"THE WORST THING that's happened to me so far," says Meredith Graves, "was losing my balance after being pushed at a show in Los Angeles and ripping a four-inch gash in my butt cheek.
"It happened like 10 seconds into our set," the Perfect Pussy singer continues. "I was really drunk. I didn't even notice. They pulled me back up. We played for, you know, our requisite 12 minutes. Everybody left and I laid down to go to sleep, and I was like, 'Why does my butt hurt?' And I pulled my pants down and my ass was all bruised, there was all this blood.
"It wasn't that bad," she says. "But I do have a pretty nasty scar." It's just one of many in an ongoing string of performance-related injuries. "In Mexico," Graves adds after a pause, "after we played Festival Nrmal, I had jumped around so much at the show that I pulled my armpit."
Nrmal, a quick detour on the way to Austin's SXSW, was Graves' first festival—as a performer or an attendee. She'd been to punk and hardcore gatherings in years past, but nothing that wasn't thoroughly DIY, she says.
Graves grew up in Syracuse. As a kid, she performed: dancing, singing, acting in thea-ter. In her mid-teens she discovered punk—although, unlike many, Graves did not give the finger to everything that wasn't punk.
"I've always been really omnivorous with stuff," she says. "I've always had a million interests and hobbies and projects going on at the same time. Definitely a jack-of-all-trades, master of none."
In college, Graves tried juggling the study of traditional performance arts with playing punk and hardcore, but found herself drawn more to the bands. Prior to Perfect Pussy she played with Shoppers on guitar and vocals. Shoppers toured the Northeast and down the coast. But when a relationship she had with the drummer dissolved, so did the band. Some time later, a movie filming in Syracuse wanted Shoppers for a scene, so Graves cobbled together another band for the shoot. It stuck—sort of. A year later, after adding two more members, Perfect Pussy finally took shape. This time, Graves just sings—losing the guitar helped unleash her.
In the spring of 2013, a self-released EP, I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling, started gaining traction beyond the local Syracuse scene. "I," the first of its four songs (all titled with roman numerals), represents the core of Perfect Pussy's supernova.
"I" blasts immediately, a blistering rash of screeching guitars, gnashing, stilted crashes, and unintelligible, impassioned screams. It is concise, electrifying, sweaty, and light on its feet. And "I," like Perfect Pussy—and seemingly Graves herself—is layered in feedback, emulsified and thriving in the juxtaposition.
While her delivery is shrill and buried in the mix, Graves' lyrics (viewable on Bandcamp) are visceral and direct. "My best friend is back in town/There's a bad taste in my mouth," Graves sings in "I," a tale of Graves' best friend sucking her ex-boyfriend's cock. "Her eyes fell low and heavy with shame and come."
And yet, in a scant two minutes, "I" comes full circle. It closes with Graves extracting herself from anger and the moment. Finding another vantage, she reestablishes: "I am full of light/I am filled with joy/I am full of peace/I had this dream that I forgave my enemies."
In conversation too, I find Graves able and inclined to not only see both sides, but able to take them both as well. She explains that she's generally shy, but, in some spheres, isn't. She says she doesn't want to be the focal point of Perfect Pussy, but finds it hard to shrug off personal interest. And that she appreciates being a woman in a predominately male scene, but has little interest in becoming a symbol or spokeswoman.
Her reasoning is measured and her explorations are sound. While inhabiting opposing forces, Graves is anything but contradictory. There are, however, two things she is sure of.
First, that the physical punishment of being in Perfect Pussy, including a suspicion that she's permanently damaging her vocal cords—not to mention the grind of touring, or the backlash from once-friendly punks incensed by Perfect Pussy's popularity—is worth the pain. "I remember that there are people with real problems and I suck it up and stop crying about it," Graves says. "Because I'm in a band for a living. I'm living the fucking dream. No matter how depressed I am, I have it better than, shit, everybody. This is what I want to be doing."
Second, she knows that nothing lasts forever—especially punk. Perfect Pussy's hurtling, just-released debut LP, Say Yes to Love, may well be their last. "Oh, I think it's guaranteed for another six months, tops," Graves says of the band. "I don't think we want to do this band for much longer."
Which isn't to say they're not enjoying the ride. "Bands should break up before they start to suck," says Graves. "Everybody. Everybody sticks around way longer than they should."