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Meredith Graves

Meredith Graves: pussy power

Meredith Graves

Perfect Pussy have set the world alight. Here, the New York crew's frontwoman tells us why hardcore punk is the sound for our times

TextLiz PellyPhotographyJai OdellStylingVictor Cordero

Taken from the Spring 2015 issue of Dazed:

As the singer of burning Syracuse hardcore band Perfect Pussy, Meredith Graves has spent the past year travelling the globe delivering unparalleled performances themed around trauma, control and love. The jarring aggression of her band gripped the music world, but what has resonated most strongly is Graves’ own critical voice. She’s articulated her feminist values through pieces for Pitchfork and Rookie, and is working on a solo record, photobook and her own label, Honor Press. “I will do literally anything I can get my hands on,” she laughs. It’s only as we’re hearing it everywhere that you realise how badly pop culture needed her voice.

In terms of artistic themes and lyrics, what are some mutual ideas being expressed through Perfect Pussy that you now hope will be projected through your writing and your imprint of Captured Tracks

Meredith Graves: That people who have been hurt and people who have been marginalized deserve to be heard. That's really the first and most striking similarity that comes to mind. In my perfect world, the prevailing ideology would be ‘do what you can to make the world better, to make your life better.’ I have now been in many countries where young kids have come up and said they were inspired by me because I came forward as someone who survived abuse and has suffered from mental illness. You can survive the cultural conditions that have fought to suppress you. I have lived through a horribly abusive relationship. I have struggled my entire life with extreme depression and mood disorders. And now, after a year of traveling the world and talking to people about it, I'm here in a place where I can facilitate the survival of others. Survival is an option, and once you can get to the point where you are above water, if and when you're feeling up for it, you can reach your hand back and pull someone else up.

I've noticed you interacting with kids at shows a lot, and responding to kids on Tumblr a lot. 

Meredith Graves: People for some reason are always really surprised that I'm nice. And I have to wonder, out of the bands that we play with, who are the assholes? Who would they not approach? Because those people need help. Fuck those people. Or conversely, love those people until they start behaving in acceptable ways. I wish that I could talk to every teenager who is a fan of independent music in the year 2014 and say, ‘I know you like these bands, but these people are not good role models.’ Once I know that a person in a band is a piece of shit, I can't listen to that band anymore, and I don't want to.

So much music has been ruined for me this year for that same reason. That's why to me, it's so important that we're in this moment that there are actually a lot of feminists and punks being given bigger platforms to project from.

Meredith Graves: And I don't even want to pretend that this is endemic to just the larger music industry. Because where I come from, in hardcore, I would venture to say the percentage of shitty dudes is exponentially higher… Every single corner of music is constantly on the verge of being ruined by men. Men will ruin music just like men are currently ruining global ecology, just like men have ruined politics, just like men have ruined everything. Men are ruining music publications, men are ruining record labels, men are ruining music videos, men are ruining flyer art. I don't want teenagers to support shitty men.

Look at labour-capitalism in the USA. Let's look at the division of labour. Let's take a group of one hundred 14-year-olds. How many of those will grow into workers and how many of them will be bosses? 99 per cent of those teenagers are going to be workers, working for shitty men. I don't want them to start giving their money or their time or their energy to men like that any earlier than they absolutely have to. I want them to have heroes who are fighters, who are survivors, who come from a diverse enough array of backgrounds, to give them a greater sense of how the systems of the world actually operate. And more importantly, how they intersect.

“Men will ruin music just like men are currently ruining global ecology, just like men have ruined politics, just like men have ruined everything” – Meredith Graves

How did you originally get into punk and hardcore?

