DiS' Sammy Maine meets our person of the year - the inspiring and incendiary force of nature that is Meredith Graves. Photography by Stephanie Elizabeth Third (Website).
Meredith Graves. It's certainly a name you would have come across this year. In case you haven't, she's the front-person of Perfect Pussy who's debut album 'Say Yes to Love' on Captured Tracks saw the five-piece escalate to monumental heights. There were the SXSW shows, the CMJ buzz, the approving high-brow reviews, the endless touring and festival appearances, which saw Perfect Pussy go from a 'hype band' to a bonafide, 2014 success story.
With her roots planted in the D.I.Y. scenes of hardcore and punk, Graves speaks of subjects on this record that have caused her to gain some attention – and not necessarily the right kind of attention. She has written essays for the likes of Rookie, The Hairpin and The Talk House, speaking out against issues that truly affect non-male identifying people – not only in music, but in life. Whilst these, along with her lyrical content, have gained her an inspired following, others have not been so taken with her opinions or her ability to use this platform to raise awareness of such important factors.
Back in November, I sat down with Meredith in the upstairs room of Bristol's Start the Bus. The band had just got off a ferry earlier that afternoon, with Meredith speaking of how stomach-churning the experience was, “I really don't do well on boats,” she laughs. They're embarking on the final dates of their European tour, ending on what can only be described as an unforgettable year for the five-piece.
She's instantly welcoming, offering me a beer and snacks as soon as I sit on the sofa next to her. Cracking two open, we settle in for the interview whilst her bandmate Greg Ambler sits nearby, picking his bass and pondering over the food menu. She speaks with an almost poetic rhythm, frequently pausing to really think about what she's saying and often chastising herself for speaking in 'such a round-about way'; “It really pisses people off!” she says.
We talk for over an hour – about growing up, her favourite bands and her relationships with friends and lovers. And we talk about the year; of how she has developed as a person and how Perfect Pussy came to save her life.
DiS: What would you put in a time capsule to sum up the year?
Meredith Graves: I feel like the entire thing is too impossible to encapsulate. It really has been absolutely surreal. There was a moment back in January or February when I was being interviewed by a woman who was then a writer at SPIN. And we walked around and we looked at some paintings and then we sat in the cafe for a while. And we'd only been on one tour but it lasted for two months straight and we were just like "That was crazy! Wow. What a great job, you guys. Good job, we're done."
She wanted to ask me about how things had changed since October when we started playing the shows. And I remember so clearly, looking at her and saying, "It's been amazing. If it ended tomorrow, everything would be fine. Wow, this has been cool. Glad it's done. That was a lot of pressure. We're definitely done now. No one's going to want us to play. Wow. That was great." Just reinforcing over and over and over again, it was over, nothing else needed to happen. What had happened to us was a fluke, we didn't deserve what we got and I remember just thinking that the only way to just not embarrass myself in front of a journalist was to play dumb and pretend like I knew what was going to happen.
It was that first moment when I had really internalised all of the nasty things that people had said about us. I had really come to believe them. The things I had heard about the 'hype' band; the 'controversial' name; the 'girl singer', like all of those rotten, bullshit, garbage lies that people were spouting off about us. Just the stupid shit, y'know? Just that hateful, small minded shit. I'd really internalised it. And by the third or fourth month, we were playing shows – when we first started playing shows, I did a lot of interviews and I don't do a lot of interviews any more, I barely do any. This was early press – like, "World, meet this band." I was doing three or four interviews a day. And I would drink and smoke tonnes of pot before we did interviews, so I would say shit that I didn't mean; I would say shit that I didn't remember saying that would get me in lots of trouble and I came across as a real psychopath. It was an interesting experience but it wasn't the most accurate portrayal of who I was. I was terrified because of what people had been saying about us.
I would freeze time in that moment, whatever cold February day that was, when I was at the Met with this wonderful woman and I bring her up because I interviewed with her again last week, right before I left Brooklyn, she's amazing and we revisited our interview because it never got published. And she caught up with me, and said "Ok, now that we did that when you said that everything was over back in February... now you've done this, let's talk about it..." And I finally had to own up that like, when things could've gone South, in a really striking and profound way, we stayed vulnerable, and we stayed humble. That fear got to us for a minute, shit got weird, shit's always weird – that moment though, when I was most afraid, that's the only moment that I really want to keep. Because I'm never going to let that happen again. Things got bigger whether we wanted them to or not, and that moment where I was like, really depressed and I was hovering on the edge of something, that's the moment I want to keep. That last moment of spine-shattering fear and shit-myself-anxiety about not being well-liked. After that, y'know our record wasn't even out yet. It took 6 weeks after that for everything to like, come to something approximating where it is now. That's what I want to keep.
