Ever since his debut in 2010, Mike Hadreas has taken his Perfume Genius project to a new level with each release. Even so, Hadreas had a very good 2017. His new album No Shape is his best yet and was one of our favorite albums of the year. Like its predecessor Too Bright, it finds Hadreas expanding his sound into fuller, more dramatic places. It’s an album that’s pained and dreamy and haunting and gorgeous at various turns, with some of the most unusual but also unshakeable melodies of the year. It’s one of those albums that makes you grateful to be along for the ride as a particular artist ascends, bit by bit.
Last month, I went to Utrecht for the experimental-leaning Le Guess Who? fest, where Hadreas was performing and serving as one of the lineup’s curators. Knowing that beyond being responsible for one of the great 2017 releases, Hadreas was also a wry and witty observer of pop culture, I met up with him one afternoon to talk about his 2017, and 2017 as a whole. Now, given: This year was mostly complete and infuriating garbage. It’s not quite as light-hearted, doing these end-of-year interviews anymore. But, I’d like to think there can be some temporary antidote in revisiting the last 11 months and recalling the good things that did happen, or at least having a cathartic laugh about the truly stupid things that happened. As expected, Hadreas is a great guy to talk to if that’s what you’re looking for.
STEREOGUM: Too Bright got its fair share of accolades and heightened your profile, but it feels even more substantial with No Shape. What has this year felt like for you? Does it feel like Perfume Genius has gotten bigger?
MIKE HADREAS: I don’t know if I’ll be able to fully process it until it’s done. Right now, I kind of just do everything. I pay attention while I’m doing it and I put a lot of my spirit into it, but I’m not fully aware of what’s going on. [laughs] A lot of it somewhat anxiety-producing, so if you pay too much attention to it then it becomes too real. I gotta be able to do it still, so I have to detach a little bit. But I got to work with so many people that, maybe a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to. The artwork, the videos, my producer Blake [Mills]. Everything just feels a little more amplified, and I’ve gotten to go for it completely. Before, we’d have some vague ideas or things I wanted to do, and I’d make my version of them, but it was never fully-realized. I feel like with this, I’d have ideas and I could make them happen.
STEREOGUM: Right, not that the last one didn’t have hints of this, but it does feel like a very ambitious phase. I mean, the show was already getting bigger compared to when it was just you and a piano.
HADREAS: Oh, yeah, worlds different. Towards the end of touring [Too Bright], the show was very different than when we first started singing the songs. Same with this album. When I first started touring the songs, I feel like the show was much different. It feels a little more 360, with the dancing. I feel more comfortable.
STEREOGUM: How did curating Le Guess Who? come about?
HADREAS: We played the festival before, and when [the festival’s co-founder] Bob [Van Heur] asked me to curate, I was worried because a lot of the people I would’ve asked to play played last time. [laughs] Because we have very similar tastes. He still let us invite them all back again. I think we just got along and I think he understands and responds to where I’m coming from. We both are looking for music that’s coming from … not the exact same place that I do, but just sort of the same kind of catharsis or intensity. There’s a million different filters for how that ends up sounding eventually, but that’s essentially what I want.
STEREOGUM: How complicated are those logistics, you have your wishlist and then the booking –
HADREAS: I have no idea. [laughs] I submit the list. I didn’t hold back. He encouraged that. Just put people that are your friends or that you know would maybe be able to do it, but also just put anyone you’d ever want. That’s why I put a Bulgarian women’s choir and Mary Margaret O’Hara. It would be a dream of mine to see it, but I wasn’t certain if they toured or played live.
STEREOGUM: All right now I want to ask you about some random 2017 stuff. Did you like “Bad And Boujee” by Migos?
HADREAS: I don’t really know it.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a song of the year?
HADREAS: Hmmm, when did Anti- come out?
STEREOGUM: Last year.
HADREAS: [laughs] When I’m writing, I don’t listen to music at all.
STEREOGUM: Does it cloud the process for you?
HADREAS: Kind of, and I’m just obsessive about music, so if I find something I like I listen to it over and over for a month and then I end up writing that song. So maybe I’ll listen to old music, where if something sticks in my brain it doesn’t matter if I take a little bit from that, because that’s essentially what making music is. [laughs]
STEREOGUM: You tweeted about the Chainsmokers. Are you a fan?
