It's a Good Time to be Peaches
The electoclash icon returns with her first album in six years and talks about the current state of feminism and sexuality within the pop world.
Peaches is sprawled out on the conference table in a black silk kimono. She looks halfway between a dominatrix and a monk, which isn't so far from the truth. People have long looked to this fearlessly sexual performer for guidance when it comes to giving their music an electroclash kink. Her 2002 hit “Fuck the Pain Away” was a hugely influential moment in the rise of sex-positive pop music that became the norm ten years later. All you have to do is look at Miley Cyrus twerking at the VMAs to see the undeniable, raunchy influence of Peaches.
“Avril Lavinge! Britney Spears! Christina Aguilera and Pink! All have come to me and said, ‘You have helped me from girl into sexual woman,’” she tells me without hesitation. Peaches' music suggested that lust was a power from within and your's for the taking with her unapolegetically sexual lyrics like "sucking on my titties like wanted me, callin' me." Her 2002 debut The Teaches of Peaches almost immediately became a touchstone for the new dance generation. Her crass and raspy vocals had a complete disregard for censorship that made Peaches into an underground feminist icon along the lines of Xena Warrior Princess—she was explicit because it mattered, not because it was edgy. As “Fuck the Pain Away” suggests, sex was a way to heal.
It's been six years since Peaches released her last album I Feel Cream in 2009. However, the Canadian-bred performance artist was by no means on a break. Instead, she's starred in a series of self-produced stage productions all over the world, collaborated with the likes of Kim Gordon and Kathleen Hanna, and even enlisted the photographer Holger Talinksi to document it frame by frame in a book called What Else is in the Teaches of Peaches. Rub comes off the heels of the book’s release as the electronic icon returns with another badass album of filthy, crotch-driven technopunk. I ask Peaches what it’s like to watch pop culture finally catch up with the what she put down over a decade ago with her racy 2002 debut. She winks, tugs coyly at her long grey braid and says, “I’ll tell you one thing. It’s a good time to be Peaches.” Indeed it is.
Noisey: How does it feel to see the pop world finally catching up to the teaches of Peaches?
It’s important, and I’m really glad it’s being addressed. And in whatever way people want to say, “Oh, Beyoncé. She just had the words behind her”—no. At least there’s an effort, and fine if it’s a trend. It’s getting attention. We just have to watch out that it’s not just a trend and that next year, this will be not a hot topic, and it will still be discussed. Things kind of go exponentially in all directions, you still have people like Kim Davis, you know?
I would just hate to see something as important as feminism co-opted into a flash-in-the-pan trend.
Yeah, I mean, that’s what happened with Girl Riot and now it’s coming back. So you know, these things happen in trends. That’s how media works.
While more and more people are publically supporting sexual identities on a scale, a misguided sensitivity seems to be growing exponentially. Like, it's great to be open and accepting, but the preoccupation with being PC feels limiting as well.
Yeah, like do you remember what happened in Glasgow? In the last pride, they decided that they would have no drag queens dressed up as drag queens during the show because they didn’t want to offend anyone transitioning. It’s a bit ridiculous, but also, for a trans person, I can’t speak for them. I can be an ally, but I cannot speak for them, so I just do my best to be a good ally, and wherever I can actually speak.
What I recogize in your music and visual aesthetic is that you’ve always been progressive, but crass and explicit at the same time. It's that weird middle ground that happens right after someone says "no offense," but then says something completely offensive.
Well I just don’t understand why not instead of being direct and just being, you know, real, it’s just like—and also, bringing fun into it. Let’s not forget the fun. Or, a way to change minds is by making it fun. Like I say, it always comes from music first, so then that brings people a way in, and then they can think about the message, and then they can, you know, do their homework.
I found when I was listening to Rub, I kept getting hit by lines like that. For example, “Don’t be a man but don't be Ayn Rand.”
Oh, “Take it like a real woman, not Ayn Rand.”
It’s funny and brazen, but with a point.
Yeah, it’s like, “Face down, dick up, that’s my command / Take it like a real woman, not Ayn Rand / Trickle down!” There’s also, “Face down, ass up / That’s the way we like to fuck!” So that’s just my take on it. I say what I want, and people find their own limits.
The trendiness of feminism is both exciting and troubling. And you said it doesn’t bother you because at least the issue is getting out there, like in the case of Beyoncé's feminism fireworks.