Is there anything that you'd put on your 2014 shit list?
I'm a big believer that, not everything happens for a reason, because that's allowing for some belief in a universe that gives a shit about you and like knows you exist – I don't really think that. If things hadn't happened as they did, things wouldn't be as they are. Where I am now, is an extremely curious place. I'm grateful. A lot of bad things have happened to me in the last year that I have not talked about publicly because I don't believe everyone needs to know everything about my life. I've spent so much of the last year of my life because of this band, talking about terrible, traumatic things that have happened to me to the point where I feel a little bit like people's perception of me is as a drama magnet or... not as a drama magnet but almost as a drama large hadron collider.
I mean, honestly the best thing I've done in the last year is I finally made a Twitter (@gravesmeredith). I've never had twitter before; I've never had social media and I made a twitter and suddenly everyone has been leaving me alone. It's amazing.
My bandmate Ray who loves social media, would tell me that people are vilifying me on twitter, “people are saying crazy shit about you and this, that and the other thing”. I made a twitter and now everyone leaves me alone because they see I'm not this mysterious, misandrist, hadron drama collider; I'm actually a perfectly normal human being that re-blogs shit from fashion magazines and takes pictures of stuff that I bake. So, now no one comes at me any more because before, by staying invisible, I had allowed myself this space where people could invent things and pin them to me and it couldn't be a discussion.
fun family activity: drink a bottle of whiskey and think of all the dirty words you can fit on a sugar cookie. pic.twitter.com/Eo8D9zs22v— meredith graves (@gravesmeredith) December 15, 2014
What I would put on my shit list for 2014 are all of the times when I doubted myself. I've come to a place of understanding in the last of couple of months where I've realised I'm apparently a lot stronger on my own than I think. I will strike from the record every time I allowed my ego to get the better of me; every time I thought that something someone said about me would be the end of my career or something I did would make people hate me. I live in a state of perpetual fear, it sounds really shitty but just because you're in a band, I mean if you're the kind of person that's in a band that starts to get a modicum of attention and you start acting like king shit, that's your problem. Every time my ego gets in the way, every time I've thought something I did, every time I make a move, I'm so self conscious and I'm so eager about wanting to do the right thing all the time, I'm very much like a real moral crusader. It's not something I do on purpose and it makes me kind of an asshole but I can't help the way I am.
Every time I do something, every time I publish an article, every time I do an interview, every time I appear on some video, every time our band puts out a new song, every time I do anything, I'm afraid it's the last time. I constantly think that every move I make will be my last. I worry, I still worry about that hammer falling on me. I worry about hurting people's feelings. I worry about journalists printing stuff. Sometimes I'll give an hour and a half long interview and they'll pick three sentences and they won't even get to the core of what we spoke about. It will misrepresent the entire conversation and they'll make me look very surface level, especially the fashion interviews where we talk about colours and sizes and the inherent biases of the fashion industry and they'll end up running like, 'What are your top three designers?' and people will be like, “She's the penultimate western educated feminist. She doesn't say shit!” and I'm just like “Guys! Come on! I'm not here to prove myself, I'm just here to bring light to issues that I think are more important” and what people don't realise is that in an hour long interview, if it comes up to 14,000 words, you print 500 of them. Not everything I say gets printed.
What people think I am, who people think I am, isn't necessarily who I actually am. For the first few months I read our press, until about that point in February, I did. I was obsessive. I thought I had control or I thought that I needed to be like super on it, precise and on it just incase someone said something bad about me.
And then I realised that it was literally poisoning all and every fibre of my being. And I stopped reading press. I don't read articles about us, I don't look at pictures of us, I don't see what people have to say about me. I stopped caring. I deleted my Facebook. I got off the internet for months and only in the last couple of months have I allowed myself to toe in because I realised that I owe it to people to show them a fair representation of who I am as a person. If people were looking to me as being some sort of, thought critic, then at the very least, you can see the cookies I made this morning.
MERRY CHRISTMAS; PENIS COPS. pic.twitter.com/ZepBHGnMsK— meredith graves (@gravesmeredith) December 15, 2014
So, my shit list is every time this year that I allowed my fucking lizard brain to get the better of me. When I got scared and said or did something that I didn't mean or want to do out of fear. When I said and did those things, when I showed up to interviews drunk, when I was mean or lied in interviews, when I did things that I didn't feel best represented myself or the guys, that's what I want to strike from my list. I can't say anything that anybody else did. I have to take responsibility for my bad behaviour. Being in a band does not give you license to be an asshole, no matter how many people out there behave as if that's the case. My shit list is every time I acted out of line and there were a lot of times this year that I acted profoundly out of line. I said and did some things that I wish I hadn't done. Everyone does that though and you know what? I'm human. If I could strike it from the record I would but like I said... anything that would have changed would change where I am now.
