"Maybe it’s just the universe sprinkling a little bit of fairy dust on five shitty kids from the rust belt," she says.
It’s been less than a year since Perfect Pussy originally posted a four-track demo tape to Bandcamp, but Meredith Graves, 26-year-old frontwoman of the Syracuse five-piece with roots in hardcore and noise, already knows how her story will end. The breathless blog reviews, the storied early live shows in derelict D.I.Y. spaces, bonafide CMJ buzz, backlash, SXSW and now, March 18, the release of a fervently heralded, NPR and Pitchfork-approved debut full length album, “Say Yes to Love.” Graves knows that none of this is real life, that the turbulent throes of a pitiless hype cycle have left her temporarily teetering on the bones of buzz bands that came before her. And yet she’s smart enough not to care.
“Every show we play is our best show, everywhere we go is our favorite place,” Graves says, her voice brightened by a sudden wave of euphoria. “Every day I wake up and this is still happening I realize that I’m the luckiest person in the world.”
Of course, it’s not all luck. “I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling,” Perfect Pussy’s self-released demo tape, was purpose-filled, bone-rattling and brisk, the kind of electrically charged debut that can shock a jaded blogger out of his torpor. Follow-up “Say Yes to Love,” released by the Brooklyn-based independent label Captured Tracks, takes the original formula — cacophonous flurries of guitar, drums and warbling synthesizer, punctured by Graves’ hyper-literate, rapid-fire prose — and refines it with a crisper mix and a few astute nods toward pop melody.
In an interview before decamping for a weeklong orgy of booze and brands in Austin, TX, Graves was refreshingly candid and thoughtful about the pleasure and peril of getting attention from big corporations, why she donated her menstrual blood for the special edition vinyl of “Say Yes to Love,” making the most of her “five minutes in the spotlight” and more.
Billboard: I got sent a copy of the lyrics from the album and looking at them on a page it just reads like straight up poetry. Really powerful stuff.
Meredith Graves: Thank you. Yeah, it’s kind of vulnerable.
Is it natural for you to be confessional in your writing?
No, I don’t think it’s really natural for me at all. I think I’m kind of forcing it and that’s why it’s nice to be in this band. I’m a really solitary person, I keep a lot of things inside.
What made you want to open up?
Well, I think it is because we live in a very harsh and unforgiving world where people are criticized for doing things that are attention seeking. You get reprimanded if you do anything that seems selfish or too self-aware. It’s really obnoxious to see that over and over again, especially in relation to non-male people. There’s this stereotype… It’s where the word “hysteria” comes from, this idea that women are demanding and overly emotional and always “too much.” I don’t think there are enough messages going around that, “No, you’re not actually too much. Your feelings are valid. You’re allowed to feel however you feel.” So if by fellating myself repeatedly on a record I can make someone else maybe feel comfortable saying “Yeah, I’ve had these experiences, too,” or “I’ve had my own experience and now I want to talk about it.” I think it’s really important to promote a culture where we feel OK talking about our feelings, because keeping things bottled up leads to all sorts of horrible things.
And also we live in a world where not everyone has the agency to speak their mind. I get a free pass because I’m privileged in so many ways. Everyone falls in their own place on the axis of privilege and oppression and I’m privileged enough to have the cultural capital of being who I am. So if I can maybe clear a little bit of space, then when I’m done, which will probably be extremely soon, hopefully there will be room for someone else who has something to say about how fucked up the world is, and then they can have a turn.
You seem very self-aware of the moment you’re in.
I think it’s irresponsible not to be. I really do. I tire so quickly of seeing people waste the time they’ve been given. I would always be annoyed when I would see my talented, cool friends sitting around wasting their lives doing nothing. And it’s doubly bad now when I see other artists that have their 5 minutes in the spotlight, or whatever, and they’re not only choosing to do less than nothing with it, not using their space and time to actively promote good things, but they’re doing really fucked up stuff and not questioning it. It bothers me. It makes me break out in hives.
Have you thought about what you would like to happen in the period following this album cycle?
I think we’re going to keep doing this band for as long as it continues to be fun, and when it stops being fun we’re gonna go do something else. I feel extremely lucky to have had the experiences I’ve had. I’m honored to have been able to do it with people I love and trust. The attention we’ve been afforded has been exceptional and if it all ended tomorrow, I would have to be OK with that. I could sit around and fantasize about an imaginary future all I’d like and that won’t make it any closer to coming true.
So I’m just going to enjoy it now, and if it ends tomorrow I wanna be a florist. I wanna work in a flower shop and I wanna get a phD, something to do with critical cultural and media studies. I’d like to teach, probably about feminism.
That’s pretty specific.
I’ve thought about this [laughs]. I have a million imaginary lives. I live six imaginary lives every day.
What do you think it is about the band that has drawn so much attention?
I don’t know. When we were first starting to gain a little bit of attention, people would approach us wanting to work with us, whether they were press people, agents or labels or whatever. And I would talk to these people and I would give them a while to tell me what they wanted to do and then I would look them in the eye and say "Now, can you tell me why this is happening? If you work in this music industry that I’ve had nothing to do with, how about you tell me why people give a shit about my band?” And I was never really able to get a straight answer out of 99.9% of people. Nobody can tell me. I’m assuming it’s a combination of having a stupid name, being really loud, dressing funny and being in the right place at the right time -- being really lucky.
I don’t know, maybe it’s just the universe sprinkling a little bit of fairy dust on five shitty kids from the rust belt. I don’t have an answer, I just feel really lucky all the time.
Have you encountered any aspects of the music industry that have irked you, or rubbed you the wrong way?
