Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, embodies his music better than many musicians in the industry today. The US solo artist is reserved and mellow but flourishes with passion from time-to-time while maintaining his gentle persona, even over the phone.
His two albums, Learning and Put Your Back N 2 It (released this year) were both welcomed by critics and he has been celebrated for his mesmersising approach – often compared to Antony Hegarty (Antony and the Johnsons) and Sufjan Stevens.
Many of his songs deal with queer issues from internalised homophobia to the love between two men; while some are soft and wispy whereas others are strong and sharp in a quiet, subtle way.
Hadreas, who is making his Australian debut at the Sydney Festival next year, caused controversy earlier this year when a promo film clip for his song, Hood, was pulled down by YouTube.
The film clip starred Hadreas and porn star Arpad Miklos embracing in only their underwear, which YouTube said was not “family safe”.
Hadreas spoke to the Star Observer from his home in Seattle, Washington about his latest album and growing a thick skin.
“I wanted to make something personal again but I wanted it to reach a lot further and I wrote a lot more, thinking about who could potentially be helped by the song,” he said of his latest album.
“I thought about who else would maybe need to hear it… and I needed to hear it.”
The album is dominated by piano and Hadreas’ delicate voice, creating at times an intimate, dark and melancholic body of music.
“I understand it’s dark and it can be melancholy and stuff but I didn’t find it a depressing album at all,” he said.
“I still think it’s hopeful and confident – to me it is.”
Hadreas described the journey for his latest offering as a mission compared to his first album.
“I was really weirded out by making this album because it was the first time I had made music knowing other people would hear it,” he said.
He laughed as he shared his surprise at the idea of someone actually buying his music.
“I’m just way too worried about what other people think about me and I didn’t want to make music with that, I don’t know, insecurity,” he said.
“So I just started thinking about who I would want to hear the music.
“A lot of it is just things I wish I would have heard or seen talked about in songs when I was younger.”
One song Hadreas wished he had heard was a love song he wrote for his boyfriend.
When asked the song’s title, there’s a moment’s pause before he revealed it as the album’s namesake, Put Your Back N 2 It, and chuckled.
“I don’t think I’ve really heard a love song that’s not explicit but between two men and has two men singing together,” he said.
Hadreas began making music in 2008 after he moved back to his mother’s home in Washington.
Initially, his music was offered on Myspace but Welsh indie-pop band Los Campesinos! helped the solo artist get a deal with their label, Turnstile.
After releasing a single in 2009, he released his debut album, Learning in 2010.
Songs from Learning were heralded by online music-review giant Pitchfork as “eviscerating and naked, with heartbreaking sentiments and bruised characterisations…”
The soft nature of his music is distinctive as his tracks are often just his lyrics accompanied with just the piano.
“I don’t tend to like busy music,” he said, “… I can’t pick out everything that is going on.”
“I like all kinds of different music but simple and straight-forward music is the stuff I end up listening to for years and years and years and that’s the kind of music I want to make.”
Hadreas admitted he had felt more pressure to deliver on his second album, but said he had also grown a thicker skin since he first started.
“I was really scared before the album came out because it finished months before they released it… I was terrified about what people were going to think about them (the songs),” he said.
“Some people don’t like them, and some people hate the title, and hate some of the songs but it doesn’t really matter.”
“I’ve had lots of shows where I thought I performed really poorly, it’s not like I died afterwards, I don’t know why I’m so terrified what’s going to happen to me.”
“I just keep going.”
“A lot of my biggest fears and insecurities have come true, like people have said that and it didn’t not make me want to do it anymore.”
Hadreas said he was very excited to make his Australian debut at next year’s Sydney Festival, joining ex-Talking Heads musician David Byrne and St. Vincent for their special performance.
He performs at the Sydney Festival on January 26 and 27 at the Famous Spiegeltent.