HADREAS: I’m kind of obsessed with them. Did you see that tweet they made, that chain of emo jpegs? With just really normal angst-y stuff but with more cuss words and like, street language? [laughs] I mean, if you’re those dudes, why wouldn’t you be those dudes? They’re essentially making millions of dollars for it, and they’re getting to be those dudes now 200 percent. I can’t really get mad at them, because they’ve been fully supported in being like that, even though they completely represent everything gross. But at least it’s so … sometimes when things go so far, it almost goes full-circle for me. I’m almost endeared by it because it’s so awful, as opposed to when people are essentially Chainsmokers but they’ve like, read a book. So they try to fool you or trick you into thinking they’re not the Chainsmokers because they’ve read a book or they play chess with their dad. But really they’re fucking fratboy dicks.
Some realness pic.twitter.com/8VegnhCIif
— THE CHAINSMOKERS (@TheChainsmokers) October 27, 2017
STEREOGUM: So you like how unapologetic they are.
HADREAS: At least you know what’s going on.
STEREOGUM: I’m still curious whether the entire thing is an elaborate bit of performance art or whether they’re really just, yeah, Entourage characters.
HADREAS: I don’t think you can get that far without being a little self-aware, but maybe not. I think they’re probably exactly how they come across. [laughs]
STEREOGUM: Did you see Get Out?
HADREAS: Loved Get Out, super good from start to finish. I mean, it had everything you’d want in a movie. It was funny, scary, and it wasn’t stupid. It was a smart movie but not in a fussy way. It was so good.
STEREOGUM: I’ve seen people say it was sort of cathartic, that movie coming out and finding this runaway success so soon after the inauguration.
HADREAS: For sure. I think people are craving things that are actually about something, but people are also put off by that generally because it’s not fun or entertaining. But that movie was about really important ideas and is really cathartic and is also just a rad movie.
STEREOGUM: I haven’t personally seen this one —
HADREAS: Mother!, are we talking about Mother! now?
STEREOGUM: Well, we could, sure! I was going to ask you about It.
HADREAS: It? Well, I mean … I think the people who are really into It were not alive or around when the first one was there. I feel the same way about Stranger Things. I don’t dislike It or Stranger Things, but I’m just not as super into it, because like, I’ve seen E.T. a lot. And I’ve watched The Goonies. It’s younger people who don’t have that in their spirit … I like how that magic is there, but it’s nostalgic for me. I don’t think it is nostalgic for a lot of people who are obsessed with it.
STEREOGUM: So you’re not swept up in the craze.
HADREAS: No, but I understand why people would be. I would just rather watch Labyrinth.
STEREOGUM: So was Mother! a movie you did really like this year?
HADREAS: No. [laughs]
STEREOGUM: It was quite divisive from what I heard.
HADREAS: It’s tricky to talk about that movie. It’s ballsy, and I like that in general. I even like it when movies are bad or they have a lot of…you can feel the director’s complexes inside the movie. I kinda like that, and I’m pretty forgiving of that if the idea the movie leaves me with is big then I’ll forgive tiny, little things. But that one…maybe I need to watch it again. Did you see La La Land?
HADREAS: Isn’t there a part where Ryan Gosling explains jazz to someone?
STEREOGUM: Yeah, pretty much.
HADREAS: It felt like a different version of that to me. But like, the Bible. [laughs] I don’t know, I like everything about it. I like the way it was filmed, I like the beginning a lot … but maybe I need to watch it again. What other movies are coming out?
STEREOGUM: Are you excited for the new Star Wars?
HADREAS: I tried to watch one of those on a plane and I wasn’t into it. I like Yoda. I like the Ewoks. I like all the cute stuff.
STEREOGUM: Well they have these little puffin creatures in this one now.
HADREAS: I saw that, what are they, “warbs?”
STEREOGUM: Porgs, I think.
HADREAS: Porgs! That’s even better. I do watch a lot of sci-fi, though. I just recently watched all of Babylon 5. It takes a while. The first season is all world-building and it’s not very great, and then it completely switches. I pretty much exclusively watch sci-fi and read fantasy.
STEREOGUM: Did you see the new Blade Runner?
