Meredith Graves is a frontwoman. It’s not just her day job—singing and writing songs with her hardcore band Perfect Pussy—it’s how she tackles life. The Syracuse native writes essays, interviews artists and shouts from the pulpit against discrimination and inequality at outlets like Rookie, The Pitchfork Review and T: The New York Times Style Magazine. She puts out other bands’ music under Honor Press, her imprint with Captured Tracks records. Graves has things to say, and if you’re wise, you’ll listen.
On stage, Graves puts on the kind of performance that can make you want to reevaluate your life. Her lyrics hemorrhage honesty, sometimes quite literally; a limited run of Perfect Pussy’s debut Say Yes To Love was pressed with vinyl mixed with her own menstrual blood. Perfect Pussy songs can feel like mantras of personal redemption, stories of growth through pain. “You can read the story of my last six weeks in little black bruises and marks from boys’ teeth,” she screams on the Say Yes To Love cut “Dig.” That confidence she projects on record and on stage is palpable; it inspires others, especially teen girls, LGBTI youth and others who’ve felt marginalized.
After a whirlwind year of press and touring to promote Say Yes To Love came to an end in September, Graves found herself in New York City, wielding a voice she could use to help those kids. She got a last-minute booking at Pitchfork’s Basilica Soundscape festival and drove with a friend to Hudson, New York, to deliver a reading in which she dissected gender-based double standards in the entertainment industry through the lens of Andrew W.K.’s public persona. This time around, she wouldn’t have the searing noise and rhythms of her band to back her. Her voice would stand alone, naked on the stage. Hours before she was scheduled to speak, she was drinking heavily, and visibly shaking. But her performance commanded—demanded, even—attention, and by the time she was done, she was the talk of the festival.
When she drove back to Brooklyn, emboldened, she decided to stay. Her boldness was soon rewarded: within days she had a room at a friend’s apartment, she met the man who would become her partner, and the essay she read at Basilica, “Boys Following Andrew W.K.,” was picked up by The Talkhouse, writer Michael Azerrad’s music and film website. The buzz around her performance and her newfound presence in the city’s orbit kept opportunities rolling in. One writing gig turned into more, she made plans to start writing a solo record, and Perfect Pussy’s deal with Captured Tracks laid the groundwork for the founding of Honor Press. (Its first release was an LP from the frenetic, drums-keys-and-guitar Cali punk trio So Stressed.) Balancing music and writing is no small task, but it felt natural to her.
“I grew up with a mother who was a singer and a father who was a writer,” she explains. “I’ve never not been a musician or a writer, and usually at the same time.” She’s got the chops, and studied writing in school, but the size of her audiences is something new; with all the new eyes watching her every move, self-doubt has often dogged her. New milestones brought not joy, but anxiety.
“I got a call to write for The New York Times,” she says. “I’d freak out and look at [my partner] and say, ‘Why me? This is so hard and I’m so bad at this.’ Finally he looked at me and said, ‘Have you considered that you are not asking the right question?’ He is a great antidote to existential doubt because he forces me to focus.”
And while her partner helps keep her balanced, she’s relearning how to take care of her body as well as her mind, immersing herself in “a very validating return to self.” Hot vinyasa yoga, a mostly raw vegan diet, and a long-awaited doctor’s visit helped get her mind in the right place to create. She’s put work on her solo record on hold for now, preferring to focus on a few macro projects—the label, writing Perfect Pussy’s next record, writing jobs—rather than spread herself too thin. And it was time to set some ground rules; her life had become an exhilarating trip of pay-it-forward artistic activism. But it’s moments like that nerve-wracking public speaking gig that have helped her find her place—what’s she’s well-suited for. It’s helped her grow, and empowered others to find a path to self-acceptance as she searches for her own.