Peaches for President

Text by Patrick Knowles
P­hotograph by Alex Freund

Merrill Beth Nisker answers the phone with an impossibly charming, “Hello baby.”

It’s a cool New York afternoon and while it’s been a whirlwind press day for the artist better known to the rest of the world as Peaches, there is an immediate sense of playfulness and presence to the multifaceted producer, singer and songwriter as she speaks about her latest work, ImPeach My Bush.

One would be hard pressed to find a more innovative or bold musician than the 38-year-old Canadian-born, Berlin-based diva, and if Teaches of Peaches made it OK to “Fuck the Pain Away,” and FatherFucker gave guys the permission to “Shake Yer Dix,” then her latest effort is a sexy romp out of the streets and into one of the last mediums she has yet to fully rock – the mainstream.

“These days I want to be fully integrated into the mainstream without changing a thing,” she says. “I’m trying to inundate pop culture, because my thinking should be the mainstream. It’s not ‘narrowstream,’ it’s mainstream and it’s a wider view.”

Off the lips of another artist, this sentiment might sound like an effort to court bottom-line dollar signs. However, Peaches really couldn’t be bothered with any of that noise. She’s the kind of person who believes music can twist gender bias, question traditional power roles and leave listeners turned on, tuned in and dropping moves on the dance floor. “In my deluded mind, I make hip hop/rock/electro music that’s designed for people to go crazy, get laid and have releases. I want to keep it in that world, but I also want to make the twist so you can go [speaking in a faux masculine voice], “Oh, wait. I’m singing along with ‘Two Guys for Every Girl.’ Shouldn’t it be ‘Two Girls for Every Guy?’” She adds in her normal voice, “You know, I want people to sing along and dance first, then realize what it is.”

Chalk up Peaches’ subtle approach to effective lessons learned when she was a self-described spaced-out kid in high school, or in the ten years she spent in front of the classroom as an alternative teacher; either way, it looks as if the method is working. So who’s signed up for this year’s curriculum? According to Peaches, men – particularly straight men.

“Gay men and gay women have to question standards and authorities in themselves right away when they realize, ‘Oh my God. Everything I see around me is directed towards boy-meets-girl, girl-meets-boy.’ And women do a lot of questioning because we have been so sexualized throughout the years, so now we are totally on top.” Punctuating what she just said, she sings in a very over-the-top Bret Michaels falsetto, “We got the power!”
She’s also quick to suggest that her ideology is aimed at a bigger picture. “Straight guys need guidance because that’s the missing link, and I think that it causes a lot of the problems in the way that they are afraid of other straight men. Look at the men behind organized religion and something like 700 virgins in heaven, or how the highest Christian rule is to abstain from sex.” She adds, “These are ways of shutting people out, but they are also the very things some people need to satisfy their existence.”

Given the current conservative climate – with a president who placates an evangelical base during election seasons with attempts to ban gay marriage and an administration that plays politics with the electorate’s prejudices – Peaches’ raw directness serves as a rallying call for tolerance and her sound acts as a social lubricant that allows listeners to slide in and out of musical genres.

It also helps that her latest work rocks with a capital “R.” For example, the tongue-in-cheek chant and double kick drum burst of the title track ImPeach My Bush sets the tone of the album nicely: “I’d rather fuck who I want than kill who I am told to… / Let’s face it, we all want tush / If I’m wrong impeach my bush / Impeach my bush / Impeach Bush.”

She follows the opening track with “Tent in Your Pants,” and in two swift songs the juxtaposition of politics and sexual magnetism is set in motion. When asked if she draws the line between these two elements, she says, “I really feel that my music should question standards and authority and power roles. But questioning power roles is also something very important if you want to have a political opinion, stop following blindly, become an individual and change things.” She adds, “I think we the people need to continue on our way and infiltrate.”

The new record will also be a kick square into the teeth of music critics who were quick to dismiss Peaches’ sharp sass and musical smarts when she was dubbed the Queen of electroclash four years ago. All of the elements of Peaches’ past work are here in splendid form, but this time around it is as if she’s deliberately showing off her crystal clear vocal pipes and command over instruments and sound production. She also brought in Mickey Petralia (of Beck and Eels fame) to co-produce and act as a kind of mentor.

“I wanted to play guitars through real amps and sing with really good mics so people realize that I can really sing and play guitar and whatever they need to convince themselves. I’ll be hard on myself, but I’ll get through it. I can be so stripped down with my lyrics and my music, but I don’t think I compromised my directness.” She pauses momentarily. “I’ll just say that it’s easier to dance to this album.”

The album also features some big name appearances from the likes of Joan Jett, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, the Gossip’s Beth Ditto and Canadian-born songstress Feist. In trademark Peaches fashion, the collaborations were all due to happy little accidents. “It just happens naturally. When we were making FatherFucker, Iggy Pop called me to use ‘Rock Show’ on his album. So I would have been crazy not to say, ‘Yeah, but instead of any kind of exchange of money, why don’t you write a song for us and you can be on my album?’ It was the same thing here. If Josh Homme comes over for a barbeque with a guitar, let him play it and ask if he wants to be on your album.

“You just have to take the opportunities as they come, like TLC. You know, ‘Don’t go chasin’ waterfalls.’ If they come up and the water is there and touches your toes, you have to take it to the ankles and the knees.”