You wrote an essay back in September about Andrew WK and Lana Del Rey. One quote that I really like is 'The oppressive systems that surround us have forced us to assume personas like castles have moats — they can’t protect you forever but they might work for a little while to keep the bad guys from coming in'. Do you feel like you've had to create a persona in the band? To, like you said, protect yourself? Or over the past year do you feel like you're more yourself now as you perform?
That's an excellent question. Honest answer, I had a persona. That persona carried me through the first 6 or 8 months of this band and then it stopped serving me and I felt very ill. I was miserable. I had an identity that had floated me to that point where people had taken interest in me, people had wanted to speak to me because I had made, not one but two records about failed relationships. I was controlling my own myth. But then it started to come out of my hands a little bit where I had written our demo about being in a horrifically abusive relationship; I was very open in interviews to the point where I got in a lot of trouble with people from my hometown when I spoke honestly about the ways they had betrayed me.
And then, we did the second record and that was about the break-up of my engagement which had happened right before everything had happened with our band. When we'd been separated for quite a while and while we were writing the record, he and I had tried to get back together and it hadn't worked out. So, my public face was as someone I had presented myself as this really ill, unloveable, sort of tragic being.
I think about the movie Amelie – it's like one of my favourite movies and it's definitely worth the criticisms it receives, for sure – but there's the character in the movie of her landlady who's husband had cheated on her and had been terrible to her. Then he had died in a plane crash on a mountain side in the military and she lamented and lamented and she barely left her apartment. She went over his letters from 40 years prior and cried and cried and that was how I saw myself. That's not really who I am. I wasn't painting an accurate picture of myself, I was abandoning who I really was.
It had been two years since I had been out of that terribly abusive relationship and the reason that I wrote that demo is because I finally got fed up with dealing with my history as an abuse survivor. I got exhausted. I was sick of waking up every day and carrying the weight of what I had survived. There was a point at which I was just like, “I am done. I'm done with this. I'm taking that part of my identity and I'm getting rid of it. I don't need to talk about it anymore. I need to exercise these demons. I'm done with this shit.”
It's not so immediate any more, I can go to the grocery store without thinking of my abuser; I can go to work without thinking of my abuser; I can go on dates; I had had a serious relationship since then to a person I had been engaged to be married to and then I had gotten out of that relationship. It was time for me to create some distance. Then here I was reliving it every day because when the band first started to get traction; interviewers would come to me and the first time that we were interviewed by Pitchfork, the first question that I was ever asked was, 'So, why did your last band break-up'? And the drummer of that band was my partner and he was horribly, horribly abusive. That was no fault of my interviewer, he's a lovely human being, but I knew from that point forward, that my public persona and my career was going to be based on my willingness to not have boundaries and to confess in the public forum, the horrific things that had had happened to me and my emotions and my body. There's a lot about physical and sexual abuse on that record. I had to be able to step forward in a world where I'm in a male dominated field; I'm in a band with five men and I have parents that know what I'm up to. My parents read these articles! And so I came forward and I said, I was ritualistically sexually abused for two and a half years by this person that I was also in a band with and living with and ran a DIY space with and ran a record label with. I stayed with this person who was horribly abusive. I hadn't even thought about it, you know, that part of my life had been so over for like a year, and that became the persona.
I started to relive that sort of tragic, sense of existence where my worth was directly related to my ability to show people my wounds. It was the shock of a gory movie. It's like Carrie at the prom. I just felt like I was standing there covered in blood the whole time. What do you guys want me from me? You want me to get on stage and act tough? You want me to be scary? You want me to have transcended this? It would be a different matter if I was still in that place and people were watching it happen, that would be different but what people wanted was this survivor narrative but they wanted me to rip the wounds open again, day after day after day; they wanted me to talk about the terrible things that had happened to me. It got to the point where it became a persona that I had to put aside. I was afraid that people would only like me if I was willing to tell them all the horrific things that had happened. I thought the second that I stopped, the second I smiled, there would be reviews where people would be like.
Early on there was a review where this male writer, was like, “Well, she's singing about abuse but she's smiling, what's up with that?” Like no, that's my narrative. I was singing about things I transcended and that was when I started to be afraid, when I started to say – 'Will these people still love me'? And in a way it felt like revisiting that abuse in a very first hand way. It was like, the day to day life with my ex. It was like, if I don't let him do these things to me, he'll leave. That was a very real part of the abuse that I ensured for years on end. If I don't let him do things to me, he won't stay. If I don't let these press people ask me, if I ever turn down a question, then in their interview they're gonna say 'she declined to comment' or 'she changed the subject' or 'she didn't want to talk about this kind of stuff' or 'she seemed visibly agitated' and I felt like I didn't have enough cultural capital about me to risk it.
