Perfume Genius interview: “Something cracked.”

An email conversation with the Seattle artist releasing his debut single on Transparent on March 1st.

The world that PERFUME GENIUS has created with his deceptively simple piano and/or synth songs, and his YouTube videos, is at times soothingly tumultuous, unsettlingly uplifting and starkly hopeful. Seattle’s Mike Hadreas has carved out a very human landscape acutely aware of the messy, painful yet beautiful contradictions of life.

Nowhere is this more better illuminated than on debut single Mr Petersen released on Transparent this coming Monday. You can listen to the equally exquisite B-side Never Did above. Earlier this year, I spoke to him via email over the course of a month. This is how it went.

On Mon, Jan 11, 2010 at 9:58 AM, Ruth Saxelby wrote:

Hey Mike,

Thanks for agreeing to have this email conversation with me.

I’m really moved by your music. Connected 4Ever had me sobbing yesterday. It’s very beautiful.

I’ve got quite a few things I want to ask you, but y’know, it’s a conversation so one at a time. Here goes…

It’s nearly 6pm here so it must be mid-morning for you. How are you doing? Sleep well?

Thanks
Ruth

On 14 Jan 2010, at 05:50, Mike H. wrote:

Ruth,

Thanks so much! Sorry for the slow response, i spent a hot minute away from my computer.

It’s actually mid-nighttime now. I remember that morning i had a dream my friend and I were brushing each other’s teeth. It was very casual, i felt very casual when i woke up.

Thank you again for your kind words.

Hope you are well

Mike

On Wed, Jan 13, 2010 at 11:22 PM, Ruth Saxelby wrote:

Hey Mike

No worries, time away from computers is definitely good for you. I need to do more of that.

I nearly asked you if you remembered your dreams. I usually do but my alarm just woke me up and mine slipped away from me.

Can you remember when you first got the urge to make music? What prompted it?

On 15 Jan 2010, at 09:30, Mike H. wrote:

Hello again

I suppose I always had the urge to, but was too embarrassed. I always played the piano but could not get over the sound of my own voice, so i would immediately censor. A few years ago i was just compelled one day to follow through, no matter what. To write and finish a song. Something cracked, i didn’t give a fuck anymore and I had this really clear idea of what I wanted to say regardless of how it sounded.

I read somewhere that if you say, out loud, before you go to sleep “I will remember my dreams” your chances are 50% greater they won’t slip away from you in the morning.

On Fri, Jan 15, 2010 at 11:06 AM, Ruth Saxelby wrote:

Hey Mike,

I used to do that as a kid. It works. I also heard that if you didn’t have an alarm clock, all you had to do was tap your head the number of times of the o’clock you wanted to wake up. That doesn’t work.

Your songs feel incredibly personal, confessional at times. The videos turn them into short films, making painful and sad things beautiful, which almost fictionalises them. Why do you set your songs to film?

On 16 Jan 2010, at 22:20, Mike H. wrote:

You know, i really haven’t though about it too much. I guess I find comfort in putting these personal things on top of footage that is really foreign. I don’t ever want to feel like mine is the only experience. Mainly i just troll fetish videos and watch them with the volume down and hum over them, i don’t really think about it too much. Thank god.

On Sat, Jan 16, 2010 at 3:11 PM, Ruth Saxelby wrote:

That makes sense to me. I guess it must be weird having people reflecting on your music in that way.

What I really love about your music – and music in general – is that it takes me away from the present moment, the everyday. What music do you listen to? Who does that for you?

On 18 Jan 2010, at 08:25, Mike H. wrote:

hi hi

At the moment I have been listening to “Laser Beam” by Low over and over. It has made for some weird bus rides. Probably my favorite song of all time, which consistently changes whatever scene i’m in – is This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren”. Honestly that song can drag down any situation to a slow motion ache.

On Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 7:58 AM, Ruth Saxelby wrote:

Yes, music that filters your personal experience of the world, that heightens some emotions and dulls others. I really get that from Gay Angels. Ghosts by Japan also does that for me.

To a lesser extent, films do that too. You know that first couple of hours after you leave the cinema, when you see everything through the glow of the film you’ve just seen?

