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Perfume Genius is Throwing Two-Fingers up to Homophobia on his Third Album

We caught up with Mike Hadreas to talk about his new record 'Too Bright'. Stream it in full inside.

Mike Hadreas – known to you and I as Perfume Genius – takes a bite from a sandwich. We’re sat outside a café in East London and he’s perfectly turned out; flashes of red nail polish adding some colour to an otherwise black ensemble. He ruminates around the bread, an aura of delicacy surrounding him, discussing last night’s show.

“I’m the worst judge of it”, he says. “I look for different things in the performance; I’m very critical of myself. It was very quiet, which you hope is like, reverence, but you’re not really certain”.

The shadow of doubt and introspection is something that’s peppered Perfume Genius’ career. His first two records, 2010s Learning and 2012’s Put Your Back N 2 It, were created while in recovery for drug and alcohol abuse; the albums lo-fi atmosphere exemplifying a confessional need for resolution and redemption. Like Hadreas; they’re delicate, moving, and inherently sad. His third album Too Bright, isn’t a sharp deviation from the softness of his previous work, but it does have a new forceful edge, stemming from his change in personal circumstance.

“When I was doing drugs and drinking the problems were very easy to see. And now it's more of a general fucked upness that hasn't gone away,” he says to me, his voice wavering like he’s told me something he shouldn’t have. “It's harder to map; it's harder to sort through and the feelings are kind of all jumbled up instead of just a deep sadness because I fucked someone over, or because I choked somebody.”

However, rather than allowing himself to be consumed by his thoughts, Hadreas took a leap of faith, and the new record experiments with sound. He’s living in fresh surroundings now, with his partner Alan, and the resulting record is risky and audacious, it tells “secrets with more of a snarl”. This, perhaps, is most commonplace in the album’s lead single “Queen”, which throws two-fingers up to homophobia and the so-called “gay panic”.

“My boyfriend and I can get married and it's a fairly open place, you know. But at the same time I could travel somewhere else where you could go to jail,” he explains. “Those kind of things happen less and less, and they even become a little more complicated where people are well intended but they're saying something offensive.”

He regales me with a story about a man at a bus stop, who told him that homosexuality was the result of growing up in a bad neighbourhood. “I don’t even know what he meant by that. I'm just waiting for a bus; I'm not trying to think about my gayness,” he says, laughing with ridicule.

He sees “Queen” as the opposite of someone playing the victim, searching for acceptance and reassurance. “I’m like fuck you”, he says. “I’m going to give it to myself and not give anyone a choice whether they accept it or not”.

The record tackles other aspects of homosexuality, too. “I Am Mother”, a distorted and disturbing song dissects Perfume Genius’ thoughts on parenting. “I was imagining if I could give birth but without any help. Not with my boyfriend's help or whatever, but just on my own in a dark pit. It's kind of a sinister song.”

He takes a pause, contemplating, and then continues. “I never really thought that I would have children, but my Mum thinks I'm going to, and Alan wants them. Somehow. I know there are ways to do it, but sometimes that makes me think even more extreme thoughts about why I want to have sex with a man; I don't understand it.”

“Why do I want to have sex with Alan?” he says after a long drag on a cigarette. “Nothing's going to come from it. Do I want to steal his life force and devour it so that all the straight people can't have it? Is it some evil thing? I don't think so, but I do think about those things sometimes. I think that's kind of wrapped up in the song, too.”

The dark elements used to be something to hide behind, a wall of shame. But it’s clear that Hadreas is now embarcing them, delving into the shadows to find meaning. He’s looked to other dark thoughts, too, telling me excitedly how he spends hours reading autopsies and watching prison sentencing videos on YouTube. “Or”, he says eagerly, “I'll become obsessed with some serial killer”.

On Too Bright, Perfume Genius is shifting toward being part of the world, rather than on the sideline. “The moments where I’ve actually felt part of the world have been infinitely more rewarding than the times I’ve felt very outside”, he says with profound realisation. The record flirts with the edges of accessibility, the album’s electronics and wistful melodies complimenting a journey of self-discovery. It’s a triumphant success, self-assured and accepting, and he’s diving in head-first.

“I feel more adult now and not in a boring way. I'm just kind of all in a lot more than I was before, you know,” he says, moving animatedly, eyes glistening. “And how I like to detach and not think of things as it might be overwhelming, I kind of now have let myself into it”.

“It's scary but kind of thrilling at the same time”.

Follow Alim on Twitter: @alimkheraj

Perfume Genius releases Too Bright on September 22. Stream it below.

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