Barbie, Beware

Peaches talks dirty, antagonizes rednecks, and occasionally sports a beard.

Peaches, with Electrocute Dionysus Club, 135 West Lorain Street, Oberlin 10 p.m. Thursday, October 16, 440-775-8169
Hide your dads -- Peaches is coming to town.
Hide your dads -- Peaches is coming to town.
That Peaches sure has a one-track mind. And no, smartypants, it's not that the smut-talking electroclash diva spends all her time thinking about sex. Get your head out of the gutter. Seriously.

Of course, getting your mind off S-E-X can be hard, when one of the Canadian chanteuse's infectious, beat-driven tunes has arrested your synapses in a never-ending loop of dirty talk. You know, stuff like "Suckin' on my titties like you wanted me/Calling me/All the time/Like Blondie/Check out my Chrissie behind/You know it's fine" -- the kickoff rhyme on Peaches' much-lauded debut LP, The Teaches of Peaches (and one of its tamer teases). But forget about sex, just for a second. Try. Because if you think Peaches is just about humping, bumping, and grinding, going down and getting off, baby, you are missing the forest for the trees.

"For me, it's about being real," she explains. "And the one thing that's really changed, after getting all the attention from the first record, is that with the new one, I had the freedom to be even realer."

On Peaches' recently released sophomore LP, Fatherfucker, being "realer" involves not only rocking harder and rhyming nastier than the Casio beats and tawdry come-ons that characterized her debut, but also the gender-bending joke photo of her, doe-eyed and bearded, on the album cover.

"I get so fucking sick of people who talk about me being male or --," she pauses for a split second, before rushing on in her typically volcanic speaking style, "-- appropriating -- that's the word the academics love to use -- 'appropriating maleness.'" You can practically hear her eyes rolling over the crackling phone line. "Why is it that just because I talk about sex and swear and act aggressive and give 500 percent at my shows -- why does that mean I'm acting like a guy?"

Ironically, the former elementary school drama teacher Merrill Nisker has, in her Peaches guise, come into her truest self -- a self that leaps tall gender stereotypes in a single bound and flies straight into your face faster than a speeding bullet. This is indeed the kind of thing academics love to wrap their lingo around. But Peaches doesn't have any interest in serving the ivory tower.

"What bugs me the most is when people treat me like I've constructed this persona," she asserts, after a contemptuous snort. "Being Peaches, this is about being me. The most me that I can be. When people treat it like some kind of academic project, that makes it a lot safer, you know? Less scary than a woman who's just doing her thing, getting down with herself, and who doesn't care about looking like a Barbie doll."

The phrases "real" and "being me" come up a lot when you talk to Peaches. She reels off mini-manifestos on the subject with barely a prompt, and you can sense her anger at people who try to write her off as a gimmick. It's understandable; after all, this is a woman who has sweated for every ounce of her recent success, first by playing the Toronto club scene at night after teaching all day, and then, after hooking up with beatmeister Chilly Gonzales, moving to Berlin and working her way up its burgeoning electro scene. She doesn't fit the profile of media operator; rather, for Peaches, subversion comes naturally.

That said, the exposure that came along with The Teaches of Peaches media juggernaut has clearly politicized Merrill Nisker, and at this point, it's clear that she knows exactly what she's doing. Namely, she's in open revolt against societal norms of beauty, femininity, and sexuality.

"Look, when I talk about sex in my music," she says, "it's because I think everyone is sexy. And everyone is sexy, but marketing has changed that around -- you know, now it's fix your boobs, fix your hair, this is what's perfect. Now they've even got men into the act, man-makeup and shit. It's ridiculous. I mean, you look back at the '70s. People then got to be disgusting and greasy. But today, you know, it doesn't matter how many records I sell, they won't let me on Letterman or Conan or whatever -- the people at network TV treat me like I'm a terrorist or something."

There's that realness thing again. Peaches drums the theme as hard as she rocks on Fatherfucker. She notes that the album's sound, which is more guitar-based and live-oriented than Teaches, came out of her relentless touring over the past three years, as well as her taking full command of the music following her split with Gonzales. The highlight of the record is "Kick It," on which Peaches matches wits and swagger with Iggy Pop.

"People are going crazy for that one," she says. "He's not on tour with me, but I got him to record a video of his part, and it's fucking great, every night. And 'Tombstone,' that's another one I really, really get into, it's all Elvisy, and I get to sing a little and kind of wind the audience down before jacking it up again. That one, it's like -- see, I can be sweet and pretty, too!"

She laughs.

"Honestly, it really is all about performing, for me," Peaches continues. "And you know, the total cliché -- it's about the music. The music has to be great, because the performance comes out of the music. That's what people don't get, sometimes -- I'm a musician, I'm not a fucking performance artist."

And it's through the music that the one-woman uprising that is Peaches will make its mark -- whether mainstream America likes it or not.

"Look, I know I'm scary to some people," she acknowledges. "But there's nothing to be scared of, if you just get out of your little programmed head and your little preordained fantasies, and get into the music. But you know what? The more opportunities I have to scare the hell out of people, the better.

"Like when I opened for Queens of the Stone Age," she continues. "That was so great. There were all these fucking rednecks in the audience, you know, screaming, 'Who put her up there?' 'Get off the stage!' 'Suck my dick!' But then I got to yell back, 'Why don't you suck my dick, assholes!' Because I'm the one onstage," she concludes, "and you'd better fucking get used to it!"

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