Twenty Years of Lessons From The Teaches of Peaches

Peaches circa 2002. Photo Credit: Hadley Hudson

Some of you may remember that first time you heard Peaches. Maybe it was on the dance floor near the start of the new century. Maybe you were taken aback at first by the sound, so bare and raw in comparison to the electronic music of the decade that had only recently ended. Still, it was funky, so you kept dancing.

Then the first line hit you: “Suckin’ on my titties like you wanted me…” You weren’t shocked because you had been a ’90s teen and you had certainly heard far more explicit lyrics by the time you got to high school. Whoever this singer was, though, she was going somewhere different. You caught the references to Blondie and Chrissie Hynde and you smiled. The third time that one verse repeats, you were singing along without realizing it. “Callin’ me, all the time, like Blondie/Check out my Chrissie behind.”

Then, all of a sudden, this singer that you’ve never heard before blurted out something unexpected. “Fuck the pain away. Fuck the pain away.” She repeated this line almost without emotion as the beat kicked your ass and your hair flew as if you’ve danced to this song 1000 times before.

It was twenty years ago (yes, really) that Peaches unleashed her breakthrough album, The Teaches of Peaches, and the song that would remain her calling card, “Fuck the Pain Away.” The album was a slow burn. Although The Teaches of Peaches was released through the German record label Kitty-Yo on September 5, 2000, those who would become her fans likely heard it first somewhere between that fall and 2002, the year that British indie XL Recordings reissued it.

In the 1990s, Canadian musician Merrill Nisker had played around in rock-oriented bands. She first fell for synths during a jam session that would result in the short-lived project, The Shit, which she has, in multiple interviews, credited as the beginning of her evolution into the artist we now know as Peaches. After The Shit ended, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “It made me think a lot about what I wanted out of life,” she recalls in The Guardian podcast The Start. That included seriously pursuing her musical ambitions. Peaches bought a synth and began working on her solo music.

The Teaches of Peaches marked both an end and a beginning. It was an album whose existence was made known through 20th century promotional channels that would soon give way to file sharing, social media and streaming. Sure, downloading music from the Internet was technically a thing that people could do in 2000, but, for a lot of us, it was pain in the ass. Instead, you might have caught Peaches when she toured with Elastica in 2000. More likely, you heard her at a club or through a friend or at a record store that was well-stocked in indies and imports.

The Teaches of Peaches also foreshadowed the wave of 21st century dance floor feminism that was to come. Alongside contemporaries like Le Tigre and Chicks on Speed, Peaches challenged gender-based stereotypes within the context of dance music and infused it with a punk attitude. What was most radical about the album was that Peaches was real in a way that the women of 2000 were not allowed to be. The double-entendres and radio un-friendly lyrics were what people noticed, but she was untangling a complicated knot of sex, gender and relationships. Casuals listeners, even some music critics, may have zoomed in on the fuck and overlooked the pain.

“It sounds fun when I sing ‘Fuck the Pain Away,’ but it also has that obvious pain,” Peaches said in a 2018 article in The Guardian accompanying her appearance on The Start podcast. In that same article, she explained that The Teaches of Peaches was a breakup album, and that the Roland synthesizer she used to make it was a way consoling herself. As she played with the tropes of breakup songs, Peaches actively shifted the power dynamics of popular music. “‘Lovertits’ is a breakup song – hoping that there will be reconciliation. The term ‘Lovertits’ was me trying to create a new cliche for the kinds of names lovers have for each other – like ‘googoo baby’ or something,” she explained then. “Many times on the album, I tried to focus on a woman doing the objectifying – as in the song ‘Diddle My Skittle’ – because there are so many words for a guy’s genitalia.”

This would all become part of the language that Peaches used on subsequent albums. She continued to flip gendered connotations of language, like on her follow-up album Fatherfucker, and use double-entendres to make a deeper political statement, as with her 2006 album, Impeach My Bush. But, what’s even more interesting is how deceptively simple she made it all seem on The Teaches of Peaches. Her approach to lyrics was just as spare as the music, with verses that repeat and lean choruses. They were songs that became earworms quickly, with lines like “Only double A/Thinking triple X” (“AA XXX”) and “Motherfuckers want to get with me/Lay with me, love with me, all right” (“Set It Off”), songs that ran through your head so often that you couldn’t help but think about the points that she was making.

“Fuck the Pain Away” was the first lesson fromThe Teaches of Peaches, but the course ran beyond the length of the album. Twenty years later, Peaches has continued to school audiences through her songs, live performances and videos on gender, sexuality, age and body positivity. She’s become an icon of 21st century feminism and music, but it all goes back to that one turn-of-the-millennium club hit.