Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas, knows all about darkness, but he’s reaching to the light on his new album, writes SIOBHAN KANE
IN A WAY, Mike Hadreas’s moniker, Perfume Genius, is an apt one. In the same way perfume-makers create scents that comprise top, middle and bass notes, Hadreas’s music has an immediate impact, an immersive enjoyment, and, finally, a lingering legacy
His 2010 debut, Learning, was wrought from a devastating period that had, after some years, led to a crisis. Upon relocating for a time to Everett, Washington, to stay with his mother, Hadreas began to unfurl the roots of that darkness, which were based in abuse, and compounded by drug and alcohol addiction. He created a deeply affecting record; and though he mainly used piano, reverb and his delicate vocal, it contained astonishing depth.
Astonishing is a word that often comes to mind in association with Hadreas, not only the raw lyrics and overwhelming atmosphere of Learning, but also his survival. And if Learningwas about exploring haunting situations (poignantly on Mr Peterson), his soon-to-be-released second record, Put Ur Back N 2 It, is surely about challenging the despair, and “outhaunting” ghosts (“there is still grace in this” he sings on the title song), though he recognises that recovery perhaps never has an endpoint.
“Getting better is as confusing sometimes as being bad,” he says. “I thought when my circumstances got better, and I cut out so many unhealthy things that I would be set, but there is still a lot of learning I have to do. You can only appreciate the good when you have been to the other side. I have a lot more experience being unhealthy, so I feel like a kid right now.” He describes things at present as “pretty good”, and Put Ur Back N 2 Itreflects this, with its expanded sound, taking us from feelings of melancholy, recalling low hymnals ( All Waters), to a place of subtle buoyancy ( Hood, Dark Parts).
“I wanted to step up, because that is what I want to do in general. I was scared that going into a studio and working with a producer and engineer would get very ‘businessy’, but they [Andrew Morgan, and John Goodmanson] were very hippy with me. We talked about the meaning behind the songs, how I wanted to keep it simple. It is what I would do at home, but a little more warm and full. My producer also plays the cello, and I had him play on the record, and our engineer played the guitar. I didn’t know them that well, but I felt I could keep it a little more family style.”
A stronger belief in himself is also part of the richness on the record, an acceptance that it is important to find your own company as satisfying as other people’s.
“That is very true, but it is not my instinct. Part of me being happier is to realise how “not unique” my problems are. I convinced myself for so long that I needed to fix things on my own, that it was the only way I could get better, but once I started listening more, and feeling more a part of things, then I also started to feel okay by myself. I always felt that being independent meant I had to be in control all the time, but 90 per cent of things are completely out of our control.”
This was certainly the case when a 16-second promotional video clip for Put Ur Back N 2 Itwas rejected by YouTube because of its “adult” content. (It showed Hadreas in an embrace with gay porn star Arpad Miklos.)
We talk about the idea of music as nourishing, and I mention that Hood, like so much of his work, seems about the redemptive quality in being able to be vulnerable.
“It’s true, and it’s not a very hip intention, or cool, but I just really wanted to comfort. I want to comfort me, and my friends and family. It is somewhat spiritual in tone – that’s how I get to it, sometimes.”
He also gets “there” through ambient beauty ( Floating Spit), and Edna St Vincent Millay’s poetry, which he set to music on the majestic, piano-led Dirge.
We talk about other things he loves: The Innocence Mission, This Mortal Coil’s cover of Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren, dancing around the pit at Los Campesinos concerts, and his “dream” collaborator David Lynch (whose work with Badalamenti deeply influences Awol Marine). I tell him they share a compulsion to tell the truth, moving around sentimentality and brokenness naturally. He is so modest, he hardly accepts the comparison, instead recounting the “transporting” nature of the Twin Peakssoundtrack, which is another word that dances across his own work, moving lightly.