Perfume Genius Talks 'No Shape', Pride, And 'Edward Scissorhands'
If you’ve not yet heard of Perfume Genius, get acquainted. Considered one of the most groundbreaking, rapturously glowing, avant-garde rock stars of our time, Mike Hadreas is indeed the face and future of queer culture in music. And his incredible, complex new album No Shape is just the latest evidence of his mastery; a fantastical journey of love, pain, and everything else that comes with it, the record essentially speaks for itself (so go listen, stat).
Finishing up his first leg on tour, we sat down with Hadreas backstage at the Eaux Claires Music Festival to talk Edward Scissorhands, fashion, and how the journey of self is the biggest and queerest mystery of them all. Check the full interview below.
Mike, can you describe the very beginnings of Perfume Genius?
It’s pretty sudden. I didn’t start making music until I was 25. One day, I wrote a song and I got everything out that I had so tightly been holding in. Right after I wrote the song, I made video and threw it up online and it was, what I thought at the time, briefly fulfilling. I went to school for painting, at one point I thought I was just going to be a writer and then I starting writing music which was a way for everything to come together; a cathartic, emotional experience.
On making your art, can you tell me some the earliest queer references you have from your childhood?
I remember watching the movie Hairspray as a kid but all the camp totally went over my head. You know what I mean? I didn’t realize Divine was in drag. I think I could kind of feel into it and there’s something that’s really kind of exciting to me about the movie but I think it was more intuition. I mean there’s stuff like Edward Scissorhands who is weirdly queer to me, maybe more of an outsiderness, but there’s something gay about him too.
I remember hearing Rufus Wainwright when I was young and knowing that he was gay. His voice, he had a gay voice, a lispyness to it. And he didn’t just happen to be gay, he was singing to men which was very clear and looking back really rad to hear when I was young.
I find that a majority of queer art, in any form, is often inspired by the restrictions and fantasies crafted from youth to often times feel normal or express what is felt whether through play acting or persona or dress up…
Or it’s completely guided by what is going to keep you safe from harm or cause the least amount of self problems day to day. It’s sort of strange that I’ve started building a career around essentially all of the stuff I worked so hard to hide my whole life and I was becoming celebrated for saying and showing things within me that could feel or come across as shameful or things I had been taught to hide and be ashamed of. As I started expressing this more freely, I started dressing differently and allowing myself to do the whatever the fuck I wanted. I had thought that I had been like that my whole life, like that I had been pushing against self normalcy and always felt very much on the outside. And I often think about my core, you know gut instincts and if there was nothing influencing me, what would I like? What would I want to wear or sing about? And it’s changed the more I have cleared out some of the personal stuff that I needed to heal; different relationships and memories that were kind of haunting me. As those things kind of cleared out, even though they never really clear out, I decided to be gentle with them and shape them to be more kindly in my being and actually check stuff out.
You know when you’re little? I remember being little and dressing up and dancing and being really free and not questioning what I liked. Like singing along to a certain song or whatever, I was never worried somebody was going to make fun of me or that my parents were going to uncomfortable or anything, like I didn’t give a fuck. I think my whole life and goal now is to try to get back to that. To feel free to instinctively find things that I love without all of the bullshit in my head.
One word that comes to my mind instantly whenever I think about Perfume Genius both past and present is “fashion,” and in your latest visual for your track “Die 4 U” I was really excited to see you in Palomo Spain. Can you talk a little bit about your expression through fashion and collaboration?
I mean it’s really weird and feels very witchy sometimes because I’ll have ideas and then I end up working with someone and it’s a perfect fit. What’s interesting is that I didn’t wear any Palomo in my first visual from this album Slip Away but it’s very much of the same world, so in finding Palomo, it really connected to the sort of wavelength we started working on. There’s this sort of badassness way to Palomo. It’s kind of sneaky and mischievous but still very beautiful and neither of those things cancel each other out. I’ve always worn what people call “women’s clothing” but the core idea and reality of it is: I’m wearing something that makes me feel pretty, but like leaving the house makes it’s like some bizarre political statement and turns into something that feels more “punk” and I think these clothes kind of have the same air to them.
The directors I’ve worked with, I’ve brought them my thoughts with a kind of mood board describing ideas I have regarding styling and story but it’s not fully formed which allows them to come in with their ideas and it morphs into this sort of perfect thing. It’s not always what I thought it was going to be, usually it’s a lot better.
Do you identify Perfume Genius as a character separate from yourself as Mike?
I do now but I didn’t used to. I used to wear the same things onstage that I would wear offstage and the music was very plain-spoken and open about memories with a lot more nouns. I feel like now I’m doing more of a sci-fi, sort of different, world creation stuff. Like I dress up and now wear an outfit onstage that I have to steam. In a way, it’s kind of not a great thing though, being honest. Not to be sad about it but I’ve kind of now parked everything on this music project. I’ve put everything into the music. Everything. Every emotion, every feeling, all the adventurous and wild stuff, everything; I’ve just put it all there. And then when I’m not doing music stuff I’m just kicking it. It was a lot easier when it was blended together, as far as day to day life. Now it feels really weird, especially coming home from tour after three weeks and I usually just get sick and end up laying around. It makes me feel like I’m not really living or having a full experience unless it’s connected to the music. But in a way, I fucking really love that and I think I probably do that on purpose just because I’m really dramatic too.
Do you have any dream collaborations?
I mean, I would like to work with some really Americana-ass dude like Bruce Springsteen. I want to do something like that. I have this idea in my head that my next album is going to be super classic rock. I makes me laugh but in like an awesome way.
What is the first CD you ever bought?
It was the Edward Scissorhands soundtrack, which I had bought with money I had saved up. And then with my own money that I had made babysitting, I bought Liz Phair’s Whip Smart.
We’re currently celebrating Pride month. Could you share some words for those who are struggling or searching what “Pride” means to them?
I mean, there’s no right or wrong way to do it and I think that is where people get mixed up. You can be proud and ashamed at the same time. You’re allowed to. You can value and appreciate the good things that you have and at the same time still suffer from some guilt or pain but there’s a reason you have all of them. There’s a reason you have built up all of these complexes and defenses and weird shit in your head but you move forward. And it’s ok because everything that happens to you, serves a different purpose at different points in your life.
If you could say something to 90’s Mike, what are some points you would want to make him?
I guess… that you’re ok. That you’ve always been ok.
That’s what the healing experience was to me: realizing that I was always ok, not that I just am now and not because of like, all the shit or all the work I did, I was always alright and there was never anything wrong with me. I think the consequence of that is very magical. Like growing up feeling different and on the outside, eventually you find and band together with other people like you and kind of make up your own language. There’s really fun parts to it so I wouldn’t want to give myself too much advice otherwise he’d miss out on that but enough so that he wouldn’t feel so ashamed and so icky in his own skin for so long.
Featured image via Oyster Magazine
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