A conversation with Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves ahead of the band’s show at Czar Bar this Friday
Perfect Pussy’s lead singer, Meredith Graves, is intense. This is unsurprising: At first listen, Perfect Pussy comes across pretty straightforwardly as a noisy, hot-tempered garage-rock band. Graves shouts violently throughout the band’s debut EP, I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling, her words obscured by the fast-paced chords and formidable volume of her bandmates.
Despite the EP’s title, the Syracuse band is a tangle of raw emotion and unflinching honesty. Graves’ ultra-personal lyrics are fearless as she unapologetically examines the abusive relationship that resulted in Feeling, chillingly laid out in “IV”: “I have a habit of telling extravagant lies; ask anyone, they’ll tell you/So why didn’t I come forward, why didn’t I?/Ha ha ha, I deserve to be hurt like that/Ha ha ha, it’s so funny isn’t it/Oh, why didn’t I come forward?/It’s not your fault I didn’t feel safe.”
Ahead of Perfect Pussy’s Friday-night gig at Czar, we spoke with Graves over the phone about her music, where it comes from, and why her voice is so important – even if she doesn’t quite think so. Graves was gracious and fascinating, and the conversation ran long, so prepare to commit yourself to this one.
The Pitch: You’ve gotten a lot of attention for a four-song EP. What do you make of all the noise?
Graves: I just think it’s really funny. It confuses the hell out of me. It’s been a couple of months and I still have actually no idea why, and no one’s really answered that for me. I’m kind of just trying to enjoy it and be really present and just enjoy it for the giant kind of joke that it is. It’s really fun and it’s really funny and I kind of have no idea why it’s happening.
You’ve said in the past that you used to not take this band seriously. Are you starting to now? Do you feel like you have to now?
No, not really. If we did that, none of this would be happening. If we changed what we were doing, it would all fall apart, I’m sure.
You’ve got a strong, clear message in your music. What made you want to say those things?
[Pause] Pain. Lots of personal pain and trying a lot of different outlets to deal with stuff that’s happened and not finding one for a long time. I never thought about it – it was never a purposeful consideration of “This is the band where I’m gonna talk about a bunch of really shitty stuff and make people uncomfortable,” it just came out that way.
I grew up listening to hardcore and I always kind of recognized the intent of politicizing music in that scene, but I couldn’t bring myself to write another song about a bigger thing that doesn’t directly pertain to me. I like talking about politics, but I can’t bring myself to appropriate other people’s problems – not the way a traditional hardcore band does.
I ended up politicizing what we were doing by just talking about what really happened to me, and what happened was that people started coming up to me and telling me that they had had similar experiences. People started coming to me and saying, “I can’t believe you’re writing about violence in interpersonal relationships in the hardcore scene, because that happened to me.” And I don’t know what would possess people to be so brave as to come up and talk to me about it at shows, because even when it was happening to me, I was never brave enough to talk to anyone about it. Even though I never really intended to politicize those things, it sort of came out that way. It just sort of happened.
[page]At the same time, some of your lyrics are so direct – I feel like if you said them instead of screamed them, they would be too hard to swallow. Does making them loud and shouting them make it easier for you?
Honestly, I have never just fronted a band before – I’ve always just played a part – and the whole screaming, noise thing… . I didn’t even know what this band was going to sound like before we went in and recorded the demo. I just took a microphone and started doing whatever, and that was kind of how I ended up doing the voice for this band.
And another thing is – and I hope this isn’t disappointing – but I haven’t really thought about it that much. It just felt really good and really cathartic to say these things as loud as possible. I wanted to talk, but when I said these things, I wanted them to be direct and I wanted them to be impactful, and I would say them to individual people and the result was a blank stare. I wanted to say these things to people, and when I did, I was met with nothing short of aggression from members of my community. So when nobody wanted to listen to me speak, I had to start screaming. And now people are paying attention. [Laughs] So I guess it was kind of an act of desperation, but not necessarily an intentional one.
When I listen to your music – these songs, the things you’re saying, the unwavering, fierce honesty of your lyrics – I feel like you could become a focal point for a lot of different feminist issues, not just in the punk and hardcore community but in music overall. Do you ever get that feeling? Is that something you want?
I think that as an able-bodied, well-off – I mean, I feel like I’m well-off, I guess not compared to some people, but whatever – as a generally middle-of-the-road young white person, I don’t really need to be a major voice in the conversation about feminism. When you put a person like me at the helm of that discussion, it instantly becomes more palatable than hearing a person of color speak about feminism, or hearing any number of the groups that are actually marginalized speak about feminism. I don’t need to be another middle-of-the-road white voice in the conversation about feminism – that’s been the dominant feminist dialectic since feminism became a practical area of study.
