with a beard,’ and my mom was like, ‘That’s a brilliant title.’ They started getting into it. … Now, they’re just super proud.”
They have reason to be. Since her first album under the name Peaches came out, 2000’s Teaches of Peaches, the artist has proved that she’s more than a shock monger in glitter and a jock strap. Peaches’ songs pop up in surprising places. One night it’s South Park, the next, a college class on sexual identity.
“My music has been used in halftime at football games, and it’s been used in high fashion shows, and its been used in ‘take back the night’ rallies. My music has been talked about in gender politics (classes) in universities. My songs have been played in mainstream strip clubs.” The artist muses over the range like it’s a personal victory. “It’s pretty amazing all the different ways it’s been represented.”