Perfume Genius

Interview by
Matthew Lowe
Photography by
Devin Blair


When I meet Mike Hadreas, AKA Perfume Genius, he is wearing a single white pearl earring in his right ear and his red painted nails clutch a can of Diet Coke. This year, he got every known homosexual's attention with that 'Hood' video featuring pornstar Arpad Miklos, and his second album, ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’, has been on permanent loop at more friend's places than I can count. The unassuming Seattle-based musician is, for the most part, the complex individual his lyrics lend him to be. But during our interview, it’s his laugh — restrained, yet convivial — that I’m most taken by.

Matthew: Your lyrics are so concise. Would you say you are a perfectionist?
Mike: About the words I am, a lot. Even if there are only like four lines.
Do you have an obsessive personality?
Just a little. This is probably my tenth Diet Coke today. That’s my main one right now. I’ve also become addicted to my nails. I used to bite them. This is the second manicure I’ve ever had. They’re shellacked too — a super heavy duty manicure that uses tin foil. You can’t remove them yourself. I keep staring at them and catching them in the mirror when I walk by. Holding on to something… I’m like, ‘Ooh, what’s that?’
As if they’re not your own?
Exactly. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but have been too self-conscious to do. Every time you have to sign, when you pay for something, no matter where you are, there are your lady hands.
Did you pick red for any particular reason?
I just like red. It’s trashy and glamorous at the same time.
A lot of your music videos make use of amateur fetish videos. Would you consider yourself a voyeur?
A little bit, yeah. It’s a safe way for me to feel sexual without having to participate. I’m that way in a lot of other things too, in the way I think and feel. If I can observe something, and not be in the middle of it, I can see the big picture more. Do you remember IRC, internet chat relay?
Of course.
I used to pretend to be a girl named Liz in the cybersex rooms when I was younger.
Why Liz?
It was my best friend’s name. I used her measurements too. I used measurements that weren’t perfect so that it would seem more believable. I was having cybersex once with this dude, and he asked me if I was wearing rubber slippers. I told him of course I was wearing rubber slippers, and then he asked me to go outside and get them all dirty and like run around. I just waited by my computer for like three minutes, and I told him they were all grimy. Then he told me to insert them in my vagina.
Where do you find the videos that you’ve used?
It’s a weird little hobby that I have. Most of the time, I’ll be eating a granola bar and searching different word combinations on YouTube, Xtube and other sites. I keep trying to find ‘dead gay ghosts and dancing’.
I do the same thing. You get in these cycles where you’re watching people do what gets them off. It’s fascinating.
It’s inspiring to me. How happy people look when they’re doing exactly whatever fucking crazy thing, exactly what is exciting to them… I like the non-sexual, or the seemingly non-sexual, ones the most.
Like zentai, a kind of spandex fetishism which is in the video for ‘Gay Angels’. I love it. It’s like a perfect second skin that’s smooth and evenly colored.
Would you ever consider getting your own zentai suit?
No, probably not. I’m not shy about investigating or thinking about things at all, but as far as acting out, I’m pretty shy.
What do you get up to when you’re not busy with music?
Because we’ve been touring so much, when my boyfriend Allen and I get home, I just want to be super at-home. I watch marathons of the TV show ‘Hoarders’ and eat a lot. With on-demand and Netflix, you really don’t have to leave.
Could you see yourself on ‘Hoarders’ one day?
Yeah, I collect miniatures.
What kind?
I buy little cat figurines. They line the mantel. I don’t really even like cats that much as pets. Cats are usually all up in your business, sitting on your Scrabble board… I have a bunch of little owls too. I like a lot of grandma-type décor.
What else do you hoard?
Like weird shit that I attach sentimental value to. If it looks like someone loved it once and it’s just sitting there, I feel bad and I take it home. Allen doesn’t let me sometimes. I have this stuffed animal that is really hideous. It’s a dog made out of upholstery fabric with a ruffled clown collar and this big tassel like a ponytail on the top of its head. It’s so gross.
What do you like eat when you’re at home?
Anything really. I have a grocery store right by my house, so I just just dip in there. Do they have Bisquick here in the Netherlands?
I don’t think so.
I would make a 13-by-9 inch coffee cake out of Bisquick, watch it rise in the oven and then eat the entire thing. I also used to have cake breaks at work when I’d eat half a cake. This was when I worked at Fred Meyer, a department store in Seattle. My managers would watch me push it in my mouth with tears in my eyes. Not because I was crying, but because it was hard to eat that much cake. I don’t do it as much now. I’ll eat two dinners, but no cake breaks.
Don’t you worry about becoming a shut-in?
Allen and I used to worry about that because our friends would want us to come out and we would stay in. When you first get together with someone, you are going to disappear for like six months. We’ve lasted for two years.
What do you guys do to keep yourselves entertained?
I always want to watch horror movies. They’re super cathartic for me. People are reduced to their core skills. I don’t like torture porn… If it’s just some blond being dragged through a tunnel for an hour-and-a-half, I don’t really give a shit. Have you seen the movie ‘The Woman’?
I actually can’t watch horror movies.
Really? It’s a great movie. It’s about a family who discovers a feral woman living in the woods by their house. The husband captures her, and they keep her chained up like a pet. She ends up killing them all, but what’s awesome about her revenge is that it’s only five minutes of the entire movie. She’s just like, ‘You fucked me over so I’m going to kill you, but I’m not going to make a big scene about it’.
Do you think that’s why you like the reality of amateur porn? Because people are reduced to their core…
Totally. I watched this video where this guy was sitting at in front of his computer wearing a shirt he had cut the nipples out of. He just sat there flicking his nipples. And then every once and a while, he would get close to the camera and hand model these really dangly plastic grape earrings he was wearing. He’d go back to flicking his nipples, and then he would model the earrings again. I didn’t understand what the connection was, but it was amazing.

Perfume Genius is back in Europe for more touring beginning with a show on 29 June in Werchter, Belgium. Do yourself a favor and see him perform live.

Published on 22 June 2012