Merrill Beth Nisker (a.k.a. Peaches), singer, songwriter, musician, performance artist, filmmaker (born 11 November 1968 in Toronto, ON). Peaches is a Toronto-born, Berlin-based musician and performance artist. Her eclectic, provocative electro-clash music, sexually-infused lyrics and subversive, gender-bending performances have made her an international cult icon. She is perhaps best known for her breakthrough single, “F—k the Pain Away,” from her second album, The Teaches of Peaches (2000). Other studio albums include Fatherf—ker (2003), Impeach My Bush (2006), I Feel Cream (2009) and Rub (2015). She also performed in the stage musicals Peaches Christ Superstar and Peaches Does Herself. She was named Electronic Artist of the Year at the SiriusXM Independent Music Awards in 2010.
Early Years and Education
Born into a Jewish family of Polish-Ukrainian descent, Merrill Nisker grew up in Toronto near Rush’s Geddy Lee. “I used to play British Bulldog and Red Rover with Geddy Lee's brother while Rush were practicing in [Lee's] garage,” she told Exclaim! magazine in 2003. “They all looked like weird wizards." She attended a Jewish elementary school in Toronto, where classes were taught in English and Hebrew.
After participating in the theatre program at A.Y. Jackson Secondary School in North York, she studied theatre at York University with the goal of becoming a director, before becoming frustrated by the collaborative aspects of theatre and falling into music. She taughtmusic and drama at YMCAs, daycare centres and private schools for 10 years, and also played in the folk trio Mermaid Café.
In 1995, she released her first album, Fancypants Hoodlum, under her birth name. After the album’s release, she formed the band The Shit with a group of friends, including Dominic Salole (aka Mocky) and Jason Beck (aka Chilly Gonzales). “We were all dissatisfied with the music we were making, and decided to give ourselves new names,” she told SPIN in 2003. “Like, ‘Let’s just start fresh.’” She adopted the name Peaches, a reference to the song “Four Women” by Nina Simone, who at the end says, “My name is Peaches!”
Around this time, Peaches bought a Roland MC-505 synthesizer, which allowed her to make all the sounds and effects she needed on her own. She also performed at Will Munro’s infamous performance dance night, Vazaleen, at Toronto’s El Mocambo and was roommates with Feist, who occasionally joined her in performance. Peaches was invited to tour North America with Elastica in 2000–01, and met British Tamil rapper M.I.A., who documented the tour on video. Her influences at this time included Rough Trade’s Carole Pope, Iggy Pop, Bikini Kill, Joan Jett,filmmaker John Waters and visual artist Cindy Sherman.
The Teaches of Peaches (2000)
After recording the six-track EP Lovertits (2000) in Toronto, Peaches followed Chilly Gonzales to Berlin, where she signed with his Berlin record label, Kitty-Yo. It released her first official studio album, the bawdy electro-clash effort The Teaches of Peaches (2000), which included the breakthrough hit “F—k the Pain Away.” (The track of that song included on the album was recorded live during its first-ever performance, at The Rivoli in Toronto.)
SPIN called The Teaches of Peaches “a masterwork of rudimentary electronics and explicit lyrics,” while the Observer later noted how “[h]er dirty, grinding, minimal tunes (self-penned and self-produced) and sexually frank lyrics… connected almost instantly with clubbers, post-feminists, fashionistas and party animals of every hue.”
Even though The Teaches of Peaches reportedly only sold about 50,000 copies worldwide, it became a cult hit and penetrated popular culture. According to the Guardian, “By the end of 2001, The Teaches had made Peaches the doyenne of underground clubland from Berlin to New York and beyond, and a darling of the fashion world. Her smutty anthems, often as absurdist as they were suggestive, accompanied more Amazonian women down the catwalks of Givenchy and Prada, among others.”
“F—k the Pain Away” was featured on the soundtracks of a number of films and TV shows, including Lost in Translation, Wetlands, South Park, 30 Rock and True Blood. Sony signed a European contract with Peaches, but subsequently dropped her when it deemed the provocative music video for the song “Set it Off” too ribald. She sang the song on the BBC show Top of the Pops, but her performance was deemed too racy to be aired.
