The Teaches of Peaches

Anti-folk avatars the Moldy Peaches give lessons in good touch and bad touch.

Nothing says rock 'n' roll like "doo doo da doo." What does it mean? Who cares? When New York City anti-folk duo the Moldy Peaches sing those syllables, the pleasure of the music lies in its organic inflections. That's true for most forms of communication: Even tiny babies know that food tastes better when you say, "Mmmm!" and the flu feels more tolerable when you're groaning. As feminist theorist Julia Kristeva taught us, the delirious babble of signification comes from the basic rhythms of our semiotic drives. And as Robert Plant taught us, those urges are best satisfied by the yeah, the na na, the muthawannagizzzowww! that rockers emote in the purest form of release.

Perhaps that's why the Moldy Peaches' infantile jabberings on "Anyone Else But You" qualify as the best sound poetry since Dadaist Hugo Ball's Lautgedichte. Anyone who says otherwise is just talking a bunch of poop. Poop, I said! And, oh, did it feel good to say it!

"It's the purest form of joy," says the Moldy Peaches' Adam Green about singing for the sake of hearing your own voice. He's talking in a just-woke-up croak over the phone from his Manhattan apartment. (Green later reveals that he's dressed in a Vegas-style Elvis suit during the interview--which he'll no doubt be wearing when the Peaches take the 7th Street Entry stage Thursday, January 31.) His partner, Kimya Dawson, listens in on the conference call from her Bedford Hills house, which doubles as a daycare center. In the background, small children can be heard emitting joyful yelps. "We record our stuff at home because you can hear all of the sounds," he continues. "We're not locked up in some studio that feels like a padded insane asylum. The vocals come out more this way."

They certainly do. One almost forgets the hiss of the lo-fi recording and the crude acoustic-guitar accompaniment when, in the off-key sopranos of pubescent boys, Green and Dawson sing, "Who's got the crack?" or "Suckers and fuckers and stupid retards!" or "Who mistook the crap for genius?/Who is gonna stroke my penis?" Released in the U.S. on Sanctuary Records, the Moldy Peaches' self-titled debut sounds like a Charlie Brown musical in which all the characters have Tourette's syndrome. The songs' playful experimentation gives the most explicit lyrics a childlike awkwardness--especially when the band members perform them live while dressed in the costumes that Dawson's Aunt Patrice created. (Green wears the Elvis suit, the guitar player dons a unicorn outfit, the male drummer is stuck with a Degas-print ballerina dress, and Dawson sports patchwork bunny ears that make her look like that kid from Gummo.)

The music is Playboy-bunny-foo-foo mixed with play-school sketch comedy. But it's also vulnerable, provocative, and often more punk than punk itself--regardless of the detractors who mistake genius for crap. The Moldy Peaches have been recording this stuff since they first met in the mid-Nineties: Fourteen-year-old Green was working at Pizza Pizzazz next door to the Exile on Main Street record store in Mount Kisco, where 21-year-old Dawson often filled in during the summertime. Green would visit the record store on lunch breaks and talk about K Records bands, many of whom Kimya knew personally from having attended Evergreen State College in Olympia.

"Olympia's music was supposed to be do-it-yourself, but not everyone was really 'allowed' to play," remembers Dawson. "It was just scenester kids. I would have felt like a dork asking them to play music with me. But there was Adam, this 14-year-old kid, and I was brave enough to ask him."

This staunch anti-pretentiousness might be what helps the Peaches restore the populist spirit to folk. Green and Dawson have been collecting songs performed at the open-mic sessions of New York's Sidewalk Café, which are free and open to the public. (A compilation of these artists is due out later this spring on Rough Trade.)

"We're trying to teach people about anti-folk, but you gotta spoon-feed these fuckers," Green explains. Who does he mean by these fuckers? "Um, I mean you," he offers, before bursting into his trademark stoner laugh.

"I'm just kidding," he sniffs. "Anti-folk artists are like impressionist painters. They wanted their brushstrokes to be visible. They took their canvases outside and worked in the fields. And they made way for people in future movements, who had a lot more freedom," he says. "After punk and anti-folk, there's a lot more room for error in music. And that's a good thing."

In the Moldy Peaches' case, it also contributes to a sound that not everyone has been prepared for. "Our CD has caused three car accidents so far," Dawson counts. "J. Mascis popped it in when he was in his tour van, and the van flipped over. It was wrecked and his tour manager had to call us to order a new CD. That's actually how J. Mascis's tour manager became our tour manager."

She pauses. There is scuffling in the background. "Hold on a second," she says apologetically. "I've gotta put this tired little girl to sleep."

How punk is that?

 
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