Peaches emerges from the Creston Hotel in Tokyo’s youth mecca of Shibuya dressed in a gold one-piece swimsuit, black stockings, silver thigh-high platform boots and a black cape with the Judas Priest logo on the back. Her eyes are rimmed with thick black mascara and there’s a silver lightning bolt painted on the left side of her face. A media person holds a silver cruiser bicycle with red balloon tires. She mounts it with the cowl of the cape over her head and proceeds to pedal across the street, the photographer snapping away.
“I can’t see,” she says nervously.
Ten minutes later she’s sitting in the lobby of the hotel, still in costume, talking about her upcoming show in Singapore.
“They sent a letter of all the restrictions, things I’m not allowed to do, which is basically my whole show — no vulgar language, no interacting with the audience, no making fun of the government. They also said I couldn’t show my appendix — or maybe it was appendages.”
She vows to do everything the way she always does it. “I think I’ll show my appendix. You know, we used to carry around a 6-foot penis, and I’m sure that’s a no-no, too. But, I mean, The Rolling Stones used to have one. Mick Jagger rode it on stage. The Beastie Boys, too.”
Peaches, a Canadian whose real name is Merrill Nisker, doesn’t sound exasperated. She’s energized by the fuss she causes with her graphic lyrics, ambisexual role-playing, and mix of electronic hip-hop and heavy metal. Her new album, “Impeach My Bush,” opens with “F**k or Kill,” whose lyric goes “I would rather f**k who I want to than kill who I’m told to” — a no-brainer manifesto if ever there was one, and even neocons would surely choose the former over the latter.
But logic isn’t the point. Provocation is. Peaches’ salacious songs are simply the rock ideal taken literally. The beats are infectious, the sound is loud and stimulating, and she is constantly telling her interlocutor to do things that the majority of pop stars usually advocate only indirectly. A few have been as direct, but the only difference between what Peaches does and what icons like Motley Crue or Too Short have been doing for years is her point of view.
“I always get strangely censored in a way that a rapper won’t be,” she says. “Maybe because I’m a white woman? I’m not 20? (She’s in her mid-30s.) There’s a lot of things. What I’m trying to do is make a balance. There’s a million songs that say shake your titties, shake your ass, so I say shake your dick. But that’s censored. Lil Jon had a hit song called ‘Skeet,’ which means jack off. It’s a double standard.”
Her new album closes with “Stick It to the Pimp,” and while she claims it isn’t necessarily about male rappers and the image they project, she has definite opinions about the image.
“I like tough hip-hop. It’s like the new hair metal, talking about chicks and whatever. I sing along with those lyrics but they don’t relate to me. I want to see two guys kissing for my entertainment, not two girls. I’m just switching it around and at the same time showing how ridiculous it is, but not in a traditional feminist way. If you say ‘motherf**ker’ then I’ll call my [second] album ‘Fatherf**ker.’ It’s not angry. Men need to have a sexual revolution. Women definitely have — victimization to victory — but men haven’t.”
She explains how organizers of a festival she was scheduled to play last summer almost took her off the roster once they looked at her Web site. “But Snoop Dogg was playing. On his album he says, ‘You gotta learn how to control your ho, you gotta learn to slap that bitch in the face, put that bitch in her place.’ ”
When it’s mentioned that Snoop showed up at the 2003 MTV Video Awards with women on leashes, Peaches remarks, “I’d like to show up at the MTV awards with him on a leash, but could you imagine what people would say — a black man on a leash?” She makes a face signifying righteous outrage. “The objectification of women is normal, so men need to be objectified. And I say that in all seriousness.”
Nevertheless, there’s humor in her act. In concert, the seemingly transgressive attitude comes off as a burlesque — or, more precisely, kids playing without any adults around. Two nights before, at Unit in Tokyo, she performed a sloppily gleeful, consistently high-energy set with her band Herms, which includes two members of Courtney Love’s former band Hole. During the show she lost layers of costume (silver again) until she was down to black bra and panties. Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson basically do the same thing in their acts, but with them the gesture is only about sex. In Peaches’ case it was like dress-up, only in reverse.
“I used to teach music and drama to really small kids,” she explains. “It was a new creative program that I made up, a lot of role playing. I would play guitar and we would act out things. I’d pick a theme and they would get to play what they wanted and I’d build a story around it.”
At the time she was also playing in groups. “They were postpunk bands where we’d all switch instruments, but a lot of my friends moved away and that’s when I got this machine, the Roland 505, which acts as a drummer and bass player. I just made up songs with that.” She recorded demos that attracted little positive attention in her native Canada, but a small German label liked them and invited her to Berlin, where she finished her first album, “The Teaches of Peaches,” in 2000. The opening song, “F**k the Pain Away,” became an instant electroclash classic and was recently selected as one of Blender magazine’s “12 Filthiest Songs of All Time.”
Though her music has divided critics, she has built up an impressive resume of collaborations that cover the pop spectrum, from Pink to Bjork to Iggy Pop. “I’ve been asked by Britney Spears’ people to write stuff, and I’ve said, ‘I’ll think about it when I hear from her personally.’ “
There is one area she has yet to penetrate, however, and not for lack of trying. “Kelis and I collaborated. She didn’t use the song on her album, but I liked that song a lot. It was exciting because that hip-hop world is a whole other thing.”
In a fairer world, major label hip-hop would come to Peaches rather than the other way around. “Kanye West saw my show in Paris and hung out afterward,” she mentions. “He said, ‘Your show is really inspiring. I gotta get more rock ‘n’ roll.’ ”