Interview and fashion shoot with Mike Hadreas

New York’s Perfume Genius is an introvert soul with a troubled past whose music takes you on a cathartic journey through his dysfunctional adolescence to new beginnings.
Indie music can be pretty predictable and increasingly pop-tinged. For those of us who want something a little more interesting, we have to dig a little deeper or wait around a little longer for a label to take a risk or a promoter to understand that the weird can fill a venue.

It would be easy to believe Mike Hadreas, AKA Perfume Genius, has been stood at the back of many a room, for months, politely waiting around with his record under his arm, wanting it to be heard.

‘Learning’, his debut album, is definitely not an easy-to-market product or a record you may instantly fall for - its illustrated self-portrait artwork is pretty highbrow and the sound is delicate and melancholy. In the same instance it is a fantastic exploration of this twenty-four-year-old musician who has lived his life like it was script from a Larry Clark film. 

Much like stumbling across a diary and having a cheeky poke around, ‘Learning’ delves into Hadreas’ darkest thoughts and innermost desires, offering the personal account of a young man growing into himself and exorcising his demons.

His quivering fragile voice and backdrop of simple orchestration - using only a piano, organ and synthesizer throughout - takes you on a journey, pulling you apart, as you are split between sadness and illumination, exposure and refuge.

“The album itself is about coming in to your own skin finally and fleshing out experiences,” Mike tells Clash. “I wasn’t originally thinking in an album form, I wasn’t even thinking at all really beyond recording itself. I tried to make something whole, with a shred of a message at least.”

And the said ‘wholeness’ of the album is made even more remarkable due to the fact that the running order is in chronological order - everything was written subsequent to the first song and title track.

As the album progresses you feel a step closer to a fully cleansed Hadreas, who, having moved back into his mother’s house after a spending his teenage life in New York marred by drink and drug abuse, experienced an epiphany as he started to pull together the tracks for ‘Learning’.

“My perspective finally changed. I spent so much time in this victim bullshit, feeling alone. Feeling out of place, like a mistake,” he admits. “But I sort of realised that is a fucking human problem. Not mine, that is everyone’s problem.” 

“It was a very cathartic shift but also not the way I was used to thinking about the world,” he continues, “so it was kind of scary at the same time and I had stopped drinking, stopped all the drugs. The desperation for something was still there and somehow music filled that.”

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‘Learning’ is one of the finest illustrations of human emotion captured on record for his generation. Its raw content quickly becomes awe inspiring as it pulls you in and pierces your soul. This is a record full of sadness but one where pain is transformed into a delicate beauty without heavy handedness or pretension and proves itself as definitely one of the most interesting albums of recent years.

“I don’t think I intended to have a message originally. Maybe that’s why people feel how they do now. If you do anything heavy-handed I think realness gets lost. I guess I have always tried to be honest and talk from somewhere real. I don’t know whether I succeed or not, but telling the truth is something everybody can get behind and is always therapeutic for all involved.”

After his shoot with Clash, Hadreas went to play his first and only UK gig at London’s Hoxton Hall. The capacity crowd and the fact many industry peeps and press couldn’t get in because of the demand proves not only the impression Perfume Genius is starting to make, but that melancholia loves company.

Words by Tom Giddins

Photography: Thomas Lohr
Art Direction: Paul Sethi
Styling: Rose Forde
Stylist assistants: Camilla Felici and Tom Baxendale
Hair and Make-up: Holly Silius using MAC Cosmetics


Clash Magazine Issue 53

This article appears in the 53rd issue of Clash Magazine. Pick it up in stores from August 5th.

Find out more about the issue HERE. Subscribe to Clash Magazine HERE.



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