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Interview: Perfume Genius


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perfume geniusPerfume Genius, otherwise known as singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas, is back with his third album – the bold, experimental and emotive Too Bright – preceded by ballsy lead single, ‘Queen’. David Hudson caught up with him…

Seattle’s Perfume Genius first made himself known with debut album, Learning, in 2010, but it was his 2012 follow-up, Put Yr Back N 2 It, in 2012, that really put him on the map – helped by an unapologetically queer music video for the single ‘Hood’. It featured Mike being cradled by late, former porn actor, Arpad Miklos. The album established Hadreas, alongside the likes of Antony Hegarty and John Grant, as a singular and unique voice.
Following international tours that took him to the four corners of the globe, Mike is now back with his third offering, Too Bright. Lead single, ‘Queen’ marks an evolution in his sound – offering an angrier, louder and rockier edge to some of his previous work.

For anyone who knows you from your first two albums, how would you say this album differs?
Mike: I think a lot of it had to do with how I went about writing it. The first two albums, I wrote a lot of the lyrics out beforehand, so the music almost felt like an accompaniment to the message. On this one, the music was just as important, and when I started writing this batch of songs, I started working with more distorted sounds and the music was much more intense. I think the lyrics kind of followed suit.

Were you listening to any particular albums, or have any in mind, when you were recording Too Bright?
You never want to be too directly influenced, but I was thinking a lot of PJ Harvey: just about how committed and dark and intense her music is, and how it’s 100% – she really goes for it, there’s no levity or anything. No matter what she’s talking about, whether it’s dirty or scary or whatever, there’s no winking, no apologising or anything; you know, it’s just intense. I thought about her a lot. And I was listening to a lot of weirder stuff, like Diamanda Galas.

Tell me about the lead single, ‘Queen’. What’s it about?
It’s happening less and less, but there are still times when I’m out in the world and somebody says something to me on the street, or I’ll be in the women’s section looking at heels or something [laughs], which I suppose is, like, not normal, but still I’ll have some women back away from me in the aisle, giving me strange looks. It sort of magnifies your ‘otherness’ when that happens. Like, the minute you let your guard down and you think you have nothing to worry about, someone will bring up that you’re different and your defences will go up. A lot of times that would make me feel ashamed or embarrassed for myself, and lately I’ve just been getting really pissed off, so there’s an element of that to the song. Most of the time it happens it’s like people are almost fearful of me. I guess the song is me telling them to be scared. If they want to be scared, then go ahead, because I’m not going to do anything different.

Did you have fun making the video?
Oh yeah; but it was exhausting at the same time. I had just been on a tour of Asia and a day later we had the video shoot and the schedule was insane. We shot from like 5pm until noon the next day, a couple of times, and we did it in Kansas City over a few days, which was good, because if you tried to do all those crazy set-ups in a big city, we’d have had like one day and it would have cost a million dollars, but in Kansas city we were able to do everything properly and be able to like, make all of our crazy ideas comes true.


How was touring Asia?
Well, a couple of the shows got cancelled, but we’d still booked the flights, so we ended up going to those cities anyway and eating a lot [laughs]. It was kind of a food tour and a really weird vacation! We ended up playing a couple of shows, and I think it went well. I mean, Japan, it’s hard to tell: audiences are very respectful. Not necessarily quiet, but I played a couple of new songs and they didn’t even clap or anything [laughs]. I think I kind of freaked them out. I was kinda of freaked out myself a little bit!

Have you ever found yourself playing to any difficult audiences at festivals, or in countries where they’re not so cool about being gay as the US and UK?
Not really. It’s more an issue about quiet music: when you’re playing really emotional, simple music, at noon, outside, when there’s a metal band playing 100 metres away [laughs]. I don’t know. At lot of the time when I was touring the south of the United States, which is typically more conservative, more religious, I never know what was going to happen; it’s really strange. I’ll go somewhere and instantly expect, when I’m walking around the street, that someone might give me a hard time about painting my nails. But people can be much more friendly than in some liberal areas. I try to be open because you never know what’s going to happen and people can surprise you a lot.

Does your label or anyone else tell you to tone down your imagery?
Oh yes, that happened a lot before I started writing, and I thought I should maybe take their advice and be more adult and more professional. They thought I’d have broader appeal and be more successful. And, you know, I’m getting older and I want to be more successful [laughs], so I thought that maybe I should be listening. But the stuff I was writing didn’t feel honest or brave. It’s not like I went out and decided to make a big gay album; but that’s who I am and those are the things that ended up being important to me. I’m not going to censor them or tone them down. Even if all those things are true and it does alienate people, then that’s what is meant to be. But I don’t know… I always thought people were smarter than that.

‘Queen’ is out now. Too Bright is out 22 September 2014. Check perfumegenius.net for UK tour dates throughout August and September.

perfume genius2

Photos: Luke Gilford

Posted: 1 August 2014

 

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