So, I said whatever anyone wanted to hear and then it got to the point where I had to drink before I did interviews; I'd be on the phone with some male interviewer on the other side of the world and I would say something about what I had survived or what survivors of intimate partner violence go through and he'd say “Well I don't really know about that” and I would realise that someone who was trying to ask me questions was just trying to contest me, you know? It got hard. There came a point for me where I had to stop chalking what had happened up to luck. I don't want this to be considered luck any more. The hype band thing? I'm fucking over it. I'm over it. I was so willing to take on everyone's shit because of that persona. If your public face is that of an abused, down-trodden woman, then whatever shit people say about you, as long as you're still surviving, as long as you're still playing shows, as long as you're still travelling the world, as long as you're still the face of this, that and the other thing, as long as there are teenagers out there in the world that are like, I am a role model – amazing feeling, impossible to put into words. As long as you have that happening, middle-aged, fucking white dude music writers can say whatever the fuck they want about hype band this, that and the other thing and just... let 'em have their thing. Until they cross the line.
There came a point where I had to stand up and say, 'I'm not a hype person. I have had 26 years of experience preparing for this. I have been singing on stages and making music since I was 5 fucking years old. I have been singing and playing instruments and I started playing guitar when I was 12, I started playing in bands when I was 14, I was competitive opera singer all through high school, I'm not a hype fluke. I've worked my ass off for this. I had 26 years of rehearsal. You're confused as to why I'm here now? Re-evaluate the crap you're listening to because seriously, like, at the very least it's a performance by a person who is so deeply invested in both music and memory.” Even if it's not the most appealing thing in the world to other people, nobody can deny why I'm here anymore. And it's not because I'm an abuse survivor, it's because I worked. I worked to get here. I put out my own records for years. I recorded my own music. I travelled the country in a car with a guitar and an accordion by myself when I was 18. If people are still questioning why I'm here and why people like me are here, it's because we've put in the fucking work and we did it together.
That's where you drop the persona. It's when you realise – because the persona can serve you, it's definitely useful, only in so far as when people out in the world start to critique the persona and they're saying things and they're judging your character. Then you realise they have it all wrong, that's when it starts to get frustrating because you can't convince someone of who you are. Nothing you do can sell that faction of your truth. There comes a point, at least for me – not every performer does this and this is what my essay was about – there's some people who could live their persona and they make art through their persona and that's what they do and that's awesome, let them do that. I can't do that. There came a point for me, about half-way through this year, where I dropped it and I just said, “Fuck this, I'm not pretending this is luck. I'm not pretending I'm suffering. I'm not pretending that the reason I'm here is so everyone can look at me and think of times that I' was sexually abused.” People in the audience aren't watching me to see a survivor of sexual abuse, stand up and live through another day.
That's not why I'm here. It's not because I survived, it's not because I'm lucky, it's because I worked for 26 years to be singing with a microphone on a fucking stage. Since then I've just tried to be who I am. It breaks my brain in half when I think about things I let people say to me over the last year. The shit that people asked me? That was just so left-field, next level, entitled man, offensive shit. I was talking the talk but walking the walk was another matter entirely. I'm just very, very thankful that that part of my life is over. I let myself get pushed around, a lot. Well, no I didn't... the persona got pushed around a lot. And the second I dropped it, it was over. I was made to feel like people were doing me a favour by talking to me. And they would ask me the same four fucking questions over and over again:
'What's it feel like to be the only girl in your band?'
'Do you feel sexually objectified by men?'
Like, no, I feel like people are afraid of me because I talk about how I was raped day after day. It's a weird position for me to be in. How does that feel? The abuse sideshow that was my life for the first six months of this band and how much better off I am now. It's testament to the fact that every survivor narrative is different. It's testament to the fact that no two people that have survived domestic or sexual violence or child abuse or anything, get through it the same way. And there are parts of it that I will never get over. There are parts of me that are irreparably damaged that I will never ever bounce back from. Does that mean I won't get up and file my fucking nails and brush my teeth in the morning? No. I'm a functional abuse survivor now. I can order a bagel without breaking down in tears. I'm happy. I'm better now than I have been in four years. So much of it is because of this band. The confidence that being in this band and the attention that the band has gotten, the confidence that it has instilled in me has brought me back from the brink of suicide. In a lot of ways, it felt like the world came together collectively to save my life. It really did. I'm a miserable, shadowy, mean human being as a result of the horrific things I've lived through. The last year of my life has been the best year of my life. The last year of my life has saved my life. It's brought me back from the brink of horrifically self-destructive behaviour. The lessons I've learned have been hard. I've embarrassed myself publicly, I've become a person who is not well liked in some circles, I am a stereotype, I am made fun of constantly.
