‘Sucking on my titties like you wanted me,’ declared Peaches on Fuck the Pain Away, her sexual call-to-arms that first announced her as a fearless and confrontational artist when it was released in 2000. Serving as the opening track to her official debut The Teaches of Peaches, the song blended elements of punk, new wave, riot grrrl and electro-hip hop and would introduce themes that the thirty-three-year-old would continue to explore throughout her career. Developing a distinct style of raw vocals, distorted guitars and her most trusted collaborator the Roland MC-505, the record would soon earn her adoration from her loyal fan base and both confusion and acclaim from the music press.
But it would be Kick It, released three years later, that would signal her arrival on the scene through her collaboration with punk icon Iggy Pop. Its accompanying album Fatherfucker would further cement her reputation as a performer willing to antagonise the mainstream while her outrageous live shows would rival that of her male counterparts and before long her music was being featured on the soundtrack to such popular titles as Jackass Number Two, Whip It and The Vampire Diaries. Outside of her studio work, Peaches also developed the concert film Peaches Does Herself and the photography book What Else Is In the Teaches of Peaches, along with art installation and even acting, all designed to shock and titillate her audience.
By the time that they stepped into a Miami studio in March 2003 to record Kick It, Pop had already been a rock ‘n’ roll star for over thirty years, having first found fame as the frontman of the proto-punk group the Stooges during the early seventies before eventually launching a career as a solo artist with 1977’s The Idiot. Despite failing to achieve platinum sales he would find his way into the UK top ten and US top forty with his 1986 hit Real Wild Child (Wild One), yet while many of his contemporaries may have struggled to move with the times the quality of Pop’s output has remained consistent, with 1993’s American Caesar and 2001’s Beat ‘Em Up as raw and uncompromising as his earlier punk output. Even as recently as 1999 he had enjoyed another British top ten when he collaborated with the London electro-group Death in Vegas on their macabre masterpiece Aisha.
Peaches, meanwhile, was relatively new to the rock scene, having released her first album Fancypants Hoodlum under her birth name Merrill Nisker in 1995 to little fanfare. Born in the Canadian city of Toronto as the youngest of three siblings, Nisker’s first musical aspirations came through the decision to start an all-girl rock group with her close friend Sticky and through this she first made the acquaintance of Jason Beck, the man who would play a significant role during her early years as a performer. Her initial attempts at creating music would result in such short-lived acts as Mermaid Café and The Shit but it would be through another long-forgotten group called Freedom that Nisker and Beck’s creative juices began to flow. With Beck finally emigrating to Berlin, Nisker soon followed suit and, taking her name from the closing statement at the end of Nina Simone’s 1966 track Four Women, Peaches was born.
I told my mom the album was called Fatherfucker
‘At the beginning my mother was like, ‘Why the hell are you moving to Germany? You’ve got this great job working with kids and you’re making this sex music and you’re Jewish, why are you living in Berlin?’ Peaches explained in an interview with i-D regarding her initial decision to quit teaching and relocate to Europe to join Beck, who by this point had signed with German label Kitty-Yo under the stage-name Gonzales. ‘And then she saw that Karl Lagerfeld took my picture and that I was wearing a Stella McCartney dress in a magazine and the New Yorker drew me and she’s like, ‘Wow, people respect you, you’re doing really well!’ When I told my mom the album was called Fatherfucker she paused and said, ‘Well, that makes a lot of sense.’ Eventually signing to Kitty-Yo, The Teaches of Peaches would make its way into the world in September 2000 following the release of her debut single Lovertits and soon the media developed an obsession with the outspoken and provocative artist.
Iggy Pop would first become aware of Peaches during the development of his fifteenth solo album Skull Ring but it would only be by chance that he would first hear her name. ‘A few years back I was stuck in a van full of journalists on the way to an alternative awards ceremony. Something I never want to experience again,’ he told the Double Negative in 2017. ‘But it turned out to be a useful trip because one of them told me to check out this new singer called Peaches. I did and I was blown away by her energy and attitude.’ Enthralled by her confidence, sexuality and unique talent, Pop would leave a message for the young singer requesting her permission for him to include a rendition of one of her Teaches of Peaches tracks on his upcoming album.
‘At first he asked me if he could cover my song Rock Show,’ she explained to Berlin Art Link. ‘He left me a voice message and was like, ‘Eeeyyy, it’s Iggy Pop!’ I first met him in L.A. at the Shortlist awards. I told him I was playing in Miami in a few weeks and asked him to come. In Miami I had a guest list of Iggy Pop plus one. No one believed me. But he showed up and was inspired by my performance.’ In an interview with Fused she would further elaborate, ‘He actually asked for my phone number and he called me and picked the song Rock Show from the Teaches of Peaches album, he’d done a cover of it and wanted to put it on his next album. I was like, ‘Okay, you want to be on my next album?’ And he’s like, ‘Alright, write something for us.’’
