Mike Hadreas has endured a turbulent youth. The openly gay Seattle native has battled addiction and body image issues. Luckily for us, music became his therapy. Under the moniker Perfume Genius, Hadreas exorcised some demons on his critically-acclaimed debut EP Learning, a deeply personal and strangely optimistic record. Now, with the release of his new album Put Your Back N 2 It just days away (February 21, Matador), Hadreas is ready to debut a fuller, richer sound. We recently sat down with Hadreas to talk about the new record, his origin story, and the controversy surrounding his latest video.
BULLETT: Was your February 9th show in Brooklyn the first time you introduced your new material?
Mike Hadreas: We played it when we opened for Beirut, but only two people came to see me. Everyone was drinking at the bar, I started playing this really quiet music and people didn’t really know what was going on, so it was a totally different atmosphere.
What were you like before Perfume Genius got started?
Coming from the suburbs, I was this weird gay kid and then, when I moved to the city there were a whole bunch of other weird gay kids. It felt better, I guess. When I turned 21, I really started drinking, which led to other things. Then I battled with addiction for several years.
How does coming back to New York feel?
It’s a scary place. It can bring back terrible memories from when I was drinking and doing drugs heavily. But I really look forward to it. You can make new memories.
How did the band form?
Alan and I met at AA. He studied music—which I never did—and plays piano really well, which works great for the band. We connected a lot because we’d kind of gone through a lot of the same stuff and now he’s my boyfriend. Eric played drums on the album for a couple of songs.
You’re getting ready for an album release and big international tour—what’s that like for you?
Alan wants to practice a lot, but I don’t want to over-prepare. If everything were up to me and it was just my solo show, I’d have it my way. But it’s not, so we’re kind of meeting in the middle. Concerts and press stuff are a lot scarier before you do it than when you finish it. There are so many things about performing that are good for me. I feel validated after it’s over, knowing that I was able to do it.
Where does the name Perfume Genius come from?
There’s a really good book called Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and then there’s a movie version that’s really bad. I was watching it with a friend of mine and she was cursing at the movie the whole time until she just called him a fucking perfume genius. I liked that, and when I was putting up my MySpace page, that’s what I used. I never expected it to stick but I like it now.
What inspired your album Put Your Back N 2 It? Did you write it with a specific purpose in mind?
I wanted to make sure that no matter what I tried to talk about that there was a moral to each of my songs. I was thinking about music that I wish I could have listened to when I was younger, and I wanted to write that. I received a lot of letters after the first album from fans and they affected me.
You’ve said that track 17 “is basically a gay suicide letter but not an invitation.” Were you inspired by the recent gay suicides?
Well, I think sometimes things sort of weirdly go together because when I was writing the track I was actually thinking about my body image problems. Maybe that’s really superficial, but a lot of people go through being uncomfortable with their body.
After you released the promo for the album, YouTube didn’t want to put it up—how did you react to that whole controversy?
I’m used to that kind of reaction, but I was surprised because I didn’t think it was strange at all—I actually thought people would think it was kind of sweet. Originally I wanted to make it creepier. I even made a second promo that was creepier before we released the first one. I didn’t really understand, I guess that two guys with their shirts off being really close to one another is crazy. If there are two guys with naked torsos and then the camera turns off that means they might touch and that is just awful.
After the video for “Hood,” are you planning any more music video releases for the album?
Yeah, I think so. We’re starting to work on one right now and we’re using the same director and producer as we did for “Hood.” I basically like everything he writes. I just emailed him back to make things a little creepier; add extra little Freddy Krueger hands here and there when I can.