Perfect Pussy: Interview
“All you have to do is look around, and you can find other marginalized people working actively in the arts, and you can find people to have communion with. And that’s really important.”

Perfect Pussy consist of two Geminis, a Scorpio, an Aries, and a Virgo. They play sets marked by brevity and intensity, rarely more than 20 minutes long. Meredith Graves says, “The whole point is to play until we want to die, then call it a day.” Last Spring, Perfect Pussy released a demo I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling, and this spring, they released Say Yes To Love. Both are charged with confessions and driven by noise; these songs demand repeated listens. It helps to read the lyrics simultaneously in order to parse feedback and distortion and discover points of connection. Such honesty and energy proves the empowering potential of punk.

TMT talked to Graves in a sunny room with wood floors and a high ceiling, perhaps meant for ballet rehearsals or yoga classes. We sat by a window, at first flipping through her purchases from a nearby comic book store, then discussing everything from confronting a hostile hometown scene and dealing with low self-esteem, to writing Say Yes To Love, feeling spiritual, and speaking out.


I was looking around before I got here and you’ve talked to so many people and you’ve got so many interviews out there already.

It’s weird. Everybody wanted to talk to me all at the same time, and I got really overwhelmed and said and did a lot of things that, with any forethought, I would not have… My dad’s a journalist, and he says, “These people aren’t your friends, they want an interesting story, they want you to be crazy. Stop painting a portrait of yourself as being crazy.” I reread things I say in interviews, and I’m just like, “Shit, I sound crazy.” So, I took a while off to be like, “How can I now reassert myself and drive the point home that I’m not this totally unhinged, vengeful, stereotypically negative person?”

Has there been backlash for anything you’ve said?

Oh yeah, my life is a nightmare right now. I say some shit, and I get in huge trouble for it. There were some early interviews that we did where I would talk about problems inherent to the hardcore scene, like the implicit, open-open-open-open sexism and homophobia, transphobia, racism, classism, like the basic shit that you should not do if you want to be a decent human being, and how our hometown hardcore scene is kind of the zenith of that. It’s incredibly prejudiced, and it’s really problematic, and it pushes people out, and it’s just the most unfriendly place you could ever imagine being, and instead of talking about how where I’m from actually mirrors a larger representation of what the hardcore scene is and what it does and how the status quo operates and steps that people can take to move away from that problematic situation, I called everyone a cock-sucker, and all I did was yell and swear and talk about how much I hate them. Then it got back to people in our hometown, and suddenly there’s a message board full of people saying very negative things about me, and suddenly people that are friends with an ex-boyfriend of mine that I’ve spoken out about are sending emails to all of the people that are trying to book shows for us, making up the craziest stuff, trying to get our tour cancelled. I have enemies. There are men in my hometown that are threatening to jump me and beat me up. That was a story that made it into our city paper.

Shit.

Yeah. There are people right now that are fighting tooth-and-nail for their right to be horrible without suffering any consequences.

A couple months ago I stopped looking at press about our band. I just want to keep to myself. I just want to enjoy being in a band with my friends. Other people’s opinions of me are none of my business, but there hit a point a few months ago where it came down to a matter of my personal safety.

What steps do you think people can take to work toward change and combat varieties of oppression in the hardcore scene?

Most of the time, the hardcore scene just parrots the kyriarchy at-large. It can’t just be about protecting other people in the hardcore scene. What we need to do is focus on dismantling systematic oppression, as it has invaded and tried to destroy people from all walks of life. This starts in many cases with self-awareness and self-education, and an honest acknowledgment of how your respective privileges impact those you interact with, and the way you go about your life. You have to understand what part you play in a system that seeks to enforce inequality and separation. That’s especially important for people who have never suffered from certain oppressions — like white people who want to dismantle racism, despite never having experienced it themselves… And from there, you have to work in whatever ways necessary to support marginalized groups — after self-awareness, it’s time to stop centering the conversation about racism on white people, stop centering the conversation about rape on perpetrators, et cetera.

If your music is in any way political as it relates to your immediate experience, you’re marked as a political band whether you want to be or not. Until the status quo changes, that’s not going to change, and that’s fucked up.

Do you feel uncomfortable going back to Syracuse?

