Music

Perfect Pussy

Syracuse Band Gains National Attention

Perfect Pussy has a national recording contract and is about to embark on a tour of New Zealand and Australia. Writer Patrick Hosken caught up with the band to talk about its rapid rise.

It’s the middle of September, and Shaun Sutkus — the keyboard and synthesizer player in Syracuse noise-punk band Perfect Pussy — is on the other side of the country. He’s been working as another band’s tour manager for the past three weeks, and the next four are stuffed with concert dates along the West Coast. Perfect Pussy isn’t exactly his priority right now.

At the end of August, the band took a month and a half off between the conclusion of its first European tour and the start of another. Sutkus and the band’s four other members — guitarist Ray McAndrew, bassist Greg Ambler, drummer Garrett Koloski and vocalist Meredith Graves — flew back for a concert in Brighton, England, at the end of October.

Until then, the five are split up in different locations. Sutkus said tour managing bands like Skaters, a New York City indie-pop outfit, helps him appease his organizational impulses. His musical appetites, however, remain ravenous.

“I haven’t made a fucking record all year,” Sutkus said. “In 2013, I made two records, and in 2012, I made 14, and the year before that, I made 14. So I really, really want to get back in the studio.”

When he’s not touring, Sutkus records, engineers, mixes and masters albums by other bands from Syracuse, New York City and elsewhere. He’s itchy to get to work on Perfect Pussy’s second album, the follow-up to this year’s acclaimed Say Yes to Love, which he produced. Though it clocks in at a lean 23 minutes, the album’s furious clamor has made it critically memorable, thanks in part to Sutkus’s technical recording prowess.

1782299_674039885991965_1139455697_o

Perfect Pussy has a national recording contract and is about to embark on a tour of New Zealand and Australia.

“Everyone brings their sound to the table. But as far as the overall sound, the sheen on it, yeah, of course that has to do with me,” Sutkus said, “It’s definitely a culmination of several styles jammed in.”

The band first garnered praise from The New York Times and NPR last year with a four-song release that made several music publications’ best-of-2013 lists. Say Yes to Love’s continuation of that sound — a blend of relentless attitude and caustic noise — has given Perfect Pussy, and by extension, the city of Syracuse, national attention. Though releasing a timely second record would make commercial sense, no one in the band knows when that will happen. Sutkus thinks February or March, and for him, that might be too long to wait.

For bassist Ambler, however, the gap might actually be a good thing.

“I think we’re more concerned now with trying to figure out what we’re doing with other projects,” he said. “[Before Perfect Pussy], we were so used to having our hands in so many cookie jars at once.”

Ambler, who bartends at Mexican restaurant Alto Cinco, on Westcott Street, said the other musical groups he played in dissolved in light of Perfect Pussy’s international success. He said it’s hard to sustain other musical endeavors at home when you’re in a different city every night. That’s why a respite from touring and recording could be beneficial: All five members will finally have their own space.

“We’re just going to take time to figure out what our strengths are independently,” Ambler said.

Perfect Pussy’s post-tour fragmentation isn’t all that surprising given its highly successful first two years. The band came together in a primitive form during the 2012 production of the locally shot John Cusack film Adult World. By early 2014, with its current lineup in place, it landed on stage at the South by Southwest and Pitchfork music festivals.

A month off can feel like an eternity, Ambler said, given the band’s year of playing in more than 60 cities. But the perks of being a road musician are hard to dismiss, even for Ambler, who calls himself “borderline agoraphobic.”

“To travel the world and have a reason to do it is awesome because I never had any intention of ever leaving New York state, honestly,” he said. “I have a lot of anxieties about even being outside of my house, which is why I started playing in bands and started working in DIY venues.”

Perfect Pussy

The band came together in a primitive form during the 2012 production of the locally shot John Cusack film Adult World.

The careers of all five Perfect Pussy members are rooted in the Syracuse DIY and underground scene. Ambler worked at Castle Rockmore, a former venue on West Borden Avenue, from 2007 to 2009 before moving onto Badlands’ old spot on East Fayette Street. There, he connected with Graves a few years before the band officially formed. Guitarist McAndrew and drummer Koloski worked together in the punk band Sswampzz.

Despite its members’ connections to the city’s DIY scene, Perfect Pussy has to date played only three shows in Syracuse: two in friends’ basements and one at Gorham Brothers Music, an instrument and gear shop on Seeley Road. Local promoters have offered the band gigs at the Westcott Theater and the Lost Horizon, but they’ve refused.

That hesitance stems not so much from animosity, Ambler said, but from a discomfort in dealing with people they’ve never worked with before.

When the band’s tour brings them back to Central New York, Perfect Pussy instead opts for shows at Rochester’s Bug Jar or The Haunt, in Ithaca, where they played earlier this month. The band’s relationship with those venue promoters runs deeper, Ambler said.

“We’re used to doing shows with like 20 or 30 kids, so to be able to give back to one of our friends and have 400 kids show up at a show and have them actually put money into their promotion company is cool, as opposed to giving it to people here that we never really associated with or worked with in the first place,” he said.

Before the next tour kicks off, Ambler is bartending. McAndrew works just a block away at Beer Belly Deli & Pub, and Koloski stays local, as well. Singer Graves, who has become the de facto focal point of the band’s public image, is spending some time in New York City.

