Throughout CMJ 2015, Meredith Graves — Honor Press founder, Perfect Pussy frontwoman, Brooklyn resident — kept track of her adventures for the Village Voice. As a showcase presenter, performer, and music fan, she ran around Manhattan and Brooklyn, singing new songs, watching new friends, and taking notes in between. Here’s what she had to say about the last few days.
I was out cold by 9 p.m. last night, Larry Wilmore’s soothing voice breaking through the wall that keeps sleep and reality separate, making me think he was working at the shelter where I was apparently about to adopt several unnaturally small identical kittens. I woke up in a cold sweat at 4 a.m. when my boyfriend arrived home from a long night of driving Cloud Castle Lake across different bridges in New York City so they could see the skyline from several angles before they headed home to Dublin. Asleep or awake, my life’s a dream.
The last 48 hours were an Evel Knievel stunt, a lot of gear-grinding then a period of floating where you clench your buttcheeks and pray you’ll land safely, but it’s over. CMJ, done. Roasted. We all killed it to the best of our ability. I saw some seriously daring deeds performed this weekend on behalf of musicians, promoters, writers, photographers. I am so lucky to know all of you.
Before I delve into the weeds, I want to thank you all for staying with me these last few days. Though our time together has been brief, it has been really fun. I couldn’t believe how many people wanted to talk to me at our band’s shows about these little diary entries. You guys are amazing! Thank you for being so nice to me, I’m sorry if I said anything weird or talked too much!
Friday night, Kamasi Washington and the Next Step took over Le Poisson Rouge for what ended up being far and away the best set of the week. Even his recent three-hour masterwork, The Epic ( out on Brainfeeder) couldn’t have prepared the audience for what ended up being an extremely special evening with a few remarkable surprise appearances, including Rickey Washington, Kamasi’s father.
I want to be Kamasi Washington’s friend. The faster his hands and mind move, the calmer his demeanor becomes. He takes time between songs to elevate his friends — not just bandmates, friends, as he elucidates through childhood stories riddled with praise that took decades to prepare.
Stuff happens during their set! The trombone player has to lay low for a few minutes, so he busts out his phone to take a video of someone’s incredible solo. He does a 360-degree rotation to catch some of the audience and gets me writing down a little note about how he pulled out his phone. I’m involved. We’re all friends.
Opener Lakecia Benjamin is wonderfully un-shy. She likes speaking with the audience, explaining the human rights issues that led her to write such powerful lyrics for songs like “Little Children,” and requesting they applaud each of her band members individually, including her. Her enthusiasm and skill as an instrumentalist and composer were incredibly moving, and her obvious respect for her band creates an intimacy that translates to the audience. It all felt extremely exciting.
Mark Giuliana’s Beat Music was the sonic equivalent of a *hits blunt* meme. Googling one of their triggered vocal samples leads you to a quote from a James Frey audiobook about the Bible. At one point, keyboardist Jason Linder (of Smalls fame) treated the audience to a melodica solo. Nobody knew how to feel, save for the very pleased man in the sunglasses and polar fleece standing in front of me.
Kamasi Washington introduced several of his band members by telling the audience how long they’d been friends— drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. is Washington’s oldest friend in the world, since age three. Terrence Martin, on alto saxophone, since thirteen (by which point he was already playing like Coltrane, Washington confides). Songs like “The Magnificent Seven,” churning in a destabilizing 7/4, necessitate the players being blood brothers. Somehow nothing unravels, but not at all because the band plays it safe: bassist Miles Moseley blew through bowed solos on the Oscar Pettiford cut “Oscalypso,” arranged by sunglasses-obscured trombonist Ryan Porter, from his upcoming record which Washington explained as ‘baby-making music.’
Then, his father Rickey Washington carried the band through their final song, “The Rhythm Changes,” braiding his sound up with the soaring, reedy voice of Patrice Quinn. “Won’t worry what happened before me/I’m here,” she sings decisively. That’s when Porter pulls his cell phone out to take a quick video of the band mid-song, and Washington smiles around the mouth of his instrument.
The next day, I stepped back from my role as Intrepid Girl Reporter and returned to my life as a groundling, playing the AdHoc Car Wash at Brooklyn Hand and Detail. This lineup was like a Wrestlemania of near-punk: Sheer Mag, Protomartyr, Downtown Boys, Pity Sex, Porches, Destruction Unit, turtle wax, happy ending, the works.
I have a tendency to befriend people by force, a tactic I’m applying to Tina from Sheer Mag and Victoria from Downtown Boys at differing velocities. The two greatest vocalists in contemporary punk, in one room. They couldn’t be more different, of course, and remain incomparable; Tina’s soprano sax to Victoria’s tenor. It is a good time to be alive and into rock ‘n’ roll.
