The music of Mike Hadreas, aka solo artist Perfume Genius, is renowned for its unrepentant gayness – as well as the precise, echoing vocals and sensual melodies.
He adopted the moniker Perfume Genius in 2007, and since then has consistently addressed themes familiar to young gay men: isolation, wanting to be loved, and effeminacy — often to critical acclaim, if not mainstream recognition.
Throughout his career, no topic has proven taboo and no personal experience has been off limits. His music draws upon his past addictions and subsequent recovery, his battle with Crohn’s disease and the vulnerabilities of being an effeminate gay man.
Hadreas’ latest album, No Shape, continues in his signature candid vein, but the positive, uplifting feel marks a departure from his earlier work. Attitude caught up with the artist in our latest issue to talk about everything from Björk and camp to religion.
His music is often compared to church music, and tells us of its influence on his work: “Hymns are fairly simple and I’ve just always loved choral music and loved churches and church music, but never really felt like those songs were for me or that I was included or even welcome sometimes. And so, writing music that had that feel, but was more inclusive, feels good.”
Hadreas isn’t religious himself. “I consider myself spiritual but not religious,” he says. “And there are ideas from all kinds of religions that I like, but I don’t think I’m religious.”
When asked if he feels like being an out artist prevents him from being taken seriously by people, he agrees. “I thought about the musicians who are in the closet and stuff like that and of course I resent them because if I had to deal with it then so should they. But it would hurt their career to come out. It’s such a sad thing.
“You don’t ever want to tell someone to stay in the closet but I see where the instinct to hide and to keep a secret would come from,” he says. But remaining in the closet is something he couldn’t do. “I just wouldn’t have been very good at it. I was out by the age of 12. I was like: ‘This is too much.'”
Effeminacy and flamboyance can be used as a defence mechanism, which is something Hadreas relates to. “Sometimes you just develop those defences for a reason and you become an expert at them,” he reveals. “So I don’t always resent having to use it. It feels like part of me, but at the same time sometimes I would like to kick it.”
Being an out artist has allowed Hadreas to form connections with queer fans, many of whom thank him for talking about his experiences. Being able to communicate with fans has changed the way he writes. “I keep all those messages with me when I’m writing. It’s a big deal,” he says. “It’s sort of overwhelming. You have to find this weird balance of dipping into that, and taking it very seriously but not being overwhelmed by it.”
He continues: “People write me personal things; some heavy messages and stuff that I relate to and some stuff that I don’t. If my music just happens to be on while they’re making a good decision or a track helps them, that’s pretty awesome.”
On the topic of influences, he doesn’t have to think about the artist whose music helped him most growing up. “Björk, straight up Björk,” he says.
No Shape is out now.
Photography by Francisco Gomez De Villaboa
Styling by Umar Sarwar