Perfume Genius: Bright, Bright, Bright

For this exclusive styled feature, Tom Jenkins meets an artist who’s now demanding the acceptance he always craved, whilst feeding this newfound confidence into his music
Mike Hadreas, Perfume Genius close up, Agnes Lloyd-Platt, PORT
For some, attack is the best form of defence. Growing up as a young gay man in New York and then the Pacific North West, Mike Hadreas felt like a “very tiny, strange feminine person – very different, an outsider”. His first forays into music under the moniker of Perfume Genius, 2010’s Learning and 2012’s Put Your Back N 2 It, were tentative and “a little timid” as he describes it, both artistically and personally, as if he was censoring his own voice in order to contain whatever pain and anger was bubbling under the surface, afraid of what might erupt. When we meet there’s still a hint of that timidity. He’s friendly and has a playful smile, but seems tired.But there’s a steely determination about him and he comes alive in front of the camera. His movements are gracious and fluid. During our interview he’s coy and often keeps his eyes fixed on the plate of eggs in front of him, but when he wants to make a serious point he looks you straight in the eye and you don’t doubt his conviction. This newfound confidence extends to Too Bright, his third and latest album. It is perhaps exemplified best by a lyric from the lead single, ‘Queen’: “No family is safe, when I sashay” he opines, tongue in cheek.

Above: Perfume Genius

Mike Hadreas, Perfume Genius hands panels Agnes Lloyd-Platt, PORT
It’s a finger pointed firmly in the direction of a twisted minority who view gay men as predatory heathens intent on destroying the nuclear family and luring wholesome straight men to their doom. Or perhaps he really is that comfortable in his own skin now: “There’s a playful element to it… but this album is about me demanding acceptance and about me giving it to myself or just straight up stealing it from other people whether they want to give it to me or not” he says, holding my gaze. “The songs have a ‘fuck you’ tone. I feel more purposeful. I have a sense of duty with my music that I haven’t ever really felt before.”

Above: Perfume Genius wears wears denim collar shirt with CD palladium metal collar pin, wool wide-stripe broadcloth trousers and leather belt

Perfume Genius, Agnes Lloyd-Platt, PORT

I wonder whether, given his back-story and the strong online presence he’s cultivated since first sharing his music with the world via Myspace, if that sense of duty extends to young fans who may be going through a hard time? “I feel like I’m not equipped to give advice really but most of the time I don’t think people want advice, they just want to know that you listened to them and you feel the same way or used to,” he admits. “When I’m writing music. I get some long, pretty intense letters sometimes. They want to tell you things they can’t really tell their families or friends yet.”

The tender piano ballads that characterise much of Hadreas’ work to date are present and correct on Too Bright, but there are moments that signal the arrival of a true pop star: the glam stomp of ‘Queen’ for instance, or the guttural electro-blues of ‘My Body’, which brings to mind PJ Harvey’s murderous ‘Down by the Water’. Hadreas is a huge fan of Harvey, who he describes as a “badass, wizard woman”. Did he ever write a gushing fan letter to his heroes pre-Twitter? “I never had the gumption,” he says.

“The songs have a ‘fuck you’ tone. I feel more purposeful. I have a sense of duty with my music that I haven’t ever really felt before”

Hadreas’ personal life certainly seems more settled now: he’s in a serious relationship with Alan Wyfells, a longtime member of his live band. They share a house, a dog and the chores, if you can call reading your own press a chore: “There are two of us now. He’s involved in it too, so he’s refreshing feeds and stuff. Even if I’m taking a break he’ll say ‘what do you think this means?’ I can get anxious and nervous sometimes in conversation and I end up saying things I don’t mean. I feel very smart about my music and sometimes when I talk about it I’m definitely not doing it justice. But nine times out of 10 I just want to see if somebody is being mean to me”.

Perfume Genius wears wool blazer and waistcoat ERMENEGILDO ZEGNA COUTURE

Mike green jumper, Agnes Lloyd-Platt, PORT
I put it to him that this stability in his personal life has helped him to grow as an artist. He insists he’s never really thought about it, which I find surprising – the life of a touring musician can be gruelling at this level, even with your beloved in tow. Not that it’s a total slog of course: he gets to be styled by and hang out with the wonderful team at Port for instance, a side of the job he largely enjoys.

“There’s a level of performance to everything now. It’s about the promo shots and the album covers as much as the music, but it’s still coming from the same place. It’s mostly fun,” he says gently placing his knife and fork onto his yolk-stained plate. “ I have this very specific man-dressed-as-a-woman-dressed-as-a-man kind of thing, like an Inception drag. I want things to look iconic and have a classy feel, but still feel like me”.[/one_half]

Above: Perfume Genius wears wears shearling fur tunic GUCCI

As I bid him farewell – he’s penciled in some more promo for the afternoon – I find myself wondering about that level of performance: though he might not feel equipped to hand out would-be advice to fans, it seems he’s more than ready for the next step in his career. Even if he is still learning.

Words Tom Jenkins
Photography Agnes Lloyd-Platt
Styling Alex Petsetakis
Grooming Terri Capon using Nars and Leonor Greyl

Too Bright is out 23 September via Matador in the US and 22 September in the UK via Turnstile