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The honest fierceness of Meredith Graves 

When offered the chance to interview Perfect Pussy vocalist Meredith Graves, in advance of her band's December 9 gig in Rochester, I jumped on it. I'll admit I'm not a particularly avid fan of a lot hardcore, but Graves caught my attention because she's earned the respect of Jesse Amesmith, the frontwoman of one of my favorite Rochester-based bands, Green Dreams.

Graves is the kind of woman whose energy and accomplishments inspire a person to drop their doubts and get up off the couch. Perfect Pussy has already had a crazy ride, and at 28, Graves has embarked on a solo career, she's started her own label, Honor Press -- which recently signed Green Dreams and is putting out its new record -- and is also a brilliant writer whose articles and essays cover music, politics, body image, and food.

City talked with Graves while she and the band were in Philly. The following is an edited version of that conversation.

City: Both your fierceness and your honesty regarding vulnerability are equally admirable. It's important for women to speak up, despite everything demanding they don't upset the status quo. But how do we gauge the efficacy of speaking up?

Meredith Graves: That's an extremely intuitive and complex question. It depends on who's doing the speaking up -- whether a person is marginalized or a person is an ally; whether the person is speaking up about their truth, or on behalf of a friend whose experience they might not share, but will advocate on behalf of someone else. I think for certain of us, people who are marginalized in some way, you can look to yourself first and foremost to gauge how accepted what you did was.

Vulnerability is so important and so rare, when you're truly vulnerable it will probably scare the shit out of you, and then afterwards, that feeling, you'll know. True politics -- when you're working in the direction I want to be working in -- are for the liberation of all. True politics benefit the full community, which includes you. Start with yourself as a yardstick, and you'll know.

Speaking of inclusiveness, I've noticed a level of tension within even trans-advocacy groups regarding Caitlyn Jenner. Some people have criticized the ways Jenner upholds the patriarchy and she's been ironically labeled as transphobic. What are your thoughts on this?

I don't really care about that. I'm really obsessed with ISIS right now; I like to read about Syria. And I'm not saying it isn't important to read about domestic politics. I'm sure a trans woman in her mid-60's who's just starting her transition, who's had to fight with her gender-presentation her whole life definitely has some conflicting feelings about her own trans-ness as well as the trans-ness of other people. I'm more concerned with all the shootings that are happening one after another.

What's your stance on gun control?

I've never dealt with guns in my personal life. My idea of guns is very half-assed. I can think of people who I'd want protecting us from a police state. I think police having guns is terrifying. All these white dudes who've opened fire in movie theaters and on army bases and on protests probably shouldn't be allowed to have guns. How do you negotiate that? Do I say, no white guy gets a gun? Because that's how I feel a lot of the time. No white guy gets a gun ever. Ever. But then you have toddlers shooting other toddlers. So, I don't know how I fucking feel about guns.

I think a lot of people have a lot of opinions about guns that would change if they had one pointed in their face. Including most of Congress. You know the original "Punisher" movie? That scene with the Japanese Mafia, where they have the guy and his kid, and they say, "One of you is going to shoot himself in the head in front of the other. You guys pick." Think about that, think about the "Punisher" movies, and then think about your feelings about gun control.

I'll have to watch the "Punisher" movies.

Yeah, the OG "Punisher" movie is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen in my life, and it's mostly gun violence.

You've written and spoken eloquently about misogyny and the unique pressures felt by all women in the spotlight. In that viral video spot you did for the "What's Underneath" project, you talk about body image and success, and the times when your person has been reduced to your appearance. You said, "There's still days now when I wake up and say, 'Our band would be doing better if I was prettier; if I had a more traditional-looking body; if I wasn't covered in tattoos; if I had long hair.'" That's an enormous amount of pressure. Do you have a process for encountering these attitudes?

No. That interview was two years ago and I don't feel any different. A lot of that is my own anxiety and a lot of that is my own guilt. When you love a group of people, and you want them to have every good thing the world has to offer, your mind goes to a lot of crazy places when you think about what you could be doing better to ensure the collective success of this family you've chosen.