It’s just good that people are discussing it, and I hope we continue to. First of all, any woman who says she isn’t a feminist doesn’t want to see herself as equal. This is about equality. So that’s ridiculous. Otherwise, they don’t understand the correct meaning of feminism. So people find it scary or troubling or an old idea, but it’s not. Also there’s the issue that I’ve talked about, so you’ve probably already heard this spiel, but about men having their own sexual revolution, which they have not. It doesn’t seem obvious. “Wait, but they’ve always had—Oh!” They can also be the other way, like have a woman be this way... Just being open to losing the patriarchal sort of side of their own privilege. Which is their sort of sexual revolution.
That’s interesting, too. The flip side.
It’s not easy either for a man, because it’s presented to you as the number one privilege, right? To be the white man, it’s perfect, but if you’re not going to examine that, you’re not going to see the other side and get to the next level. That’s why I say feminism is everybody’s issue. I’m not saying like, “Get rid of the man!” I’m saying, let’s understand each other. I’m very inclusive. My work is inclusive.
Photo by Bryn Lovitt
There’s so much of your sex-positive performance style in today’s pop stars, like Miley Cyrus. What do you feel when you see people acting like that? Do you ever think, “I wonder if they took that from me?”
Yeah! Well, I mean Pink was the first one, and we did a track together called “Oh My God” about two girls being together, and Christina Aguilera, when she was writing Dirty, the album, she even in Rolling Stone said, “I’m listening to Fuck The Pain Away every day.” Avril Lavinge, said that “I’m the Kinda Bitch” from Fatherfucker, that’s her favorite song, she was saying in interviews. She even wrote a song that sounds particularly like it. And Britney asked me to write with her, and she has said, “I want to write songs like Peaches.” So it’s interesting to see these mostly Disney-related pop stars, I feel like I helped in my own way for them to think, “Yes! I can be a sexual being!” in their own way. But you know, I’ve never heard anything from Miley, so I don’t know.
Well, I would not be surprised. Do you ever feel ripped off?
I mean I hear it in some music or whatever, it’s fine. It’s like, I didn’t invent music. I don’t feel ripped off, I’m me. I’m not going to be them. I still occupy my space. It’s not like they’re taking away my, you know, who I am or anything.
I want to touch on your interest in musicals and operas—I had this wonderful thought, like, “What if Peaches played Hedwig?”
People keep saying that.
You should totally play Hedwig.
That would be like, a mindfuck of like, a woman playing Hedwig. I have dueted “You Light Up My Life” with John Cameron Mitchell. We have sang together in Berlin.
And you’re living in Berlin now?
I’ve lived there on-and-off for the past 15 years. It’s just a cool place, and it’s easy. Fifteen years ago, it was like, open and easy. And still has great politics in Berlin. It’s very different from the whole of Germany. There’s a great art scene, and the rules don’t apply in the same way they do here, so yeah.
So, can we talk about the laser butt plugs in the video for "Light in Places"?
Yeah, what’s interesting about that is that Empress Stah came to me and said, “I have a laser butt plug show I’m planning with an aerial routine, could you write the song for it?” So it was actually a collaboration that she started, which was really cool, instead of her taking my song.
Have you ever done any other collaborations like that, where someone has come to you with something first?
Not that I have in my brain right now, so I hope I’m not lying, but that was really a great challenge, and I appreciate it.
So I'm guessing it was your idea to reach out to Lucha VaVOOM for that insanely brilliant video for "Close Up?"
Well, I became friends with Rita D’Albert, and Liz Fairbaim both who run Lucha VaVOOM, which is Mexican wrestling and burlesque dancing, with comedians giving moderation. I have done acts with them. I have opened the show with one of my songs. I’ve done a few numbers with them, and we’re friends, and I thought it would be fun to work with my community that I’m friends with. Did you see “Dick In The Air”?
Yes, it’s so good! Margaret Cho is a great sidekick for Peaches.
She came to my show a few years ago. We just became friends. She came to my shows, I started to go to her shows.
Speaking of shows, who’s going on tour with you?
Yes. Well, I have Deep Valley. They’re going to be doing the East Coast. U.S. Girls will do a little bit. And the for the southern part, and the West Coast, it’ll be Christeene. She’s going to blow your mind.
Bryn Lovitt is a contributing editor at Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.