DEATH COMES LAST TO THE PARTY: An Interview with Meredith Graves of Perfect Pussy

For WVFI’s fourth annual RadioThon, we interviewed Meredith Graves, frontwoman for the hardcore punk-rock group Perfect Pussy. The band’s breakthrough record, “Say Yes to Love,” was released in 2014. Graves currently works as a news reporter for MTV.

Erin McAuliffe
You have a lot of plants to which you’ve dedicated your Instagram profile. What’s your favorite plant?

Meredith Graves
I would try to be very dramatic and say, “That’s like asking me to choose a favorite child!” Except, I do have a favorite child: Party Plant! It’s a massive Monstera, which I realize people have lately taken to calling “Instagram plants” — they’re the big trees with the holes in the leaves that you see a lot of people getting. They’re very popular all of the sudden. But I’ve had mine for two or three years.

EM
Ahead of the curve.

MG
I raised it from two leaves, and now it’s a five-foot-tall plant. And it’s huge — like a cool, big friend that I can sit under, ‘cause it’s on a table. The plant’s name is “Party Plant” because I wrapped its base in Christmas lights, so it looks like he’s partying. We party together, and when I say that, I mean I’m sitting in my study, writing. (Laughs.) I love my friend Party Plant!

EM
Speaking of the Instagram plant trend, lots of people now have plants in their dorm rooms, but I don’t think they could fit a five-foot plant. Do you have a favorite small plant that you would recommend for the dorm room?

MG
It all depends on what kind of light you get. You need to think about which side of the building your room is situated on, then look for options that correspond with the level of light your room receives. When you walk around New York and see plants hanging around for sale on the outside of bodegas, usually they’re one of a few varieties of variegated pothos — and those can receive a big spectrum of light varieties. So, pothos and their related hybrids are a good place to start; they’re pretty hardy. But if you get a lot of light–

Adrian Mark Lore
We don’t.

EM
Yeah, we don’t get much light out in South Bend, Indiana. We’re in the perma-cloud.

MG
Then think about Tillandsia (air plants), which are really cool — they look like Martian baby growth. They don’t even have roots or sit in dirt; you just soak them once every couple of weeks. I love self-contained plants. So, air plants and marimo moss balls also — look into those, they’re really cute. I have kids on Twitter asking about my moss ball collection, checking up on their well-being. That’s my favorite part of Twitter: kids asking me, “Meredith, you haven’t posted about your plants in a while — are they all OK?” (Laughs.)

AML
I’m not sure if this is a logical transition, but we have another question here — something a tad more serious. I was wondering, since punk is often about social revolution and political subversion, do you feel a sense of responsibility to respond to current events through music?

MG
Through music… I don’t know — it’s funny, because I’m in between music projects right now but I am working in music journalism, so, for instance, this morning when I was getting ready for a shoot we decided we were gonna talk about The Creative Independent’s new box set, “7-inches for Planned Parenthood.” So, a couple of times a week now, I’m given thirty seconds to talk to 22 million people. Perfect Pussy had a lot of songs that were thirty seconds to a minute long, but I never had the opportunity to communicate a message so clearly in such a short period of time to so many people. So, do I feel a responsibility to communicate these things? Yes. Through music? Not necessarily my own music; I’m more interested now in using this platform at MTV to elevate the political activism of other artists and musicians. I won’t be writing a Billy Bragg record about the working class — that’s not necessary. I’d be going out of my way to do something new, whereas I’ve been given a platform that I can use to amplify and exalt the work of others who are out there really grinding.

EM
That’s interesting, ‘cause Adrian and I both write articles, reviews and think-pieces for the arts and entertainment section of our newspaper, and you’ve summed up our work so well. I don’t have much musical ability, so it’s my outlet for that kind of thing.

AML
We live vicariously through others.

EM
And this sort of leads us into our next question: What motivated you — or perhaps — how did you become involved in journalism?

MG
Oh, God. Just like the band, where I literally woke up one morning and people were like, “Pitchfork and Rolling Stone are trying to get in touch with you,” and I’m like, “Well, that’s a big surprise, ‘cause when I went to bed last night, they weren’t.” One day, I gave a reading at the Hudson Basilica and, by the end of that week, my essay had been written up in the New York Times and I had job offers. I then spent a year as a freelance journalist doing everything from interviewing musicians for the New York Times to writing op-eds for Pitchfork to writing columns in various newspapers — I’d gone from zero to one hundred. Then, just as unexpectedly, MTV called me for multiple screen tests — after which they told me they were looking for a new MTV News host, and hired me. However, that’s not to say that the omnipresent cultural myth of the “overnight success” is real. To the rest of the world, it may seem like I’m handed things by accident. It’s not that I’m an overnight success, it’s just that most people became aware of me — you know, yesterday. My father is a broadcast television journalist, so I grew up with a dad who was a news reporter and then a news director. And my mother was a singer, who then became an educator. If the only three things I do are singing, journalism and lecturing — I’m literally just copying my parents. So, I got into [journalism] when I was randomly called by a bunch of people, but I had prepared for it by living my entire life up to that point. In other words: Don’t give up!

