Peaches: Breakup albums and vaginoplasty

The made-in-Toronto musician talks breakup jams, big vaginas and wanting to piss on R. Kelly


PEACHES and DEAPVALLY at Phoenix Concert Theatre (410 Sherbourne), October 20, 8 pm. $25. rotate.com, soundscapesmusic.com, ticketmaster.ca.


You know you’re getting ready to interview Peaches when the word “vaginoplasty” is circled on your notepad.

The plastic surgery procedure to “tighten up” a vagina that is – for whatever reason – not as fitted as its owner would like is also the title of a song on her sixth album, Rub (I U She/Maple).

“First, big dick was all the rage, and then big tits were the rage,” she explains. “Then big ass was all the rage, and so I was like, ‘You know what? Why doesn’t anybody talk about a big pussy?’

“It’s mostly about women who feel like they have to pander to a certain way that they’re supposed to be – virginal or tight,” she elaborates. “I’m not disputing that some people may need it, but if you don’t I’m just saying keep it nasty. Be you.”

Feminist connotations aside, Vaginoplasty is also a send-up of banal “be yourself” pop anthems that are so ubiquitous lately.

Once again, the Toronto-born musician also known as Merrill Nisker remains a step ahead of her peers. In fact, when you consider all the conversations happening these days around pansexuality, trans identity and journalists’ tendencies to give the credit for a woman’s music to male producers, you realize Peaches has been a flashpoint for these issues since The Teaches Of Peaches came out in 2000.

With its minimalist beats and raunchy wordplay, her debut has the most in common with her latest, which is a back-to-basics kind of record. Nisker has spent the past decade dabbling in everything from glam rock and opera to filmmaking and DJing, so Rub is a kind of palate cleanser.

“Technology is so good now that I could actually get those really fat bass sounds that I always wanted,” she says over the phone from Berlin, where she lives part time. “Really raw but still high-quality.”

Now that she also lives in Los Angeles, she met with various producers.

“They would tell me stories like, oh, you know, ‘We listened to your album and we straight-up stole this shit from you,’” she recalls, refusing to name names. “First of all, don’t tell me that, and second of all what the fuck are you gonna do for me?”

So she spent a year recording in her L.A. garage with long-time friend Vice Cooler, who also performs under the name Hawnay Troof.

Other collaborators included Kim Gordon, Feist and Planningtorock, who worked on the song Free Drink Ticket. 

The track is an all-out rant against her ex. In a pop landscape over-saturated with breakup songs, she zeroed in on the least glamorous phase in the breakup process: homicidal rage.

“You know that moment when you have so much love for a person and you’re so hurt by them that you have nothing but hate?” she says. “‘Now I fucking hate you and I want to stab you. I want to kill you and I want to see you die a thousand times.’ But nobody writes that because you sound like a psycho. But I did because it’s a moment everybody has.”

The song also marks a thematic return to her debut.

“I don’t usually touch on this, but Teaches Of Peaches was a fucking breakup album,” she says. “If you listen to those songs again you’ll hear that they’re breakup songs, and there’s a lot of hurt masked by sex.”

When writing Free Drink Ticket, she had Planningtorock (Jam Rostron) leave the room, then put a pen in her hand and made a fist. Vitriol spilled forth.

Rostron returned and pitched Peaches’ vocals to near-Satanic levels.

“We listened and we had to hold each other,” she says. “We were so excited we actually scared ourselves.” 

The tour in support of Rub will be similarly stripped down so the music videos Nisker is creating for every song on the album is her way of flexing her multi-media muscles.

She has already released videos for Light In Places,  the Kim Gordon-featuring Close Up and Dick In The Air, in which she and comedian Margaret Cho run around in anatomically correct fuzzy costumes doing things like double-penetrating a watermelon.

She is especially excited for the video for the title track. Co-directed with artists A.L. Steiner and Lex Vaughn, the Jodorowsky-inspired epic is set in the desert and featured a cast and crew entirely made up of women. Listening to her recount the experience, the sense of awe is palatable even though she was so in the zone while making it she doesn’t have many details.

“I’ve never been on a set with all women,” says Nisker. “I actually don’t know what went on that weekend because I was so focused. At one point I was directing naked at the monitors and nobody cared.”

Although she spends most of her time in Los Angeles and Berlin, she still keeps an eye on the news coming out of Toronto. However, she wasn’t following recent controversies such as the successful petition to remove Action Bronson as the headlining act at NXNE or the failed petition to get Kanye West off the Pan Am Games closing ceremony bill.

She relates to the urge to protest artists she doesn’t like but feels that providing counter-programming and increasing the representation of women on festival bills is the way to go.

Nisker was among those upset by Houston-based Free Press Summer Fest’s decision to book controversial R&B star R. Kelly, who was tried and acquitted on child pornography charges in 2008. The local branch of Girls Rock Camp campaigned to have the I Believe I Can Fly hitmaker removed from the bill but was unsuccessful.

Peaches also played the festival so Nisker considered rushing the stage during Kelly’s set but ultimately decided that would not have been a good look.

“I was like, I am gonna go on stage and I’m gonna go piss on him. I’m gonna piss on him! While he’s playing!” she recalls. “Of course, that would’ve been a horrible idea because people were really excited to see him. Actually, it’s a hard situation because I like his music but I don’t agree with things he’s done and there are people that really like him. It gets really confusing with all the racial tension in America. If I went out and started to piss on R. Kelly’s stage, that would not be seen as a protest for underage girls who got abused. They would be like, ‘what are you doing?’”

What’s the best way to handle a situation like that?

“I don’t know,” she says. “It’s getting really difficult. I hope that there is discussion. I’ve always said everybody should do their thing and you can counter it instead of shutting people down.”

While promoting Rub, she is noticing more interviewers asking about feminism, transgender rights and other progressive topics. There is a presumption that an underground act will eventually water down their politics in a bid for mainstream attention, but Peaches has resisted that trajectory.

“I don’t feel like the mainstream represents the people,” she says. “It’s a narrow road for advertisers. Mainstream is a dangerous road and it stops people from becoming who they need to be. I’ve always said I wanted the mainstream to be closer to me – I’m not moving towards the mainstream – and now it’s happening.”

kevinr@nowtoronto.com | @kevinritchie

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