I’m working through my social anxiety by having intimate conversations with large crowds of people; it might not be your method, but it’s going great for me. During our set, we talked about how nobody’s looking at you, even when it feels like they are, even when 2-600 people might actually be looking right at you. Really, we’re all just looking at ourselves. It went deep. I felt good about it. I’m too old to care about embarrassing myself. Again, thank you for being there with me.
I’ve seen Destruction Unit 417 times now in several different countries, but Saturday afternoon might have been one of their most interesting sets. Never have I ever seen them in a giant cavernous former car wash. Every song sounded like it featured a solo by someone beating sheets of aluminum with a bat. It was their version of playing in a cathedral. It was slightly upsetting in a way that was uniquely perfect for them, much like their other CMJ show at Alphaville that ended up in the New York Times.
I sobered up and made a dead sprint across town to the beautifully-restored Silent Barn for the final show of CMJ, my own Honor Press showcase. My mantra when it comes to booking shows has become “I want to see all my friends at once.” That night’s lineup of Alexander F, Fielded, Aye Nako, Cloud Castle Lake and my dorky band was an excuse to dance all night with some people I cherish, and hopefully help them fall for each other.
It felt like the perfect night to have the biggest celebration possible. Silent Barn, recently devastated by a fire, has been rebuilt in record time through the hard work of Barn residents and radical genius volunteers. The ceiling is a different color; the murals are almost restored. The space looks clean and bright and refreshed. It’s a testament to the incredible work that can be done by a group of dedicated people pooling resources and talents in service to a common goal.
(You should donate to Silent Barn’s rebuilding efforts, by the way.)
Two of my best friends were visiting from Syracuse, as were our guitar player’s wonderful parents. My boyfriend, without whom I would not have survived this crazy week, covered the triangle and DJed a mix of Young Thug and bachata until five in the morning, when I had to drag him out because he didn’t realize he was still blasting songs to an empty room.
The people who opted for our little show over other bills were treated to a half-hardcore, half-soul review. Alexander F, the new project from Rubblebucket’s Alex Toth, was like Half Japanese on Five-Hour Energy. Stripping down and howling about funeral flowers through a broken megaphone was the perfect way to set the tone for the evening, after which point Lindsay Powell took over as Fielded, bringing her best Kate-Bush-meets-Sam-Herring-of-Future-Islands-meets-Mary-J-Blige.
We are so proud to announce that Lindsay will be coming on tour with us in December. I cannot wait to see her sing every night. When she launched into “I Choose You,” the second track off her new record Boy Angel, which she self-released on a USB key necklace and wears to her own shows, I started openly crying. I don’t know that a song has ever so perfectly summed up what it feels like to come home after a long tour. It makes my heart hurt and it makes me feel seen. I am so thankful that she did the hard work of writing this song.
Aye Nako are my neighbors, which makes me consider the idea that the universe is actually a living, breathing organism capable of bestowing blessings. Getting to know this band over the last few months has been a joy. They’re about to leave on a tour that starts on October 24, and you should definitely go see them. Buy their records; bring them snacks; be as kind to them as they are to each other and to their friends.
Cloud Castle Lake have been my favorite band since the week I moved to New York, when I accidentally discovered them through a dress that might really have been some sort of portal. Their music has become part of my blood and body, the soundtrack to blooming just a little. Having them here from Ireland is something I never dreamed would happen, but somehow I tricked them into coming over to my house for dinner twice, as well as playing this show. They take an unbelievably long time to set up, but it’s worth it. I’ve never seen a room so entranced. Any pop sensibilities present on Dandelion dissolve in a haze of free-form prog jazz. They wallpapered the Silent Barn with an unceasing glimmering. “A Wolf Howling” had everyone’s hearts beating in sync. We were moved as one.
Then my band played, as my band is wont to do, two hours late at 2:40 AM. We cut one song last-minute because I thought I was going to barf. As usual, I’d had too many seltzers. I saw some people making out in the audience.
Then, we danced all night, because goddamn.
I got four hours of sleep, then woke up and had eighteen people (I had a friend count) over for brunch — some of Cloud Castle Lake, all of Aye Nako, all of Perfect Pussy, assorted friends and friends-of-friends from Philly and Syracuse and Dublin and the Midwest and right up the street. We ate this weird floppy french toast and sweet potatoes and tofu scramble and drank mimosas made with raw honey, kombucha and raspberries. People seemed to Snapchat a lot. An old friend showed up with several pounds of expensive fish and fried them up as a second meal for the latecomers. I don’t know how this happens.
Then you sleep for fourteen hours, and it’s over. See you next time.