EM
We’re big fans of the MTV News crew and the revamp that happened with Jessica [Hopper] and a lot of the writers. You mentioned being something of a troll and I’m thinking of Ira Madison’s “Delete Your Account.”

MG
Ah, I love my job! I love Ira and I love everyone I work with. It’s like smoking cigarettes behind the gym with the critical theory PhD kids. Everyone is so much smarter than I am, it’s so scary. I’m just like, “Hey, I’m here to make television!” Whatever, everyone’s brilliant — I’m a knob.

EM
Yeah, you all do great work that we really admire. Now, we’ve kind of steered away — we’ve done plants, punk and journalism — and we’re wondering: What’s the future of Perfect Pussy? You mentioned being between music projects. What does that look like?

MG
I’m perfectly happy to be in bands that do one record and then just don’t do anything anymore. I think the privileging of monogamy and commitment, and the language that equates commitment with success, is really damaging and promotes overstaying one’s welcome. So, I’m not one for “band monogamy.” I really like the idea of the band and the record being inseparable. Perfect Pussy — we had our chance — we toured the world on 16 minutes of music for two and a half years. We wrote 16 and a half minutes of music that took us to New Zealand for free — that’s crazy. We did our thing. Now it’s time to do other things. I’m always talking about doing bands with a million people; it’s been really difficult to balance personal writing and music and having a social life–

EM
And your plants!

MG
Yeah (laughs) — with being on TV every day. But, am I writing music? Yeah, all the time. And I think I’m about to do a really weird band. I demoed some stuff with some very cool people a couple of months ago; we’ll see if that ever sees the light of day. But I should have some records out soon — I’ll tell you that much.

AML
Awesome.

MG
There might be a few. It depends on who’s around. I keep starting bands with people who are in great bands and tour all the time. So, that’s a mistake, ‘cause my friends are always gone and we can never practice. Anyway, we’ll see.

EM
We’re switching it up again now, but in e-mail correspondence you mentioned WFMU, and how they may have been an impetus for your overnight success — people doing the groundwork, discovering these bands that, to the rest of the world, seem to have popped up overnight. How do you see college radio playing a role in the rise of bands like Perfect Pussy? Some, including Pitchfork, have been questioning whether college radio is still relevant to begin with.

MG
Radio is very romantic to me. I definitely grew up under my father’s influence as a career journalist who started in radio himself, romanticizing things like the pirate radio station featured in one Pete & Pete episode. I remember being four or five years old and my dad giving me a kit that was like, “You can build a radio transmitter with a crystal and a potato, and radio is magic,” and I was freaking out. So, what that extends to is a sense of feeling blessed to be your size. The thing about college radio is that it extends into the new omnipresence of podcasts as a newly relevant form of media. It’s this idea of market saturation and low surveillance. The coolest thing about college radio right now is that you can get away with pretty much anything, probably. It’s a great place to use impromptu calls to action to mobilize and radicalize the populace; it’s directly related to the community that is immediately within. Especially now that the internet contributes so much to bands blowing up overnight — because we can all hear about them at the same time — one of the cool things that college radio can do, and one of the reasons it’s still important and very much not dead at all, is that it can become a sort of “tin can and string” intercom system for neighborhoods and colleges reaching out to their immediate community. I’d love to see college radio and self-created podcasts in an academic, supported network become lighthouses that can provide education and outreach, connecting colleges to their surrounding community.

That said, I also think there should be hackers taking over college radio airwaves as an opportunity to broadcast their racy, sundry, anarchist thoughts to the community — everyone should be trying to mess stuff up. Plus, the reason everyone should get involved in college radio is that it’s education in technology that you likely wouldn’t learn to use otherwise. The more tech-fluid you are in today’s world, the more useful you’re gonna be. It’s just one more way to wring every drop out of the education you’re paying an inordinate and stupid amount of money for. And you can’t go in and start screwing around until you know how it works in the first place. Like, you wouldn’t try to mod your car without knowing how an engine works. So, you go in, get a radio station, learn how to do stuff and then, at night… take over the airwaves. And start doing some really cool, experimental and radical shit.

EM
It’s funny that you talked about us being technologically advanced, since our computer is currently broken, our station’s in a bit of an upheaval and we’re calling you in via our pink landline from the 1960s, probably.

MG
This feels totally appropriate for someone calling me in the middle of the day to rant about plants and anarchy. The funny this is: That pink phone only ever calls me. (Laughs.)

EM
Yeah, it’s your personal line.

MG
For when I have something to say on the radio.

