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Perfume Genius

An Invitation to Love

Jul 07, 2017 Perfume Genius Photography by Ray Lego (for Under the Radar) Bookmark and Share

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With No Shape, Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, has created one of the more brilliant albums released thus far in 2017, and certainly his best since he began releasing records in 2010 with his debut LP Learning. And on his fourth album, easily his most ambitious and meticulous to date, Hadreas turned to ecstatic events and wanted to write about feeling comfortable in his own skin. “I didn’t want to be jaded, which is way cooler, but I wanted to be joyous here. I also wanted all these ‘dudes’ to say ‘this is my phat amazing album,’” laughs Hadreas. He’s only half-kidding, as he did actively pursue a “bigger” sound on No Shape.

Thematically, Hadreas says that films, namely those of director David Lynch, are always on his mind, although he sadly isn’t in the return of Twin Peaks, wanting an audition but not getting one. “You know what they say about wanting something so badly and jinxing yourself?” asks Hadreas, rhetorically. “Well,” he laughs, “I feel like I did that to myself with Twin Peaks. I just love David Lynch! He’s half my life.” He also reveals some heretofore unknown Twin Peaks trivianamely that Phoebe Augustine, the actress who played the 16-year-old Ronette Pulaski in the show, was Hadreas’ babysitter in the actual life, as he grew up in the Seattle area, where the show was shot.

Hadreas recalls Twin Peaks being a difficult story for him to process. He was aware of its oft-grotesque violence and couldn’t reconcile that his babysitter was somehow acting in such a disturbing TV Show. “Imagine knowing what I’d known as a 10-year-old, [with] her being my babysitter! I was simultaneously fascinated by it and horrified by [the show]. It probably explains a lot about me.”

And while Hadreas sadly hasn’t had an encounter of any sort with teenage icon Lynch, he was mentored a couple years after his recording career began by another childhood hero, R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe. Stipe defended Perfume Genius’ 2012 video for “Hood” after the video was banned by YouTube for featuring the openly gay Hadreas embracing Hungarian gay porn actor Arpad Miklos. “YouTube was born of the 21st century, act like it,” Stipe wrote in a message to the video-sharing service. YouTube reconsidered their position thereafter, and began showing it. It also made Stipe the biggest name Perfume Genius fan to date, as Stipe has since done magazine interviews with the singer/songwriter, most notably one with The Independent in the U.K., in which he emphasized that, “This has to be about Mike, not me.” Stipe continued his fandom by covering “Hood” while opening for Patti Smith during multiple dates in December of 2014, his first shows since R.E.M.‘s dissolution in September of 2011.

“It did help a lot, having one of my childhood heroes really do something like that for me when he did something he didn’t have to. I never thought I’d meet him, let alone find a friend in him,” says Hadreas, whose prior interviews had mainly focused on his early 20s life as a drug addict in NYC who entered into an abusive relationship and eventually left town for rehab. “The way that my music is takenthe subject matter, the back-story is sometimes taken before the music. Sometimes it was a barrier, and sometimes it was one that helped me,” he says, admitting that his troubled past did give journalists an angle initially.

But in looking to the here and now, namely No Shape, Hadreas is brimming with ambition in a manner he never has been before. “So many songs [on No Shape] lend themselves to videos, so I just want to do as much as I can,” he says. “I keep surprising myself with what I’m capable of…I just allow myself to try to do more. I didn’t grow up singing or writing music, so I’m just learning this stuff as I go. Even just in my daily life, I often realize that I’ve been lying to myself for a long time. I’m better than I thought I was or more stable. I have a warped view of myself sometimes, and I let go a little more each [album].”

Hadreas also had Weyes Blood (aka Natalie Mering) contribute to No Shape track “Sides.” “To be honest, I’m just a really big fan of hers, and the most recent album from last year just solidified what a big fan I am,” says Hadreas, referring to 2016’s Front Row Seat to Earth. “I wrote that song and I really liked how it came together, how she wrote her own lyrics, and it was almost a response to what I’d written, and not a duet that was fully mapped out, a male/female thing where she sang high harmonies over the deeper male voice, something less scripted. The producer [Blake Mills] wrote the music for her part, so it was like a three way collaboration thing.”

He is still very vulnerable as a performer, although Hadreas has come a long way since his early days in which he couldn’t remember his sets after playing them. “I kind of get off on it now,” he laughs. “Now it’s almost fuel, for me. It’s almost circular. I’m using it. I still get nervous, but then something clicks, and it feels like something I should be doing. I want to see vulnerability in a performer, but not in a way that’s keeping people from sharing. I like to see it in any manner that’s generous.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s Spring 2017 Issue (April/May/June 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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