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Merrill Beth Nisker, AKA Peaches, the Berlin-based Canadian electro musician and performance artist is in relaxed, buoyant mood backstage prior to her slamming DJ set at one of the coolest nights in Scotland. Chatting before her appearance at Death Disco at The Arches Glasgow, we ask the inspirational lady some questions while she’s getting ready. As we settle down for our interview, Peaches is enthusing about the recent Cindy Sherman MAC cosmetics campaign. Known for pushing the boundaries of gender and sexual identity, her extravagantly edgy costuming, eye-popping performances and explicit lyrics, Peaches talks frankly about her career trajectory, changes in the industry and life as a multi-instrumentalist producer pioneer.
At the end of the interview, we hear a knock at the dressing room door as one of the club staff brings in the bottles of fizz which 30 minutes later are sprayed from between Peaches thighs over a hot sweaty capacity crowd. Screaming for more as she blasts out her mix of dirty beats, the crowds are treated to some of Peaches’ own finest musical moments.
This girl can still “kick it” for sure!
Since this interview, in May 2012, Peaches starred alongside 6 Opera singers in L’Orfeo, composed by Monteverdi in 1607, in which she played the lead male role. In August of the same year, she put together a video with a number of artists and volunteers, appealing for the release of three members of the Pussy Riot group jailed in Russia to widespread international condemnation. To top it all off, her “anti-jukebox musical” has now been made into her first feature film Peaches Does Herself which is to premiere at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.
So, who or what was your main inspiration when you first started out and were formulating your ideas?
I guess what was important for me and how I got into stuff was that I loved so many local things. For me, it was people that weren’t necessarily famous or somebody that people knew but maybe someone who dressed a little different or talked a little different. I was always drawn to those people and was like, “How are they like that? How does that happen?”
Was there a vibrant scene back then? You’ve worked with a lot of different musicians over the years, like Chilly Gonzales for instance…
I was more into experimental bands, and really into the location of places and the atmosphere. Right now, I’m interested in more conceptual standing of the art, or performative art pieces that last and then go away. I realised that things don’t go away – they come back in waves… it’s always waves. Whether you like it or not, it’s like, “Oh yeah, that waves coming…” Right now, it’s the whole dubstep, drum and bass kind of music… And with house music, that’s something I diverted from and made punkier by doing dirtier stuff. It’s funny to see how thing’s regurgitate and come back. And then you realise that when you first discover it, it’s so important to you. And as the year’s go on, it’s “That’s it again – OK! Wow, yeah!” And with psychologies and philosophies, it’s always up and down like with waves of music – things that turn out to be ghettoised and then turn into huge scenes. It’s funny…
When you first got out there, you were doing it all yourself – do you consider yourself a pioneer in that respect?
It was a funny time because there was all this overproduced house and breakbeat, and I wanted to get back to punk but I also wanted to use these updated electronic sounds. Yeah, it’s really funny because it was so strange, especially in Canada, that somebody would get up there and just have one little tape machine. And it was before people had macs and loads of computers, everybody had their Garage Band or whatever to make music on. Now everybody and their grandma does these playback shows with VJs. But right now, 11 years later, I’m doing more of a DJ/MC thing which is totally going back to how I started. I feel very comfortable with screaming over tracks or whatever it is I do, and it’s funny coz now it’s such a standard but it was so strange then.
Do you feel the music industry has changed a lot since when you first entered it?
Yeah, it’s a different place because of the economics which are completely different. For me, there’s exciting parts of both. I started out before there was a lot of money involved and powerful major labels… in terms of big deals, big video budgets or whatever. I don’t think that’s going on now, which I’m also excited about, but I think it’s cool that people have to reroute and be resourceful.
Do you feel that major labels don’t take risks anymore?
I think there are different views and some don’t really know what to do…
Do you think things have changed also because of online music distribution?
In that regard, people can make music much earlier and easier due to technology. And that also means they can put it out easier on their own.
Do you think women have an easier time in the industry now?
That also goes in waves. With Riot Grrrl and electroclash, it was girls who ruled in that scene. Witch house music – now, girls rule that scene for sure. It’s strange, as there are millions of scenes out there and 5 of them are with girls in the focus. So it’s weird ways. It’s still like, “Oh you’re a girl and you’re a drummer??” Like, I had this taxi driver and we couldn’t really communicate, but he asked me what I do and I said, “I’m a DJ” and he said, “A singer? A singer?” He couldn’t get it. There’s something really undeniable about a woman’s voice and the woman’s voice is way more powerful. Maybe that’s the secret to what they want.
