Peaches Still Teaches: When Peaches emerged with the Teaches of Peaches album in 2000, she was a much-needed breath of fresh air. Her messages of female empowerment hit hard in a still male-dominated music industry, and her artistic stock rose fast.
Sonically, musically, nobody knew what to do with her. Peaches would appear in the pages of rock magazines and indie publications, on bills with artists as diverse as Nine Inch Nails, Bauhaus, Bjork and Chicks on Speed. Her minimalist sound, rich and undeniably heavy, uncompromisingly and unapologetically sexual, crossed genre lines, appealing to many subcultures.
The Teaches of Peaches album wasn’t technically her debut; she had released the Fancypants Hoodlum record under her real name, Merrill Nisker, in 1995, following work with her rock band the Shit and, before that, folk trio Mermaid Cafe. But it was an artistic rebirth with a new name, sound, vibe… Peaches was here and she was ready to teach.
Twenty-two years later, the album doesn’t sound like it’s dated at all. Perhaps it’s the aforementioned minimalist sound. More likely, it’s the fact that her messages, lessons, are still necessary. If the Supreme Court has taught us anything this year, it’s that there is still much work to be done for women’s rights.
“I wasn’t really trying to follow any sort of trend at that point,” Peaches says, via a Zoom interview. “So I think the testament to its minimality really is its longevity. I’ve done like 30 shows, and I play the whole album, and I’m never like, ‘Oh this song is dated.’ It is a little more challenging, when I was thinking about live shows, what to do with something like ‘Felix Partz,’ which is a completely instrumental song. But it really worked out. Something like ‘Suck and Let Go,’ I just do it more inprovisational with my machine. Because you know it was all written on this Roland MC 505 Groovebox. So it’s really nice to have that machine back also, to give it that improvisational quality. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same every time.”
Peaches also puts the continued popularity of that album down to the fact that more people understand her now, and feel more comfortable with the music. Familiarity, in this case, breeds anything but contempt.
“I really feel, you can feel in the live shows, that people know why they’re there,” she says. “They know why they’re there and they’re really happy to be there to celebrate. I think that’s a combination also of the pandemic and getting introspective — ‘what do I really want, what do I really need, what is important to me.’ And then obviously a certain sense of nostalgia. But not in a nostalgic sort of fluff way, which is, not dissing nostalgia, but I feel like people are understanding that ‘I like this album and I have a reason to like it.’ It’s meaningful. I think when I started, there was a lot of very polarizing feelings about the music and ‘is it political, is it personal, is this music, is this performance art?’ And now there isn’t any of that. Now it’s like, people know what it is. It doesn’t have to adhere to any sort of purist kind of strange genre. It’s just a cultural phenomenon. If they feel they were a part of it from the beginning or they’re joining this cultural phenomenon, that still has a power.”
We put it to Peaches that the difficulty critics and fans had putting her into a genre box ended up working in her favor because everyone wrote about her, she could tour with anyone and most everyone seemed to like her.
“I’m gonna toot my own little horn here,” she says. “It just crossed the boundaries and that confused people so they were like, ‘this sounds electronic but there’s something really powerful and rock about it, but then there’s this sort of very modern feel, and then there’s this very old school hip-hop 808 sound. But then there are these very new, direct lyrics that haven’t been said before.’ So it was just, it crossed over to queer scenes, to art scenes, rock scenes, to fashion scenes.”
It certainly did and, as Peaches points out, it felt like a very zeitgeist moment. A line in the sand was drawn, and there was no going back.
“A lot of times with a zeitgeist moment, you look back and think, ‘Oh that was then,’” she says. “But somehow it’s really, because of what’s going on in the world, it really has given people a sense to hold onto it and to use this as a way, not to be angry but to celebrate, to remember who they are and remember what they were like at the beginning. There’s been a lot of people who have come after the show and been like, ‘You know, I came to the show because of course I love you, blah blah blah, but then I remembered why I loved you and I remembered what I had changed about my life after listening to this album or seeing you live and how I was more confident in my decisions.’ Which is a really powerful thing.”
Powerful is right. The influence of Peaches can be felt in spirit, if not obviously musically, everywhere from Gaga to Megan Thee Stallion, the Weeknd to M.I.A.
“I don’t have a problem with that,” Peaches says. “Also, I feel like someone like Megan Thee Stallion, she might not have a clue who I am, so it’s almost just like a rite of passage at this point. You don’t even know where it comes from or even a sense of ancestry. So what is she, 25 [she’s 27]? She was like 3 [5 in fact] when that album came out. But I think that’s exciting too, and it’s also exciting that what I really have enjoyed about these live shows is that there’s baby queers and baby everybody, and then there’s 40- and 50-year-olds that are just like, ‘this is my music, get out of the fucking way.’”
Peaches has been working on new music during lockdown, the most recent releases being the “Pussy Mask” and “Flip This” tracks. She says that her sound, at this point, is her sound. It’s just about keeping it fresh.
“I feel like I adhere to a sort of minimalist vibe in that way,” she says. “I’m not really a person who layers so much; I like each sound to have its place. There’s that kind of a metal feel, which I love. If it sounds fresh to me, then it’s cool. I’m not trying to make it like, ‘this needs to sound exactly how it used to be,’ but it sounds fresh to me. The evolution is about keeping it fresh.”
Peaches is based in Berlin, though she says that she’s not much for clubbing and feels like any “Berlin sound” is simply about being open-minded. Wherever, there’s some comfort (if that’s the right word) in knowing that she’s still as genre-bending and spellbinding as ever. She returns to the Fonda Theatre this month for two shows – the scene of so many glorious gigs past.
“I have a lot of fond Fonda memories,” she says. “I’ve played the Henry Fonda probably five or six times. It feels very comfortable, which is nice to feel like home there. I have a lot of friends, that are coming out, because we didn’t get a chance to do a proper show. I’m very happy that it’s two nights, so you get to leave your stuff there. I’m really looking forward to having two nights in one place for sure.”
This anniversary tour for Teaches of Peaches has most of the artist’s focus right now. But don’t think for one second that she’s not planning her next move.
“I wrote a lot during the pandemic,” she says. “I’m focusing more on this anniversary show. It’s not so much of a cash-in – it’s not making a lot of money. But it’s a very satisfying and powerful feeling. I think I expected people to enjoy it, but I didn’t expect the beautiful community and fandemonium pandemonium that’s been going on. So I think we’re going to try to take it further, see what other high trees we can expand to before I start on other live shows. But I am working with a nine-piece dance troupe. We started last year, developing a human installation, like sculptural and dance, collective, to go with new music. It’s really cool.”
Peaches Still Teaches: Peaches performs at 9 p.m., on Friday, Aug. 12 and Saturday, Aug. 13 at the Fonda Theatre.
Editor’s note: The disclaimer below refers to advertising posts and does not apply to this or any other editorial stories. LA Weekly editorial does not and will not sell content.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.