Say yes to love. Say yes to Perfect Pussy
“I’ve been saving while you’ve been spending. I’m biding my time and you’re going to fall not even knowing who took you.”
Speaking over Skype a couple of days after Perfect Pussy’s show at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn, Meredith Graves – frontwoman of the Syracuse-based punk band, which also comprises Shaun Sutkus, Garrett Koloski, Ray McAndrew, and Greg Ambler on synth, drums, guitar and bass, respectively – is paraphrasing the conceptual artist Jenny Holzer’s “Feminist Artist Statement”. It’s an appropriate MO. In a couple of earlier interviews, Graves cited toxic relationships and psychological abuse as the reason for the implosion of her last band, the respected punk group Shoppers, something which – starkly evident in her caustic, aggro-poetic lyrics – had clearly carried some weight with the remit and inception of her current project.
“I was in a relationship with a person that was also in the band and even before we started it was a very toxic relationship”, she explains. “When we broke up, of course that intersected directly with the breakup of the band. I was literally living in a state of constant fear and anxiety and I was so afraid that if I was brave enough to leave him it would end the band, and of course it did. It’s so difficult for people to come forward and talk about relationship violence and to talk about abuse because if you say the wrong thing then people will discredit you. It made me wanna quit hardcore and never play music again.”
It took nearly two years for the now 26-year- old to rescind on this. Perfect Pussy’s first EP/demo, the self-released cassette somewhat despondently titled I have lost all desire for feeling, appeared last April; a startling, terse 12-minute blast of noise punk, it was both relentlessly searing and subtly melodic, Graves’ near indecipherable vocals buried under a distorted, wonderfully miasmic squall. It was, objectively, brilliant. Lyrically jumping between the transcendent and the cynical, via the punk poetry of I (“I am full of light. I am filled with joy. I am full of peace. I had this dream that I forgave my enemies) and the sarcastically masochistic IV (“I’m a real piece of shit, I’m a real lost cause. Dare to act like you’re surviving and get thrown to the dogs”), the result was a powerful and deeply personal document.
“After two years of ruminating on whether I could get everything out that I needed to get out about how I felt about what these people did to me – absolving myself of all these feelings — that’s exactly what ended up happening”, she says. “They’d basically been taunting me, waiting for me to poke my head out of this cave of anxiety. I saved while everyone else was spending. I had the biggest amount of anger and they gave me a microphone. And that song [IV] really is for those other people who’ve ever been in my position, up against the crowd.”
March sees the release of Say Yes To Love, the band’s first just-about-full-length on the hugely prolific and tastemaking Captured Tracks (one limited edition, it might be added, pressed with a little of Graves’ menstrual blood). With the exception of the juddering static of VII, it picks up pretty directly where I have lost… left off; seven more tracks of emotive clatter and chiming sturm und drang, a consistent whine of feedback grounding the din whenever Graves pauses for breath. And again, it’s a fucking classic. The narrative focus seems to have shifted this time round though; it’s undercut with a more resolutely assured and positive stance – as exemplified in the brazen self-reflection of tracks such as Big Stars and Bells – but we posit there remains an underlying sense of expressive trepidation running through it as a whole.
“Most definitely” agrees Graves. “Or maybe it’s more reflective? With this band, I’m doing everything in real time. We wrote and recorded the record in less than a week, so everything I was experiencing that week is what the record is about. Whatever my thoughts were about it at the time. Which hold.” She continues, “I’m always going to be really anxious and shy, always going tofeel weird about writing about my feelings in that blunt of a way. But at the same time I don’t want to speak to anyone else’s experiences. I’m stuck with myself.”
Despite the cathartic nature of much of our conversation, Graves is more frequently enthused and quietly excitable than expectedly reticent. She uses the word “incredible” near constantly, expounding on bands and individuals as varied as Axxa/ Abraxas, London’s Good Throb and Lil B (“He is so absolutely, overwhelmingly positive!”), segueing through volatile star- sign pairings and the cosmic tribulations of Mercury retrograde (“It’s a terrible time for anyone to do anything. I feel like most of the people in my life are mad at me right now and I’m really stressed out”) and the band’s collective excitement at being interviewed by Nardwuar (“He’s just like this person of pure light and good feelings and happiness!”).
In fact, the actual day–to-day of playing in Perfect Pussy and the hype surrounding it as a functioning DIY entity seems to verge on being self-consciously transitory. Pressed about the band’s future plans, she admits “I’d be fine if we were done now”: not exactly what you’d expect for a band still to actually release its first record proper. “Honestly, this record is totally fine but I firmly believe in bands stopping before they start to suck, and we suck enough already! We were friends before this band and we’ll be friends after this band. I would be totally happy to put out one record, tour for a while and have this band be over. In my opinion that’s probably what’s going to happen.”
Resolutely, she adds, “there’s a phrase I heard many years ago: ‘You can plan in one hand and shit in the other … and just see which one fills up first’.” Irrespective of when they do decide to throw in the towel, Perfect Pussy’s 35 minutes of music to date is about as righteously pellucid an expression of noise imaginable right now.