Music History

Peaches Still Has More to Teach Us

Peaches will be at Red Rocks supporting M.I.A. and LCD Soundsystem May 29-30.
Peaches will be at Red Rocks supporting M.I.A. and LCD Soundsystem May 29-30. photo by KEYI Studio
When musician, producer, performance artist and provocateur Peaches (born Merrill Nisker) first came to Denver, the altitude got to her first. “I got oxygen, and I was so high from the oxygen I couldn’t put away my stuff," she recalls. "I remember everyone sitting me down and being like, ‘Just talk out your ass like you’ve been doing, and just let other people do things for you, because you are not functioning.'"

Since then the Polaris Heritage Prize winner has acclimated to the altitude — or at least knows what to expect — and is returning to Denver on a tour celebrating the twentieth anniversary of her landmark album, The Teaches of Peaches. Peaches will perform at Red Rocks Amphitheatre over two nights, opening for M.I.A. and LCD Soundsystem. “I mean, how cool is that?” she reflects.

Peaches has many fond memories of Colorado; she most recently played Summit Music Hall alongside drag superstar and Ru Paul's Drag Race eleventh-season winner Yvie Oddly. “I feel like they are a Denver treasure, and it’s very lucky they didn’t move to New York or something, and I feel they love Denver, too," she says. "They keep it real, you know? And I really appreciate them for that."

Peaches also keeps it real, and as she looks back on the staying power of The Teaches of Peaches, she recognizes how special it was, particularly the album's standout song, “Fuck the Pain Away.” The infectious minimal drum-machine dance beat, coupled with straight-to-the-point lyrics, made the song an underground hit, spread primarily by word of mouth. The song has since been embedded in pop culture and used in countless films and TV shows, including Mean Girls, Jackass Number Two, South Park and Lost in Translation.

“You know that moment in your life where you’re like, ‘It’s my life and I’m not going to listen to my parents,' when you’re like fifteen or sixteen? That’s one of those songs where you’re like, ‘That’s my song,’” says Peaches.

“At the time, what men were doing for hip-hop, saying, ‘Look at us, we’re the boss,’ it was about elevating themselves. I feel I took that attitude to be like, ‘You know what? I’m the boss,’” says Peaches. “I was going through a really bad breakup and realizations of mortality because I had cancer. ... When I was making the album, I wasn’t going to make a sympathy thing. No, I was going to be like, ‘I’m the shit and I rule, and this is why.’”
The song itself was never recorded in the studio; it's a live demo recorded while she was living in Toronto, captured during one of the first times she performed it. The sound engineer that night recorded the song (and several others that would make it to the record) to cassette as a courtesy, and sold it to Peaches for $5. In today’s world of beefed-up and mirror-polished production, it’s almost unbelievable for a live demo recorded so casually to have the impact that “Fuck the Pain Away,” does. But for Peaches, she knows the song stands alone and that the way it came into the world only adds to its power.

“I guess it happens in a different way today and with a different impact. Like someone on TikTok comes up with something spontaneous, and then it becomes a huge hit. But in the way I did it and the way the song spread, it could never — there was no video, it couldn’t even be heard on alternative radio,” Peaches says. “Back then, if you weren’t on TV, then you weren’t anywhere, because there was no internet. Somehow it was passed on, and people everywhere knew it from all different scenes and different levels of popularity. Then, of course, the queer community was like, ‘Yes!’”

Following The Teaches of Peaches, she built a prolific career challenging sexual norms not only through her music, but as a performance and visual artist as well. Her work has empowered and championed the queer community for over two decades, and at 57, she has no intention of stopping.

Looking forward to her signature set-ending crowd surf, she only has one thing to say: “You'd better not fucking drop me, Denver, or it’s going to be real awkward for all of us.”

Peaches, 7 p.m. Monday, May 29, and Tuesday, May 30, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 18300 West Alameda Parkway; tickets are $25.
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