Peaches created a whole new sound when she picked up her drum machine and wrote one of the most iconic needle-drops in pop culture history. She is empowering, unpredictable, and electric. The same is true for F*** the Pain Away.
Episode 8: Peaches - LE
Shirley: Today’s Jump discussion, and featured song includes graphic language. Do proceed with caution. The Jump is a podcast where I, Shirley Ann Manson, sit down with musicians and talk about the one song that changed everything.
Shirley: I first met Peaches when we were both performing at a festival in Australia, and there was a big banging on the door of my dressing room and when I opened the door, there she was, smiling from ear to ear. She was dressed in a- like some really pervy, like, horse equestrian outfit. She was wielding a whip, she had on a riding hat, and I don’t know. The rest is history, I fell in love with her right then. We are absolutely nothing alike, either as artists or as people, and yet, ever since that first meeting we’ve enjoyed a bond that has endured for well over a decade. I’ve had the immense pleasure of spending time in this magical woman’s company, and I learn something from her every time I do. She’s quite unlike any other artist I’ve ever met. A bonafide trailblazer, writer, producer, and performance artist. Articulate and courageous, some might say on occasion, outrageous, but always strikingly generous, genuine, and irreverent. I love her to hell and back, and if you don’t already, you will too after listening to this. So before we get to your song-
Shirley: That you've picked for today, what was going on in your life at the time of making that record, which is it is a, you know, an important record of its time and its genre and it blew everybody's mind.
Peaches: Yeah, yeah.
Shirley: But obviously that- that's all in retrospect that we can look back on that, and know how brilliantly it turned out for you. But what, where, where are you in your life, and what was happening, and what was your mindset?
Peaches: Um, huge change, breakup, you know, had to basically start my life over again. Um, but in the same city, in Toronto. I was like, “I'm going to buy this weird instrument, the MC-505 Roland.”
Shirley: Like, when you say a breakup, a heartbreak breakup, or?
Peaches: Yeah, yeah yeah, major, major one, really long time. Serial mill- monogamist- [Laughs] really long one. And I had that machine [Laughs] and I would spend a lot of time in my headphones and make sounds. And it was, it was, it was a lot of- like for me, very therapeutic, but I was super conscious of not being therapeutic in a way that was victimizing or, or, um, self-loathing. I wanted to use- I wanted to use it as an empowerment as a like, “Fuck you, I'm-” Fuck you to myself. Like just get, you know, don't you can, you can lift yourself up and you- in a cool way, you know? First of all, I heard, um, Daft Punk’s first album, I think 95, maybe 95.
Shirley: Think it’s 95.
Peaches: And um, and I heard like Scratchin’ and Rollin’, which is just like, it's just a repetitive sort of really kind of abrasive, uh, electronic thing, but I loved it. I was like, “Oh my God, electronics, not rock and roll.” Like, cause I had this love for rock and roll, but I wanted electronics. But I always saw people with their, you know, they, they treat it like it was science. Their heads would be down, like, “I'm doing something really special,” you know? And I'm like, you know, there's a lot of like programming that goes on and then you build it up with, but you can really make it fun. So, I wanted to play a beat or something and turn it and then like screening people's faces, you know? So kind of put it together.
Shirley: And did you have a template for it, or is this something that- just a marriage from your mindset at the time?
Peaches: In the best way possible, I loved the repetitive directness of hip hop. I loved the energy of rock and roll, and I say it like that cause it was like the energy of rock and roll. And then I loved sounds that were new to me, like these, you know, Daft Punk or Kraftwerk, you know, things like that. And I was like, “How can I make it mine? How can I make it lyrically speak to me? How can I, you know, bring them together cause this is what I want and I don't hear it anywhere.”
Shirley: Were you working at this time? Do you have a job, or?
Peaches: Yes, I did. You're ready for a big- you’re going to be like, “What?”.
Shirley: Yes, I want the reveal.
Peaches: Well, so, the reveal-
Shirley: I can tell by the look on your face; it’s a silly story.
