Music

Theme Song: Perfect Pussy

“Candy’s Room”

perfectpussy

Before her punk band, Perfect Pussy, started touring, Meredith Graves worked as possibly the most righteous seamstress in North America at a Syracuse, New York, operation that bills itself as “the largest prom dress resource in central New York.” On the job, she talked to her teenage customers about body image and intersectional feminism while they tried on sparkly taffeta. She’s still finding ways to inspire us to use clothing as a means of expression and even liberation, such as this fashion-oriented tour diary she wrote for Elle magazine back in February. Among her tips: “Dye your hair in a motel bathroom, give your books away when you’re done with them and always work toward lightening your physical load; you’ll notice your emotional and psychic load lightening as well.”

Perfect Pussy’s eight-song, 23-minute debut album, the thunderous Say Yes to Love, came out last month. For this month’s theme song, they decided to cover Bruce Springsteen’s “Candy’s Room,” which they made with their friend Sam Sodomsky (of Friendless Bummer and the Bird Calls). We’re so honored to have it, and to get to share it with you.

I recently talked to Meredith by phone about why she thinks self-love is a con, how mainstream fashion is broken, and how she reconciles making prom and wedding dresses with her own antipathy towards love.

LAURA SNAPES: Are you formally trained as a seamstress, or self-taught?

MEREDITH GRAVES: I started [sewing] when I was in high school. I had a really good teacher, and I really latched on to it. In college I worked for a while as a stitcher in a theater, and then I started working at this shop that sold formalwear, doing like, repairs. After a couple of years, I said, fuck it, I’ll just start my own alterations business, which I still have. It’s nice—I get to work with people on their weddings and proms. I get to talk to people all day. When you’re that intimate with a person—when you’re either taking in or letting out a garment—you’re dealing with people’s fears about their weight, people’s fears about their height, you’re dealing with people’s concerns about their wedding, it’s very serious. Most of my clients are women, and all I do all day is talk to women about their bodies and stuff. It’s kinda cool.

Is there a story behind the band’s name?

I’m always thinking about stuff that has to do with oppression and the body, and how it all works together. I’ve worked with people of all genders and sexualities and all sorts of bodies for all sorts of events, and if there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that no one is immune from the paranoia of looking at yourself in a mirror really critically. It’s hard—my whole [seamstress] job is to make people feel better about clothes that don’t fit. That’s square one: looking at someone and listening to them be like, “This doesn’t work because I have a bad body and I look bad.” It’s my job to be like, “No, this garment doesn’t fit you. I can fix it.” So all day long I’m talking to people about self-esteem and why we’ve internalized body shame, why we’re taught to look at a piece of clothing that doesn’t fit and think there’s something wrong with us. It’s kind of a strange line of work. It’s a mixture of fairy godmother and crusader for what is good and right. Trying to crush the part of the world that makes everybody think they look like shit all the time.

Do you manage to bring people around to what you’re saying, that the clothes don’t fit, it’s not that their body is wrong?

Usually. I mean, I’m not really shy about it. My co-workers [at my old job] are wonderful, wonderful women, but they’re maybe not as rock as me—it’s basically a shop full of women trying on prom dresses and wedding dresses, then there was me running around with my shaved head and hairy armpits, covered in tattoos, like, “Hi, I’m the person that’s here to make you look beautiful!” I stuck out like a sore thumb there! So I figured that if I was already like a little weirdo, I might as well take it to the fullest extent. I would openly talk in the store about feminism to the women that were talking shit about their bodies. I’m really against that whole “radical self-love” thing. I think that is bullshit—it puts the burden of loving yourself on you, and it distracts from the real problem, which is that the cultures of privilege and oppression that surround every aspect of human life are why you feel bad about yourself. It’s not your fault. It’s everyone else’s responsibility to stop being shitty, and then you’d probably feel fine about yourself. It’s not you, it’s them.

I talk to women about that all day, and when I hear them say critical and negative things about themselves—especially teenagers—I’m fully willing to just throw myself between them and it and be like, “You need to deconstruct this.” It drove my co-workers nuts—I’d be in a fitting to like hem a dress, and I’d end up talking to a teenage girl about her and her friends’ body issues. It wasted an immense amount of time, but I don’t care. It had to happen.

It was strange working in such a high-volume store, where we would do infinite amounts of business on a Saturday during prom season, and to be like, “No, I know we need to sell things, but everyone else needs to slow down and realize we’re working with an intensely fragile demographic.” There’s 300 teenage girls running around [in the store] and everyone’s body looks different, and everyone’s scoping out everyone else in the room, and we have to be aware that these teenagers are sizing themselves up against each other.

I’ve been working and living in that environment of 99 percent femaleness where everyone hates their bodies, and there’s issues of class, like who can afford what, who can afford my services at all—that’s what I’ve been living in for the last four years. So I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. It’s important to engage in these conversations. People are afraid to hear that they’re not alone and that that really is the way the world works. That’s definitely scary. But once you define that, you can start working against it.