I would so much rather hear anyone that’s not me talk about feminism. I’m not opposed to it – obviously, I’m a militant fucking feminist – but I think the academic dialogue surrounding feminism right now is inherently harmful and impractical, because it’s essentially just the West experience. All of the conversations – not all of them, but a lot of them – that we find ourselves engaging in about feminism are on a pretty easy level, where they’re discussing wage and abortion rights. These are important conversations that need to be happening, but to me, it’s also kind of like centering on the conversation on gay marriage when we really need to be talking about the marginalized career group that has a higher murder rate per capita than any other disenfranchised group in the world.
I don’t need to be another boring-ass white person talking about feminism. If I can make room for there to be conversations about feminism, that’s great, but the last thing I want is to take up anymore space when there are other people having more important conversations. Like, I cannot stomach another conversation about “How does it feel to be a woman in a band.” You know? That’s not what needs to be discussed. Frankly, that’s not feminism right now. I mean, I get it, but there are a lot more important things that we should be talking about.
[Laughs] I think about this shit a lot.
[page]I heard you just wrapped up your full-length album, is that right?
It’s done! It’s finally done. Oh, I’m so fucking happy, it’s done.
So what is that sounding like? And is it as personal as the EP? Is it as dark and aggressive?
[Laughs] Yeah, it definitely is. I’ve said this – I have to say, I hate doing interviews with men. Hate it. I prefer doing interviews with not-male people, because I feel like it’s much easier to explain stuff… I don’t really make music for men. I don’t. I feel like – I love Roland Barthes. I love Barthes. And I was reading his Lover’s Discourse, and about how suffering is a feminizing act. Suffering is a feminizing act, and waiting is an inherently feminizing act. Because if you’re the lover and you wait around for an answer, if you’re the person who’s waiting around and suffering, no matter what you are, that’s feminizing. Because maleness is about going out and hunting, while women are about growing things and making things. So talking about these things that involve such a weight feel feminizing and having those conversations with male music journalists rarely get me anywhere.
I’ve had men embrace my suffering. The men that I’m in this band with, they get it, they understand, and I’m very close to all of them. I think I’m just using this band to work through a lot of shit. In between the time that the record [I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling] came out, and we started playing shows – and now the press, and recording the new album, I went through a very bad breakup. I had been with someone for like a year, and we were pretty serious, and I thought things were going really well, and then we went through this breakup. And the first song on the [new] record is a song about the breakup, and it was a song about how no matter how desperate the breakup made me feel, that it was inherently good because it wasn’t traumatizing like the stuff that I had gone through on the demo. It was actually a really healthy relationship. But it was the first healthy relationship I had ever been in, so losing it was like, “Fuck. This is the worst thing that could happen.”
It turns out that I was driving through the desert the other day, and I realized that every song [on the new record] is about something surrounding this breakup. Because it impacted me – not the breakup itself, but the things I did when I was in this relationship and the things I thought about when I was in this relationship and how having a healthy relationship impacted me. And how the loss of that affected me… .
So now I can actually admit that without any sort of intention – if the record before this, the four songs, was about abuse, this is a record about loss. And the loss of someone that I thought was gonna be my family for the foreseeable future, and the loss of all the feelings I have surrounding that. And I’m okay with that. And he was there when I recorded it – he was watching me record these songs that were about him, and it was so important for him to be there, because he was my family. It’s a record about breaking up with myself, because of this.
I had to work that out in my head. That was way too long of an answer. No one would ever want to sit through that.
No, we’re good. I want to end on a positive note: In clips, when you’re performing, even though you’re singing these horribly depressing songs, you always seem like you’re having such a good time doing it. How is it for you to see this massive crowd that’s responding so positively to you and your work and the fact that your work is so personal?
I don’t know. It goes back to that terrible confusion as to how this could ever come to pass. So much of hardcore is posturing, and so much of hardcore is pretending to be sad and enraged, when a lot of the people in that scene have nothing to be sad about. It’s that conversation about making room. I’m not going to go up in front of people and, despite what I’m singing about, pretend that I’m sad. I have a really fun, nice life. I have a lot of people in my life that I love. And I’m traveling the country playing music and wearing stupid outfits and drinking beer and eating food. I’m not gonna get up and pretend like I’m sad…
I’ve thought about this. It’s OK to perform pain – there are ecstatic dance moves of mourning, and ritual practices that celebrate the spiritual nature of suffering, and there are times when you push yourself to exhaustion to achieve some sort of catharsis, and I’m going to be dancing until I pass out and am over this, and when that happens, I will go do something else.
Perfect Pussy is at Czar Bar this Friday. Ticket info here.