Sporting a beard and looking something like Narnia’s Mr. Tumnus on the cover art of her second album, Fatherfucker, also gave Peaches feminist cred for stepping outside the silicone and pleathered box of chick rock into that of a well, half-goat man. But while Teaches garnered mostly positive reviews for its uniqueness, Fatherfucker also drew critics who thought her vulgarity had worn thin. Some seemed to be questioning Peaches’ seriousness as a musician, citing “flat instrumentation” and “gratuitously shocking and embarrassingly unfunny” lyrics– the sort of criticism a teacher might give the class ham whose antics cross the line between artfully testing boundaries and outright abandon. Which sort of gets to the heart of the problem of being a sexed-up, feminist female rocker. Or a feminist who likes sexed-up rockers, which describes many of Peaches’ listeners.
In their prime, female singers and musicians like Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Courtney Love, and Stevie Nicks were lauded for using sex to push the gender boundaries of rock’s aggressively masculine, performance-based culture. They were also criticized for losing control of themselves by not only anti-porn feminists, but by mainstream media when it was perceived that they had gone too far (see Madonna’s Sex book; Love’s rap sheet). Then, when “girl power” and the Spice Girls became hopelessly intertwined concepts (paving the way for such marketing blitzes as the faux lesbian Britney/Madonna kiss) it seemed as if feminist rock would be replaced by man-pleasing simulacra. In that way, Peaches has set a trap for herself of either being not taken seriously—the ham who just wants to get your attention by yelling the dirtiest thing she can think of—or being accused of feeding male fantasies instead of empowering what is feminine.
There’s only one way for a singer to prove she’s a rocker, not just a shocker—by making a kick-ass album. Impeach My Bush takes Peaches’ musicality to the new levels. The singer, who self-produced her first two albums, brought on a co-producer, Mickey Petralia (of Beck’s Midnight Vultures) and a cast of contributors, which includes Joan Jett and The Gossip’s Beth Ditto, to help with Impeach My Bush. But the album is unmistakably hers—with lines whose sheer dirty cleverness will make listeners laugh out loud—just over fresher, crisper beats. With her sights set on the mainstream, as Peaches sings, “you gotta cut the mustard to clear the custard.”
I caught up with the Berlin-based singer on her last visit to the States, as she wandered around Brooklyn, sightseeing and filming for her video diary.
MJ: Impeach My Bush sounds cleaner than your earlier albums, why is that?
P: You think it’s cleaner??
MJ: Not lyrically cleaner, I mean the production quality.
P: Well, it may be cleaner, but it’s also more aggressive. It gets harder, you know? I jumped out of the 505 box, so to speak. You can get those fatter sounds, which is really nice. I figure the first two albums were, you know, my way of just establishing who I am, and that this is the way I’m going to do it. I’m going to only use these many words, and these many sounds and it’s all going to come from the same thing. It really worked well for me, and after two albums of working alone and six years, I think it’s time to learn how to be a better producer.
And the fear, you know, is always that you’re going to water down yourself, so I was really happy that it didn’t. In that way, it just made it really forceful and more musical. Because some people were like, ‘is she a performance artist?’ And I don’t care, because I know who I am. I know I’m a good musician and a good producer, but now it’s in the studio for those people who are more conservative in their way of hearing music. They’re like, “oh yeah, now I get it.” But that’s ok. Because I want to infiltrate the pop culture and if I’m going to do that and change pop minds, you know, it’s just whatever they need to convince themselves, then maybe I can actually infiltrate pop culture this time. I’m not afraid of mainstream, because if I’m mainstream, that’s cool. Because I’m not changing who I am, but if someone sees what I do as mainstream, then that’s cool.
MJ: What it was like to work with your co-producer and your other contributors?
P: I wanted to work with Mickey Pertralia, who is an amazing producer. He’s not famous. And I think that’s because he always lets people’s own sound come out. He works with them, he’s not like making the mark of like, “well, why you need to do it, kid?” He’s like, “hey, well, what do you want to do? We’ll get that done.” He’s just a whiz in the studio, and he’s hilarious, we would do a lot of dances together and stuff. We brought on Greg Kirsten, he’s a great keyboard player and musical genius. [Laughs] At first I was like, “noo! I want to do everything. It’s my album,” but he recreated all of the sounds that I made digitally on original instruments. So that’s why it’s got a bigger, fatter sound. Also, Mickey has all of the old drum machines, like the original 808s and the drum tracks and all that. So we replaced all of those sounds with the original ones. And then for the rock songs, I had Samantha Malone playing full kits instead. I’ve used snare and high hat over dubs before, but this time we had full kit. And I played guitars for one song.
[Voice of construction worker in background]: You look like a supermodel!!
P: Whoo! I am a supermodel, didn’t you know? Hey...look at that. No… I’ll just blow you a kiss, though… He told me I look like a supermodel.
[laughter in background]
Umm…. You know. And Les Paul Jr. is a great guitar and then through Marshall amps, so I really used the shit, you know?
MJ: You’re really known for your live performaces…
Yeah! I’m going to have a live band this time! I think this album lends itself to a live band.
MJ: What energizes you while you’re on stage? You’re known for bringing tremendous energy.