I kind of had a spiritual breakthrough last night. I’ve tried to look at this experience so far as an opportunity to do things that I would never have a chance to do otherwise. So I’ve just been having a really good time saying “Yes” to everything because I see myself as a super casual observer, like I’m just here to document this.
So if somebody says “Write for a fashion magazine,” or “Try this,” or “Be in this,” or “Do this interview,” or “This person wants to sponsor the show” or whatever, it’s been interesting because in my head I’m like “Of course, I’ll take this experience. It’s a once in a life time opportunity and I’ll never get it again.” And then I’ve seen in the last few months how branded the music industry can become and how companies wanna give you things because they think you’ll wear their stuff on stage or they want you to participate because they think fans of your band will like their stuff.
At first I just wanted to see all this because I thought it was really interesting, and then last night I had this breakthrough like “Wait, nobody out there can see into my head. Nobody knows that I’m just doing this for fun. Nobody gets that the reason I’m doing this is because I just wanna see the inner workings of it. I should probably stop doing that shit because now I look crazy and like a total sellout.”
So I think it was fun for me for a minute, but I think it’s time for me to knock that shit off because it looks bad. It’s not me. That’s the only part of the music industry I’ve encountered that’s annoying. I’m done feeling like I exist to be some small component of the image of a corporation. Last night I was thinking about it and I was just like, “Oh my God I need 100 showers.”
It’s really hard to stay honest in this business because it feels really good to get lots of attention. It feels really good to have everyone tell you that you’re great and because of how great you are they wanna give you stuff. That’s a very cool feeling, especially if you come from a place like Syracuse where nothing really cool ever happens. It’s a really exciting world and it’s very easy to get caught up in. So I’m very, very lucky to have been afforded the opportunities that I’ve been given so far. I just have to be a little more careful in the future because I’m starting to feel like I’m moving very, very far away from myself. And it feels strange.
Have you thought about what your criteria will be for working with corporations?
I don’t know yet. We’ll have to deal with that when it comes up. And it’s not like we have that many people barking at us trying to give us stuff, that’s very misleading. Because trust me, I know that we are a spit wad on the radar. No one gives a shit about this band. If the day comes when we’re confronted with something controversial… Well, OK, there was some magazine, and I can’t even remember which magazine it was, that said they wanted me to conduct an interview for them because they knew that I was a writer. And I said “OK.” And they literally wanted me to interview the CEO of American Apparel. They wanted me to interview Dov Charney. And I said “Absolutely not.” There is no way, no fucking way I’m putting myself in that position.
And that’s a company that broadly advertises itself as being ethically run, but everybody knows that that’s not really the case. You don’t get a parade for not using sweatshops in 2014. You’re sexist and transphobic and misogynist and shitty and you try to turn a buck off sexualizing people. And I know if you want me with my politics, which I’m very public about, to interview someone whose career is based on their sexism, I know what you’re getting at and I don’t want to. I’m way too emotionally fragile. So that’s my litmus test: Does it make me feel creepy? If I feel creepy, I’m not doing it.
How did you get the idea to do a limited edition version of the album with your blood in the vinyl?
Um, that was actually my first conversation with Mike [Sniper] from Captured Tracks back when we were first talking about doing the record with them. It was funny because he mentioned the idea of doing a special edition and all of the ideas I was throwing at him were really mediocre. I was like “Oh, let’s do a letter press cover!” And he was like “We can do letter press covers for literally all of them, you’re going to have to think a little bigger than that.” And then the conversation just spiraled out of control. I usually can’t think in big terms because all I ever think about is money and I don’t have any of it. So eventually I was like, “What’s more limited than my own blood? Let me just bleed into the record.” And he was just like “OK, yeah that’s it. That’s our idea.” That was kind of the first time I said “Yes, we’ll do our record with Captured Tracks, because this guy will back my crazy ideas.” And then I had to do it. It was basically like a dare.
How does that work? They draw your blood and send it off to a factory?
Umm, no, I used menstrual blood. I collected it myself over the span of three or four days, brought a jar of my blood to the pressing plant and they dropped it in the record.
Yep, that’s the real truth of it. I guess when you say you put your heart and soul into a record, this is the next logical step. It’s a super, super personal record; and an extremely, extremely emotional record. It’s like the saddest thing I’ve ever done. It makes me so sad that this record even exists. The whole record is jut me being bummed and hurt and pissed off. So for me to actually be bleeding in the record, that’s just something that I would do. It’s just one of those things that I think is quintessentially my idiocy. It’s like “Yeah, of course. That’s how seriously I take this -- I’ll bleed in it.” Ask anyone that knows me, whether they like me or not. I’m the most over-the-top, embarrassingly dramatic person. So yeah, this is just another thing that I can say that I did when I’m an old lady somewhere sitting in front of a nursing home with a gun and a mojito in a rocking chair.
Is it difficult for you performing the record night after night, given how personal and emotional it is?
Yeah, but I always look at it as theater, in a way. I have a background in musical theater so I always think of it as getting up on stage and performing what I’m saying. Doing that every night helps me work through it. But yeah, it’s difficult when the material is so personal. I’m a very sad person, Reggie. But it’s OK. You can be sad and still get work done. You can be sad and still have fun. You can be sad and still be a good friend and still be functional to an extent.
What kind of theater geek were you?
I always wanted to be the lead in the play. I never wanted to be in the chorus, I always wanted to be the star. I did "Godspell" and "Jesus Christ Superstar." I was the Cat in the Hat in "Seussical." I wanted to have the most responsibility, the most songs to sing all by myself. I’ve never had stage fright a day in my life. I drove everyone else at my high school crazy.