Working alongside producer Greig Nori, who had recently helped Sum 41 break into the charts, Pop was busy at the Hit Factory in Miami recording Skull Ring, an album that had initially been a collaboration with members of the Stooges but as the project began to evolve both Sum 41 and Green Day were invited on board to participate. With Peaches lending her vocal talents to Rock Show, she would eventually perform a second duet with Pop entitled Motor Inn, in which the latter would sneer during the opening verse, ‘I met a little girl with a heart of stone, she said she wanna give me an instant bone.’ Yet despite a dream come true for Peaches in being given the chance to exchange vocals with one of her idols, in reality both singers would perform their parts at separate locations, with the duet brought together during the edit.
‘Peaches was the cool one,’ he told Uncut in 2013 when looking back a decade later at the eclectic mix of guest musicians that would lend their talents to the album. ‘I wasn’t intimidated by her but I was definitely on my toes because I’d heard her records. We did the tracks without meeting physically and then I met her later. I had her over to my house. She would say stuff like, ‘Oh well, last night I was trying to fuck one of The Strokes but he wouldn’t go for it.’ Chicks aren’t generally going to talk to you like that.’ With Skull Ring not due for release until November 2003, by the time of its release Pop had reunited with Peaches for a real collaboration, in which she would arrange to record in Miami, far removed from Berlin where the rest of her album was created, to capture their aggressive trade-off on the song that she had penned for them both: Kick It.
With a repetitive synth-drum beat and simple guitar riff, Peaches and Pop would try to out-do each other with a variety of puns and in-jokes, including references to not only Peaches’ Fuck the Pain Away but also the 1973 Iggy and the Stooges classic Search and Destroy. The song would also reference the feminist stance that Peaches had taken on a woman’s right to grow their body hair, with her line, ‘some people don’t like my crotch’ immediately followed by Pop’s retort, ‘because it’s got fuzzy spots.’ This concept would be taken even further through the artwork for Fatherfucker, in which Peaches is portrayed in a close-up free from Photoshop glamour sporting a fake beard which, along with its eye-catching title, would immediately draw the attention of both music consumers and critics.
No chick with that hairy pussy’s gonna sing with the Stooges
Yet while many would respect Peaches for her decision to promote female body hair, particularly among her feminist fan base, she would encounter a certain amount of hostility during the making of Kick It from one of Pop’s colleagues. Much like Pop, guitarist Ron Asheton had first entered the industry through his work with the Stooges commencing in 1969 with their eponymous debut but after the release of Raw Power four years later the band eventually self-destructed, allowing Pop to enjoy considerable success on his own merits. Having reformed in 1974 after almost thirty years, the record sessions for Skull Ring would soon be followed by a proposed tour but after viewing what Peaches had dubbed her ‘crotch gallery’ on her official website, Asheton dismissed the idea of allowing her on stage with them. ‘He said, ‘No chick with that hairy pussy’s gonna sing with the Stooges,” she revealed to Exclaim. ‘And Iggy apologised for him.’
With Kick It eventually released as a single in January 2004, Peaches and Iggy Pop were finally given the chance to perform together in the promotional video for the song, in which the former sported a bright pink jacket, bra and shorts like Pop strutted around the facility in leather trousers and little else. Described by author Doris Leibetseder in her book Queer Tracks as ‘a parody of the tough music of the bad boys’ and Sally McKay in What it Feels Like for a Girl as a ‘pink rock camaraderie,’ the song would soon become, along with Fuck the Pain Away, a fan favourite and a staple of her live performance. Fatherfucker had gained considerable acclaim upon its release a few months earlier and with the subsequent European tour in support of Marilyn Manson, super-stardom seemed to be on the horizon. And her journey from the obscure to the edge of mainstream would all come as a result of this one collaboration.
‘Peaches introduced me to a whole new music scene,’ admitted Pop on how their time together helped to broaden his artistic horizon. ‘She introduced me to great bands I’d never heard of before like Le Tigre. Collaboration is also a learning process which is very important. You learn not only about the people you’re working with but about their scene too. To be effective as an artist you need to know about the different spheres and how they can help you.’ For Peaches, the artists that she would chose to work with during this moment in her career would cause inevitable comparisons from the media. ‘I get compared to Iggy a lot but only really because I did a song with him,’ she told Kerrang! ‘It’s funny because now I’m being called the female Manson. I only ever seem to get compared to men though. I guess there’s no prototype for me.’