the d.i.y. empire of meredith graves
Perfect Pussy’s vocalist takes a punk approach to performing, writing and shaping the music scene.
Photography Ali Donohue
Meredith Graves says she's the happiest she's ever been in her life. So happy, in fact, that she remained the sweetest, most genuine person even when catching up with us kept her from eating breakfast with her band on a travel day pit stop.
In addition to fronting Perfect Pussy (which she declares is the first and foremost priority in her life), Graves is a prolific writer for the likes of Pitchfork, The Guardian and Rookie. She also recently started her own record label, Honor Press. In May, it will release the new album of its first signing, the group So Stressed, as well as Graves' upcoming split album with Kevin Devine. Graves says she created Honor Press to "elevate the work of artists I believe in, not just musically but as people. I get to work with the artists that inspire me the most, and I am so lucky and so grateful for that."
Graves has quite a few projects in the works, including writing a solo album this year. She attributes her productivity to being sober and a vegetarian now, as well as a realization that her time on earth is limited. "I don't know when I'll be able to say 'no' to anything. My world gets bigger every day, and it's all so exciting," she says. Graves also sees her move to New York (from Syracuse) as a turning point in her career. "It was the best decision to move to Brooklyn," she says. "I'm over the moon. I don't go out much and I don't party, so it's just given me all these connections and opportunities to work."
What new venture would she love to explore next? Being in a movie. "I've gotten to this incredible time in my life by being myself, and I'm having such a good time. But I also think it would be so much fun to try being someone else for a little while!" Interestingly, it was the prospect of being in a movie that brought Graves together with the guys in Perfect Pussy. They met filming a scene for a movie (which would later be cut), in which they played a band, but they knew right away that they wanted to actually be a band. A year and just four shows later, Perfect Pussy was offered a record deal. "We've been becoming a band in front of the whole world," Graves notes of their fast rise.
She can't speak highly enough of her bandmates - Ray McAndrew, Garrett Koloski, Greg Ambler and Shaun Sutkus - and of her time getting to travel the world with her best friends. She says the guys are her family, and help her make every decision about every other opportunity that comes her way. As for her biological family: Graves grew up with a musical-theatre-performer mom and an encyclopedic-music-nerd dad, who exposed her to every genre of music, and greats from John Coltrane to The Clash. She was performing by the age of 5, playing piano and guitar by 11, writing songs by 14, and touring by 19. Today, she says she "listens to everything," but finds inspiration in the work of female authors, writers and artists, including Barbara Kruger, Tracey Emin, Maggie Nelson and Susan Sontag.
It's clear when listening to Perfect Pussy, though, that what you're getting lyrically is all Graves. Her songs are brutally honest and pull from the most real, personal experiences of her life. She describes her writing process as clinical, which may be surprising after listening to soul-plundering songs like "Big Stars" or "Interference Fits." But she finds a freedom and confidence in "only writing about what I want." "I don't want to talk over anyone," she says. Graves compares her songs to diary entries, and explains that while songs about a particular breakup may have been difficult to perform at the time, she now embraces the chance to sing through it all. "It's like I want to deliver a sermon and hopefully people can get something from it," she says. "I have an opportunity to reflect on what got me here and look how far we've come."
Graves is never one to shy away from expressing her views onstage. Neither is she afraid to get physically aggressive when confronting misogynist men during her sets. She has been spat on, cursed at and generally mistreated during performances. And she is fearless about dragging those men to the front of the stage and calling them out. She admits her experiences have given her little hope for men, other than those close to her. Being dragged down into the mud by every detractor is another story, though, and Graves has a non-engagement policy. She likens her mantra to the idea that "living well is the best revenge" - but her version is "living weird is the best revenge."
Perfect Pussy will take the stage at Webster Hall tonight for a sold-out show, and will hit Baby's All Right next week for a two-day show with Honor Press. If you miss these shows, just keep your ears and eyes open for Graves in the months and years to come. You never know what she'll do next.
Text Courtney Iseman
Photography Ali Donohue