Not really. I never knew any of those people anyway. A lot of them are just tangentially involved in the hardcore scene. My friends would say, “Oh, so and so is saying terrible things about you on Facebook.” And I’m like, “Who is that?” Then I find out so and so is that guy I know about whose wife left him because he was emotionally abusive. So and so is in a band that used to heil hitler on stage. So and so is the singer of a band called Rape Whistle. These are the men that are fighting me tooth and nail. They want to rip me apart because I threatened their precious little status quo and outed them.

But really, had I more forethought, I would’ve spoken about it in context of the hardcore scene at large. And I didn’t. I called people names, and I got really angry.

I mean, we’re nobody. When people first heard our demo and the pace of the attention started to pick up a little bit, I figured it would end any day, so I would just say whatever I wanted without thinking of any potential for longevity. I just said whatever I wanted, because I figured nobody cared.

I think that can be difficult in any situation though, to step back so much and ask what it means more generally and what effects it might have.

I like to think things through, though. And I’m not very good at it. I’m a very impulsive person. I interrupt people. And I talk over people. And I have to be the first person to say something. I have to be the first person to get my point across. I’ve always been like that. And if somebody says something that makes me mad, I need to be louder than them. I need to outdo them. Like, some dude in my hometown wants to be a crazy racist piece of shit? Of course I have to start a fight with him in an international publication. And then I suffer the consequences. Really, if I’d just left it the fuck alone, everything would have been fine too. Nothing would’ve changed. I’d probably still be right where I am.

Under no circumstances could I ever regret saying things about shitty people, but at the same time, things are changing for me, and I’m going to start acting my fucking age. I got mad at an ex-boyfriend of mine that I’m still friends with, and I went into an interview that night and said things that are completely not even true, trying to seem very important. He’s a pretty rational guy, but if he sees it, it’s just going to be awful.

Is that the one that a lot of the songs on Say Yes To Love are about?

Yeah. He and I are still in touch. We’ve tried to get back together, and it hasn’t worked out. He’s gonna be part of my life forever, but very recently, the last couple months have been a lot [of] really intense soul-searching for me. And one of those things was realizing that I literally just can’t be with him.

What else does that kind of soul-searching entail?

Finally taking action in regard to stuff that I’ve been thinking about for a really long time, specifically things that I don’t really like about myself. I’ve always had extremely low self-esteem, and I’ve always dealt with mental illness, and I’ve always been extraordinarily introverted. I guess I’m what you could call a social introvert. I’m talkative, and I’m friendly, but I prefer to spend most of my time alone. I’m very contemplative. I’m always thinking and overthinking, and that turns into ruminating, and I get stuck in my head.

I’ve lived for 26 years under the auspices of this monologue that I am obnoxious, I am unlikeable, I talk too much, I lie, I cheat, I steal, I am a shitty person, I’m not good, I’m not good, I’m not good, and I get really depressed. At minimum, a couple times a year, I have major depressive episodes that put me in bed for weeks at a time, and I’ve been dealing with this since adolescence. I have chronic depression issues, and last tour, when my teeth started to go and I had to go to the hospital and everything, it definitely triggered something. I had to take a step back and listen to the people around me who were looking at me and saying, “You have behavior patterns that are really problematic, and you need to be held accountable. We know you’re not doing it on purpose, but here is a litany of things you’ve been doing that are not right or are not benefiting you, and we love you, and we need you to listen to us.”

And I resisted. Then, all of a sudden one day I was like, “Well, I’m the one who’s unhappy, and nobody’s happy with me. Maybe I just need to move away from these self-destructive behavior patterns that I fall into that other people are challenging in me.” If you’re a person that’s constantly miserable, like me, sometimes it helps to take a step back and ask yourself what you’re doing in your life. I have chronic anxiety issues, and I suffer from terrible depression — that’s nonnegotiable — but are there little things I could be doing more regularly to keep it under control? And there are. Trying to stay outside my head. Focusing, working really really hard to put the locus of my energy on other people instead of worrying about myself. This band thing, it’ll make you feel crazy really-really quick, and you have to get into this space where you have to be willing to analyze yourself and talk about yourself a lot. I was talking about myself to people, and then I would read those interviews and say, “That’s not me. I’m not telling the truth of who I am at all.” So, that work that I’ve been doing, that’s the work of getting back to a place where I see my honest self reflected in the work that I do. I’ve let go of a lot of baggage in the past few months. I think in the long run it’s probably for the best. Plus, I have very nice people in my life that are like supportive and don’t want to see me bummed out all the time.

