from the archives: Perfect pussy thrives on feedback and chaos (2014)

I have a very extensive catalogue of old articles that I think are worth revisiting. Here’s one of them. I love a bit of good ol’ band infighting. Unless it’s happening in my band. (This article originally appeared in The Georgia Straight.)

It probably goes without saying that you can’t believe everything you read on the Interwebs. Take the article on Perfect Pussy that Pitchfork staff writer Evan Minsker filed last October. In his preamble to a Q & A with singer Meredith Graves, Minsker wrote of the Syracuse, New York–based noise-punk outfit: “They regularly meet at diners for ‘band feelings time’, where they offer each other support and an open forum to air out what they’re going through.” He then quotes Graves as saying, “We’re, like, really nice. It’s like our calling card: we’re the nicest fucking band in punk.”

While this makes Perfect Pussy sound like a tattooed version of the Get Along Gang, a different picture emerges when the Straight rings up Shaun Sutkus, the group’s synthesizer specialist and resident recording engineer. Reached on the road in Texas, somewhere between McAllen and Houston, Sutkus seems suitably engaged in the business of being interviewed. Partway through the interview, however, he reveals that a bit of intraband drama has been unfolding in front of him.

“So, our bass player just took the van off and left Meredith and I at this gas station, and I’m really fucking pissed off right now,” Sutkus announces, sounding remarkably calm, all things considered. “I don’t know what the fuck his problem is right now. You probably heard a car horn beeping? Yeah, that was him beeping at Meredith to get in as she was flipping him off. And then he decided to leave.”

The Straight offers to refrain from reporting any of this—including the part where he describes bassist Greg Ambler as “a fucking asshole”, but Sutkus responds with a nonchalant “Oh, I don’t care if you do.” So there it is.

Clearly, Sutkus wasn’t about to go anywhere, so he fielded a few questions about Perfect Pussy’s chaotically assaultive sound, for which—as captured on the group’s just-released debut album, Say Yes to Love—he’s largely responsible. The record blitzes by in a 23-minute blur of feedback, fury, and tape hiss. That hiss, Sutkus reveals, is the sonic signature of an effects unit, the Fulltone Tube Tape Echo, and not an indication that Perfect Pussy takes an analogue approach to recording.

“Everything’s digital, and it wasn’t recorded live, either,” the producer states. “It was all overdubbed and stuff. What I do is, we’ll set up drums and record everything at once and then just replace stuff that needs to be replaced—that we fucked up or something. And then once we get a solid, basic tracking done, we just do passes of feedback. Like I’ll just throw Ray [McAndrew] in front of his guitar amp and turn it up all the way and have him just play with it feeding back. And then same with Meredith, too. When I record her vocals, I’ll just throw her in a room with an amp turned up all the way, and it just feeds back. Every time she’s not saying a word, the amp starts feeding back.”

If that makes it difficult to make out what Graves is singing about, that doesn’t faze Sutkus, who admits that he doesn’t focus much on the lyrics anyway: “When I record and listen to music, I don’t really listen to the vocals and the words, or the writing. I don’t really pay attention or analyze that. It’s just usually the sound that it makes. It’s more of a melodic instrument that makes sounds.”

The sounds that Perfect Pussy makes have seen the band pegged—by everyone from Rolling Stone to, yes, Pitchfork—as one of 2014’s acts to watch. Let’s hope that doesn’t mean watching the band disintegrate on tour.

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