HADREAS: No. We’re just busy. I think we saw some gay movie where people have sex on a farm in England. [laughs] I wanted to see the new Blade Runner. Some other big movie came out recently that I was going to try to see — oh, the other gay movie, Call Me By Your Name. “Gay movies.” [laughs] They’re like, required. We have to go to those, you know what I mean? A lot of the big action movies, my boyfriend’s not into them, so I have to watch them on the plane. Things like Deadpool.
STEREOGUM: Moving on … in 2017 a lot of people asked, “Is it OK to punch a Nazi?”
HADREAS: Absolutely. One hundred percent.
STEREOGUM: I wasn’t really surprised by that answer. Did you see all the videos going around where people started setting the Richard Spencer thing to music? Some of them were so well done, like the one to “Born In The U.S.A.” or the one to “Only Shallow.”
HADREAS: [laughs] The first song on my album would work really well for that, because it’s tinkly pianos and then it explodes. That would be rad.
STEREOGUM: Have you heard the debut singles from Bhad Bhabie?
HADREAS: I saw the video. She’s on the roof of a building. But that’s all I remember of it. And I didn’t see the original thing. That was one I wasn’t too excited about. I feel like the old memes are coming back, like the Ikea monkey. I’ve seen him a lot in the last week.
STEREOGUM: What about the one where the couple’s walking and the guy’s looking back?
HADREAS: [laughs] It’s so weird. It’s just like a stock photo. Does anyone know what the original one was?
STEREOGUM: I don’t, but I did see an interview with the models.
HADREAS: [laughs] That’s so fucked up. Oh, that’s so fucked up.
STEREOGUM: You’re a fan of fidget spinners.
HADREAS: Into it! No, seriously. I went to my mom’s and she had some high-quality fidget spinners.
STEREOGUM: Wait, what qualifies as high-quality fidget spinners?
HADREAS: Just the weight. These ones are like, copper or brass or something. Even my boyfriend, he doesn’t give a fuck about stuff like that, he was holding it and just staring at it. It’s really calming. I don’t do it like, rave-dancing style. But just to spin it, there’s something really satisfying, the same as playing a video game.
STEREOGUM: I had an Uber driver that was playing with one as he drove me around Brooklyn once, and it made me feel like I was in like, a SNL parody of Drive, like that would be a tick that a Ryan Gosling character would have.
HADREAS: [laughs] You know they make fidget spinner apps where you watch an animated one?
STEREOGUM: Doesn’t that take away like, half the point?
HADREAS: I guess? But maybe it would work.
STEREOGUM: These originated with a good purpose, right? To help kids with ADD?
HADREAS: Yeah, and I could feel that. I could feel that my energy was sort of centered … and just spinning on that little thing.
STEREOGUM: Did you see the Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial?
HADREAS: Yes, so good.
STEREOGUM: You were a fan of it?
HADREAS: [laughs] Well, no. But I love when things pass through — millions of dollars are put into it, millions of people are watching it and signing off on every version of it and then it comes out and people are like “Oh, this is incredibly offensive and terrible.” [laughs] But the music, the cinematography, is on point as far as production value. But they all had a part in making this thing, and I think that’s incredible.
STEREOGUM: Right, it’s such a colossal fuckup, like how do these things happen when you’re dealing with not only Pepsi but the Kardashian/Jenner apparatus.
HADREAS: And they’re the most identity-driven, you know, people. To be so out of touch…you’d feel like they’d have people on their team constantly looking out for things like that because they … you know, one wrong tweet and they could be torn down. It’s sort of bizarre that it went through that whole family and that whole company.
STEREOGUM: They dropped the ball a few times this year because they also had that thing with the vintage rock t-shirts —
HADREAS: And their faces on them! [laughs] It’s so good. That’s so amazing. They just put their face over it. I love how resilient they are, though. I feel like, normally, especially women, you get one piece of bad press and you’re done. Dudes can survive, you know, just raping multiple people and still winning an Oscar and stuff like that.
STEREOGUM: Well, not anymore, maybe.
HADREAS: I certainly hope so.
STEREOGUM: It feels like a dam has broken with regards to that.