I’m pretty delusional, and I’m not always completely in touch with reality, so if I can trace a path backwards and figure out how I got to where I am, maybe the room will not feel like it’s spinning for five minutes.

I think it’s super important to have a crew, just a group of people that you know you can always depend on.

Yeah, I’ve always been a real loner. I’ve never had a lot of friends. I kind of float from group to group. Every year I’ll have a small group of friends, and people will come in and people will come out. The people that are with me now are nice, so maybe things are changing, and maybe I’ll be in a more permanent social situation for a while. Or, maybe in six months I’ll be on to something else nice. I’m OK with either one, but I’m definitely ready to not be such a bummer anymore.

I’m thinking about Say Yes To Love and the breakup — when was the first time you realized that you could take such negative experiences and transform them into something else?

Right after the breakup, I was despondent. I stopped eating. I started smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. I was so sad. And then we started writing, because Greg had gone through a breakup a few months before, and we became each other’s primary support system, and we were just like, “We’ve been in this band for a while, and we’ve done nothing, so it’s time to throw ourselves into a project that might benefit us or at least get us out of the house and stop being upset.”

So I wrote “Bells.” That song was a huge, huge turning point for me. I never pat myself on the back — I’m just here where I am right now, always — but when I sat down and reread the lyrics to that after I wrote them and put them to music, I realized that I had very much unintentionally done some extremely complicated scansion and rhyme schemes in that song, like really fucking complicated. If you look at “Bells,” it’s so bizarre. There’s this really strange rhyme scheme, and the reiteration of ideas. I never did any of that intentionally, and I looked back at it, and I realized that I had said everything I needed to say about the breakup. The whole point of that song is, “You broke up with me, it absolutely sucks and hurts so terribly, but you did the right thing, and I know it was time for the relationship to end, and I’m sad, but really really-really grateful that I had the chance to be with someone who taught me things like that, I’m really bummed but I’m also really thankful, thank you for being the first good relationship I ever had.” And it was like a bolt of lightning hit me, that’s when I realized that I could use these songs as an outlet to kind of say whatever I needed to say for myself, and that was super-liberating.

And then a couple months later, we wrote the rest of the record, and by that point, he and I had already tried to get back together. It didn’t really work out, and I had this whole new set of feelings about the situation, so songs like “Work” came out of that. The record was actually kind of written about the two months directly around it, like the experience of going through the breakup and being bummed and then having a month to get my shit together and be like, “I’m OK with being alone actually, I feel really good, now I’m doing this band thing.” And all of a sudden, right after my birthday, the band thing started to take off. October rolled around, and we got asked to play CMJ, and I was like, “This is amazing, this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” Then he called me in the middle of the night and was like, “I’m still in love with you and breaking up with you was the biggest mistake I ever made, let’s get back together.” We recorded the record a month later, right at the end of November, and a lot of the record is just about that month. It kind of works in a big circle, like it helped me come to terms with everything. It helped me get closure.

When you mentioned scansion and rhyme scheme, I was thinking about how you’ve referenced E.E. Cummings as an influence, and the way the words are arranged in the lyrics sheet reminds me of him.

I went to school for writing, and I’m a really avid reader. I get more inspired by books than I do by other bands. Everything I’ve written for this band has a lot of secret literary references. Lines. I steal stuff from books. I steal stuff from poems. Even just two-word phrases that, to me, are spotlights. Really recognizable, secret things. “Interference Fits” has lines from Cummings’ poems in it. I love poetry. I love reading.

We have a wonderful graphic artist who does stuff for our label. His name is Ryan, and he puts up with an unreal amount of silly stuff from me. I can call him and say, like I did for this record, “Hey, can you make the layout for our lyrics sheet look like a City Lights paperback, or an E.E. Cummings book?” and he will sit down and do his research and tweak things until I’m happy. He’s a wonderful friend and extremely talented, I’m lucky to have his help. It felt right to make a small gesture that honored some artists who have inspired me in the past, which for this band was poets and writers instead of other musicians.