At the age of 25, Mike Hadreas aka Perfume Genius moved back into his mom's house near Seattle with the stench of drugs still on his clothes. He then quietly made his first little known album, Learning, only to succumb to drugs once more. Two years have passed and now he's released Put Ur Back N 2 It, and put his back into it he has. Not only has he gathered his bearings during this interlude, he’s fallen in love with his boyfriend, gotten clean, and produced pop singer-songwriter ballads that touch on sexual abuse, prostitution, porn, addiction, gay sex — want me to keep going? Hadreas talked via phone about fan letters predating his “big gay album,” the thing that still embarrasses him, and why drinking sessions are no longer his thing.
Perfume Genius. With Parenthetical Girls. $10-$12. 8:30 p.m. Tonight (Thurs., March 29). The Earl, 488 Flat Shoals Ave. 404-522-3950. www.badearl.com.
What's your favorite perfume — or cologne?
Mike Hadreas: Oh crap. I feel like I should have that one down! I guess I usually like musky smells that have leather or tobacco in them. Sort of manly smells.
So you moved back in with your momma a few years ago to get sober from a drug addiction. What propelled you to make that decision?
Oh, I mean it had been a long time coming. You think you can just drink beer, and be okay but I realized that it just wasn't going to be manageable and it was only going to get worse. And it did just get a lot worse. I had to change a whole lot more than I wanted to. You know, [I] had to go to rehab, stop hanging out with people that I really cared about but that maybe weren't the best to be around. I had to shift everything.
So I had heard a couple of songs off the album before it dropped, and when I got the press release that the album was called Put Ur Back N 2 It I thought I had you confused with a different artist. From the title you’d think you’d be hearing upbeat stuff or rap, but this album is really a collection of small mountains for ballads. You’ve talked about how the title track is about gay love and gay sex. Why did you decide to feature that song?
Well, it was one of the first things that I wrote for the album and I like that song a lot, but I also like the title — which everyone hates, by the way.
Well, from what I can tell from stuff on the web, you’re super goofy, yet your music can be very sad, so I love the juxtaposition. It’s pushing back against the tone of the entire album, which is a pretty dynamic and fresh move.
Yeah, I like that it could sound kind of tough or nasty, too. Also it's a little bit lighter after the music being fairly heavy throughout, so I liked having any way I could kind of wink a little bit and let the people off the hook a little bit.
Okay, so in a great interview with T Cole Rachel over at Stereogum, you mentioned how a lot of people focus on the fact that you're gay. The “Hood” video is very no-holds-barred, out and proud. When you said that, it made sense, because, yeah, everybody's talking about it. So how do you balance kind of putting your sexuality out there in your music, and it being a part of your life, yet relating to people, like, hello, my being gay is not by any means the most fascinating thing about me?
You know, honestly, I don't really know, because it's just sort of a weird thing to navigate. I don't want to not talk about it, and it's important to me to follow through on all of the super gay stuff [laughs] because I don't want to edit that and not edit all the other subject matter. But also you want it to not be a big deal at the same time.
Have any gay men contacted you about this new album? I can imagine some strong reactions to it.
I’ve gotten a lot of letters from all different age groups and from both out-of-the-closet and in-the-closet people. It started happening before I even made this second album — before I made, you know, my big gay album [laughs].
What is it like to have that kind of impact on people that you don't even know?
It's cool. I remember feeling like that about people when I was younger, so [the fact] that anybody would even [respond] ... I don't know, it's pretty intense. I think the only thing that's embarrassing is that people credit me as helping them do something in their life when really it's all them. But I guess it's easier or nicer to have something that you feel fueled it.
Well it's an inspiration. Or it could be.
It’s corny to me but it feels like the most important part of the whole thing. I feel very purposeful after I read things like that or have conversations. Before I moved into my mom’s I had pretty much no purpose at all. I probably was like, in the negative of purposes [laughs]. Probably like sucked the life out of other people [laughs]. That sounds really good, huh? [laughs].
You said in an interview with Fader that that you hoped you didn't have to repeat the cycle of drugs, sobriety, making a record, then drugs again, sobriety, making a record. So where are you at right now with dealing with addiction?
The same place that I always have been. You’re never really cured. When I'm on tour and when I'm really busy it's a lot easier for me. It's when I have more time by myself to mope around and think about myself a lot more. I don't know? I know that if I go out, it's not going to be, have a couple of drinks and then I wake up kind of feeling a little guilty tomorrow [laughs]. I know that there's gonna be a big, big session.
In one of the best songs on the album, “Dark Parts,” you sing, "I will take the dark part of your heart into my heart." I read that song is about the sexual abuse your mom experienced as a child. Were you singing that line specifically to her?
Yeah, and it’s just so easy to think that about other people and to see how those dark parts of them that they think are their secrets or their icky parts are really what's made them stronger, more amazing, compassionate people. And I've seen that so much in so many people in my life that it's really hard for me to think that about myself and transfer it. I so much want to do that. I guess that's codependency. They have meetings for that, too. We just made a video for that song, starring my mother.
So in that press release, you said that she wasn't too happy about it, but I was wondering what her reaction to that song was after some time had passed?
Well, she loves the song, but my mom's very new agey and she just thinks in a nice way that all those dark parts belong to her and they make up who she is and I don't need to take them from her because she's a big girl.
Ohhh, that's what she meant. Okay!
MH: Yeah, she wasn't a hater. [laughs]
[Laughs] What is the video about?
MH: You know, there's a bunch of different elements. I guess I don't want to talk too much about it because I haven't seen it all come together yet.
Has it been filmed?
MH: Yeah, I knew when I made the video, they asked me if I have any ideas. I just said, "All I want is my mom."
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