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Perfect Pussy's Meredith Graves: I need something to aim my anxiety at right now

Perfect Pussy's Meredith Graves: I need something to aim my anxiety at right now
Photo by Jake Thomas

To assume that Perfect Pussy's Meredith Graves is in any sense hiding behind snarling riffs and murky, unrecognizable vocals would be a glaring inaccuracy. And to assume their name is a calculated plea for attention would be the same. The Syracuse band's tremendous full-length debut, Say Yes to Love, is personal reality at its most flawed, despaired, and beautiful. Underneath the noise, Graves has given listeners just about everything. And though it's clear this freaks her out a bit, there's a reason Perfect Pussy garnered hype so quickly: the underlying conviction is resounding. 

Ahead of Perfect Pussy's show this Sunday Gimme Noise talked with the Syracuse native about fear, feminism and hating her hometown.

Gimme Noise: Say Yes to Love will be released so soon. This has all been so fast. Where is your mind?
Meredith Graves: Honestly, I'm terrified. I keep telling people. My high school friend and I lost touch for a while. She just found me on Facebook and it turns out she's super pregnant. It was weird. She was like this super anti-establishment punk rocker and they gave her a due date and it turns out they were wrong. Her due date was three weeks ago and she is still super pregnant. That's how I feel about the record. It's been done since fucking November can't it just come out already? Talk about the most anxiety inducing experience of your life, that waiting. I'm so pregnant.

Will there be relief when it's finally out?
I don't know. I love to work but I never run out of things to stress out about so it's really not going to make that much of a difference. I just need something to aim my anxiety at right now.

Perfect Pussy put out a tape before ever even playing a show. When did you guys decide that there would be a full-length?
People had been asking if we were going to record one and we weren't really sure. This band was kind of formed as a non-entity. We weren't really doing anything. We made this tape and then people were interested in putting out a full-length. So I think we were already in the process of doing it. The fact that people wanted one was our impetus to make one. We just sort of did it. We were like, "You want a full album? OK, we can write, record, master and complete the full length in less than a week. Sure!" And then we did.

If the impetus was demand, how do you think it affected your approach to writing the album?
Too many musicians start a project by saying "All right I need to start a band that sounds like Joy Division or something." Or, "I need people to start a band that's like nihilist, black-metal or new wave and we're gonna write songs that sound like these two bands and now that we've established exactly how this band is going to operate it's time to find people and actually start writing songs." To me, that is the worst way to approach making music. So not thinking is a thing. I really have no objective as to what we're doing. We just kind of move forward and write. And we did it; we made the album and it's super personal. We didn't have time to sit on our asses and pray that we sounded like some other band.

Where did the idea come to release the limited edition vinyl pressed with your own blood?
We just thought it was a cool idea. You know, to do a limited edition.

I guess I perceived there was maybe more of a deliberate reason.
It's obviously a lot more complicated than that. The easy answer is that it was something fun to do. I think there are a lot of cool, young female artists right now that are making art relative to the politic of the body and I wanted to look at those really talented, wonderful women and say "Hey I'm here too, can I play? Let me do this involved bodily art sort of as a tribute to other artists creating right now in similar circles." It was nice and fitting way to do that.

Now, your involvement with music began in a completely different context [theater and opera] and you've acknowledged that you're trying to make yourself uncomfortable with the vocal style of Perfect Pussy. Why?
I've just always been really comfortable with performing. I've been inundated for years with the idea of rehearsal and to really make a conscious effort to practice. In opera there are so many weeks of practice leading up to one solitary performance. And in this band it's probably the ultimate indifference. This band is so different to me because I'm only doing one thing. When you're not multi-tasking it sort of forces you into this hyper-present moment where you're trying to do your one thing as best as you possibly can. There's nothing in the world that says you can't do punk and musical theater or whatever the fuck else you want to do. Take it all seriously and try to do a good job and you'll be fine, you know?

Why do you think there was such a strong reaction to your critique of the Syracuse hardcore scene?
I'm just sort of waiting for it to be over now. At the same time, there is so little to do here that people are still kind of hung up on it. But it's okay because when I walk down the street and I see those people they can't even make eye contact with me. So it's actually pretty funny. I'm not really that bothered by it. It was definitely a very incendiary thing for me to do. It was provocative for me to finally have one chance to say something and to be like "Fuck everybody, these people are fucking terrible!" Really childish.