What she’s not doing is giving interviews.

McAndrew attributes this to a instances in which Graves felt journalists took her words out of context or twisted them to fit a preconceived narrative.

“I know she’s had some problems with being misinterpreted or misquoted on things, and she’s had some blatantly sexist questions in interviews,” McAndrew said. “She just doesn’t want to deal with any of that anymore.”

Meredith Graves

What Graves is not doing is giving interviews. McAndrew attributes this to a instances in which Graves felt journalists took her words out of context or twisted them to fit a preconceived narrative.

But Graves hasn’t remained quiet; she’s merely talking on her own terms. At September’s Basilica Soundscape Festival in Hudson, she performed a spoken-word piece on the nature of authenticity in the music world, using the polar-opposite success stories of Andrew W.K. and Lana Del Rey as examples.

“After a month of thinking about the bizarre truth inherent here — that real women with fake names are somehow considered exponentially less authentic than completely fake men harboring a real, hidden sadness — I’ve come to one conclusion: that the cult of personality surrounding artists exists because of an unfeeling world that loves nothing more than breaking sensitive, talented people,” she said in the piece, which was also published at TheTalkhouse.com.

Three weeks later, she penned an essay for music website Pitchfork.com on a feud between two male indie musicians, calling out one for what she saw as emotional abuse of the other. Graves also took on the “faux feminism” of a Chanel runway show in Paris with a piece at The Hairpin, a women’s website, which The New York Times quoted from.

With such national scrutiny directed toward a burgeoning local band, one question looms large:

How long can Syracuse sustain Perfect Pussy?

Its record label, Captured Tracks, is headquartered in Brooklyn. After a six-show European return trip, Australia and New Zealand tour dates in early 2015 have been finalized.

Sutkus said his predilection for working with experimental artists has already led him away from Syracuse and down to New York City. The musical landscape is more fertile there, he said, and he can find work easily. Soon, he might move down there permanently.

“I can’t make a living doing what I want to do [in Syracuse], so I have to travel. I have to tour,” Sutkus said. “I can’t be a part of the community, really, because I’m never around.”

Everything might change once the second album comes together. Then again, it might not. One of the only certainties in Sutkus’s life now is the impending reality of leaving the city and supporting himself in a different location. Given his time tour managing on the West Coast, it likely wouldn’t be all that big of a change.

“I am going to miss Syracuse,” he said. “It’s been the most constant thing in my life for a while.”

See and hear Perfect Pussy below:

Band, MTV join for international music project

Punk music may have begun as an underground movement, but Syracuse’s Perfect Pussy have plans to spread it across the globe with a little help from a mainstream media conglomerate.

Back in July, the band’s five members pummeled their guitars, drums and synthesizers on the roof of the Merchants Commons building downtown, churning through a 30-minute set in front of only a film crew (and a few building employees). As the noise filled the 10,000 square-foot roof space and the street below, camera operators captured the raw, assaulting performance that’s become one of Perfect Pussy’s most striking features. A live stream provided by Syracuse.com allowed viewers to experience it remotely.

It wasn’t exactly a music video, drummer Garrett Koloski said, but it wasn’t quite a documentary, either.

“They’re, like, shooting a pilot or something,” he said inside the band’s rented van after a summer gig in Rochester.

“They” is MTV — or, more specifically, an independent production company contracted by MTV to gather footage of musicians playing in unconventional locations around the world. MTV manages the brands MTV Desi, which highlights musicians from South Asia, and MTV-K, with musicians from Korea, in addition to MTV Iggy, which profiles both international and American artists.

But by the time the edited footage hits the airwaves, Perfect Pussy may be even more fragmented — at least, that’s what recent news would suggest.

Vocalist Meredith Graves recently told DIY magazine of her plans to spend 2015 writing and recording a solo record. Graves said she’s working toward establishing her own record label and publisher, with two releases expected in the spring.

Meredith Graves

Graves said she’s working toward establishing her own record label and publisher.

In the meantime, the MTV special is still in production. The band’s bass player, Greg Ambler, said it focuses on artists of all races, genders and sexual orientations.

“It’s about reaching people in places where that stuff isn’t allowed,” Ambler said.

The details of the project are evolving, but Ambler and Koloski both heard the term “MTV World” brought up during the planning. Ambler said it could be a new series or a completely separate network, though one not set to broadcast in the U.S. or Canada.

The band’s publicity rep confirmed in an email that the footage is part of an MTV World special scheduled to air internationally. The project is still untitled.

Global exposure can help a band reach new audiences, but this particular video shoot also brings Perfect Pussy something more tangible: money.

Captured Tracks, their Brooklyn-based record label, takes half of whatever the band earns for licensing its songs, Ambler said. Perfect Pussy gets the other half, and half of what Captured Tracks takes — in other words, a quarter of the total earned — the band gets back in royalties.

“It’s a weird thing,” Ambler said. “We didn’t technically get paid to play (our songs). We’re getting paid because they’re going to broadcast them eventually.”

Though the band may not be recording its second album any time soon, it has tour dates scheduled for Australia and New Zealand beginning in early January.

Go Home

comments

To Top