Peaches: A decidedly fruity lady

Peaches dresses like a porn superhero and has a lot to say about gender politics. James Mcnair meets the singer in Illinois

Showtime has started early for Peaches. As the first layer of a three-band sandwich that sees her followed by Brit-Goths Bauhaus and US tech-rockers Nine Inch Nails, her gig at the Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, Illinois will be done by 7.30pm. Oblivious to any pre-watershed mores, she's dressed like some kind of porn superhero, her black PVC cape emblazoned with the letters XXX, and the rest just scanty pink undergarments.

"Fuck the Pain Away!" she screams as her drummer, Samantha Maloney, pummels her kit and blows bubblegum. Peaches roars it at least 20 more times as she jogs a circuit of the venue, hotly pursued by her minder. To my right, Chicago's answer to Beavis and Butthead smirk while cheering their support.

This is business as usual for the woman born Merrill Beth Nisker. Not for nothing did the bisexual star top a list of the Ten Wildest Woman In Music in the New York Daily News, and not for nothing does she count Deborah Harry, Madonna and Christina Aguilera among her fans.

Her new album, Impeach My Bush, is so kinky you'd think twice about playing it for guests lest it be thought a preamble to "adult fun", and listening to songs such as "Tent in Your Pants", one can only conclude that Peaches' weekends are not spent watching Little House on the Prairie re-runs.

Imagine my disappointment then, when I board her tour bus and find no "adult fun" under way. It's just her avuncular tour-manager Dave clocking the dying seconds of Brazil vs France. When Peaches emerges, she's kitted out, relatively demurely, in a long gold dress and gold sandals. Her striking green eyes register mild pique, but as Polish journalists have been telephoning her all afternoon to ask such searching questions as, "Do you rock?" that's perhaps understandable.

So, I say, this striking new band that she has formed with Maloney, former Courtney Love guitarist, Radio Sloan, and JD Samson from Le Tigre - how important was it that it be an all-girl affair?

"It's kind of sad that you even have to ask me that," Peaches says, jumping straight in with gender politics. "I'll be happy the day that someone says to me, 'Wow! Did you see that all-boy band? Every one of them a guy....'"

We should perhaps put the gender issues on ice to advise that Peaches' music is frequently superb. Her earlier albums, The Teaches of Peaches and Fatherfucker set out a distinctive, electro punk stall, their songs often built around little more than a beat-box and a blunt stab of fuzz guitar.

Peaches was a one-woman-band then, an iconoclast whose sexually confrontational live shows part depended on backing tracks. "A lot of people didn't realise I was making the music," she says. "They thought it was some weird performance art or something."

Performance art Impeach My Bush most certainly is not. This time, Peaches embraces a less lo-fi sound that incorporates a full band, the electric guitars wielded by herself and guests such as Josh Homme and Joan Jett as sparky and life-enhancing as defibrillator blasts. Produced by Peaches and Mickey Petralia (Beck, The Dandy Warhols), the stand-out track is undoubtedly "Boys Wanna Be Her."

"I was thinking how men seem to find it really difficult to look at a powerful woman and say, 'Wow! I wish I was you'", says Peaches. "The inspiration might have been 'TNT' by AC/DC, or any of those songs where it's like 'The boy comes to town! Lock up your daughters!' I mean, why is it always a guy who gets to play the Antichrist?"

Oh, I don't know, I say. What about Tom Jones's "Daughter Of Darkness", or "Devil Woman" by Cliff Richard? "Come on - you know how it is. Usually when guys have sex with these women, they turn out to be witches or something. My song is about straight-up admiration. The boys are in awe of this woman and they actually want to be her."

Born in Canada in 1968, Peaches grew up on the outskirts of Toronto. Her father was a "pro ball player" turned accountant, her mother studied psychology. The Jewish school she attended was very conservative, and she didn't connect with her schooling or her Jewish faith. "There were some beautiful stories, but I couldn't take them at more than face value."

Peaches always sung. She would eventually release an album, Fancy Pants Hoodlum, under her real name, but it was The Shit, an avant-garde outfit she formed with friends that opened the creative floodgates.

"It was a big awakening and the start of Peaches," she says. "Peaches is like an exaggerated me without the boring parts. It's not a mask, - it's me being honest and trying to make the strongest, most direct statement I can with my lyrics and my shows."

The gender-based double standards she perceives in the music industry keep cropping up."Take a song like 'Two Boys for Every Girl'," she says. "If I sing that it's considered weird, yet if some guy sings about having two girls, that's fine."

So is her music partly designed to free people's sexual thinking. "Definitely! And a lot of it is directed at you straight males. I want to include, not exclude. In the 1970s we women had a sexual revolution, but you guys never did, and I feel bad for you. Men always want to be in a position of power, but they need to make themselves vulnerable, and they need to learn to entertain girls they way that girls have learnt to entertain boys."

What might such a sexual revolution involve? "A lot of dick-shaking, and a lot of guy-on-guy action. Less clothes on men and a lot of tight clothes on men." I'll think about it, I tell her, but in truth I'm not sure I have the figure.

'Impeach My Bush' is on XL records. Peaches plays the Reading and Leeds festivals on 25-27 August