Perfume Genius: The Best of What's Next

Music Features Perfume Genius
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Hometown: Seattle
Album: Put Your Back N 2 It
For Fans Of: Sufjan Stevens, Beirut, Porcelain Raft

“People ask like if you’ve ever had sex for money, what exactly drugs did you do and blah blah blah, stuff like that,” says Mike Hadreas, better known as Perfume Genius. Despite his gifts as a songwriter, Hadreas has found that when you write intimate details of your personal life, that’s what people latch onto.

Those details are all over his sophomore record, Put Your Back N 2 It, which recalls the pensive side of artists like Sufjan Stevens and Zach Condon. Hadreas allows listeners to explore his struggle as he straddles the line between refreshing honesty and no-holds-barred candidness. It’s been a blessing and a curse, earning him intense scrutiny like the ultra-personal questions about drug use or prostitution. But he’s not about to change the way he writes songs.

“I feel like I’m good at sharing that shit and writing songs about it,” he says, sitting on The Earl’s back patio before his recent Atlanta performance. “So I’m just going to do it.”

Put Your Back N 2 It exhibits both universal humanity and personal gravity, with or without his story. But knowing a bit about Hadreas helps put his struggle into a greater context. After battling addiction for years, the Seattle-based songwriter willed himself out of a downward spiral, moving into his mother’s house and removing himself from his previous lifestyle. During this transition, Hadreas wrote Learning, a harrowing look back through his darker, troubled years.

He mastered his debut album from second-generation mp3s because he lost the original tapes. Ultimately, those rough cuts earned him a spot on Matador’s roster and garnered him enough attention to tour with the likes of Beirut and Sigur Rós.

Learning captured an intimate snapshot of Hadreas’ state of mind during a rough period of his life. This time around, he aimed to write increasingly optimistic ballads in the face of despair for a wider audience.

“I wanted to write music for more than just me for the second album for sure,” he says. “I think if I would’ve known people were going to listen so much to the first album, I would have maybe done that then too.”

For Put Your Back N 2 It, Perfume Genius made his way into a proper studio for the first time, working with producer Drew Morgan to craft a sparse, yet carefully arranged record emphasizing his voice and storytelling. While the recording process expanded, Hadreas managed to keep the personnel small with just a few others (including Morgan) playing alongside him.

The subject matter is also broader on his latest 12 songs than just a voyeuristic look into Hadreas’ world. He still shares a part of himself on tracks like “No Tear” and “Put Your Back N 2 It,” but also celebrates his mother’s own triumph over difficulties (“Dark Parts”) and addresses his poetic influences (“Dirge”).

Most importantly, Hadreas is educating himself on the seemingly simple act of living. After clawing his way through rehab and turning his life around, he’s adjusting to a normal existence as a professional musician. “I think I’m doing pretty good,” he says. “You know, I haven’t done any drugs or drank. I’ve showed up to everything, you know. Even if [I’m] not super happy with everything, every single show or whatever, at least I showed up and did it. … Hopefully along the road, that’ll just be a given.”

In the midst of his struggle—both as former addict as well as coming to terms with his sexual identity—a sense a redemptive hope hangs within his somber hymns. That’s a single interpretation of his music, one of many about the meaning he’s attempting to convey. He’s not opposed to alternate interpretations from his music, especially if it helps anyone with their own trials and tribulations.

“I just think there’s sweetness to it,” he says. “And I think people need sweetness, even if it’s not cool.”