When Toronto-born, Berlin-based musician and performance artist Merrill Nisker burst onto the scene in 2000 with "The Teaches of Peaches," her debut album under the guise of her electro-clash alter ego Peaches, much of the appeal was based on the shock value of hearing this petite but somehow larger-than-life woman graphically challenging sexual mores and gender roles.
On her next two discs, "Father----er" (2003) and "Impeach My Bush" (2006), Peaches showed she had a lot more to say than early anthems such as "Diddle My Skittle" first indicated. And a funny thing started to happen: She found herself collaborating with pop and rock superstars such as Pink, Iggy Pop and Joan Jett, and hearing her praises sung by mainstream divas including Madonna and Christina Aguilera.
On her new album, "I Feel Cream," the now 40-year-old artist reveals yet another side of her personality, focusing much more on the keen melodic talents and surprising vocal chops that were easily overlooked amid the chaotic assaults of previous releases. I caught up with her from New York as she prepared to come to Chicago tonight.
Q. Let's start with making the new record: What was your goal with this one?
A. I decided to make a dance record, and I didn't want to use any guitars. I've always been part of the dance scene sort of by default: When I started with "Teaches of Peaches," it was like mixing indie-punk music together with electro-beats, which was strange and seemed to work for people. Now it's sort of standard. But I did a lot of remixing and a lot of DJ'ing last year, and my world was much more in the clubs, whereas I grew up with rock and classic rock and'80s pop.
In the past, I've also been sort of a control freak, basically producing myself. This time, I wanted to work with other producers [Simian Mobile Disco, Soulwax, Digitalism and Drums of Death]. That gave me more of a chance to work on the songwriting. And I didn't really concentrate on the singing on the first three albums, because I had the direct and specific goal of making a kind of music that I thought was missing. I was filling that void, and I thought that if I was singing, my innovative style would go to the wayside and people would just say, "Oh, but she can sing." But now, on the fourth album, as a person who talks about pushing boundaries and all of these things, I felt like I should push my own boundaries, so I included singing.
There are some really hardcore tracks and some more rapping. But there's also some vulnerability.
Q. I look at it as this album is a little more Merrill and a little less Peaches.
A. I never really thought the separation between Peaches and Merrill was so big; I always just thought that Peaches was the more amplified version of Merrill.
Q. I guess I'm thinking of a song like "Mommy Complex..."
A. No way! "Mommy Complex" is such a hardcore Peaches song! Did you read those lyrics?
Q. Yes. But it seems pretty daring, honest and personal for a woman to step forward to talk about sexuality and growing older.
A. Well, that's why for me there is less talk about gender on this album than about aging. You can still be sexy as you grow older. Just think about Mae West: She's the great example. I never really thought of myself as a poster girl for gender issues or feminism; I just try to keep it real. Now I'm growing older, so I'm singing about that more.
Q. When I last interviewed you, in 2001, you said, "When I started Peaches, I was really thinking not too far into the future. It was more like, 'I'm here now; let's blow the wad!'" It seemed as if you'd never even imagine finding your act being embraced by superstars like Madonna and Christina Aguilera.
A. Yeah, and Avril Lavigne, too. It seems like all the pop girls love me, like Britney and Avril... But no, I had no idea that would happen, and that really wasn't my goal. It just seems like people are catching up with me, and it's kind of fun. I always claimed that I should be mainstream, and the mainstream should come to me. And every year it's getting closer and closer.
Q. So what do you see in Peaches' future now?
A. What I'm looking at in the future is so much bigger than music. When I started, I was saying "screw music" in a way, because I was performing originally with no instruments. Now, people are doing that all the time. Now, I really don't care if I'm just a musician; I'm going to perform the whole "Jesus Christ Superstar" myself next in Berlin and Paris in proper theaters.
Q. Wow, that's pretty ambitious! You're going to sing all the parts?
A. Yep. Christ, disciples, Pharisees...
Q. The Pharisees have the coolest song.
A. You know it! [Singing] "So like John before him, this Jesus must die! For the sake of the nation, this Jesus must die!" I can't wait.
Decibelle presents Peaches, Drums of Death and Evil Beaver
Metro, 3730 N. Clark
9 tonight [Friday, May 22]
$20 in advance, $25 at the door; limited $200 VIP tables with four seats
(773) 549-4140; www.metrochicago.com