Meredith Graves rages, but rocks on


Perfect Pussy. (Image from Grandstand Media & Management. Photo by Drew Reynold.)

As the outspoken frontwoman of the Syracuse, N.Y., noise-punk band Perfect Pussy, Meredith Graves has never been shy about taking a stand. She shouts her conflicted and fiercely honest lyrics about sex and body image amid the band's clamoring guitars and screeches and squawks.

But that bluntness isn't limited to her music. Her all-or-nothing performances and candor have become part of the DNA of the band's live shows and interviews.

When the band played in Dallas last summer, a local alt-weekly reported that Graves had denounced a flier made for the show depicting two topless women in bondage. She told the crowd at the end of the unexpectedly brief 20-minute set: "As women, we're taken less seriously at the work we do because we work hard. When you see tits on a flier you feel lonely, weird and isolated."

A recent phone interview with Graves, 26, reveals the same unwavering directness. The band was on tour in Portugal, but Graves didn't want to talk about Perfect Pussy, at least not for long. She was more concerned about the news out of Gaza and Ferguson, Mo.

"I don't want for a second to pretend like anything I have to say about my sh---y band is more important than anything anyone there has to say about what's actually going on," she says. "I don't know . . . I'm half a world away and I can't think of anything else."

As the band's profile has risen, thanks to the blistering four-song cassette "I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling" and turbulent debut album "Say Yes to Love," released in March, so, too, has the coverage of Perfect Pussy. The countless interviews come with the tedium of being asked the same questions about the band, the new album, life on the road and so on. Over and over.

So Graves talks about Ferguson. She talks about the conflict in the Middle East. And she discusses feminism and how teenage girls have written her about how they hurt themselves because they hate their bodies, and how those girls deserve to be heard.

"Those people deserve a voice. That happened to me," she says. "I deserve a voice, too. "However, there are much more pressing issues that need to be discussed right now in terms of what's going wrong with the world. No one's struggle is invalid. People hurt in so many different ways every day, but I don't wanna do an interview and talk about my sh---y f-----g band right now."

Perfect Pussy came about rather haphazardly, having been thrown together as a trio in 2012 - Graves was joined by drummer Garrett Koloski and bassist Greg Ambler - to play a fake band in the movie "Adult World." They enjoyed the experience and played together for a few months before guitarist Ray McAndrew and keyboardist Shaun Sutkus asked to join the group. After they released "I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling" in 2013, things began to take off.

The propulsive ruckus created by the drums, bass and guitar was caked by abrasive noise, creating a wall of sound the vocals have to battle their way through. This translated into frenetic live shows and led to writeups in Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and the New York Times and, earlier this year, gigs at South by Southwest and the Pitchfork Music Festival.

Of the band's rapid ascent, Sutkus says: "I think if it's changed us at all, it's brought us closer together just because we weren't really all, as a group, that close to each other [or] even knew each other that well. I mean I worked with Meredith on projects before and other people in the band on projects before, but I was never like around them 24/7, every single day."

The band's incessant touring and relative success in the indie-music world also has created a platform. So when Graves takes part in a video series in which she discusses being judged by her appearance while taking off articles of clothing - thus proving that the most important part of being stylish is being comfortable in your own skin - it lands on Upworthy.

Her lyrics to such songs as "I" and "Advance Upon the Real" contain heart-on-your-sleeve thoughts about femininity. But have incidents such as the one in Dallas made Perfect Pussy an explicitly feminist punk band? That's slightly more complicated.

Graves and Sutkus agree that, although the band members describe themselves as feminists, their music doesn't purposefully carry the tag. Graves elaborates, explaining that music intentionally identifying as feminist in the past, such as riot grrrl, ended up making certain people feel left out. There's the academic discussion surrounding the narrow view of so called "white feminism," Graves says, that focuses on certain issues without considering those facing minorities, trans women or anyone who identifies as a woman.

"I think a lot of people running around today calling themselves feminists are totally shameful and want to seem like good allies when they are not, because they are not actually doing the work," she says. "They are ignoring difficult questions and ignoring groups of people that deserve voices."

Graves's thoughts come across as clear and measured. There's an earnestness in her voice, a sign that she is less shooting from the hip and more speaking from the heart.

But Graves also is self-aware. She understands her position as someone who gets to travel around the world to play large music festivals. People everywhere need a break, a release from times when it seems like everything has gone to hell. Some of them find it in going to loud, aggressive punk shows. For Perfect Pussy, the trick to performing and making it work onstage is to shut everything out, if only for 30 minutes.

But the band won't use that as an excuse to bury their heads in the sand once the set or festival ends.

"We all need to keep in perspective that for many, many, many, many, many, many people, more people than we could ever know, more people than not in the world right now, there is no respite," Graves says. "There is no festival. There's no doing mushrooms and making out with strangers.

"There are people who are having their . . . faces blown off in Gaza. This is real. Nobody gets to ignore this anymore. So, I don't know. It's a compromise. We might embody that compromise."

Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Rock & Roll Hotel, 1353 H St. NE. 202-388-7625. www.rockandrollhoteldc.com. $12.

Brandon Weigel is an editor for Baltimore City Paper and an alumnus of The Washington Post's Going Out Guide.

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