The Lenny Interview: Peaches

The electropop icon shares her thoughts on women's rights, politics, and her forthcoming album Rub. 

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I remember hearing the Peaches song "Fuck the Pain Away" for the first time in high school. It sounded like she was doing some kind of naughty slam poetry. At the time, I just thought of it as a beat-heavy song that I enjoyed as a background to running or dancing. Which was pretty much the mainstream perception, too: this song (along with Peaches's other tracks) was obscene, catchy, avant-garde electropop.

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But the meaning behind it and the breadth of Peaches's work was so much deeper, which is something I learned as I got older. Her music is both sonically and lyrically dense. Throughout her musical career, the 47-year-old performer has always envisioned a world that promotes equality, that sees people beyond gender lines and expectations. She advocates (consensual) sex in all forms. Her artistry is something that's becoming more important today, especially in the midst of an election year.

Peaches (née Merrill Nisker) has always pushed boundaries, whether they're sexual or genre-based. While she is most widely known for her solo performances, she's also written a rock opera, produced a documentary based on that rock opera, and published a book of photography. Additionally, she's been an inspiration to some of the world's biggest pop stars over the years, like P!nk, Lady Gaga, and Christina Aguilera. Last fall, Peaches released her sixth studio album, Rub, which featured a very NSFW video for the album's title track; it depicted "hairy pussies," as Peaches put it. According to Peaches, the video for "Rub" wasn't meant to be pornographic: it was supposed to show an appreciation for all women's bodies.

She's long been a champion of female autonomy and artistry: her upcoming Rub remix album, due May 27, features only women, including musicians like Lauren Flax from CREEP, Maya Jane Coles, Austra's Maya Postepski, and her niece, musician Simonne Jones. I spoke with Peaches on International Women's Day about the need for a woman to have control over her body, Kesha's trial, and how her art isn't for the sake of shock value.

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Ilana Kaplan: Your song "Boys Want to Be Her" is the theme to Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. How did you get involved with the show?

Peaches: She direct messaged me on Twitter saying, "I love you. I want to use this song." I was like, "What?" I think [the show] is a very important milestone for women in late-night television. Not only that: she's very funny, poignant, and super on point.

IK: You've always been known for making art with a message and doing so in a lot of extravagant ways. What do you have to say to people who think your art is just a performance and not genuine?

P: I actually haven't come across that, but maybe I'm just not reading the right implications. I've heard that only once, and it was from the "Rub" video. There was one comment that said, "She's just trying to get famous." I was like, "Really? A hairy pussy is trying to get me famous? OK." I actually feel lucky that I don't have that problem, and I also don't have the fame to go along with it, so it's not really an issue with me.

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IK: Your fan base has remained loyal over the past several years. It was six years between Rub and your previous record. How have you sustained that loyalty?

P: Well, I did put out four albums consistently — every three years — and toured every two years in a ten-year period, so I feel like taking that break doesn't really damage it. It isn't like I didn't do any other projects. I made a rock-opera musical that went in the anti-jukebox genre. Instead of taking music from an artist and making a crappy story that has nothing to do with the artist, I decided to make it about me. I had a chance to go even more over the top, which is a funny statement by me.

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I had a cast and crew of 40, so all of my ideas coming head on to these subjects were used in very physical and visual ways that I couldn't achieve [previously]. But for this project I had state money from Berlin. Also, I say "opera" because there's no dialogue in it. It's called Peaches Does Herself. It was developed in 2010, and I did two runs in a theater in Berlin. We documented it, and we documented it so well — because I don't work in a vacuum — that we turned it into a movie. We changed the ending to make it more film-like. It went to 70 festivals around the world.

Through that Berlin theater, I was also doing Peaches Christ Superstar, which was a spin on Jesus Christ Superstar. The idea was: What if all these parts were played by one woman, and what if it was me? Nobody knows that I have this secret weapon of a large range of a strong singing voice. My point with that was when I grew up,  Jesus Christ Superstar was a rock album — people really didn't enjoy it as a full-blown musical — which is the opposite from what I did with Peaches Does Herself. I was quite active, my activity just wasn't so much in the States. Also, after working on the four albums, it was good to do [something different].

