Photo by Peaches

Peaches: “Every kind of art is a privilege”

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Short Profile

Name: Merrill Nisker
DOB: 11 November 1966
Place of birth: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Occupation: Musician

Peaches, is creativity a privilege?

It is. Actually, I think it should be a human right, but it's definitely a privilege. At the same time... What is creativity? Is it in everything you do? You know, whatever food you have, is it the way you cook it or the way you eat it? Does it have to be so separate from your daily life? Is it how you deal with whatever stress or whatever situation you're in and creatively find a way? Does your brain have enough room because of your situation to be creative, or can you always create that space? Is that a privilege of your own mind — or are you talking about personal creativity and being able to feel that in yourself?

Well, what is creativity for you?

I think I have a personal need for it… I want to bring creativity more into my daily life and see it in everything I do. I want to get away from it being ego driven. I want to bring it into daily life and feel creative just in how I look at myself in the mirror! I think that's healthy. But yes, I do think every kind of art is a privilege and therefore has a responsibility. Once you have any privilege, you have a responsibility to use it for a bigger purpose. As RuPaul would say, “With freedom comes responsibility.” (Laughs)

“Once it's written, it's not just my message, it's out there and people can view it, or take it, or hate it, or love it! And then you learn from that. ”

How would you describe the bigger purpose that informs your work?

I guess the message is just… Being authentic to yourself. I mean, it’s not like: this is what the message is, it’s more like whatever message I feel is represented without being preachy, that it’s out there in a way that's not going to stress people out. If that’s something like ageism, which I’ve talked about a lot, or even just dealing with my own inner turmoil or stress… It’s about making it inclusive. It’s very interesting because once it's written, it's not just my message, it's out there and people can view it, or take it, or hate it, or love it, or whatever. And then you learn from that. It helps your creativity, your growth.

Do you feel like these days, you can express everything you want to express? Are the doors really completely wide open for your creativity?

Yeah! I feel like I'm in this weird ground where I have, obviously, a reputation and a following. But I'm not super public, I’m not a pop star or anything like that. So I have this great middle ground where I can express what I want because nobody really cares, you know what I mean? (Laughs) I won't be protested; nobody would bother to protest me.

You’ve done some wild stuff — from your flamboyant costumes and often hardcore lyrics, to the countless racy performances… Maybe you’re just past the point of ever getting cancelled.

I do get banned from YouTube a lot! But yeah, nothing ever becomes a situation where I have to change what I'm doing.

In your early days, you and your bandmate once made it a point to never repeat any songs during your entire tour — so you ended up making up songs, shouting random words and nonsense…

That was such a bad decision!

Were you nervous taking that kind of risk so early on in your career?

I'm actually so happy we did that! We were opening for Elastica, so it wasn't even our tour. It’s funny, I ended up playing one those venues six months later alone, and they were like, “Oh, no, she's back… “ (Laughs) I think it was in Chicago, we played some place that I've never played again, but they said that we were the worst show that they've ever had. We were just making up stuff, almost trying to do improv, like, “Okay, give us a word.” I honestly don't know why we decided to do that. This was in the days before Peaches, so maybe it was because we didn't want to make it like: this is my part, this your part. We were just as experimenting, you know?

You once said that at the time, you didn’t care at all about selling albums or anything, you just loved being able to experiment like that.

I think it's healthy — because then you really do what you want to do.

And now? Is that freedom to experiment and take risks still essential for you as an artist?

I think the freedom these days comes with collaborating with musicians or dancers, lighting people, or sound designers, things like that… I also did my first solo art exhibition in 2019, and that was something I would consider a risk because I wasn't at the center of it. I used inanimate objects and gave them a kind of emotionality and performance… I really wanted somebody who had never heard of me to be able to go to this exhibition, and have a completely different experience. And those who knew me got excited that there was something different.

“People tell me that they understood who they were when they heard my music... I get that constantly, and I'm just so grateful.”

When it comes to your performances now, for example, is it harder to give people something that excites them, confuses them, or surprises them?

I think in my situation, people were a lot more confused when I was just starting out because it was the first time they’d heard this kind of thing. And now they're in on it. They're like, “I'm just gonna read the Wikipedia the night before I go, or watch a couple YouTube videos.” And then it's like they get it. It's different. But I think that there's something about my live performance that, once they get there, they're like, “Oh, I didn't expect this.” There's just an energy that brings it into a visceral experience. And I'm very interested in the visceral experience.

An early review of one of your shows called it a “hair-raising throwdown.” Apparently that was a description you really liked because it meant you were doing something right.

Yeah, it just felt good to me! This writer was the number one writer in Toronto at the time. There wasn't really an electronic scene or anything, so I understood that there was some kind of leap that she wasn't ready for, or willing to accept. She called it a hair-raising throwdown, like, “What was that?” So the idea of the confusion, not understanding what it was… That, to me, was not a deterrent. It was like, “Yes, this is the next step, this is the next level.” I felt good about that. You can feel it, you know? We can feel it.

Since then, critics have shifted to calling you fearless.

(Laughs) The fearless part… I mean, I think you just have to really want to say what you're saying and want to play the music you're playing. There has been so many times where people tell me that they understood who they were when they heard my music, or that it was an early sign for them wanting to be who they needed to be. I get that constantly, and I'm just so grateful. So, it’s about conviction in what you’re doing, whether it fails or not.