Everything singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas does in the guise of Perfume Genius shimmers.
With an angelic, androgynous voice, a set of songs that slides from rubbery electro-dance, glassy piano ballads and gutsy glam rock and lyrics examining his own sexuality and the trauma of homophobia, drug abuse and domestic violence, his is a brutally honest — yet poetic — look at youthful corps d’esprit. Since 2010’s “Learning,” Hadreas has always, by his own account, been angry and pointed fingers. With his dashing, new “No Shape,” however, the eight-years’-sober and involved (with his keyboardist Alan Wyffels, a classically trained pianist he met in group therapy) singer sounds wearier but more triumphant — replacing disgust and anger with an edgy positivity.
PGN: You previously brought the vivid sensations of being funny, sad, dramatic and brutally honest to being traumatized as a young gay man. “No Shape” goes the other way and your trauma has subsided. Why now?
MH: Why now? I’m not certain of an album’s themes until one’s finished and realized what words I’ve sung a million times. Before “No Shape,” I just got tired of pushing against … everything. Of trying to convince people. Of getting acceptance. I’m even tired of being angry. I kind of just want to just be, you know? So, there’s that. Plus, a lot of the things that I was writing were more immediate, weren’t directed at something in anger or I wasn’t mining my journal for things that needed sorting out or that haven’t healed yet.
PGN: That had to be a leap, and one that came unexpectedly to everyone, most of all you — the artistic and the personal you.
MH: Yes. This is not a place that I’m used to, that’s easy, because I am not a very present person. I‘d like to be, which is probably why I did this album. I’d like to have a connection with something present. I wish it was easier. I’m just trying to find a way to connect and be OK, be more grateful, bring more warmth to my everyday life while still being as rebellious as everything else in my head. I don’t have it all figured out yet; it is all just a good try at the moment — approaching happiness with a bit of dissonance and discomfort in the music and on the lyrics.
PGN: With that, you ask rhetorical questions like, “How long must we live right/Before we don’t even have to try?” on “Valley.” Is that you being sarcastic or sincere?
MH: A little bit of both. It’s so over the top of an idea that I can’t help but be humorous — but it is my true feelings. It is eight years that I have been sober and with the same man. I haven’t fucked either of those things up, so that is good but it does not feel part of my instincts to stay put, stay somewhere and make good decisions. It is almost a decade of being fairly nice when inside I’m a total dick.
PGN: So edgewise, how do you maintain such spikiness in your head and in your work?
MH: Edgewise, I’m lucky enough to still be a small, weird outsider-type gay man. I have a boyfriend and a dog but I still have a few things to keep me from being too basic. If I go to therapy, some of the more-basic elements of my real problems come out. Plus, I might be a creative outsider but I am stilI dealing with the same shit as everybody else; I’m just more dramatic than everyone else. With that, there will never be a shortage of ways to build theatricality in my songs. Maybe I can make some demonic chant about doing the dishes.
PGN: You end the album with a song called “Alan.” What sort of challenge is it to write about the man you love?
MH: Well, he knew it was coming and it was actually quite easy to write, as the music and the lyrics came at the same time, which was weird. He didn’t know I would name it after him. It’s his song too — I wrote it but it is about hm. It is for us, our song. He is part of everything I do. I’m just the guy who gets his photograph taken. At the very least, I can write a song for him.
PGN: Is it ever too much responsibility to be, in a way, a spokesman, not just for young gay trauma and restlessness, but for any youth who is troubled? You have become a lifeline.
MH: That’s the whole reason I do it, quite frankly. It gives me a feeling of purpose, which is not a feeling I have had ever. I want people to feel how I felt when I heard the music that I loved and empowered me as a weird youth — alone and afraid of my sexuality, my secrets, all of the fucked-up shit that I couldn’t share yet. I didn’t have outlets or a mirror in anyone else, so I had music. Now I write songs for that feeling and welcome all who come to talk to me after shows and such.
Perfume Genius plays May 18 at Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St. For more information or tickets, visit www.utphilly.com.