There are major music publications out there that are perfectly willing to run articles making fun of me. Do I regret any of it? No, because at the end of the day, even if it were to all end tomorrow, even if I'm transported back to February and I start talking again about how I don't deserve it... it'll be fine. What I've taken away from this band is that my life has value. This band saved my life. It really did and I don't know... I don't know what admitting that means. I think this is the first time I've ever said that, like put it into words. It's amazing.
For 26 years prior to this, I've been beaten up and kicked around and bullied for being a fucking nerd and I've had shitty dudes come into my life and take advantage of me and I've been abandoned and I've embarrassed myself and I've just been king dick my whole fucking life. I've always been the outcast, I've always been the outsider, I've always been picked on, I've always been a loud mouth, I've always been a bully. Always been the biggest, loudest target wherever I go, whatever I do; I was always the most obnoxious, strong personality that people wanted to pick on and push around and it's just who I am. I've lived that way my whole life and it's been easy and it's been hard. Things got really dark for me, for a while there.
When I was with this horrible fucking guy and kicked out of hardcore and shunned by my community and told that I was useless; then I got one good thing in my life and then he left me. And I was so sad. And I went back on my own and I started to put my life back together and just as I was starting to get happy, this band happened and I learned all the lessons I needed, in real time, in the last year and it brought me back to where I was before that man took over my life and hurt me. I feel like myself again. For the first time in years, I feel okay. I feel happy. I feel like I know who I am. I feel like I can... God! I go to parties now! I go to parties and I mean, I still feel awkward, trust me I'm still standing in a corner, nursing a beer and waiting for someone to talk to me, but I can go out. I can leave the house. I get out of bed in the morning. I get out of bed and I write for people that care about what I have to say.
There was this one beautiful day like two weeks ago where I woke up and I was rushing to meet a deadline so I went up the street, I bundled into this big sweater, and I ran into the cafe and I drank a shit-tonne of coffee and I finished writing this piece and then I went to this great club in New York called 'Baby's All Right' and last year CMJ was like, when we got offered a record deal by Captured Tracks and then this year, Captured Tracks asked me to DJ their party. So I went and I DJ'd this party and I was playing Janet Jackson and Donna Summers and I brought these two boys that I'm really good friends with in New York and we were dancing and we were having a blast and then I left the party and I raced over to the Bowery Hotel on the subway and I interview Antony Hegarty. My hero, for an hour. And then I raced back and I went home and I dropped off my computer and I sat down and I wrote for like an hour and then I put on a different dress and I went out to a party and I was on the train and I was just looking around and realising how colossal my world has become. And there are those moments when that hype band lecture, that that line sneaks back into my head where I start thinking, this is a fluke, this is an accident, this is happening to me, oh wow I should be grateful. I'm rushing around doing all these things because I'm strong and empowered and capable of taking care of myself and having friends and a social life because people want me to participate in things because I'm not a cowering, miserable, waste-oid nerd that doesn't leave my bed. That was me four years ago and now it's not. It's my life because I made it my life. And it's because of this band that I feel strong enough to do that. The last year has changed me entirely and saved me.
So as a 26-year-old, I think I'm more self-conscious than I ever was in my teenage years.
Oh yeah, of course.
So how has being in this band in your twenties shaped you? Because being in your twenties is a pretty confusing time any way...
Well, there's also the thing about women in punk where there's like a carbon half-life where every year, half the women are still participating. We get fucking tired, man. Hardcore's hard. You get to this point where, if you're a woman or let's say a non-male person, if you're a non-male spectrum identifying person, if you're anything other than a cis guy, if you're going to participate, you have a whole other legion of bullshit to put up with and it gets hard. You go from being a girlfriend or a coat rack to being 'good.. for a girl' if you play in a band or getting sexually harassed if you're a girl in a band.
Even just participating, showing up to shows, getting man-handled, getting told to stand in the back, having to deal with sexist flyers, having to deal with the men you idolise falling apart in front of you and saying crazy, bat-shit, insane shit in interviews or on stage, you see your icons falling apart, you see the horrible behaviour of men in hardcore – hardcore is some of the most macho crap out there. It's garbage and it's offensive and it's constant. I don't know a single woman that doesn't feel like that who's been participating in the scene for any amount of time.
Every year as we get older, I mean, as people get older, they drop out of hardcore with alarming frequency. I would venture to say it goes twice as fast for women as it does for men and that is something I have seen in my twenties. I'm from a small town and in the part of the hardcore scene that I participated in – because Syracuse has a diversity of music within hardcore scenes but ours was a little more accepting of women – even then, there were only 3 or 4 of us at any given point. It was nightmarish and God forbid we spoke up about sexism. That was what happened to me and other women got pushed out as well or man-handled or abused for whatever... I wasn't alone.
