During her live show, electro-clash artist Peaches — aka Merrill Beth Nisker — has been known to strip down to a pair of hotpants, treat her microphone to a handjob and commandeer a troupe of back-up dancers wearing little more than fake beards and strap-on dildos.
But Nisker’s in-your-face stage performances are a far cry from her previous occupation — as a daycare teacher in her original hometown of Toronto, Canada. At the same time, Nisker was working on her own music, inspired by “the early hip hop of Salt ‘N’ Pepa mixed with the energy of Iggy Pop and the attitude of riot grrrl”. She eventually adopted the moniker ‘Peaches’, which she took from the Nina Simone song Four Women.
Peaches cited Toronto’s gay and lesbian community as a huge source of support during her early days. “The gay scene is always ahead of everybody else,” she said fondly. “They were the first people to embrace what I did.”
Whereas breakthrough album The Teaches of Peaches was “very much me against the world and me showing everyone who’s boss,” Nisker described her second album, Fatherfucker (2003), as more about “genderfucking” or “male role-playing” — a reaction, she said, to criticisms that the aggression she displayed on stage was manly.
“I’m just giving 500 percent of my energy… why is that all of a sudden male?”
In contrast, her latest album, I Feel Cream, showcases a different side of Peaches — often gentler and more pared-back.
“I always tell people to break their own boundaries… for me, it was to add vulnerability into the mix,” she said.
For all her talk of vulnerability, this is a woman who is clearly accustomed to blowing her own horn: She calls her single Fuck the Pain Away “a classic”. She refers to herself as “a pioneer”.
When I asked why the producers of The L Word requested that she appear in an episode in season two, she snapped, “Because I’m a lesbian icon”.
Likewise, there are clearly questions she considers beneath her. When I asked how she thinks her music and image would be received if she were male, a long, disdainful silence stretched between us, before she replied, coldly, “I don’t know, because I’m not one.”
And what does her family think of her sexually explicit lyrics and penchant for strap-ons? “They love me, and they love what I do, and they respect me,” she said abruptly.
As for her old daycare and elementary school students, she said that she often sees them, now ten years older, in the crowd when she performs in Toronto.
“They love it,” she said. “They say I inspired them when they were really small when I was a teacher, and now I’m inspiring them again.”
info: I Feel Cream is out now through Remote Control Records.
Thanks to express New Zealand.