Peaches went on to self-produce the rock-focused Fatherf—ker (2003) with new record label XL/Kitty-Yo. Playing with ideas of gender identity (she is pictured with a full beard on the album cover) she overthrows conventional notions of gender by exploring and subverting the spectrum of rock clichés, from cock-rock to riot grrrls. Iggy Pop is featured on the single “Kick It,” andPeaches opened tours for Marilyn Manson and Queens of the Stone Age. The album reached No. 3 on the UK Dance Chart and earned Peaches a nomination for Outstanding Music Artist at the 15th GLAAD Media Awards, which she lost to fellow Canadian Rufus Wainwright.
Also in 2003, Peaches collaborated on the song “Oh My God” from Pink’s album Try This. In 2004, the New York Daily News named Peaches one of the “10 Wildest Women in Music,” alongside L’il Kim, Courtney Love, Sinead O’Connor and Madonna. In 2005, she made a cameo appearance as herself on an episode of The L Word.
Impeach My Bush (2006)
Peaches’s equally provocative third album was the politically charged Impeach My Bush (2006), which features contributions from Joan Jett, Samantha Maloney, Beth Ditto and Feist. The album cover shows her in a sequined burqa, and the music video for the album’s signature song, “Boys Wanna Be Her,”depicts Peaches and the band dressed up in glam rock outfits and injuring themselves with their instruments. “Boys Wanna Be Her” wasfeatured in the TV shows Ugly Betty and The L Word, and in the Ellen Page film Whip It (2009).
In the summer of 2006, Peaches formed her live backing band, the Herms, an all-woman group of musicians including J.D. Samson (Le Tigre), Samantha Maloney (Hole) and Radio Sloan (The Need). Peaches and the Herms toured as the opening act for Nine Inch Nails and Bauhaus, and also played a number of international festivals. Peaches was nominated for "Outstanding Music Artist" at the 18th GLAAD Media Awards, but lost to Scissor Sisters.
I Feel Cream (2009)
Peaches’s fourth studio album, I Feel Cream (2009), features a more eclectic, soulful and hip-hop-driven sound. Collaborators included Soulwax, Digitalism, Shapemod and Simian Mobile Disco. Shunda K (Yo! Magesty) is featured on the track “Billionaire,” and long-time friend and collaborator Chilly Gonzales co-wrote a number of songs. Along with her new backing band, the Berlin-based Sweet Machine, Peaches toured Australia performing at Big Day Out festivals and sideshows.
In 2010, Peaches collaborated on the track “My Girls” from Christina Aguilera’s album Bionic, and on the song “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” from R.E.M’s Collapse into Now (2011). She also contributed to Major Lazer’s “Scare Me” from the album Free the Universe (2013).
In 2015, a new book of photographs by Holger Talinski was published by Akashic Books, called What Else Is In the Teaches of Peaches. It contains photographs of Peaches and testimonials written by her, Michael Stipe, Yoko Ono and Ellen Page.
Peaches’s sixthstudio album, Rub, which she describes as “post gender,” features contributions from Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Feist and Vice Cooler, and is slated for release on 25 September 2015.
Stage and Film Work
In 2010, in collaboration with the Hebbel am Ufer Theater in Berlin, Peaches created her own rendition of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar by performing solo in the critically acclaimed Peaches Christ Superstar, accompanied only by Chilly Gonzales on piano. ARTFORUM’s review stated, “Not only did Peaches set it off, she managed to surprise us all by showing off an expansive vocal range, a musician’s natural sensitivity to the dynamics of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score, and an emotive prowess that is rarely if ever displayed in her own, less holy, music.”
In 2012, she successfully forayed into filmmaking with her autobiographical electro rock opera, Peaches Does Herself, featuring 22 of her popular songs. Originally presented as a stage show at Berlin’s Hebbel am Ufer Theater, the raucous and insightful narrative on “gender, age and beauty” follows Peaches as she journeys from “bedroom wannabe to fully fledged rock-stardom and beyond!”
The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012. Also that year, Peaches performed the male lead in a production of the Monteverdi opera L’Orfeo at Berlin’s HAU 1 Theater, singing all her parts in Italian. Peaches has also acted in several films, including Hideous Man (2002), a short film directed by John Malkovich for clothing designer Bella Freud, and the feature Ivory Tower (2010), filmed in Toronto.
In 2013, Peaches was invited by Yoko Ono to reenact Ono’s 1964 performance Cut Piece at the Meltdown Festival in London. The provocative performance featured Peaches sitting silently onstage while her clothes were cut away piece by piece by members of the audience.
Electronic Artist of the Year, Sirius XM Independent Music Awards (2010)