Peaches: Yeah, well I, you know, I um, had a job at a daycare and um, I developed some sci- this kind of program where I would sing songs that were active- activating movements from these very young three year olds and four year olds and basically putting them under a weird spell that the teacher was like, “What the hell is going on here? Why are they listening to you? Why when you walk in a room does everybody sit in a circle and know exactly where their space is and then get ready and then-”, you know, cause it's all role playing. That's what kids want to do. So then it turned out like I developed this program where I would teach kids, it was kind of half theater, half music and then I started teaching at like private schools, you know, cause I didn't have a teacher's degree and, um, afterschool programs, and, like, then getting into like mom and babies, like, like- “Bear hands! Little baby,” you know, like, like I did all that stuff like and then I’d make music at night. I did that for 10 years.
Shirley: That's incredible.
Peaches: And I learned a lot about, uh, audiences because kids, if they don't like you, they're just like- pull your hair and jump on you and you have no control, you know?
Shirley: ‘Cause- well let's get to- get to the song itself. And you know, because I’m immediately as you're telling this story, I'm immediately thinking about the beats of Fuck the Pain Away.
Shirley: Killer groove, you know, where you're just immediately like, “What the hell is this?” So talk to me about how you put the rhythm track together on this song.
Peaches: I was playing around with the MC-505, and I was really, it was naive, it was super naive. The first couple of songs I ever wrote were all 120 BPM because I didn't even know how to change the BPM on it.
Peaches: [Laughs] How it works on this machine is, um, you have each track, you have eight tracks and one is the rhythm track, and in the rhythm track you have eight possibilities. So, you're kind of limited, and I like that cause then you can- you know when to stop. I like every sound to be as loud as each other so that, you know, they have a reason to be there. I'm not like super subtle with these, like, underneath, you know? So, I was playing around with the sounds and I had a gig opening up for my friend Howie Beck in a small club in Toronto called the Rivoli, and there was probably like 15 people there. And, the first time I just thought, “I'm going to try out the song.” And I- I remember, I'm like, “Yeah, fuck the pain away. Okay, I'm gonna, I'm gonna say that.” I was kind of like just trying out and I just, ah, “I'll just try it out tonight for a song.” And I just start playing the beat- I did the whole song, and one person in the middle of the song went, “Woo!” I was like, “Oh my God, somebody liked it, someone got it,” you know? I didn't even really know what I was doing, but at the end of the whole gig, the sound woman said, “Hey, I- I made a cassette tape of your, your show. And if you have five, you know, $5, you can have the cassette, maybe you want to listen, you know, what you're doing cause it's pretty different,” you know. I'm like, “Sh- yeah, thanks. Okay. Yeah. Holy shit.” And so, um, I went home and listened and you know, that's the first song on it and I put it on, um, on a demo, you know, with a couple other songs I was working on. So, the cassette tape from the first time I've ever played Fuck the Pain Away, and I would play it for people and they go, “What the fuck? That's amazing.” It transcended anybody talking about, “Oh, the vocals are a little loud,” or like, “Oh yeah, maybe you should use this, but-” or any of it. There's like a bunch of hits on it and you can hear that person in the background going, “Woo!” Yeah. And um, so I'm like, “It ain't broke. Don't fix, I'm never recording the song again.”
Peaches: I was giving homage to like Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde, so I just wanted to play it live. I wanted it out there. I mean, I did not. No, I didn't. I did- yeah, no idea. I wasn't young either, you know?
Shirley: How old were you?
Peaches: When- like 32 at the- for writing these songs.
Shirley: Which is like all these, these two- are you aware that these two singers that you mentioned here were both in their thirties when they too broke through?
Peaches: Yes, yes. I- that- I'm glad you mentioned that. It's funny cause I didn't at the time or maybe I did- it- it's around that time. I was like, “Wow,” yeah.
Shirley: But see what I loved about those lyrics, hearing you for the first time, I mean, you literally stopped everything. It felt like the world stopped when I heard this for the first time and what it felt to me was a new sound, a new woman coming out and name checking the old guard-
Shirley: But it made it really seem like it was a statement of intent, like, “This is new school.” That's what it felt like to me.