AML
Direct line to Perfect Pussy. (Laughs.) Speaking about radio, we know you have an upcoming radio show, and we were curious about what you intend to feature and about what’s informed those creative decisions. Is there a particular narrative you’re trying to construct?

MG
My radio show? I am talking to someone here in New York about becoming part of an independent radio station that’s really fascinating because it’s digital-only and also contains a visual component. So, the loose narrative that I’m trying to create — and we’ll see if this actually happens — is the essence of ASMR-triggering YouTube videos if what soothes you is being in the audience of a live radio broadcast in the 1920s. Back in the day, when they did detective mysteries or serialized love stories, they clicked, for example, coconut shells on a table to make clopping sounds or poured rice in a bowl to recreate the sound of rain. And there were live audiences watching it in real time, while everyone else would hear the end result on the radio. There was a lot that went into making a radio production with live effects and such in the ‘10s and ‘20s and ‘30s, so I’m hoping that this project will have a heavy “backstage at the MGM lot in the 1930s” vibe to it, where you can just listen to it and hear an uncanny collection of sounds or watch how they’re being made. It’s that component, with a lot of storytelling and sound collaging, and it’s — I’m getting kind of weird. (Laughs.)

AML
No, that sounds awesome!

MG
I’m getting old and weird and I’m gonna dress people up.

EM
(Laughs.) You can dress me anytime — I love your fashion.

MG
Oh, thanks! I just wear old clothes with holes in them, and I like it.

EM
Me too — I’m wearing a denim jacket I thrifted that has the entire horoscope embroidered on the back, but has a few holes in it. I don’t know why anyone would ever get rid of it.

AML
Yesterday I was complimented on a shirt that, when I bought it, had some bird poop on it — but I cleaned it off and it looks great now, I think! (Laughs.)

MG
I have this old dress from the late ‘40s that has sequins on it, but what people don’t realize is that they seem to be authentic nacre, and it has a pocket — which is really sweet — but the entire bottom is discolored from being balled up in the sun for a long time, so it looks like I crawled out of my own grave. (Laughs.) Which is neat and great. I’m definitely turning thirty this year; still dressed like a giant toddler. Yes, I advise old clothes for old-time travelers. It’s a cool way to take yourself out of the boring day-to-day, wearing something weird and old.

EM
We’ll stick to the collegiate theme for our last, obligatory question: Do you have any advice for college musicians trying to carve a path in the industry while juggling other commitments?

MG
I have some advice, but nobody is going to want to hear it. And I know that because I tell people this all the time, and nobody ever listens. But you seriously have to trust me on this, especially all of you college kids out there. You’re paying so much money for your education. If you’re skipping class because you’re hungover, if you’re not doing assignments, if your teacher is boring and blah-blah-blah — that’s your money that you’re setting on fire. Right now, your only obligation in the whole world, if your goal is to be a musician, is to survive college having gotten something out of the immense debt you’ve taken on — and the guilt you’ll feel as you age and think, “Oh, God, there was a four-year period of my life where my only task was to get up and learn stuff, and I wasted it” — you have to learn stuff and you have to practice, because both college and your career in music will be deeply disappointing if you wait for things to be handed to you and you don’t take advantage of literally everything around you. You should be studying all the goddamn time–

AML
I’m scared! (Laughs.)

MG
You should be doing your assignments. Want to know what’s a great lesson for adulthood? Teaching yourself how to care about things that don’t initially interest you. Our collective attention span is at an unprecedented deficit. We have to remember discipline and focus. And these aren’t fun words that people like to hear, but you have everything available at your fingertips — twenty-four hours a day — if you’re privileged enough to be a student in the West. You have the internet, you have all of history in your library, you have a radio station that you can join to learn about broadcasting — that’s lit! You have all of these resources at your disposal; if you’re staying in bed all day, blowing them off because you’re hungover and feeling trashy and making bad decisions, then get right with your Lord because it’ll be over soon.

And if you’re really trying to make it as a musician, I really hope you’re prepared to wait tables for four to ten years. You can expedite that process by committing and learning discipline now, and learning how to like whatever you’re doing. So, my advice is that you should restrict yourself to two things: doing your damn schoolwork and working on your music. And if neither of those things are what you truly want to be doing, then I also give you permission to quit. Careers in both academia and the music industry are lofty and borderline insane, and I don’t necessarily advise them for anybody. So, do some deep soul-searching. Make sure that your major is exactly what you want it to be, that your music is as good as it can possibly be — reroute if you need to — and don’t let what you want now get in the way of what you want most.

EM
Wow.

AML
That’s probably the best advice I could’ve asked for–

EM
I think Adrian and I are ready to take on the world now — and our books — and probably stop interviewing famous people. (Laughs.) But thank you so much, Meredith. Who knew that we’d come away with a three-minute sound bite for the university president and the whole student body.

MG
Thank you, guys — it was a lot of fun. Good luck!

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