It's been six years since Peaches released her last studio album. But far from being a break, these past six years have been some of the busiest and most productive in the provocative musician-producer-filmmaker-performance artist's career. From acclaimed theater productions to her cinematic debut at the Toronto International Film Festival to the release of her first book, Peaches pushed herself further and with more artistic rewards than ever before during her time away from the studio. That work ethic should come as little surprise, though.
This is Peaches we're talking about, an artist who's managed to wield immeasurable influence over mainstream pop culture while still operating from outside of its confines, carving a bold, sexually progressive path in her own image that's opened the door for countless others to follow. Now, creatively refreshed and recharged, she's emerged from the studio in rare form with RUB, her fifth and most unequivocal album to date. It's an adventurous, audacious musical statement, the latest entry in a conversation Peaches opened up 15 years ago and the world may just now have finally caught up with. "Since 2000, I've been making a record for a year, and then touring it for two years over and over," Peaches explains of the impetus for her studio hiatus. "After 10 years of doing that, I needed a change. I didn't feel like writing another album and touring it for two years again, so I was really excited to try new projects."
That desire led to her one-woman production of Jesus Christ Superstar, redubbed 'Peaches Christ Superstar' and mounted initially in Berlin before touring the world. "It was an endurance performance," she explains, "and a time for me to celebrate my actual singing voice, which I never pursued as Peaches." The Guardian hailed it as "killer," raving that "Peaches gets into the guts of the songs, extracting with utter sincerity every ounce of pathos and comedy," while SPIN praised the production's "absurd beauty" and The Globe and Mail applauded her vocals, which "explode[d] with soulful power."
Critics' surprise may have stemmed from the fact that Peaches had spent the past decade pushing buttons and boundaries with a sexually-charged blend of electronic music, hip hop, and punk rock that she delivered via one of the most raw and creative stage shows in popular music. When she first emerged to international attention with The Teaches of Peaches, her 2000 debut album, single "Fuck The Pain Away" catapulted her into the spotlight and appeared everywhere from Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation and 30 Rock to South Park and HBO's True Blood. Rolling Stone called the album "surreally funny [and] nasty," and the Village Voice named it one of the year's best.
She followed it up with Fatherfucker, which further challenged and reversed issues of gender politics and sexual identity and featured an appearance by Iggy Pop. She was joined by Joan Jett, Josh Homme, Beth Ditto, and more on her 2006 call to revolution, Impeach My Bush, and by the time she returned with I Feel Cream three years later, The New York Times had dubbed her a genuine "electro-clash heroine," though she'd already transcended the genre tag and demonstrated an incisive artistic prowess far beyond her musical output. Uncut raved that her work brought together "high art, low humour and deluxe filth [in] a hugely seductive combination."
She looked back on it all in 2010 with Peaches Does Herself, an electro-rock opera spanning material from all four albums arranged as a semi-autobiographical narrative. It morphed into a film of the same title, which premiered at the TIFF in 2012 before traveling to more than 60 festivals around the world over the next two years. In another unexpected twist, she sang the title role in a production of Monteverdi's epic 17th-century opera L’Orfeo in Berlin, in addition joining Yoko Ono's Plastic Ono Band for performances at the iconoclast's request and collaborating with Major Lazer, Le Tigre, REM, and more.
The whole period is documented beautifully in the new book, What Else Is In The Teaches Of Peaches, a collection of Holger Talinski's photos from at home and on the road, on-stage and behind-the-scenes, as Peaches conquered new artistic heights. Yoko Ono, Ellen Page, and Michael Stipe all contributed to the text, which offers unique insight into a side of the artist the audience has rarely seen. RUB begins where the book leaves off, in 2014, as Peaches headed into her newly-built garage studio in Los Angeles to begin more than a full year of work on the album, collaborating with longtime friend Vice Cooler. "After six years, I was excited about my lyrics again, about what Peaches was," she explains. "I felt more comfortable living out any idea I wanted to try. We spent ten hours a day making beats, and whatever stuck, I would write on and develop. The only agenda was to make the best album we could."
Oozing with seductive rhythms and bedroom-rattling bass, the record opens with the semi-spoken hook of "Close Up," delivered with an inimitable and impenetrable cool by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon in just one take. Peaches' old collaborator Feist also returns on album closer "I Mean Something," singing a hypnotic hook and lending a chillingly beautifully wordless melody. But in between those two guest appearances, this album is pure Peaches. "Come with me / You know me / Feel free / Peaches," she raps with a hard-won swagger and confidence on the title track, which is as full of vivid, lewd imagery as anything she's ever written. "Dick In The Air" flips gender roles with an absurdist twist, as Peaches preaches, "I'm sick of hands in the air / And shake our asses like we don't care / We've been shaking our tits for years / So let's switch positions no inhibitions" before exhorting her audience to "put your dick in the air." Similarly, on "Vaginoplasty," she responds to a culture that measures manhood in inches but shames women for their sexuality with lines like "my pussy's big and I'm proud of it…make you bow down to it til you drown in it."
It doesn't stop at the music for Peaches, though. "I'm curating my whole visual lineup," she explains of her plans to once again direct and present videos for every track on the album with a slew of collaborators. Margaret Cho, designer Sarah Sachs from Moonspoon Saloon, A.L Steiner, Ryan Heffington, Kim Gordon, Vice Cooler, and more are all on tap for contributions to the series. The gorgeous, throbbing "Light In Places" was written for performance artist Empress Stah and her ‘Stargasm’ show, the world’s only Laser Buttplug Aerial performance ("I've got light in places you didn't know it could shine"), while "Sick In The Head" is a gritty electro-pop track influenced by Suicide, and the album's two breakup songs—the dark and menacing "Free Drink Ticket" and the insanely catchy pop song "Dumbfuck"—find Peaches addressing issues far more personal than political. "In any relationship, there's that moment everybody has when you find out something and want to kill the other person," she explains. "You get over it, but I wrote 'Free Drink Ticket' in that moment. It's the most vulnerable—and also the most angry—song I've written in my life."
The reality, though, is that everything is personal for Peaches. "When I started, half the people just weren't having it, so it's incredible where we are right now," she says of her undeniable role in shaping of the current pop landscape. "But I didn’t do it for any reason other than that it was just what I really wanted to say." And that's what's in the teaches of Peaches.