Catching Up With Perfume Genius

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Mike Hadreas is in a park in Seattle. With his third LP as Perfume Genius nearly complete, he deserves some leisure time before he’s thrown back into the album cycle rigmarole that consumed most of his 2012.

Over two albums, Learning (2010) and Put Your Back N 2 It (2012), the Seattle-based singer/songwriter has shared heartbreaking songs full of vivid imagery and driven by the melodies of a plaintive piano. His is the stuff of late-night talks and the telling of dark secrets.

Hadreas tweeted in November that he was back in the studio in Bristol, where he also recorded his sophomore LP. Nearly six months later, Hadreas’ as-yet-untitled new record is now tentatively slated for September. Paste recently interrupted Hadreas’ park hangout one night over the phone to speak about his life since Put Your Back N 2 It, making the darkest music of his career and the unlikely song—about a demon giving birth—that marked a turning point for his next release.

Paste : You spent most of 2012 on tour. How did you feel once it was all over?
Mike Hadreas: It’s like getting off a treadmill kind of. You still feel like you’re going. It’s a really weird feeling. I kind of retroactively have anxiety about everything that happens on tour. I’ve gotten less nervous when I’m performing, but then I think I make up for it after I’m done on tour and I’m like, “Holy shit.” It can take a while to click out of that and to feel like you’re really home.

Paste : Did you go back to Seattle right away?
Hadreas: We did. Me and my boyfriend [and bandmate, Alan Wyffels] moved into a house and got a dog. A little chihuahua named Wanda. I call her Tony though. I don’t know why.

Paste : When did you begin writing songs for this new album?
Hadreas: It was a few months after we got back from the bulk of our touring. The house really helped because I wasn’t sharing walls. We were in a tiny apartment before, and we shared walls with everybody, and I was very self-conscious when I was writing. So that was very helpful. I was trying to treat it like a job and go in there to my little room I set up every day, whether or not I felt inspired, and just make something. It took a few months of me not really doing anything and becoming increasingly more frustrated and feeling like I was never going to make anything again. I was trying to write these soul songs, and I was using really simple language and trying to write about really universal things. I was basically trying to write songs that I thought everybody would like and that would get on a TV show. We moved into that house and I was like, “Man, this is all I really got going on. I really need this. Figure it out.” I tried for months to write these songs that I thought would please everybody, and I was becoming increasingly more frustrated and kind of mathematical and passionless. I was just piecing things together. But then I made this one song where I sing in like a demon voice about giving birth out of my ass.

Paste : Definitely a common turning point for lots of songwriters.
Hadreas: It really was [laughs]. I was like, “Holy smokes!” I was instantly more inspired by that weird ass song than all the other mid-tempo Adele songs I was trying to write. And from that point on, I decided to go for it and try not to think about what the label would want. That’s hard to do because I’ve got everything riding on this one thing right now. I ended up making a more experimental, darker, louder, weirder album. But I think people will still like it.

Paste : Is that song about giving birth out of your ass on the record?
Hadreas: It sure is! It’s called “I’m A Mother.”

Paste : In November, you tweeted that you were in Bristol recording. Is it the same studio that was used for Put Your Back N 2 It?
Hadreas: Yeah, I’m in that studio, and then I have two producers, and they both have studios, and I jump back and forth between them.

Paste : Are you working again with Drew Morgan [producer for Put Your Back N 2 It]?
Hadreas: No, I worked with Ali Chant, who is the engineer on the last album, and Adrian Utley, who is in Portishead.

Paste : What’s the instrumentation like on this one?
Hadreas: There’s a lot less piano—I mean, there’s still a decent amount, but I guess less than some of the other records. There are songs where I don’t play any piano until the end. For the demos, I did a lot of synth-y type things. And Adrian’s studio is filled with a lot of really old, really cool synths. And then John Parish, who played drums on my last album, came in and played drums. And my bandmate that tours with me, Herve, came in and played drums. We had a bass clarinet. There’s a lot more stuff than on the other albums, which are a lot more scarce.

Paste : You said the album sounds a lot more experimental, weirder, darker. Were you listening to something at the time that pushed you in that direction?
Hadreas: Both of my albums were very personally about my feelings, like a singer/songwriter thing. After I made that weird song, I kind of thought I had to write about what I’m feeling and I realized that I was pretty angry all of a sudden. Not just like crabby; more like this really weird tip of rage that I’ve always kind of had since I was like 10 and slowly grew. And I think that may have influenced how much harsher some of the music is comparatively.

Paste : What made you want to let that angry side out?
Hadreas: Maybe it’s not specifically angry. I always try to make a churchy feeling to everything, where it’s really soul-baring. It’s the same thing but not so plaintive and heartache-y. I was listening to PJ Harvey albums and how powerful and raw that is, and I was thinking, “What would my version of that be?” What I like about her is how terrifying and awesome she is, but it’s totally female. It’s not like she’s badass because she’s adopting male things. I don’t really know how to explain that. I fucking love that. I was like, “What is my gay version of that?” What kind of ancient gay Lilith-like ancestors can I call upon to rattle bones? So that’s what I was trying to do.

Paste : What kind of stories are you trying to tell on this new album?
Hadreas: When I was about to record, a lot of people gently, and they were well-intended, but they nudged me to make less gay-themed things. It was like, “I know you have it in you to make something with broader appeal.” And that’s why I failed trying to be that. There are a lot of songs about how I recognize the bad patterns I’m in. There would be lots of easy things for me to do that would get me out of those behaviors but I just kind of…don’t [laughs]. Just like, nope, no thanks, I’m just going to keep being horrible and miserable.

Paste : Put Your Back N 2 It really brought your vocals forward. Are you keeping them out front on this album as well?
Hadreas: Yeah, it was actually more out front than I would have initially wished for. The way we recorded it was a lot more old school than the last album. When I’m doing my GarageBand demos, I have a slider for Auto-Tune, so I can put like 20 percent Auto-Tune on it, and it nudges you into the right note. It’s not noticeable. But my producers, there are no plugins, there’s no Auto-Tune on anything. I’m singing a lot. I even scream in one song.

Paste : Do you have a release date yet?
Hadreas: I think the ballpark is September.

Paste : Do you have the album name and tracklist all solidified?
Hadreas: No, I don’t. I’ve been going back and forth on a lot of things. It should be the fun part now with all of that, but I think I’m going through the same process of overthinking everything for a while, and eventually I’ll figure it out and hopefully it won’t be something too rebellious.

Paste : I think you should base it off of the demon ass birth song.
Hadreas: I would love that. Believe me. I’ve been looking up ancient gay demons. I’ve been on Wikipedia spirals looking at all kinds of weird shit.