A week after a marathon of South by Southwest shows, press junkets and the deafening, critical buzz surrounding a band on the brink of major success, Perfect Pussy keyboardist and chief noisemaker Shaun Sutkus and company are still trucking around in a too-small van with no trailer, crammed with gear and a faulty DVD player.
"This is completely out of nowhere, but really exciting," Sutkus says from a tour stop in Columbus, Ohio, regarding the band's relatively sudden popularity. "We spend pretty much every hour of every day within arm's reach of each other."
For the most part, members are still living the life of a band they were just a year ago, when their only recording was a self-released, four-song cassette, later available on Bandcamp, titled "I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling." But that's all changing.
They're not without a handful of haters, which indicates they've actually arrived. They've been called overhyped, and Ben Greenberg of the Men declared them to be "squealy post-hardcore." Thing is, Perfect Pussy doesn't care what anyone thinks.
The members of the Syracuse, N.Y., five-piece loosely knew each other from a local noise-rock collective, but it wasn't until frontwoman Meredith Graves got a call from an indie film director in need of a band for a project that things took shape.
Graves' band Shoppers had just broken up, so to fulfill the request she assembled "a fake band" and cranked out a single for a chance to be seen on the silver screen. While they were omitted from the final cut of the film, "Adult World" starring John Cusack, the members stayed together and became Perfect Pussy.
Their provocative name, deemed unprintable by many publications, precedes them. The moniker seeks to reclaim a word so often used in a derogatory way toward women. Graves has explained that it's "something nice to say about yourself," rather than being obsessed with critiquing the body. The band members are proud feminists and champion self-acceptance.
"We're all positive-minded individuals and we share similar beliefs," Sutkus says. "It's great to meet all these new people at the shows who share those too. It's a community of friends."
At first listen, Perfect Pussy's sound could come off as a vitriolic mess. Graves' words become an unintelligible spew trapped beneath twisted guitars and pounding drums, flanked by piercing feedback. This is a band to spend time with, not just listen to casually.
Perfect Pussy is a two-fold experience, one rewarded by honing in on Grave's brutally honest poetics, and the other by immersing yourself entirely into the audacity of the band's live show. Its sarcastically named debut LP, "Say Yes to Love" (Captured Tracks), is anything but sweet and smitten. "Since when did we all decide to give up? / Since when do we say yes to love?" Graves belts on the lead single, "Interference Fits." Cathartic songs about revelatory breakups and self-reassurance feel necessary, never overblown.
Onstage, the band strikes quickly with a ferocious 20-minute set. That might come off a little gimmicky to some, but think of it as your average show condensed for maximum intensity. Graves oscillates between the role of a dazed loner and being in full command of her sweat-soaked audience pressed against the stage, while the other players continue the audible assault. It's a potent, sensory wallop that, like the group's name, explores the boundaries of power. More than a punk band, it's a performance outfit hell-bent on making a point.
"Honestly, at the end of the set I'm surprised I haven't passed out," Sutkus says.
The members of Perfect Pussy are in the business of giving everything to what they've acknowledged might be their 15 minutes, in certain cases more so than most. A limited-edition pressing of their LP contains Graves' menstrual blood mixed into the vinyl. All 300 copies sold out immediately. That was something Sutkus calls "disgusting, but really awesome at the same time."
Despite the serious tone of it all, Perfect Pussy really is just a band of young folks living in the moment. They actively seek out comic-book stores in various cities and get amped when telling tales of the road, most recently a picnic on a purple sand beach in Northern California's Big Sur.
"We don't take ourselves too seriously. What we're doing is natural and pure — it's honest," Sutkus says. "We're not trying to be anything." S
Perfect Pussy plays Gallery5 on April 27 with Yamantaka, Sonic Titan and Green Dreams. Doors open at 5 p.m. Admission is $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Information at gallery5arts.org.