As I get older, I have a lower tolerance for bullshit. It's one of the reasons I've kind of... I mean, I'm not proud of it, but in the last year just because of this band, I've sort of subconsciously migrated away from hardcore. When we're touring we don't play a lot of DIY shows any more and we wish we did. I miss it but at the same time, I miss it because of a lot of false construction of memory that I have to fess up to because I never really felt okay there – I never really felt like it was for me. Even at times when no one was doing anything that outwardly offended me, just being in that masculine of a space is very damaging. You automatically, you get the Lizard brain again, it's like that gut-sense – you get the feeling that you're not supposed to be there, you know?
Well I've been told that once you get to your 30s / 40s / 50s, you just won't care what people think about you any more...
That's what I've heard. You know what? I don't care. In a lot of ways I really fundamentally don't care. The last time we were over here in Europe, I got in a couple of fights with guys that harassed me when I was on stage, I got in two fights that I started that someone else had to finish for me because they got physical. It was bad but I'm 27-years-old and I don't mind starting physical fights with people – that's something that's changed. I'm willing to take up more space but I'm also a special case; well everyone is a special case because they've all survived their own set of circumstances or experiences that have gotten them to the point where they have survived enough that they feel like they can now push back. I care about some things less. You know what? I care less about myself, I care less about my appearance, I care less about what people think of me – I don't read the press – some asshole tweets at me and says 'Suck my dick you dyke' and I'm like 'Alright! Ignore'.
The older I get, the more capable I am of seeing the larger picture because the more I go about my life, I can put myself aside and take care of other people. My world view has expanded and I've had more life experience. The older I get, I'm painfully self-conscious of myself but I'm also tuned to a greater consciousness where my place at shows now isn't me standing in the back wondering what people think of me because I'm a girl at shows; if I'm the only person in the room holding a microphone at any given point, my consciousness has left my body. I'm everywhere in the room. I'm watching people to make sure they're safe. I'm morally obligated to be there for women and young people and people that might have trouble defending themselves if things got physical at shows or even if they become emotionally unsafe.
Yeah, I can definitely think of a few times when I was a teenager, where I've been touched or talked to inappropriately at shows...
Yeah and that's traumatic for you. You'll always remember that. You know, I've been having a lot of flashbacks to stuff that happened to me when I was much younger. I remember the first time I took issue with a band's merch. I remember the first time a band's visual imagery disturbed me. In the town where I grew up there's this bar that was literally on the wrong side of the tracks. Literally a watershed called 'Shooties' where they used to have shows and the shows would be 18 and up and when I was 14, I would tell them I was 16 and promised that I wouldn't drink if they'd let me in. I would tell them I was underage, I'd lie and say I was 16 and then go in and stand in the bathroom and drink with my friends, of course.
There was a band that played there that would come play regularly because a band that would come to that place quite often was The Murder Junkies which was GG Allin's band, and obviously at that point GG Allin was dead and his brother Merle Allin would come play this bar. They had this opening band called Penetration that had a shirt that said 'All Women are Cunts'. And I remember being like, 15, and people, my friends actually, telling me to lighten up. And I remember thinking, I could easily lighten up but these guys are disgusting morons. It was very obvious these men had not seen any action in a long time – they were fucking gross. I could have lightened up, it wasn't that serious, like who's going to take a guy that has that shirt seriously? Fundamentally there are bigger fish to fry but I was 15 and I was hurt. I think about that now, I think about the experiences I would have in my tiny town where I grew up, being like one of four women at shows and having men pit other women against me; this constant obsession with gossip, this idea that “She doesn't like you, what are you going to do about it?” and I never got it, I was always like, “Whatever, I don't know her. Who cares?”
Then there was this constant thing where men would stalk you, they'd bug you – this was in the days of AOL instant messenger and you'd get messages from guys in the middle of the night: 'What are you doing?' 'What are you wearing?' I was 15! These were GI's in their fucking 20s. This was something that I thought to be completely normal and I have those traumatic memories of going to shows and already having to fight the odds to get into the fucking venue and then being touched, like physically touched by men that were 10 years older than me. They knew I was 15! I lived outside an army base, a lot of this was military guys – big, scary guys that handled guns on the regular. This was blatant harassment.
One of the reasons I'm okay with what I do, with being like vilified for talking about politics is because there are women out there who need to be protected. There need to be people out there talking about having these experiences and I know that I have a certain amount of privileges that need to be accounted for – I am a cis-passing, straight-passing, white person. I get harassed in ways that other people would pray for, like I don't get half the shit that a lot of my friends do. Even then, there are people out there having the same experience as me or worse, and that is why the older I get, the more self-conscious I get about myself but the older I get, the less self-conscious I become also because being willing to speak out about the shitty, rotten things that have happened to me, means that there's another 14 year old on the planet that doesn't feel so alone.