Peaches: Mhm, right.
Shirley: Now, whether I'm right or wrong is irrelevant. That's just- was my experience-
Peaches: Yeah, but that fits in what I was saying. Like I really want- make something new and mine. Growing up with these misogynist lyrics, especially with classic rock [Laughs] that I would just sing along with and be like one day I was just like, “Why? Wha- I am saying along with these like “Big legged Woman ain't got no soul,” and, you know, “Spread your wings, and let me come inside you,” like, wha- it's not- why am I singing those lyrics? What if I flip it? What would I sing? You know?
Shirley: Is it fair to say that you had a very conscious approach to writing these lyrics, even though they seem so tossed? That's the, that's the genius of them.
Peaches: This was really- This was really, yeah. In, in that way. It was sort of like thinking about that and, and writing, but this just came out. That Eureka moment, you know, when you're like thinking about it, but then when you don't really think about it- or it comes out.
Shirley: And did you have any idea that people would receive this the way that-
Peaches: Oh my God, are you cra- like, what if I didn't take? What if I wasn’t- I don’t have $5.
Peaches: But I think what's really interesting is- there was a lot of, like, when there was still record execs and things like that and they were like, “Let me play you something.” And they’d play [Laughs], “Gal. If y'all want to make it, I gotta be, let me play ya some Peaches. But only 20%- be 20% Peaches.” You know, like they- so many people told me that, like, they went in there for meetings and they'd be like, “Just be a little more Peaches. Not too much, but a little Peaches,” you know? So it became, it became like-
Shirley: A reference.
Peaches: Like this reference, and um, you know, and then pop stars started referencing-
Shirley: They sure did,
Peaches: Me. And I was like, “Oh my God, I am that angst song when you decide to be your own person.”
Shirley: Did it aggrieve you at all? That, you know, you were- you still at that time were seen as very underground.
Shirley: You know, alternative star that then all these young pop ingénues sort of took a lit- little 20% Peach.
Peaches: “20%!” [Laughs] “20% Peach.”
Shirley: Um, used it to that advantage with always name checking you, or sometimes it felt like they didn't even know who you were, but they were definitely-
Peaches: Yeah, that- that's a good point too. It's like some people, you know-
Shirley: Did that hurt? Annoy?
Peaches: I, do you know what? No, I can't say I'm not bitter about things, or, but no, it was really, it was like, “That's crazy.”
Shirley: You mean because you entered the mainstream sort of consciousness?
Peaches: Yeah, and I will, and I would for years to come with that song in movies and then TV programs whenever they needed to insert that kind of punch. You know, like-
Shirley: Well you wrote something perfect that will endure forever.
Peaches: Well there was one, um, I don't remember the name of the conglomerate that's like, um, you know, quite a corporate strip club. And I remember, well- I have a friend, she was a stripper and you know, songwriting at the same time and- um, they had a meeting once before all the girls you know, would, uh, strip and they were like, “No more Peaches track one”, which is Fuck the Pain Away. “That- it's alienating the men, no more Peaches track one.” [Laughs]
Shirley: So, why do you think that is? Why would it alienate the men?
Peaches: It was just too, it was just too strong.
Peaches: Yeah. Which I don't think- I- I find that bizarre, but I- I guess,
Shirley: I like it though, it’s a good story.
Peaches: Yeah. Oh no, I like it.
Shirley: Is it fair to say that you are not a particularly crazy person, you are definitely-
Shirley: Uh, what's the word I would use? You're assertive, very free-minded.
Shirley: But you don't try and act crazy, or wild, or trying to out spook people, or out sex people, right?
Peaches: Right, but people think that- that's, that's how I should be or- it's disappointing to them, it’s so disappointing.
Shirley: Do you feel like you're disappointing some people?
Peaches: Sometimes. My, my, my- the side of me that needs to, um, you know, please people, but you know, I also don't want to perpetuate that. I- you know, so.
Shirley: But you are a really, I think, an incredibly courageous performer, and a musician.