Recently, you’ve been branching out, as with the Peaches Christ Superstar project?
Yeah! And I wanted to do an opera based on my own person – Peaches Does Herself. I did it in Berlin twice but I would need money to take it anywhere else as it’s a huge show. It’s incredible and I love it. It’s like the next generation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I really think a lot of my work is questioning mainstream things that go on – like: what’s the deal with that jukebox musical style? Why are you taking all these great songs from Queen and turning them into a weird ‘there’s a world and there’s no more rock music’ weak plot? So I wanted to make my show more like an opera where the songs are the trajectory for the plot not this bad actor drama stuff.
In 2010, you worked with film director Celine Sciamma (director of films Water Lilies and Tomboy) on Ivory Tower. Do you want to do more film work?
I really do. I have no interest in being part of the whole Hollywood thing, but I really want to get into it. I have made my own videos. My image of what I want and how I want to see myself in film has a lot to do with my age and who I am right now. I don’t want to be hip about it and all young and fresh about it. I made a video for a song and I looked horrible in it. I oiled down my hair and I’m just running all the time in it – but it’s not ironic, I just made it hyper-real.
I don’t know if you saw the video for Show Stopper, but that was a test for a movie we wanted to make. We weren’t thinking of this but it’s similar to that film Berlin Calling (Hannes Stöhr 2008), in that it’s a film about a real DJ. The idea which the director Caroline (Sascha Cogez) proposed to me about 4 years ago was: “I want to make a fictional film but using your reality.” And I said, “Let’s do it, then!” She had the idea that a young girl stows away on my tour bus, but I was like, “No, there’s a woman whose my age in a totally different world.” So that’s what we did with this massage therapist. I really enjoyed doing that but we couldn’t get funding to make the film. But we’re still into doing stuff. It’s more than someone like Celine, as I would like to be more improvisational like in a Mike Leigh style.
So, are you getting a buzz out of going back out on the road and doing these DJ gigs?
Yeah, it’s good rediscovering that down and dirty level, and it’s also fun coz I get to come to places and talk to people more than when I’m doing my show. I want to interact with people and people want to interact with me – instead of me saying, “I’m putting on this show.”
And you don’t have a set game plan on the day?
I take chances, for sure…
You make extraordinary videos and you made many different ones for your last album I Feel Cream – the track Talk To Me is really crazy with the moving hair and THAT hair outfit!
Yeah, I made a video for every song, and for the last song I made two! I have a very good friend Charlie Le Mindu who I met in Berlin – he was a hairdresser who moved to London and became a fashion designer. He’s really amazing and does this incredible stuff. But I remember his first collection before he technically made a ‘first collection’ and he had all these wigs. So, I’m sitting in his apartment and say, “You know, we should do a video with these wigs!” If hair is on your head or eyelashes, it’s beautiful, but if it’s stuck somewhere unusual, it’s fucked up and I’m all about that! I used to sell merkins as merchandise and t-shirts with hair on, and for Impeach My Bush we did a video for Get It with this huge piece of hair that Charlie made that went down to my toes which was wild. A lot of my videos end up like, “Let’s go out onto the street in this weird costume!!”
What’s next for you?
I’m actually producing another band – a girl band from Taiwan called Go Chic. The main singer is more into the Peaches and Chicks on Speed style, and the one who makes the beats is totally into new sounds… and they have some punky stuff too.
So are you set to become the next Phil Spector with a roster of bands coming through your studio whilst you work the Peaches magic?
[Laughs] I’m just checking it out… It’s fun, because I really like them and it’s a good opportunity. 2010 was the year I gave myself a bunch of presents for my 10th anniversary, so we did a show completely with lasers twice in Berlin and Miami called The Peaches Laser Show. It was an incredible experience playing with all those lasers with people going “Whoa!” And it was good for me because I didn’t have to jump on everybody. It was really effective and FUN! And the other present of course was making the opera. So I’m just trying out a bunch of stuff. It’s about music, but it’s also about much more than music.
You’ve never compromised in your career, and in turn have influenced a lot of people. What would you say to somebody starting out now?
Make sure you really do what you really want to do, even if it’s only because it’s something you question. Look at what’s out there and what you think about it, and how to continue.