Meredith Graves: My dad listened to punk when I was growing up. It was always in my house. My dad would come to my nursery and listen to Hüsker Dü. Those are the myths I was raised with. My dad is punker than me by far. When I was in high school I did not fit in and I hated everyone. My few friends were the outcast boys. I had grown up listening to punk because of my dad, so  I listened to Television, and Blondie, the Clash, Sonic Youth. And then there were boys in my class who told me that wasn't punk, “we listen to hardcore.” But what they listened to was like, Yellowcard. This was in the early days of Napster, so I would go home and download music, and this was how I found out about a lot of classic hardcore bands. I got into it because I knew that the boys in my class couldn't possibly be right about what hardcore was.

The town I'm from is so small, but we used to have a Borders at the mall. When the Borders opened I was probably 12 or 13. Every month they would get like, two copies of Maximum Rocknroll. All through high school and college, I just devoured Maximum Rocknroll. So my dad, the Internet, and Maximum Rocknroll saved my life.

Who were your teenage role models?

Meredith Graves: I was obsessed with documentarians. There was nothing I loved more than reading biographies or seeing histories. There was nothing going on around me so I was interested in the history of places and times when there were things going on. Growing up, the art I had access to was made my men. So I kind of always thought that I wouldn't be able to do that. If you were a historian, you weren't part of the story so it didn't matter what you were. That's why when I first started getting really involved in the scene when I was fifteen, I always had a camera with me. People knew me as the girl who took photos.  I did that until I moved to Syracuse when I was 22. I was a photographer. I was constantly photographing my friends. I was obsessively documenting my life. And I still am. My first book I'm putting out on my label is my own. And it's really the first time I've ever shown anyone my photos.

Who are your current inspirations?

Meredith Graves: I go through really momentary, temporary phases with people. Right now, I'm really digging the Romanian author Andrei Codrescu. I think he is excellent. I read a Graham Greene book recently that I loved. People aren't my inspiration so much as activities or concepts. In the last year of my life, Roland Barthes, Alain Badiou. There's a Desi feminist writer, the EIC of The New Inquiry Ayesha Siddiqi, whose ideas are incredible. She's half the reason I made a Twitter. I learn something from her every day.

How is New York so far?

Meredith Graves: Once the band started playing here more often I started to make a lot of friends here, and after a few months of coming here a lot, I realized it was the first time in a really long time that I had that – having lots of friends. I've always been a chronic loner. I've always been extremely social but furiously introverted. And really self-aware, and really anxious. It's always been hard for me to merge into existing social circles because I still always operate like a free agent if I am involved in a larger scene.

When I came down here for Basilica, an apartment was offered to me as a joke and within a half an hour I just decided to take it. And everything I believed is true. I do have friends and a community here, and I've done more in the last two weeks than I have in the year previous in a lot of ways. I came here to be alone and to work in a supportive community, and it’s everything I've ever wanted. I'm happier and more productive here than I've been in my life, really. Just in the last 2 weeks I've felt better than I have for as long as I can remember. I'm happy here. And for me to say that, that's like a fucking thing. That's a thing.

It's funny, New York is such a notoriously hard place to make friends.

Meredith Graves: I've already managed to meet and become involved with some people who I never even dreamed I would be able to meet. Women, a lot of women specifically, which is something I've always had trouble with honestly. Coming from the punk scene I've always been surrounded by mostly dudes. I've always lived with men. But I've never been one of the boys. So for me, the fact that since I've moved here most of my friends are women, that's amazing, and a lot of them are just slightly older than me who are already established in fields I have a great interest in. I am sucking information down as fast and as hard as humanly possible. I have mentors here. 

Reflecting back on the past year, what have you learned?

Meredith Graves: The biggest thing I've learned is that I am capable of way more than I ever thought I was. In the past year I've done more than I had in the 25 years preceding it. I have coming out of some of the worst years of my life and managed to become someone I never knew I could be. I've learned that I am not bound by my past. I don't have to be sad forever. And this to me is revolutionary. 

Meredith wears cotton top by The Kooples; hair Joey George at Art List using Oribe Hair Care; makeup Emi Kaneko using Kevyn Aucoin 

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