Perfume Genius: ‘I Hadn’t Done A Lot To Make My Mom Proud; I Wanted To Make Her Something’

Martyn Young chats to Perfume Genius about our number 31 record.

Of all the albums released this year few have been as heartfelt, tender and emotionally affecting as ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ by Perfume Genius. It is a record of staggering lyrical and emotional depth. Seattle based solo artist Mike Hadreas broadens his slight and delicate sound out while also delivering unquestionably his best set of songs so far. DIY caught up with Mike to find out his thoughts on the album, his song writing approach and his plans for the future.

Congratulations on being selected as one of DIY’s Albums Of 2012. How do you feel about ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ after its release? Do you regret anything about the record?
When it came out, I got a lot of flack for the album’s title. Which ended up being delightful. It was internationally disliked! International! German radio would go something like this: ‘Hello Mike, you are depressed and the music so sad. This title, it is named in Hip Hop words - this title, it is stupid and about Gay Sex?’
The only time I ever regret anything is when I worry too much what other people think. I have read a couple well-written negative reviews and could understand where the critic was coming from - but if I had made their recommended improvements, the album would be something entirely different and not right somehow.
I am proud of it, flaws and all.

How hard was it following ‘Learning.’? A lot of the songs on ‘Learning’ dealt with intensely personal and, at times, harrowing themes. Was it difficult tapping into similar emotions once again?
I don’t want to mine darker things needlessly; I try to write with the purpose of figuring them out. If something is painful I want to bring it up and truly feel it - so it can hopefully fade away.

‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ seems to deal with broader lyrical themes, although there is still a lot of deeply personal material, there are general themes about love, relationships and family etc. How did these themes come about, was it a conscious decision to write songs that did not deal so overtly with personal experiences?
Since I’ve gotten sober and made my first album - life has become more full. I’ve repaired some relationships, made some wonderful new ones, written back and forth with people that reached out to me. I’m not alone. I don’t think I ever was, but I know it now. I wanted to help other people feel that way, I wanted to talk about specific things I never heard talked about when I was young - so someone could hear it and feel comforted and connected hopefully sooner than I did. I’m a hippie!

The album is strangely uplifting considering the dark themes and general tone, is it important to you to convey hope in your music?

‘All Waters’ is one of the key songs on the album. Was that a song that was important for you to write, you seem to be making a statement with it. Have you had any reaction from people in the gay community about the song?
Not so much the song specifically, but just the general openness about my sexuality. In the lyrics and otherwise, like wearing high heels. I’ll look out in the audience and see a boy in a dress smiling up at me and I’ll smile back. That is a very nice moment.

Do you consider it important to mark yourself out as a gay artist?
Being gay is part of who I am. I don’t really have another option. Except hiding it, which I find incredibly taxing, torturous and boring - that is why I only did it for 15 years. I will deliberately sing about my experience as a gay man hoping it will be comforting to others - but in the end it’s just who I am.

Tell us about ‘Dark Parts’; it sounds incredibly rousing and inspirational. Given that it’s about your mother, is this a song that means a lot to you? What does your she think about the song and, indeed, your music in general?
Until recently, I hadn’t done a lot to make my mom proud. She will tell you otherwise, but let’s be real. I wanted to make her something. She is a very brave, strong woman. I wanted her to be proud of both of us, for surviving and all the great things we’ve taught each other.

You collaborate closely with your boyfriend Alan, is it important to have him around when you are writing and recording? How did he influence the album?
He is the first person I go to when I am writing. Alan is very honest; he will tell me the truth. Which can be infuriating, but always helpful. He is in every love song I have written.

‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ is much richer in sound. How was the recording process for the album different? Did you always intend to have a wider palette of sounds? Who did you work with?
I recorded the bulk of the album in England at a farm with the producer Drew Morgan and engineer Ali Chant. I was so nervous that a proper studio would seem cold and scary - but they were very warm, the whole experience was as emotional and real as I could hope. They are also talented musicians, Drew playing Cello on the album and Ali doing some guitar. Jon Parrish came by as well. He just walked in and instantly did some amazing things on drums and some lap guitar tape looper thing. Minotaur Shock did the drum track on ‘Floating Spit’ and another song that didn’t make it on the album.

What are you most proud of about the album?
Some of the lyrics I am still proud of. I am so used to the music now that I don’t think about it much. I am proud of the whole thing, but I am ready to make something else.

Does it frustrate you that some press about the album and your work tends to sensationalise some of the lyrical themes, for example, ‘Awol Marines’ porn references? Do you fear that you will be caricatured as someone who only makes distressingly dark and morose music?
I try really hard not to think about what others will think and stay as close to my original ideas without altering them out of the fear I might be pigeonholed. Even now, I wonder if I should use a different word than ‘pigeonholed’ because it is kind of gay seeming. But I don’t give a fuck. I do what I want.

Have you had any ideas towards the next album yet?
Vague ones. I think I want it to be very spiritual, gospel-y. I have been listening to the Bulgarian Women’s Choir and they always sound like they are on the edge of a cliff pleading with god. I want it to sound like that.

You are playing at ATP curated by The National later this week. Are you excited about that? Does playing live still hold great fear for you?
I’m excited! We get to come for the entire festival as well, not just our show day - which is rare. I still get very nervous before shows, but I’m used to the nerves now. You just do it.

Perfume Genius’ ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ is number 31 on DIY’s Albums Of 2012 list. Find out more here.