Mike Hadreas aka Perfume Genius hits the road with the gayest album ever
Mike Hadreas could easily — and incorrectly — be dismissed as a simple depressive. His second album, under the name Perfume Genius, Put Your Back N2 It, runs like a morphine drip of dark tones: Drug overdose, suicide and prostitution fill each track with seeming gloom.
But listen closer and it could very well be one of the most important albums ever for queer listeners. Hadreas created a sharp album that should be the gay equivalent of Thriller.
“Oh my, that’s good to hear for sure,” Hadreas laughs. “On my first album, Learning, I went through a lot of memories and for this, I just wanted to not do that, but have actual experiences to share.”
Hadreas is as soft-spoken as his music. He admits to feeling awkward during interviews, and it shows as he struggles with the “right” answer. But also like his music, when he finds the words, he gets his point across. He works fragility to his advantage.
“Interviews are way worse for me to read because people say I contradict myself,” he says. “And I can’t argue that. I’m lucky that my voice cracks, especially when I’m singing. I’m sure some people think I’m so damaged.”
Put Your Back N2 It addresses many issues common to gay men, from the new stage of same-sex love and intimacy (the title track) to “All Waters,” which compares public displays of affection between straight and gay couples. The poignancy of “17” is bleak in its delivery of a suicide letter, but defies the “It Gets Better” message. As a teen, Hadreas doesn’t recall the desire for positive affirmations.
“I’ve gotten letters and messages from young gay kids and people in and out of the closet,” he says. “I thought more this time about who I was writing for and what I wish I heard when I was younger. At that age, I didn’t respond to those hopeful messages, and I don’t know if [any] kids really do.”
That doesn’t mean he wants to be bleak. Hadreas understands his sound comes off on a down tone, but his art is taking dark elements and infusing hope. With that writing sensibility, he discovered that there could be a healing facet whether intended or not.
Hadreas takes knocks for his brevity. None of his songs reach past 3:30; one’s as short as a minute 49. His talent is saying so much in such a little time.
“It makes me think more about my song structure,” he says. “I would get paranoid thinking if I elongated a song, it would lose my original meaning. Honestly, I just think about mood and intent and not the length. I’m not too science-y about it. But sometimes I listen till I‘m sick of some of the filler, so I try to pack the most into the least amount.”
His video for “Hood” was minimalist, featuring just him and porn star Arpad Miklos, emotionally disconnected and signified by physical differences. Miklos won the role thanks to his intense acting. (No lie.)
“Originally I wanted a bodybuilder, someone very huge but they couldn’t find any that would hold me for two minutes,” he says. “We started looking at alternative casting and came upon Arpad. He was really good! I kept slipping off of him because he was greased up, but each time, he was focused and intense. He was great and I was so pumped about the video. I wanted people to be uncomfortable by the sight, because two little thin homos wouldn’t surprise anyone.”
Hadreas’ Denton set will be his first-ever performance in Texas. With mostly coastal and European shows under his belt, a set in the middle of the nation is both thrilling and unexpected.
“I get very anxious before a show and I have a bunch of throat sprays and teas and I’ll pace, but it’s all stage fright,” he admits. “But despite that I like it. I could be pretty aimless in my daily life, so I find I like knowing what exactly I’ll be doing for the day.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 23, 2012.