With each album and performance since his debut as Perfume Genius, starting with 2010’s ‘Learning’ and winding up with 2020’s ‘Set My Heart on Fire Immediately’, Mike Hadreas has gone deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole of emotion — be it the prayerful pleas of his voice lifted in song, or the manner in which he twists and turns his body into an unending array of physical punctuations.
For all this, Perfume Genius — beloved for his incendiary personalized exposes into queer life and sexuality, his daily struggles with Crohn’s disease and the isolation of domestic abuse — has become something of a saint: a one-man Antony and the Johnsons, a male St. Vincent without the wigs and costume changes, a Shamir without the local ties.
After having dispensed with a still-discussed, soul-stirring performance at SXSW last week, Perfume Genius hits Union Transfer this Wednesday, March 23.
Amorosi: Before I move onto anything about songs and processes, your showcase at that church in Austin for SXSW has been buzzed about since you left the stage. A genuine religious experience. Something radical and physical. Were you just ready to burst after two years of having been away for the pandemic?
Perfume Genius: Playing in a church will do that (laughs).
Amorosi: In particular, your song “Wreath” and its reckoning with a body’s betrayal stirred everyone. Can you talk about the power of that song for you and audiences, about transforming and transcending?
Perfume Genius: I think that’s what I’m trying to do each time I go out on stage. I go to some ecstatic place and I hope that it’s a portal for everyone else. Sometimes, it is easier to get to than other times. Maybe, it has something to do too with not having done this for two years, being home and inwards facing for so long. I don’t have any inhibitions anymore, so I’m just going hard every time I get on stage. Every time I get up there now, I lose my mind… When I write now, it is this physical and instinctual thing. I’m also just making things up (laughs). I don’t know how I do things all the time, but it is the same feeling I have when I’m on stage and when I am dancing.
Amorosi: Having spoken to you in the past and watched the trajectory of your work, how do you believe that you have worked up to this personal peak, this level of passion in your song and physicality? Because I remember you as being more distanced and coolly reserved until your third album, ‘Too Bright.’
Perfume Genius: Yes. And I had to learn to do it in front of everyone. When I first started playing shows and writing music, it was enough that I just sang, at all. I almost blacked out I was so terrified – just me behind a piano. I was so worried. I never even looked out into the audience I was so focused on doing it. Over the years, it became important for me to make the energy circular and intentional. I couldn’t sing from behind a piano anymore, then I couldn’t just stand there. So I found ingredients that I could use to go to the place I want to go to. And that requires me to move and dance, rather than just be a witness.
Amorosi: You’ve been pretty honest and forthcoming about Crohn’s disease. How do you think that’s changed your perspective as an artist? Towards dealing with audiences and revealing yet another layer of who you are – because you are revelatory at every turn.
Perfume Genius: I grew up obsessed with music, and looking toward music to make me feel better. To be not sad and not alone. It is a way to get out of where I was or feel less lonely where I was. I’m still obsessed with music as I’m making it, and I’m dedicated to that thing, making music people for other people searching for the same thing I was. However it is, I need to share, to be transparent in my intentions.
Amorosi: Who are you differently, now, than the man who started off with ‘Learning’?
Perfume Genius: I was proud of myself with that first record. So proud and content. I felt so purposeful. But I was also overwhelmed and freaked out and it was super hard for me to be present. Now, that I have been doing everything for a while, I feel as if I can be present while I am doing everything. I can have my hands in, and be intentional with every little piece of everything I do.