Perfume genius – Ultra personal Stories

Foto: Angelo Ceballos
Perfume Genius is one of the most interesting artists to discover these days. The result of his turbulent past are songs, that stagger back and forth between classic and modern, provided with a brutally blunt lyric.

Sharing information has never been easier. Anyone with internet access can quickly spread anything to a wide audience. As a result these post-internet times have led to a massive clutter of utterly useless matter and mundane facts released into the online sphere for others to delve through. People are indulging in over-sharing and musician Mike Hadreas aka Perfume Genius, with his brutally blunt lyrics depicting ultra personal stories such as the relationship between him and his pedophile teacher, is no exception – and yet it is: sharing uncomfortable stories is the balladeer’s forte made effective by his hymnal piano and stirring voice and not by 140 characters on Twitter. What’s endearing is that Hadreas isn’t even sure that he is over sharing: »I might be but then again my whole family is like that. In ways it’s really helpful but there are definitely things my mom and I told each other we probably shouldn’t have«, he laughs and adds: »Not being afraid to own up to the weird shit that makes up who you are can be helpful to other people.«
Hadreas probably could fill a couple of notebooks full of »weird shit« judging by his turbulent past: the Washington state native moved to New York City, immersed himself in drink and drugs for a few years before moving to his mom’s place in Everett, WA to get clean, which is when Hadreas wrote and recorded his 2010 debut album »Learning«, a lo-fi production if there ever was one with the sounds of his feet hitting the pedals included adding to the intimate vibe of the confessional album. Though one could think that his diary-like songs lead to the exclusion of many a listener, Hadreas’ knack for melody create an inviting accessibility.

Now, two years later, »Learning« is followed by »Put Your Back N 2 It« – the silver-lining to the devastating predecessor as its tongue-in-cheek title already reveals. »I wanted the title to be goofy. It could just mean putting effort into things or getting nasty«, Hadreas explains. But don’t let the Ice Cube inspired title fool you; the album still illustrates distressing topics. »Dark Parts« depicts the abuse Hadreas’ mom suffered at the hands of his grandfather and »Take Me Home« deals with the emotions of prostitution: »Oh, all alone, I wander aimless/I work the corner of an endless grid/I’ll be so still for you«. In parts the album seems somewhat less confessional though: »On the first album there wasn’t that much between what I was feeling and what I wrote. This time I tried to write things in a more compassionate and universal way but I ended up thinking too big. I had to remember that I was writing songs for my family, friends and people who wrote me letters as opposed to writing something that everyone in the world can relate to.« Adding, with his trademark candor: »I tried too hard being cool with some of my songs. It wasn’t very honest but I’m glad I’m able to notice.«
Hadreas wrote the second album in Seattle where he now lives with his boyfriend/band member Alan Wyffels. »I would write once Alan fell asleep and once the building went quiet enough that no one would hear me writing but I think our neighbors, two hairy gay bears, must have heard me practice over and over. I thought of giving them the CD but why would they want to hear it all again?« exclaims Hadreas. Along with struggling with the ins-and-outs of being in love as opposed to drug addiction, the other major difference to the first album is that Hadreas was now signed to a label and recorded in a studio. »I was really scared about recording in a studio. I thought there would be a bunch of people watching me and that I wouldn’t be able to experiment – but it didn’t end up being like that,« Hadreas reflects. The album was recorded in a secluded English farmhouse surrounded by sheep. When Hadreas returned to Seattle his label wanted him to add some singles to the overall slow album, which irritated him at first: »I had this pressure all of a sudden and was shit nervous but I found a way to twist it and make it a challenge, which I overcame in my own way by making a pop-y song about prostitution.« Though Hadreas writes all the songs his boyfriend does some writing for the sound of the live performance. Hadreas was introduced to Wyffels as someone who went to piano school through a friend. »He’s sober like me and, of course, I thought he was cute«, is how Hadreas explains the beginning of their collaboration. »It was a while before we became a couple. We were just so respectful of each other. It was really teenagery. One day we said ›I love you‹ to each other without having dated and a month later we moved in together.« These feelings of love are no doubt the source of light throughout the album. An album simultaneously classic due to Hadreas’ masterly piano skills and modern due to its experimental snares and electronic percussions all topped off with lyrics in cue with culture’s trend of over-sharing. »Luckily I’m not posting pictures of my lunch or telling people how tired I am,« he jokes. And why should he, if instead he can tenderly sing about a semen covered violin?