The experiences of 14 and 15 year old women are not so different anywhere, all over the world and that was the age I got into punk – that was the age my body became public property and that's why I'm not self-conscious any more because that stuff has to be discussed. These are the experiences that have shaped who I am as a 27-year-old, that's when it started. I'm still dealing with it now.
Now, I'm dealing with it in public – this is why I'm blessed to be now a staff writer for Rookie. Writing for Rookie gives us a chance to talk about that shit. That was made for me! And now I can go on Rookie, like I just published my first single author piece and it's about my experiences being bullied and sexually harassed in high school. I now, at 27, if I can put my shame, if I can put my sadness, where I think back, the shit that happened to me at 23, the shit that happened to me at 15 where I'd be sulking in the band room after school, and a guy that I know, a guy from my class, a guy that would make fun of me in class, a guy who's father had a prominent position in our community, a guy who was so untouchable, would sit down next to me and take his dick out. I want to name, names!
It doesn't matter now, it's been 12 years but if I could get a line-up of every guy from my class in high school, who's dick I saw, on a regular basis, these are the memories that will not leave me when I'm 65 / 70 years old – if I'm blessed enough to make it that long – the memory of having guys not even from the hardcore scene, men that I interacted with on a day-to-day basis, the dicks I have seen! The dicks I have seen and the bodies and the mouths that they were attached to. I do what I do now because I know that a large portion of people that listen to our band are teenagers and if one person – I don't think my experiences are unique – if one person's experiences are alleviated by me telling them the truth about what happened to me, if I save one 15 year old from becoming the 22 year old that I was, letting a man take advantage of me over and over and over again for years, if my willingness to be the public face of abuse saves one teenager, then it's worth it. It's worth the shit I've taken in the last year, it really is.
This year feminism has featured so prominently in the media and obviously you've written essays and spoken out about misogyny and feminism – would you say it's been a good year for women or that the media are just grabbing onto a new trend?
I think it's both. I mean, growing up in a super small town, with zero resources except the bar that let Penetration play there, I learned about feminism through the least conventional of means. I came to it in the weirded, most roundabout way possible and whenever I found anything that included the word feminist, it just led me to dig deeper. By the time I was 18 and in college and actually getting an education – I got what I could. This was in a time before anything that wasn't dial-up internet, you know? My town didn't get roadrunner until I was 15! I was on early internet and even then I could find some shit about feminism, I could find stuff in our small town, hick-ass library.
I mean, we've seen some incredible things this year. I care about Roxane Gay a lot, I just re-read Bad Feminist on this tour – I think Roxane Gay is the smartest living thinker. I think she will change the world, she is incredible. I couldn't give a shit about HeforShe, I think they're going about it all wrong; I think that people will see that and it will lead them to better things. I think Tumblr has changed the face of feminism, I think it's made legitimate feminism so much more accessible. I think Beyonce is a miracle on two legs. I think Janet Mock is a saint. I think in the last year the visibility and clarity that's come to most people's views and expectations of trans-women has been good but I also think we have so fucking far to go that it's unbelievable.
I don't care if it's a trend. That's a lie. I care if it's a trend if it comes down to the Chanel runway show – that never should have happened. I wrote a piece about that for the Hairpin. That was embarrassing but that wasn't feminism, that was a man! There's no such thing as a male feminist. If you ever meet a man that refers to himself as a 'male feminist' run screaming in the other direction, do not give him your phone number. Anyone that has to refer to themselves as a male feminist, that's how you know something is wrong because feminists are feminists, there’s no such thing as a male feminist. There could, theoretically, be feminist allies. I don't care what a man has to say about feminism, I don't give a shit about men's opinions when it comes to that kind of stuff, so Karl Lagerfeld... yeah I don't care. HeforShe? Like, wonderful in theory, congratulations for trying, I'm sure she's inspired a tonne of people but like, Roxane Gay, Janet Mock, Ayesha Siddiqui, these are the writers that we need to be paying attention to – we need to be paying attention to writers and cultural outlets that prioritise the voices of women working for women. HeforShe? SheforShe. Places that priorities female and queer and trans voices, people that priorities the voices of the marginalised, people that don't centre the conversation of feminism around men, that's what needs to be focused on, that's the crux of the real conversations. Places that priotise that.
So you were 14 or 15 when you started playing in punk bands but around that time, we had this American Pie, bro-rock being shoved down our throats.
That's why I saw so many dicks growing up as a teenager too because they all saw those people doing it. Why did they think we had to see so many dicks when we were 14?!
How did you seek out something alternative to that culture? Because that was everywhere...