It’s a clumsy link, but over here we have a hyper-real idea of America thanks to the movies. What’s Seattle really like to live in? What do you do for a day job and what do you do for fun?

On 20 Jan 2010, at 08:19, Mike H. wrote:

Sorry for all the slow responses!

Movies turn me in to a baby sometimes. I hesitate to even mention the specific film because it is so embarrassing, but after i saw it i spent a couple weeks randomly keeling over when i thought of certain scenes. It was very dramatic. One time i was even doing the dishes. I think that is the gayest thing i have ever done, remembering movie scenes and openly weeping while doing the goddamn dishes.

Seattle is alright. The city itself, i have so many awful memories littered basically everywhere. But i have met some amazing people here. And its beautiful.

I actually live in a suburb 20 minutes out from downtown right now, with my brother in this shitty little apartment. I work at a department store, making keys and mixing paint for the various white people that come in demanding keys and paint. This month they are really in to the employees giving 110 percent. Its written all over everything. And if you are interested the safety topic is “Cut Prevention”

I enjoy smoking a lot. Thats probably the only thing i do consistently that i enjoy.

Goodnight Ruth!

-Mike

On Wed, Jan 20, 2010 at 2:16 PM, Ruth Saxelby wrote:

Hey,

No worries about slow responses, I like this laid back way of communicating. Everything is so sped up these days, so instant that it makes my head spin. Slow is good.

I used to work in a catalogue store in the small town I grew up in, so I totally get that environment. I worked on the lame jewellery counter where I sold a lot of crappy gold jewellery that said things like ‘No1 Mum’ and ‘Nan’. It was kind of moving but depressing at the same time. Do any of the people who come to your department store ever ask for exciting coloured paint? Or is it all white, beige and cream?

How and where do you record your songs? The way they’re recorded feels like listening in, through a door or window. Did you record the album in the same way?

I kind of do and I don’t want to ask you about your awful memories of Seattle. I don’t want to pry so you don’t have to answer.

Night Mike,
Ruth

On 23 Jan 2010, at 22:31, Mike H. wrote:

I made a color called “Jeweled Inlet” for a dude the other day. My manager made a comment likening the phrase to her vagina. There is also “Baby Smile” which is a really unsettling yellow. One time these two old ladies hugged me in unison after I made them a gallon of paint. I forget the name of that one. They come in all the time and act like we haven’t hugged. But i shoot them a significant glance.

All the songs I recorded at my mom’s house on her piano. You can hear her dogs running around in some. Same with the album. I like that! The album is in chronological order of when they were written and recorded. I started to cringe less towards the end when i listened to it. Maybe cringing is important though, i don’t know. I truly intended to show them to my friends and leave it at that. But i didn’t – and left all the music the same even though its sort of a tricky feeling. I am just a hippie, thats all. I have faith that I really fucking meant it, that if i go back and mess with them i’ll lose that.

I have been making new memories here, which is cool. There is one grocery store that i was strung out in once and was all hunched over on an empty cart wearing sunglasses and this kid with his mom screamed, which made me scream and I ran out. But i bought some actual food there the other day!

I have to go to work now. One time i got sent home for work for openly weeping, there’s another memory for you. Hahahaha.

Hope you are doing well Ruth

-Mike

On Mon, Jan 25, 2010 at 12:54 PM, Ruth Saxelby wrote:

My turn to apologise for the late reply. I went out dancing and then spent the rest of the weekend reading. My flatmate bought me the first three volumes of Tales Of The City after I got completely addicted to a DVD of the mini-series. What did you do?

Yes, I like that the life around you added to the texture of your music through the recording too. It wasn’t created in a vacuum. It’s interesting that you decided to order the album chronologically. Do you see it as a journal?

I really admire you for letting your music be, for not going back to meddle with it, for trusting your instincts and emotions in that moment. There’s something very beautiful and brave in that, and it comes through in your music. Do you think that modern life makes that harder? I mean, it feels like the internet has enabled us all to endlessly edit ourselves to present a certain image/idea to the world. That feels really corporate in a way, if you know what I mean? I’m rambling…

Have you ever performed your songs live? Do you want to? Will you be coming over to London when your album is released?