There are still days when I look at myself in the mirror and think, 'I'm poor, and I look poor because I have bad skin and bad teeth. And I've gained weight and I run out of breath on stage because I'm not in shape, and I have three inches of roots in my hair, and my face is swollen. Great. Why am I not doing more to serve these people, why am I not helping us to be more successful?"

I know it's directly playing into these standards that I would find -- if any of my friends said 'I want to conform more," I would buy them a massage immediately. I know it's toxic. I know that it's wrong, but it's also real. Sometimes you don't have a contingency plan for how you deal with those feelings. You just abide in them when they come up and then hope they go away for a while.

I'm not at a level of fame where I'm allowed to be like, "I'm gonna be whoever I want to be, fuck you." Nobody knows who I am, nobody knows who my band is. I'm not going to be on the cover of a magazine if we put one album out this year, or if we have 10 albums out. And it's because I don't look like a person on the cover of a magazine. No matter how radical you are, if you look like you belong on the cover of a magazine, you'll end up on one.

I want to take all of the limited amount of energy I have and put it into writing about bread making and reading about ISIS. And playing shows and talking to teenagers. And I would have to put all of that energy into lying very still and being very hungry if I wanted to look like a person on a cover of a magazine. My life is very, very short, and that amount of effort I'm not prepared to give. I am out of fucks.

I'm not happy with the way I look; the point isn't to remedy that. Instead I choose to ignore it and remember that there are more important things to worry about. It really doesn't matter what I look like. I just want to help people. It's easier said than done, because most days I just look in the mirror and want to scream. But I'm gonna look the way I look. I have work to do.

Your Pitchfork piece on Mark Kozelek's abusive behavior toward the War on Drugs was like taking the temperature of our whole culture. And I loved your spoken word piece connecting Andrew W.K. and Lana Del Rey with regards to the way we make questions of authenticity gender-specific. It was really well done. Do you have any essays or speeches on the horizon we can look forward to?

I just became a columnist for the Village Voice. I kept a diary during CMJ, and the editor of the entertainment section is someone I look up to a tremendous amount. She said, "Meredith, I have this crazy idea. New albums come out every Thursday. If you could write an album review in the form of a recipe..." because I love to cook. I was writing for the Gawker and Jezebel section, Kitchenette, but it folded in the restructuring, so my column didn't have a home.

It's not culture writing, it's not feminist writing, which is what I've been doing, but it's my two favorite interests in the world. And it will get me to write every week. They announced my column by giving me the cover, and I have my hand up a turkey's ass, because they had me make a full Thanksgiving dinner for the Village Voice.

I also write my monthly advice column to the New York Observer. I bop around here and there. I've been doing a lot of food writing lately because food is super political.

You've said that you're interested in "feminizing" hardcore. Ideally, what does that look like?

People feeling safe to express things commonly associated with femininity, regardless of their gender. The masculine ideal of violence is such the base of the food pyramid of hardcore. And there is more feminine violence, there are other types of violence that are not analogs of state brutality.

I want hardcore to be violent -- that's why I'm into it -- but I want less masculine analog violence in my hardcore. I want more experimental and ephemeral forms of violence to be as represented, rather than this sort of knuckle-dragging, gorilla violence. More intelligent violence. I often find masculinity and intelligence to be at complete odds with one another.

Which artists are inspiring you these days?

I'm thinking of writing this new Perfect Pussy album, and I just want to sound like Dej Loaf, that rapper from Detroit. She's amazing. I have always wanted to talk about the intrinsic similarities between hardcore and rap that I think a lot of people don't want to acknowledge. You pretty much have to have the same skill set. Hardcore people need to pay more attention to rap, because they'd be better at what they do. So, as we're writing the new record, I'm listening to Nicki Minaj and Dej Loaf. Women in rap right now are so important.

I watched all seven seasons of "The Sopranos" in six weeks, mainlined it. I'm also reading a lot of women artist biographies. So, I like Georgia O'Keefe, Dej Loaf, and James Gandolfini. And the poet Warsan Shire. That's who I'm channeling on the next Perfect Pussy record.

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