IK: Do you consider Peaches to be you? Do you feel like you're putting on a costume and playing a character of sorts?

P: No. I feel like it's an amplified version of myself, and it's me adapting to the situation. If I'm talking to you, I'm not jumping on a table telling you to check out my whatever. If I'm communicating with an audience, it's like you communicating with 500 or 3,000 people, so you have to have a different way of communicating and have a more absurd way. It's not just a discussion, so you're gonna get a different kind of feedback. You're going to have to show [yourself] a different way.

IK: This year, a ton of artists like Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino, Kesha, and Kelly Clarkson have been speaking out about sexism and sexual abuse in the music industry. You've been in the industry for a long time. Is this the first time you feel like you've seen so much public discussion from women about these problems?

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P: Yeah. This is the age of finding new language, the age of discussion, and bringing it out is very important. I think a lot about the '70s. I get a little angry because I grew up then and loved the music, but then I think about how insanely misogynistic it was, and what a boys' club it was. I think about the drugs that led to so much abuse. Some of these stories, like sticking a salmon up somebody's ... the amount of women that were drugged, raped, or underage.

IK: Do you think the conversations will lead to change? Or do you think the sex-abuse cycle will continue?

P: Well, I'm just happy the discussions are happening, but I can't predict the future. This has been going on forever, so it's not going to change immediately. It's not just America. Of course, that ties in with abortion and laws against abortion. The blame or shame should not be placed on the woman, which still goes on. It's such a strange evolution of what your body is allowed to do, and it doesn't work with the changing, modern world. In the Philippines, it's ridiculous. There's so much shame that women are going to weird, dirty places and secretly getting abortions where a woman is pulling the fetus out of another woman and they're dying.

IK: This is the future if abortion rights are taken away in the U.S.: women will have to resort to back-alley abortions.

P: It's going to be a side business: everything is a business. It's just not safe. I don't understand how a Christian doesn't get that. It's the basis of Christianity to be inclusive and love one another. All of that is tied in with fucking money and power. The money and the power end up in the boys' club that sits there and won't die. They're hanging onto their dear lives like the last vestiges of patriarchy. Why is it easier to get Viagra than birth control? It doesn't make any sense, and I don't understand why people don't understand it. The whole election is just such a farce: it's sickening. It's really depressing. I love Bernie Sanders. I love his politics. I always loved someone like Noam Chomsky. On the other hand, Ted Cruz is the scariest person ever. I will not come back to America for a very long time if Ted Cruz or Donald Trump gets elected. 

IK: I don't blame you.

P: Donald Trump has no details in any of his speeches. I'm not interested in celebrities ... but with [Donald Trump], it's detrimental and world shit. Like, with Kim Kardashian, you can have an opinion about it, and feminism will go on. But someone like Trump saying if his daughter wasn't his daughter he'd probably be dating her is disgusting. Even him talking about his dick size: it doesn't matter. Your whole body is a big dick that we hate anyway. Why are you saying it's bigger? That's completely sexist and even transphobic. It doesn't matter what your dick size is: it's not making you a better person.

IK: You've rooted your art in being yourself and in sex positivity. What do you think of artists who seem to be taking cues from the messages you ignited, like Halsey and Miley Cyrus? Do you think you were the pioneer for them?

P: I definitely came before it. I don't know if they know what I do or who I am. I know the "Mileys" before. Ten years ago, all of the "not yet a woman" stars, like P!nk, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Avril Lavigne — all of them reached out to me when they were "becoming a woman." When Christina Aguilera was writing "Dirrty," she would listen to "Fuck the Pain Away." Later on, we collaborated. P!nk always came to my shows, and Kesha and Lady Gaga came to my shows. I know they are influenced by what I did because they reached out or there are obvious influences. I don't know. I've never heard from Miley. Everyone asks me about her, but someone should ask her about me.

IK: Today is International Women's Day. What do you think is the biggest issue the women of the world should focus on?

P: It's every day. That we don't need to have any more discussions about laws on our own bodies and equal pay. There are so many kinds of women: women of color and women of different religious backgrounds and in different countries. I always say that it would be great to interview men about feminism and not women. They need to change: we know women are great.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Ilana Kaplan is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn. She's obsessed with tacos and her cat, Pancake.

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