Ahead of Perfume Genius playing at the Chevron Gardens for Perth Festival next Wednesday, February 28, to showcase 2017’s profoundly beautiful stand out album No Shape, LARA FOX sat down with the man behind the music, Mike Hadreas, to chat all things music, politics, bullying and diets.
You seem to have a really intimate relationship with music, where did that come from and how did it foster?
My love of music is really tied in with art and movies and all kinds of things. The very first album I had was the soundtrack to Edward Scissorhands. I think the movie and that soundtrack was just mystical, it really transported you, it changed your surroundings. I fell in love with that feeling. I think to this day, I still try to write music and create videos that does that for people. As I got older, music really became a companion to me. It made me feel less lonely. I didn’t have a lot, I didn’t see myself in any of my surroundings, I only found myself, just little snippets of myself and my experiences, in music. So from there it really grew.
Speaking of seeing similarities in music, your lyrics are really direct and specific, is that a deliberate effort to reach out to people?
Oh definitely! I mean, some of it is selfish and I am just kind of writing for myself as a teenager, giving myself advice. But I am also writing for all young people who are experiencing similar things that I did, it’s a way of saying to them that they are not alone. Things are a lot different now and there are so many different voices for people to relate to, but I still think it is important to offer alternative voices.
Your music and art is so intricate and eclectic, where does your inspiration come from to make such individualist stuff?
I think it comes from being such an obsessive fan of so much different art, from all over the place really. I love trashy horror movies, I love excellent art films. I like to call on a whole heap of different types of elements. Sometimes I will have a really specific vision and I will work to that and push my choices to suit that vision. Other times, I go into something completely blind and I have no idea and I just have this patchwork of different little ideas that come together and that creates something. Let’s be honest – I actually have no idea how I do it!
In terms of writing music and lyrics, what is your process?
It has been a bit different for each album. But generally I will block out a bit of time, to focus on writing, allow myself to be dramatic about it. I then tend to binge hard. I will go through stages where all I do is write, all I think about is writing. I tend to go to a house or place by myself where I can just focus and get it all out. In saying that, I still go through stages where I have no idea of what I am doing or creating or what it is. I can be very detached in my writing like that, very unemotional, I kind of remove myself from it, just let it be free and come. I then look at it afterward and make sense of it. I always have big ideas about what I am creating but I am usually always wrong.
On No Shape and previous records, you collaborate heavily and get different ears in on the production of your albums, is it hard to put your vision into other people’s hands?
I think I just want every song to be the best version of itself that it can be. Generally, I will go in with a map of the song, and give them a little direction. I then don’t let my ego get in the way and I let the process be free and allow for everyone to contribute their part. If someone can play a certain part on piano better than me, I am going to let them do it, because that is what is best for the song. People are generally pretty good at picking up the mood and skeleton of it and adding some of themselves to it. I trust that they understand the emotion of the song, and that they respect the song, which is also important.
Your music has become a kind of political voice for the LGBTIQ community and for outsiders, do you think it’s important to make political music for these groups in Trump America?
Definitely. I love writing political music, but often, I don’t actually mean to write political music. It just happens that because of who I am, my environment, my experiences, that my music is political. Which I love. But I do feel pressure sometimes to be political. Sometimes I just feel like writing something personal and small, but then I have this pressure on me to write something important.
Do you think it’s important for people to be political in their music now?
Yeah I really do! I think it is hugely important. But I think for me, in a really selfish way, it has kind of changed. People used to ask me “but why are you talking about this stuff?”. Now they ask “why aren’t you talking about this stuff?” It has become so fashionable to be political. But it’s good. We really need to shake the people further up the tree, until they notice and they start questioning what is happening. because fucked up stuff is happening all the time and always has been. Because we now have Trump, who is really evil, it just means that it is completely unavoidable to not have a voice.
From the release of Learning to No Shape, you have grown and the music has evolved, what has been the biggest catalyst for change?
I think the biggest thing that has changed for me is that I am angry. I was so upset and felt let down and for the previous albums I think that was directed inward, but now, It is kind of directed outward, at people, at the systems. (Conversely) I think the other thing that has changed as well, is that I am happy, I am content. And obviously happiness is a moving thing, and it is such an alien concept for me, but I am getting used to it!
You are an avid anti-bullying campaigner, what do you think will stop bullying?
I think now, with twitter and social media we are really facing a different kind of bulling to what I went through. I don’t have the answer for that. I think the internet is the means for so much evil, but also so much joy. But we need to keep people safe and healthy foremost, and I’m not sure how to do that with the internet. For me, I would say that it takes teachers, students and parents standing up against it. I was bullied in front of teachers and parents and they would either ignore it or they would join in. I was so alone and they would… join in. I hope the world has moved on and people don’t have to go through that kind of thing anymore, that can’t be tolerated.
What is next for Perfume Genius?
I have nothing on until I come to Australia in February! I am going to recharge and renew… hopefully. I have gone on what I call a ‘semi-diet’. It’s where you don’t leave the couch, but you eat organic.