Perfume Genius smells like an emotional whirlwind—with piano
However gentle Mike Hadreas comes across on record, don’t confuse him for a pushover. The Seattle-based singer-songwriter otherwise known as Perfume Genius has developed a rep for delivering softly sung, piano-driven confessionals about addiction, abuse, and heartbreak, these found on his recently released sophomore set Put Your Back N 2 It. But, as a heckler at a recent Atlanta tour stop found out the hard way, harassing the songsmith in concert is a sure-fire way to get chewed out loudly.
“One guy yelled ‘I want my money back’ and I flipped out,” he says with a laugh, on the line from a Holiday Inn in New Jersey. “I started cussing him out; I told him to get up on stage and I threatened to fight him. I kind of lost it. In a way it was awesome because I’ve been so meek before.”
Fortunately for the fan, Hadreas was unable to coax him onstage or find him postshow.
Despite the artist’s newfound interest in knuckle-dusting, Perfume Genius’ sophomore release, Put Your Back N 2 It, is marked by timid arrangements, this offset by sinister subject matter. The lightly tinkled ivories on opener “AWOL Marine,” for instance, serves as a backdrop for hushed singing inspired by the desperation of a grimy, homemade basement porn Hadreas had come across. The bustling percussion-and-piano number “Dark Parts”, meanwhile, features the harrowing opening lines “The hands of god were bigger than grandpa’s eyes/But still broke the elastic on your waist”, this alluding to his mother’s troubled childhood.
The emotional centrepiece of Put Your Back N 2 It, “Hood”, delves into what can happen when one is too open in a relationship. “You would never call me baby if you knew me true”, Hadreas sings, crestfallen about the lack of intimacy, to a partner shortly before the tune explodes into a whirlwind of crashing drums.
The pianist explains that he’s got a knack for expressing himself in song, but sometimes it’s not so easy when you’re face to face with the one you love.
“I feel smarter when I’m writing than I normally do. And I feel more patient and compassionate,” Hadreas admits of his ultra-personal songwriting style. “It’s different than just hanging out. I have a lot more control of it. I get to edit it, and that’s not the case when you’re just walking around town.”
He has, however, managed to cross that openness into the real world. His relationship with bandmate Alan Wyffels started off as a musical partnership, but soon blossomed into a romance, encapsulated in ambient synthscape “All Waters” and the sensually-charged slow-burner “Put Your Back N 2 It”.
“We didn’t think it was appropriate to be in a relationship when we first met,” the artist explains, “so we spent a long time practicing music and being buddies, but it quickly turned. I kissed him in front of a grocery store, and then we professed our love and moved in with each other.”
Perfume Genius plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Wednesday (April 18).