Perfume Genius on Connecting With Gay Teens: "The Idea That I Can do That is Super Awesome."
One man band basement recordings continue to grow in popularity. Due to its minimalist approach, songwriting is key. Perfume Genius, the moniker of Mike Hadreas records songs about homophobia, pedophilia, and suicide that are strangely warm and therapeutic.
We caught up with Hadreas to discuss having a video pulled from YouTube, writing songs to connect with struggling gay youths, and how he has overcome his stage fright over the last few years.
Up on the Sun: Do you play with any other musicians live?
Mike Hadreas: Yeah, I've got my friend Aaron May all the way from France and my boyfriend Allen plays the synths and sings with me.
You started out as a Myspace musician and now you're touring with bands like Sigur Ros and The xx. Can you describe that transition for me? No...I try not to really think about it too much. I love both of those bands, The xx and Sigur Ros. I grew up listening to them. They were really big inspirations. I got so nervous before I went on that tour that I got really sick. But, I don't know. I try to be grateful, but at the same time not pay too much attention, because I don't want to get too nervous when I look around and see how much things have changed.
Do you deal with stage fright at all? Oh yeah. It's a lot better than it used to be. I used to be...I don't even remember shows because I was so nervous. Like talking in front of class and you don't remember what you said, it's like that. How do you cope with that? You just do it anyway. You do little things that you think are going to make it better like drinking tea or pacing or stuff like that, but really you just realize that you're going to be nervous and it's not a big deal. You can still do it all anyway even though you're insecure.
When you first started writing music, were you reluctant to share these dark and personal thoughts with strangers? Not until after the fact. At first, I guess I've always overshared- not always in a cool way. But the rest of my family is too, we talk about everything and it's all out in the open. If there's problems, none of it is hidden or anything. After people started listening to it, I got word that it was helpful to them for me to talk about certain things that maybe feel very private and very embarrassing or something, but that helps me to feel less self conscious.
How have your songs comforted members of the gay community who may be going through the same issues you discuss in your songs? Have you had people reach out to you? Yeah. I've had all kinds of different reactions from all kinds of different demographics. I wrote a lot of those songs thinking about songs I wish I would have heard when I was younger, or things that I didn't hear talked about. Whether they were or not, I just didn't hear them. I get letters from kids that are figuring things out or questions or...just being gay, especially when you're young and growing up, especially if you come from a small town, or even not, it's very much a lonely thing, it's very much a loneliness, that you're the only one and you convince yourself that that's going to be forever. I always wish that there's someone, if you need to need to talk to them, you can connect with them, or at least know that someone feels the same way you do, whether it's a musician or whatever, I think that's what people are looking for. The idea that I can do that is super awesome.
I love the lyrics to "All Waters," I wish it could be a reality. Yeah, I do too.
That song was the soundtrack to your promo video that got rejected from YouTube. How did you react to it being dubbed "not family safe?" I was pissed off, but it was mostly surprising because I thought the promo was very cheesy. That song is very emotional and that clip is just me and another guy embracing, that's it, really. It was pretty, almost corny, but that's okay. That's what I was worried about it first, not whether anything offensive would be in it because it almost feels like the opposite of that. I've been made fun of a lot growing up and in my life for something I had no control over or something I thought was normal or that feels normal to me, so it's just on a bigger scale because YouTube was writing the email. It some ways it wasn't surprising, but it still made me really angry.
It's ironic considering that people like Katy Perry are actually naked in their videos, but supposedly there's nothing wrong with that. Lana Del Rey had that album promo where her whole side boob was showing in front of an American flag, so I guess that's okay. She was embracing a dude too who didn't have a shirt on. I don't see what the big deal is, I think it's just because we're just hugging now, but potentially, we could have gay sex with each other, which is true [laughs]. It's ridiculous.I find it interesting that the "Hood" video is still on YouTube and it has as lot of the same clips. Have you received any flack for that?
Oh yeah. People watching anything on YouTube, there are just trolls that sit around and wait. I've got lots of "you're going to hell" and stuff like that which at first I'd get worked up about it, but I had to just let it go.
I don't blame you. Do you ignore most of the comments, or do you actively read what people are saying? I read all of it everyday. For awhile I stopped, especially after that video came out because some of the things were so mean. Just really vain is what it is, because when people say negative things about the music, it doesn't really bother me, but when people say I'm ugly or talk about my zits or something, then I get really sad. It's a weird ego thing, because I've always been worried about what other people think my whole life and now I can search for that online every day and see. It's just not good, so I try to be better at it, but it really doesn't matter. I try not to respond, because I really shouldn't.
Do you feel the same way about music reviews, too? Not really. I've read some negative reviews of my album that were really well written. That, for some reason, doesn't bother me. just because not everybody's going to like it. I don't know why it doesn't bother me as much. I think it's because it's about my music, when people get really personal is when it's a lot more hurtful.
At least it hasn't got you down. It makes me more rebellious. It makes me want to make even gayer videos that seem more gay. I'm totally fine with doing that, but I just want to do what my normal ideas would be without shame, without anger. I would gently nudge to make something more mainstream, I guess, and mainstream would mean that I wouldn't be wearing heels, but I wanted to do that video. I decided just to go with my idea, anyway.
Are you talking about "Take Me Home?" Yeah the "Take me Home" video.
It just looked like you were having fun to me and wow, this guy can wear heels better than I can. I showed it to my brother, he said that I shouldn't show it to my dad. I'm sure he'd be fine with it, too. I guess that's just normal, I was booty dancing in it, probably not something that...if I was a lady, I was supposed to dance like that. I'm sure you shouldn't watch it with your dad.
Have you watched it with him yet? I haven't, no.
I read that "Dark Parts" was written for your mom. How did she react to it? I played it for her right before I put it on the album. I wanted to make sure it was okay with her. It was exactly what I hoped would happen. It's corny to talk about, we were just sitting in her kitchen and I played it for her, and we were crying and hugging each other and things like that. My mom's taken care of me my whole life always in the best way. For awhile, I didn't really make anything or do anything that she could be proud of. Even though she would have said she was proud of me the whole time, but still, it was just nice to make something for her and be healthy.
Some of your songs are very dark. Would you say writing them was cathartic for you?
Yeah. Now that I'm playing more shows, I have a drummer and stuff, I'm thinking more about the music. Before, it was mostly the stuff I wanted to talk about, it was pretty therapeutic. I guess it's always been like that because that's what I like to listen to. Especially with the first album, the music was second, and I think that's changing a little bit.
Perfume Genius is scheduled to perform with Bowerbirds at Crescent Ballroom on Saturday, October 20.
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