I had women that saved me. When I was 13 turning 14, I became a freshman at high school and the first and only friend I made for a long time was a woman who was 2 years older than me named Anna. Anna saved my life. Anna introduced me to Riot Grrrl but at the time, I liked hardcore. I liked Bad Brains, I liked Black Flag, I liked Cro-Mags, I liked Mission of Burma; the bands I liked then, are all the same bands I listen to now. That's my musical base. I grew up listening to hardcore and jazz.
The Riot Grrrl band, actually to be honest, the Riot Grrrl band that I attached myself to in the true sense was Huggy Bear. Huggy Bear was the only band from that era that really got me but I loved Riot Grrrl because my friends loved Riot Grrrl. I wanted to be them without making the same kind of music. Riot Grrrl affected me because it was the first time I saw women playing in bands where they sang about feminism and supported each other so I had this wonderful friend named Anna who had a car, she had an old 60s Mercedes and a tape deck and she gave me my first mix tape. It was Murder City Devils and Bratmobile and Suck My Left One by Bikini Kill and Beat Happening and all these bands from the West Coast that I had never heard of. My Dad brought me up listening to punk and hardcore – I grew up listening to The Clash. I didn't hear women. He didn't really listen to a lot of female fronted bands and when I think back on it now, maybe I just didn't hear them. He kept a lot of offensive music from me, I knew Sonic Youth but I didn't identity Sonic Youth as a female fronted band because in order to understand what a female fronted band was I had to hear women saying things for women and about women. Does that make sense?
So, Anna was my introduction to that and Anna had a friend named Becky who was crazy – Becky was 16 and she would hang out at fucking biker bars. They went to shows, they were my cool older girlfriends that would cut their own hair in the bathroom in high-school and pierce their own nose and they drove around in this old Mercedes and they made me mix tapes. Anna had a denim skirt that she made out of a pair of pants and she had taken purple paint and written Lydia Lunch on the front of it and I'm like 'Who the fuck is Lydia Lunch?!'. Anna saved my life. Anna pierced my ears. Anna made me my first mix tape. That was how I found out about that stuff.
As shitty as my adolescent was – for all the things I survived at the hands of very bad people that really didn't understand me and wanted to hurt because I was a throw away cast off, that they didn't want to invest in – I had some people that worked really hard to make me feel great and included. I had people that would come over to my house in the middle of the night on the nights that my parents wouldn't let me go out and would listen to the newest song I had written with my shitty little $100 acoustic guitar that was probably about one of them. We made tapes for each other. We made art about each other. They painted pictures of me and I wrote songs about them. My life was saved and then I became a junior in high school and they all graduated and I was S.O.L. and that's when I started playing in bands and that's when my entire social circle became boys. That was when I kind of got pushed a little further into the punk scene as I know it now which is me and a bunch of men.
Are you still friends with them now?
Anna is a military wife in El Paso, Texas and I believe she just had her first baby a while ago. When I had a Facebook we were in touch and the last time I talked to her, she found me on there and she messaged me and she said “Did you ever think that you would be the singer of a hardcore band and I would be a military wife in Texas?” All I really cared about, given what we had been through, and given everything she had been through before she met me and everything she educated me in and the way she protected me – I smoked my first cigarette because of Anna, I still smoke! It's been 13 years. She took me to parties with guys in their 20s. She was the best, bad influence I could have asked for. She took me to shows, she taught me to smoke, she taught me how to be cool. In ways that I still think about, I've never let me hair grow long since I knew her. I've always been that short haired girl. She taught me how to go to thrift stores, she taught me how to make tapes, she taught me, you know, how to cut my own hair, how to dye my own hair, how to sneak out of my house and how to talk to boys without developing feelings. So when she said, “Does it surprise you that I'm a military wife and you're the singer of a hardcore band?” I said “I don't care, I'm just glad we're both still alive.” And I meant it.
I'm glad that we're all still here. I'm glad that everyone that had those experiences growing up, everyone that made it through and suffered to the point where we made art about it, to the point where we made our suffering public, I'm just glad we're all still here. Here to remember those who aren't. It didn't mean nothing. The shit that we went through, the shit that will never leave us, the shit that we'll remember when we're 70. Despite everything, we're still here. Military wife or otherwise! We're still here. That's fucking cool and that means more than words can say.
1) DiS meets Joanna Gruesome: "Misogyny in music is so prevalent"
2) Sun Kil Moon Yells At Cloud: "War On Drugs: Suck My Cock" and the Language of Male Violence
3) Meredith Graves' 3 Favourite Albums of the Year (Noisey)
4) Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves Preps Solo Debut (Stereogum)
5) Meredith's columns for Hairpin
You'll find lots more of DiS' best of 2014 coverage compiled here.