But at the same time it's not like I was lying. I clearly stand by everything I said and everything I said has been proven tenfold since the initial interview. Everyone started freaking the fuck out on me and threatening to beat me up and shit. But it's whatever, it's really not a huge deal. I'm glad it got some attention because I think so often people try to call out oppressive behavior in their respective scenes. I guess you have to be careful what you wish for because sometimes you say something that people don't like and you'll get threatened. Whatever. It's just another "thing."

Have you also received positive responses for addressing the conversation?
Oh yeah, oh my god. I mean I have gotten emails from people that used to live in Syracuse. Women specifically who were like "Yup, back in the '90s or early '00s, Syracuse was a fucking horrible place then too. It was because of this crazy oppressive behavior. I'd talk about it and they'd tell me shut up, so it's nice to see someone taking Syracuse to task." For every 15 assholes on message boards making rape jokes and being fucking foul I get one private e-mail from somebody who genuinely thanks me for saying something. I'm not trying to throw myself a fucking parade here, but it's very, very gratifying to get those e-mails from people.
 
I think those kinds of people stain every scene.
Sure they do, but for me it was just a matter of very specific people who were incredibly shitty so it was extremely satisfying to be like "Hey shitheads, I'm still here." It's kind of immature but I'm not perfect. Nobody is.

If it's so horrible then why don't you just leave? Where would you live?
Somewhere warm. I don't know. I'm not really so big on moving simply because I'm close to my family here. You know, if one of your parents gets sick you want to be around for it. I'm getting older and so are they. The landscape here in upstate New York is the most beautiful you've ever seen. I wanna move I really do but... I was talking with a friend of mine over the weekend and talking about how people survive in New York City. I don't understand. I don't understand how people can get by. Everyone I know is out til 4 a.m. every night and then they all get up and go to work. They all have wonderful apartments and friendships and relationships. It just seems so unreal.

We're touring all of time though, so it would be so dumb for me to try and move right now. I'm effectively homeless right now.  Maybe this summer if I get a couple weeks of down time I'll stay with a friend and see if I like living in New York City, or maybe Austin, Texas because it's very warm. In my fantasy world I'm gonna move south to New Orleans or Nashville or Austin. Really my goal right now is just to stay mobile. I don't want to move anywhere; I want to live everywhere. I want friends in every city that I can stay with. I want to stay moving, it's not fun if you're not doing that, at least for me.

You'll get to do that this spring.
I know I'm leaving in a week I'm really happy. I'm 26 years old I've been doing this touring thing since I was 19. The only times in my life where I can remember actually being happy were times that I was living out of a backpack in the back of a van. That's the only time I even know anything close to regular people happiness. It's going to be a really nice tour.

What is your biggest priority this year?
Being happy. I know that probably sounds like a pretty contrite answer, but I've waited so long for this. I've waited so long for the experience of waking up everyday and being surrounded by people that aren't terrible, doing something I love, and having the opportunity to travel. I'm so lucky to be doing what it is that I'm doing. So I'm just going to keep trying to meet the expectations. And when it's over it's over. No goal. No goal ever. Just to keep moving.

You're in a band with guys who I gather you're pretty close with...
Yeah, they're my best friends.

Aside from the assholes, what's your perspective as a female in a male-dominated music niche?
I don't feel limitations. I don't feel like my gender has anything to do with my role in this band. I believe in visibility. I believe that everyone deserves to see themselves represented in the media. Everyone. In popular images of musicians there is not a great diversity of bodies or of anything in the mainstream music world or media. As a woman who is fronting a queer, hardcore band that's suddenly getting some press, maybe that's cool. Maybe for someone that's the closest they'll ever get to seeing themselves. But that sucks because it's just another reminder that we really need to make room for everybody. I don't feel limited because the mainstream media is kind of run by white people and I'm white and privileged in a sense. So shame on me. I know the space I'm taking up could easily be inhabited by Joe Dude. Fuck that. But at the same time I'm not doing anything earth-shattering. I don't feel limited by much of anything anymore.

Perfect Pussy. With Condominium and the Miami Dolphins. 18+, $8-$10, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, March 30 at 7th St. Entry. Tickets.

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