Do you make a lot of your own clothes?

No, I don’t. The thing about being a seamstress is that I’m always sewing for other people, so I never [want to] sew for myself. I do really love fashion, though. My mother was an actress, so I grew up in the theater, wearing crazy costumes all the time. When I was 12 or 13, I started dyeing my hair pink, wearing crazy clothes that I bought on eBay, wearing high heels for school, and generally being in everyone’s face. I was a space cadet when I was a teenager—I dressed like an idiot. I was fucking weird.

I probably have more clothes than anyone else on the planet, and that’s its own sort of gluttony, but I love vintage and secondhand stuff. Most of my clothes are actually from thrift stores. I don’t like the modern textile industry—I think it’s really screwed up. I think the methods of production are all wrong. I think people don’t know enough about the way clothes are made. A lot of the stores that are making affordable, on-trend things are marketed towards younger people rely hugely on out-of-country labor force in extremely specious conditions.

And when it comes down to the actual clothing in your average shopping mall, automatically there are so many people that are just written off. Those stores cater to a certain body type, and [people with other body types] have no reason to even set foot in those stores, because nothing will fit them. I’m very tall—almost six feet—and very broad. I’m built like a teenage boy who plays hockey. I’ve found the way out of that is to go to secondhand stores where can you get something off the rack, and if it fits, that’s great, if not, oh well. You’ve got eight million other things to choose from, so you don’t have to feel bad about it. That’s kind of a blessing in and of itself. It saves you a lot of angst.

On the album, there’s a certain amount of cynicism about love, and a cynic or a realist could look at proms and weddings and say that it’s all artifice and ceremony. Your song “Interference Fits” talks about those weird, false rituals we construct around love. How do you square your feelings on love with working in that environment?

That [song] was totally sparked by watching a lot of my friends get married, and helping with their weddings. I mean, ritual and ceremony and all those things—those are the ways we put bookmarks in our lives. They’re important. I can’t take that away from anybody. If you want to get married, you probably have the right to get married. It’s just not for me.

I got hurt because I went through a really bad breakup last year, and that’s what most of the record is about. It was with the first person that I’ve ever been like, Oh yeah, I could really see myself being with this person for a really, really long time. And then he left me in sort of a gruesome way. But you can’t ever look at someone and say, “I don’t think you’re getting married for the right reasons,” or “I think you’re focused on the wrong things,” or “Do you understand that the wedding industry is built on the backs of sweatshop labor”? Or “Do you know that your physical reluctance and your body language are telling me that you don’t actually want to go to prom, you’re just doing it because your friends want you to?” I can see in a 16-year-old girl’s eyes, like, “You don’t want to wear this, it’s too revealing and you’re scared of how much skin you’re showing off. Don’t do this because it’s popular.” You have to be attuned to it. But just because I don’t believe in that stuff doesn’t mean [other people shouldn't]—that’s part of bodily autonomy. Feminism has to be intersectional, it has to be for all people, it can’t just be for the people who live like I do. Feminism and justice have to move toward shy teenagers who wear Uggs and go to tanning beds. There is no feminism that excludes those women, or any women. ♦

9 Comments

  • Lola April 28th, 2014 8:20 PM

    in awe & enamored of meredith’s ability to beam truth to power with every word.

  • Zoe April 29th, 2014 2:17 AM

    This was the best interview I’ve read in a long time. I got a lot of important stuff out of this
    Thank you Rookie <3

  • sabine_ April 29th, 2014 4:40 AM

    “Feminism and justice have to move toward shy teenagers who wear Uggs and go to tanning beds.”

    This is such a straightforward and simple yet extremely honest and important statement, just like the rest of the interview.
    Oh, and I shouldn’t forget the music, pretty awesome as well!
    Thanks Rookie!

  • JaneII April 29th, 2014 4:53 AM

    I love her perspective and insight. Saw them play live and it was the greatest 20 minute set in the history of 20 minute sets. (So basically amazing)

  • Naomi April 29th, 2014 7:03 AM

    oh my fuck bruceeeeeee

  • luvcat April 29th, 2014 7:08 AM

    This is the greatest full circle moment ever I just saw Perfect Pussy saturday in dc after poring over say yes to love for the past month and IT WAS AMAZING AND I ALMOST CRIED. I have never felt more personally connected to an album and I am so inspired by Meredith Graves. Her lyrics are like church to me.

  • Mimi7 April 29th, 2014 12:34 PM

    Wow. She’s so cool. It makes me have more confidence just reading it.

    http://dreaminginfashion.wordpress.com/

  • Gabby April 29th, 2014 12:54 PM

    AMAZING

  • nerpi May 1st, 2014 11:29 PM

    aaaaaah!!! this is one of my favourite springsteen songs this is so exciting!

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