P: I don’t know, I guess it’s just the people there, and I feel like I have to communicate with every single one of them, somehow. So, it’s just that kind of, “hey, everybody, c’mon! We’re here! Don’t be passive! Why are you so passive!”
MJ: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen from stage?
P: You know what was so weird? I saw this guy do a huge rail off the stage once, which was so rude. He just like, made a huge rail and snorted it up his nose while I was playing and I was like, “dude! What are you doing?” and he didn’t even offer me any! But you know, people are grabbing each other, going in each other’s pants. Whatever. You know, basically what rock & roll’s about.
MJ: So you’re known for being a very sexual performer, with very sexual lyrics…
P: Yeah, but they’re sexual, and they’re also questioning sexual standards of rock and hiphop.
MJ: Do you listen to a lot of hip hop?
P: Yeah, I do. I think I’m answering a lot of hip hop, you know? Like when Busta Rhymes says, “light your ass on fire” and that “your ass is so big, put the club in your ass” that’s when I’m saying, “the tent’s so big in your pants, I’m going to bring my friends for a dance.” Or even, you know, Chairman Dean, who said, [sings] “two girls for every boy…” and I’m like, “two guys for every girl.”
[to someone next to her]: Make sure you get this, a close up. I’ll stand here for a while.
Sorry, we’re still filming. There’s a Hassidic building behind me. I could tell because I used to work in a couple of Hassidic schools back when I taught music and drama. I wouldn’t be wearing a wig over my head or a skirt or anything. But it was cool that they accepted me to teach creativity to their little strict Jewish minds.
MJ: Are you religious at all?
P: Well, I’m not really, no. But I grew up in a Jewish environment. I went to half day Hebrew and half day English schools. I didn’t really go to public school.
MJ: Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and Karen O, who all have at one point, tried the sexed up female vocalist persona. What, to you, is the difference between an empowered, sexed up female artist and an un-empowered version of the same?
P: Well, disempowering is when you haven’t made the decision yourself. Because, let’s look at Madonna, too. She really played with it at the beginning and I wasn’t really a big fan of Madonna. I didn’t really get it. But it’s just whatever makes you feel comfortable. I don’t really see it as sexed up and empowering. I just see it as empowering, everything. Just go full on, you know? Like, Iggy Pop or something like that. Just give it all of your 500 percent energy, everthing.
MJ: It just seems like a lot of women, especially, go to your shows, go wild, and then return to their collared shirts and office jobs the next day, and it’s your full time job to be this symbol. Does it bother you at all?
P: Well, I think it’s important and they need it. I’m not having sex 24 hours a day, and of course, it’s a performance, too. If people need a release, I need a release.
MJ: Who are your musical influences?
P: I’m a huge fan of hip hop. I grew up on a lot of classic rock. I’m a huge AC/DC fan. I don’t have a problem with, I don’t see why there should be a problem with these little compartments. Like, in the 80s, Aerosmith and Run DMC already break the wall, literally. I don’t understand why there’s an issue between rock and hip hop. I just think the worst time was when rock rap happened, like Limp Bisqet and all that stuff. That was the worst thing you could have done to rock and hip hop. It was just wrong.
MJ: Are you a political person at all?
P: Well, you could say I’m political because what I’m doing is questioning authority, questioning standards and power roles, you know? I’m not talking about ending the war specifically, although I do say “Impeach my bush” but it’s obviously a play on me and politics.
MJ: You’re doing some work for a embryonic stem cell research foundation now too, right?
P: Yeah, my sister has Multiple Scerosis. And she lives in New York, and obviously, Bush isn’t a fan of stem cell research, because even though these aren’t fetuses, and they will be thrown in the garbage, 8 thousand of them will thrown away in the garbage, he doesn’t feel like it’s ethical to use them for research. And it’s proven that these could help with advancements in treating Parkinsons, MS.
MJ: Could you tell me who you write music for and who you hope is listening?
P: I write for myself, what I think is missing. And that’s going to transfer to, hopefully, other people who have the same idea as me. And then I’m also hoping that straight guys will learn to, you know, just loosen up a little like women and gay men do. You know, like if you sit too close to another hetero guy, that no one’s going to think, “you’re a homo, dude.” Stuff like that.
MJ: Is there anything, you think, that makes your music so important to this particular period? When it seems like self-censorship and prudishness are rampant?
P: Yeah. I’m not going away, you know? In that way I’m saying No, don’t believe that you have to be more prudish or you have to follow. We need more people to shake it up so people know that it’s ok. Cause let’s face it, we all want tush. If I’m wrong, Impeach my Bush.
MJ: Just one more thing, and I’ll let you go. How do you say ‘diddle my skittle’ in German?
P: I don’t think they have a word for ‘diddle.’ Maybe they do. I’m going to have to find that out.
MJ: If you really want to feel comfortable where you live, you know?
P: “Didoool mein skeetoool.” Yeah, they always ask me you know, what ‘slippery dick’ means. It really is a fish in the Atlantic.
MJ: Is it really?
P: When I found that out, I was just like ‘no, that’s just too Peaches right there.’ You think it’s so nasty to say ‘slippery dick’? But I’m kind of saying hey, get over it, it’s just a fish in the Atlantic.
And someone asked me what the word “slippery” meant in Amsterdam. “Vat is shlippery?” Of all the words I use not to understand.