Perfume Genius on Connecting With Gay Teens: "The Idea That I Can do That is Super Awesome."
Angel Ceballos Perfume Genius
One man band basement recordings continue to grow in popularity. Due to its minimalist approach, songwriting is key. Perfume Genius, the moniker of Mike Hadreas records songs about homophobia, pedophilia, and suicide that are strangely warm and therapeutic.
We caught up with Hadreas to discuss having a video pulled from YouTube, writing songs to connect with struggling gay youths, and how he has overcome his stage fright over the last few years.
Up on the Sun: Do you play with any other musicians live?
Mike Hadreas: Yeah, I've got my friend Aaron May all the way from France and my boyfriend Allen plays the synths and sings with me.
You started out as a Myspace musician and now you're touring with bands like Sigur Ros and The xx. Can you describe that transition for me?
No...I try not to really think about it too much. I love both of those bands, The xx and Sigur Ros. I grew up listening to them. They were really big inspirations. I got so nervous before I went on that tour that I got really sick. But, I don't know. I try to be grateful, but at the same time not pay too much attention, because I don't want to get too nervous when I look around and see how much things have changed.
Do you deal with stage fright at all?
Oh yeah. It's a lot better than it used to be. I used to be...I don't even remember shows because I was so nervous. Like talking in front of class and you don't remember what you said, it's like that.
How do you cope with that?
You just do it anyway. You do little things that you think are going to make it better like drinking tea or pacing or stuff like that, but really you just realize that you're going to be nervous and it's not a big deal. You can still do it all anyway even though you're insecure.
When you first started writing music, were you reluctant to share these dark and personal thoughts with strangers?
Not until after the fact. At first, I guess I've always overshared- not always in a cool way. But the rest of my family is too, we talk about everything and it's all out in the open. If there's problems, none of it is hidden or anything. After people started listening to it, I got word that it was helpful to them for me to talk about certain things that maybe feel very private and very embarrassing or something, but that helps me to feel less self conscious.
How have your songs comforted members of the gay community who may be going through the same issues you discuss in your songs? Have you had people reach out to you?
Yeah. I've had all kinds of different reactions from all kinds of different demographics. I wrote a lot of those songs thinking about songs I wish I would have heard when I was younger, or things that I didn't hear talked about. Whether they were or not, I just didn't hear them. I get letters from kids that are figuring things out or questions or...just being gay, especially when you're young and growing up, especially if you come from a small town, or even not, it's very much a lonely thing, it's very much a loneliness, that you're the only one and you convince yourself that that's going to be forever. I always wish that there's someone, if you need to need to talk to them, you can connect with them, or at least know that someone feels the same way you do, whether it's a musician or whatever, I think that's what people are looking for. The idea that I can do that is super awesome.
I love the lyrics to "All Waters," I wish it could be a reality.
Yeah, I do too.
That song was the soundtrack to your promo video that got rejected from YouTube. How did you react to it being dubbed "not family safe?"
I was pissed off, but it was mostly surprising because I thought the promo was very cheesy. That song is very emotional and that clip is just me and another guy embracing, that's it, really. It was pretty, almost corny, but that's okay. That's what I was worried about it first, not whether anything offensive would be in it because it almost feels like the opposite of that. I've been made fun of a lot growing up and in my life for something I had no control over or something I thought was normal or that feels normal to me, so it's just on a bigger scale because YouTube was writing the email. It some ways it wasn't surprising, but it still made me really angry.
It's ironic considering that people like Katy Perry are actually naked in their videos, but supposedly there's nothing wrong with that.
Lana Del Rey had that album promo where her whole side boob was showing in front of an American flag, so I guess that's okay. She was embracing a dude too who didn't have a shirt on. I don't see what the big deal is, I think it's just because we're just hugging now, but potentially, we could have gay sex with each other, which is true [laughs]. It's ridiculous.