Peaches has just flown from Berlin to New York City, where she was supposed to meet up with rapper Lil' Kim for a recording session. Unfortunately, her sister-in-sleaze has already left for the opposite coast. The Notorious K.I.M., it seems, is a big fan of Peaches'. "I've never met her," Peaches (née Merrill Nisker) says. "I just got this call that she wanted to work with me. Oh well. We'll get it together sometime."
Despite the scheduling snafu, which leaves Peaches a little unexpected extra time to shop for clothes and prepare for her upcoming American tour, she's obviously thrilled about the prospect of working with Lil' Kim. "That 'Suck My Dick' song is the best!" she exclaims. "It's really great for her to stick it to hip-hop like that."
Coming from a woman whose oft-stated creative goal is to "fuck people up the ass with my music," Peaches' respect for the ghettolicious gangsta-rap diva is no surprise. After all, this is a woman whose debut album, The Teaches of Peaches, starts off with the immortal lines Suckin' on my titties like you wanted me/Calling me all the time like Blondie/Check out my Chrissie behind/It's fine all of the time/Like sex on the beaches/What else is in the teaches of Peaches?
Not a whole lot, actually, but hey, if you've gotta have a manifesto, sex sells at least as well as anything else. That track, "Fuck the Pain Away," first started attracting notice stateside when Prada and Givenchy models sashayed down the runways to its minimalist but impossibly sticky Roland 505-generated grooves. Shortly thereafter, its thirtysomething electropunk auteur got name-checked in Vogue, Cynthia Plaster Caster plaster-cast her double-A tits and everybody who's anybody had to have a piece of the Peach.
As is so often the case, North America's about a year behind the curve. Here, despite some well-connected fans, Peaches is still an underground buzzword; in much of Western Europe, she's a bona fide star whose videos air on TV and whose name is recognized by any self-respecting record-store clerk. Soon after The Teaches of Peaches dropped in 2000, on the Berlin-based Kitty-Yo label (it's due to be reissued in the U.S. next month on XL with some extra tracks), Elastica invited Peaches and her longtime collaborator Gonzales to tour with them. "They were, like, the most supportive people," Peaches gushes. "They were letting us play longer sets than they were playing themselves, probably pissing off their audience, but they really wanted to hear us, which was so cool."
Last month, Peaches played at the Reading Music Festival and encountered another celebrity admirer, Boy George. "I happened to be wearing my "Fuck the Pain Away" underwear," Peaches says, referring to the specially designed panties she sells on her Web site. "I said hi to him, and he said, 'Fuck the pain away.' So I pulled the underwear off and gave them to him. He sniffed them and shoved them down his pants. So they come in handy," she says, laughing.
She's getting ready to tour the Midwest and South with visionary hard-rockers Queens of the Stone Age, who also (surprise, surprise) dig the Peaches thing -- although it's a safe bet their rockdude fans will greet her lo-fi techno-sleaze and over-the-top, dildo-wielding stage antics with confusion if not outright hostility. "I anticipate fourteen-year-old boys throwing Coca-Cola at my head," Peaches laughs. "But that's kinda cool. It's like when the Sex Pistols played the South and everyone was throwing shit at them. It's important for me to check that out because I'm already involved in this electro style and know that they accept me. It's worth it to me to go out and broaden that gap."
Peaches pauses for a few seconds: "Wait, that means there'd be a bigger gap, right? 'Broaden the horizon,' I guess you'd say. 'Bridge the gap' -- that's the one I meant." She laughs, a little self-consciously.
A native of Canada, Peaches has lived for the past two years in Berlin, where she occasionally collaborates with like-minded artists such as Chicks on Speed and Mignon, but her schedule prevents her from playing many gigs in her adopted hometown. Although she performs in North America more than anywhere else -- no more than once a year but usually for months at a stretch -- her best audiences, she says, are in Spain: "They're really ready to get involved and go crazy all night long. In America, you do, like, a 40-minute set, right? In Spain, you can go like three hours. They love it -- they go crazy, mental!"
Europeans, of course, have decidedly different sensibilities when it comes to sex and music. Though Peaches' robotic retro beats and husky fly-girl rhymes are undeniably catchy, some American critics seem troubled by her relentless, apparently unironic sluttishness. Unlike Le Tigre and similar female-fronted electropunk acts, Peaches doesn't seem at all interested in explicit sociopolitical commentary. Decode her pussy-centric polemics, and you won't find much in the way of activist politics -- not unless getting it on, hardcore style, is a political stance. Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau dismisses Peaches' music as "prosex postfeminism for the age of Internet porn, in which thousands of women a day prove how cool they are by smiling through their semen facials." Is she a "performance artist, a concept rocker, a bored school teacher, or an expat with a gimmick?" he wonders before announcing that it "doesn't matter" and awarding her a B-minus (which, for the grade-inflating Dean, is a major diss). Indeed, legions of women, from Bessie Smith to Vanity 6, from Denise LaSalle to the Donnas, from Madonna to Khia, have built careers on unapologetically raunchy het-sex anthems; sex songs are nothing new and probably nothing that a nice college-educated Jewish woman from Toronto should explore -- unless, of course, she's "problematizing" their "heteronormativity" somehow.
Although no one would ever dream of calling Lil' Kim or Foxy Brown poseurs (as black women, they're no doubt incapable of irony, or so the logic goes), it's hard not to suspect a little po-mo self-consciousness seeping into Peaches' nonchalantly delivered lyrics: "Some people say that I keep my self-respect hidden in my cervix," Peaches raps slyly on an ode to her A-cups, "AA XXX." Though she'd no doubt deny any subtext, there's something mildly subversive about her use of the word "cervix" in a song about fucking; it's the kind of clinical anatomy talk that tends to wilt dicks and set off bullshit detectors. When asked about the I-word, however, Peaches insists that it's the last thing on her mind. "No, no, no," she says, patiently. "I'm actually being quite sincere and direct. I guess people aren't used to it. I'm not really into being flowery or romantic -- that's not what I'm about."
Nor does she understand how her music could be taken as revolutionary or groundbreaking. "Look at the fake porn that Britney Spears does," she says. "There's nothing controversial about it. I'm just being who I am. My whole album could add up to, like, a verse of Eminem lyrics in terms of offensiveness, so I don't know what that is all about."
Peaches is just keeping it real, giving it up for all the nasty motherfuckers out there: I like the innocent type/Deer in the headlight/Rockin' me all night/Flexing his might/Doin' it right/Keepin' me tight/Takin' a bite/Out of the Peach tonight. Try deconstructing that, crit-geeks, and once you're finished, move on to Hustler.
Puritanical feminists and uptight indie-rock snobs might object to her steadfast refusal to address the world outside her sugar walls, but Peaches doesn't care. She's busy recording her second album and doesn't anticipate a stylistic evolution: "When I first started playing, I just had an acoustic guitar, so it was sort of like folk music, and then it turned into sort of like avant-jazz, and then it went to punk -- just kind of minimal, hard and dirty stuff; it seemed to fit. All my friends were playing instruments, but I just continued with my Roland." These days, she's satisfied with her sound. "AC/DC doesn't evolve. I don't think that I will. So we'll see. Maybe I can just keep it how it is."
And maybe, just maybe, the time is ripe for the teaches of Peaches.