Peaches: Examining the sort of language that is used and saying, “How can I make it mine?” ‘Cause it just felt like it wasn't represented. But I- if it was on a male side, and I do want to mention that it was very much binary thinking at that time, female, male, you know, like, but why is the line different? The line was different for what a man could say and what a woman could say.
Shirley: Are you saying you were naturally thinking along binary lines or were you not, you just didn't have the language.
Peaches: I didn't have the language. Yeah, you know, just adding more, more spectrum. That's all.
Shirley: People don't understand. I think when, when people are writing music, and when they’re recording, and producing. The key really is to know when to just let something fly and not everybody has that skill. And that generally differentiates the sheep from the goats.
Peaches: Yeah. And I think that, um, that's what Teaches of Peaches was all about too, ‘cause I, I kind of decided not to use, use a producer, or I was like, “Why don't I just do this myself in my bedroom,” you know, and just, just really take time to use whatever sounds I want and make them as stark as I like, you know, in way that punk rock is, there's not very many instruments. You know, it's like a guitar, not really solos, a bass, drums, and a singer, you know?
Peaches: So I was like, “I want to use that approach.” I also wanted to make sure that I wasn't singing on that album, ‘cause I didn't want to- I also didn't want to be seen as a singer and I didn't want it to overshadow the lyrics. I made the conscious decision to be very deadpan and double all the vocals. The double vocal, just, that was the magic for me, somehow that made the kind of robotic, but emotional-
Shirley: Now, explain why you wanted it to be deadpan and not, you know, showy-offy vocal
Peaches: Be-because it- I wanted it to be vulnerable.
Peaches: I was in Toronto. And then there's like Tracy + the Plastics and um, Le Tigre- and Miss Kittin, and it was this same kind of philosophy where it was like this punk attitude with, you know, not always dead pan vocals, but this kind of female powerful front vocals and a performance involved, especially with Chicks on Speed and Le Tigre and, but it wasn't a scene. I’d play and people would be like, “Hey, have you heard Le Tigre?” You know, and I'd be like, “No.” And they're like, “Oh yeah, you know, Bikini Kill?” and they’re like, “Yeah.” You know, or “Hey, have you heard of Chicks on Speed?” I didn't even know- like I didn't know them. It was so exciting. I loved this zeitgeist feeling that all these women were doing this, that women were in the forefront of this movement.
Shirley: Were you aware, though, that you were being controversial to a certain degree? Or were- were you aware that, “Oh, I might not get to ever get my track played on the radio ‘cause what I'm doing is pretty alternative.” And of course back then, nobody was playing this kind of stuff on the radio, ever. I mean, it was a surefire way to guarantee that your career went nowhere.
Peaches: Yeah, right, but I didn’t- Right. But I was like, “Maybe I'll be like The Cramps,” you know, and that's what I was interested in.
Shirley: You just took the risk anyway.
Peaches: Yeah. I was like, “I like what The Cramps do. Like that's cool.” [Laughs] They weren't on the radio, you know?
Shirley: And it's remained that way throughout your career-
Shirley: Except you’re- have garnered more and more respect.
Peaches: It's kind of like, I feel so vindicated. Not that I needed to be, but that- it's so exciting, you know, that, um, cause I was, I was always like, “Yeah, I'm not ever moving towards the mainstream, I want the mainstream to move towards me.” And it kind of happened.
Shirley: Yeah, it did.
Peaches: And then, uh, yeah, it-
Shirley: “Don't mess with Peach.”
Peaches: They didn't really want me, you know, they wanted “20%”, or whatever and I didn't really want that. And, uh, so I just worked a lot. I just kept working.
Shirley: I’m glad you did.
Peaches: Me too.
Shirley: I'm really grateful you did, and I'm very excited to see where you go next.
Peaches: Thank you.
Shirley: I love you so much.
Peaches: Aw, I love you too.
Shirley: [Laughs] Thank you so much.
The Jump is an original series from MailChimp, and I'm your host Shirley Manson. It's produced by Lyra Smith in partnership with Little Everywhere, executive produced by Dann Gallucci, Jane Marie, and Hrishikesh Hirway. Original music composed by Hrishikesh Hirway.
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