Hope you’re good Mike.
Ruth

On 29 Jan 2010, at 23:37, Mike H. wrote:

My turn again!

I had a pretty strange week, for me. I went to the opera with my mom and bawled through the whole thing. We had dinner afterwards and had potentially the heaviest mother-son talk ever. In the middle of it my mom said “Emergency” and stood up. An older gentleman at the table next to us had a stroke over his salmon. His daughter was cradling him and rocking him and crying. My mom called the ambulance and set her hand on him for a second then sat back down across from me. And we continued talking like nothing ever happened.

Other things happened this week too! Been very busy, which is new to me. I am not used to it.

The songs just fit better chronologically. I didn’t intend to have some sort of gimmick or concepty type thing. It just worked out that way. But i do hear it funnel out and expand. I can hear myself unmuffling.

It’s really hard not to go back and fuck with things. I am not like that in my everyday life, i second guess myself and am really self-conscious. Music is really the only time I sort of channel that bravery and let it roll out. I have always enjoyed things that are just what they are, slices of experience etc. Those hold the most true for me, when they aren’t directly trying to have a moral or make a statement. Letting it roll out, letting go of that and just being sort of arduous and truthful – you end up have a stronger message sometimes.

Of course I’ll be coming over! I’m excited. We could hang out. I am practicing a lot right now. I have yet to play a show, but am gaining a little confidence and growing some balls. I’m terrified, but i can’t wait. Like everything else.

I’ll write more next time. I have to be the wingman for my friend, his crazy family is coming to town and i have to buffer the situation. With what, i don’t know. But i’ll turn it out for him.

Hope you are having a good week

xo

Mike

On Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 9:37 AM, Ruth Saxelby wrote:

Morning!

Wow, that sounds like a heavy night. Which opera was it? I’ve only been to the opera once, as a teenager in Prague. It was beautiful but went over my head a little. How was being the wingman for your friend? Did you manage to divert some of the craziness?

I like the idea of unmuffling – unfurling, becoming freer, clearer, more confident… Is this something you feel in your day-to-day life now too?

Music makes me feel braver too, shoos away creeping doubts, helps me see things more clearly. That’s why I love dancing. For years it was the only time I ever really felt at ease, I knew what I was doing on a dancefloor. That sounds silly but it’s true. Do you like dancing?

So I just got your biography. I was really struck by the fact you always had everyone in mind when you wrote your songs, that they’re about everyone. What did you mean by that? I mean, I understand but can you expand on it, how and in what way?

That’s awesome that you’re going to be coming over. I am really looking forward to seeing you play. And yes, we should definitely hang out.

I have to go catch the tube for a meeting now. Have a good week Mike.
Ruth
x

On 9 Feb 2010, at 22:01, Mike H. wrote:

I am such a poor responder! My responding skills = poor

I walked by a grocery store clerk that was stalking cereal and one of the boxes fell. He said “Cereal, why are you so failure to me?” Really quietly and sweet. I loved that!

The opera was Il Trovatore. I would have cried regardless. It could have been a production of Fletch 2: The Musical and i would have cried.

Wingman was OK. His dad called me “New Age.” Which is awesome.

How are you doing?

I have more pockets of clarity and confidence these days than i have had in my entire life. Nothing to write home about yet, but at least I can clear out enough to listen to someone else instead of worrying if i am standing weird.

I feel you on the dancing! I am the same way. I have signature moves. Most of them involve getting real low. It is important to get really low.

I guess when i write, if i can see that its entirely about me – that there is no way anyone else could relate – which is basically just fucking whining, i’ll throw it away. Or i’ll pretend to be my mom, or a friend writing my memories. What a hippie! New age! Actually, maybe that is just creepy. Mostly its just a big gob of everybody i have ever known. I don’t really think about it at the time, i am probably giving myself waaaay too much credit.

Hope everything has been well for you since we last spoke. I am off to band practice now.

xo Mike

Perfume Genius releases his debut single Mr Petersen/Never Did (listen above) on Transparent on March 1st.

Perfume Genius’ myspace

Read Charlie’s interview with the guys behind Transparent.

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