HADREAS: Well, people care about things in batches. And I’m glad that they cared about this, but this has been going on for a really long time and people have been trying to talk about it for a really long time, but I’m glad that this current wave is making people accountable and fucking destroying them, because they should’ve been destroyed a long time ago.
STEREOGUM: This next one is probably the wackiest question on this list.
STEREOGUM: It’s Marry/Fuck/Kill/Kill. You can kill two of them. With Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci, Reince Preibus, and Steve Bannon.
HADREAS: Oh, God. Two killing? Oh, God. Oh, no, I can’t do this. [laughs] One of them’s basically already dead. Like, Steve Bannon is Mummy Returns. Yeah, that’s too dark, and I like darkness.
STEREOGUM: Did you watch The Emoji Movie?
HADREAS: [laughs] No, I did not watch The Emoji Movie. But I heard there’s like, Spotify World? They visit different apps?
STEREOGUM: I didn’t realize that was the premise of it either and then I read something about it. Just crazy rampant branding or something.
HADREAS: I don’t know. I’ve only recently become not into it. When Facebook is like, “Hey, do you want this purse?” it’s usually one I want. I’ve been looking at these. And I don’t mind that. I love the convenience and ease of all the algorithms. I’ve fully given myself to them. But then I read some articles recently that made me feel a little more off the grid than I had before.
STEREOGUM: As a person who’s putting out art — I mean, I know it’s kind of the way it’s always been but, is there a moment where you’re like, “Seriously, they’re making a movie out of the emojis?”
HADREAS: Yeah … one generation above has thought that way about the generation below forever. And everything’s always been fine. The kids have always been fine. People always end up making shit that is rad. I try not to get too sad about it. Or too old man about it, because maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m not in the part of whatever’s going on.
STEREOGUM: I’m nine years younger than you and I’m probably already too old for The Emoji Movie too.
HADREAS: Well, no, The Emoji Movie is garbage. [laughs] But I don’t think it means there’s less room for good stuff. I don’t know. My brother’s really smart and I talk to him about robots and stuff because he gets it more. I wonder, is it different now than it was a while ago? Is my generation and the generation after me very different than the two generations before me because of how rapidly things are growing and expanding?
STEREOGUM: I always wonder about that, too. I vaguely remember pre-internet life, but it was all so prevalent already by the time I was in middle school and then so quickly it becomes, Twitter for professional reasons. I kinda feel like my little micro-generation, before the real millennials, might get lost in the shuffle.
HADREAS: I think that’s why I still think of the internet and all this stuff as really thrilling.
STEREOGUM: You’re very active and funny on twitter.
HADREAS: I love Twitter. It’s kind of become a much darker place recently. I hate these tweets about the 280 characters, the jokes. Not into those. Even Sigur Rós did one which I thought was really bizarre. Sigur Rós doing a tweet mocking the 280 characters. I haven’t updated mine so I don’t have it. I think the best part about it was that you had to edit it down but I guess I’ll just come up with a bigger thought that’s too big for 280.
STEREOGUM: You always have little one-liners.
HADREAS: It’s called shit-posting. That’s like an old person thing. I just realized that’s my specialty and what I love the most. Just stuff that’s irreverent nonsense. I guess there’s tiny little kernels of meaning and things in there, a little bit. I follow @BikiniBabeLover. Do you know @BikiniBabeLover? That’s one of my favorite Twitters. I think that would qualify as shit-posting, too, because he basically just tweets about pee-pee and poo-poo. [laughs] It’s so stupid.
STEREOGUM: So you like it in the Dadaist, weirdest corners of the internet kind of way.
HADREAS: That’s the stuff that cracks me up the most. Almost aggressively stupid and vulgar and nonsensical.
STEREOGUM: Like the Chainsmokers.
HADREAS: That’s why I love the internet. I see something like that or something even sillier and it was 20,000 favorites and it’s like, OK, there are people in America that are good and like this funny, weird thing. It’s heartening.
I'm the indie sorting hat send me your indie musicians and i will place them in their house #indie
— Perfume Genius (@perfumegenius) July 1, 2017
STEREOGUM: One of my favorite things was your late-night spree of sorting musicians into Hogwarts.
HADREAS: [laughs] It almost got too real for me, a little. Someone had me sort Father John Misty and I did, “Public Slytherin, private Hufflepuff.” Which, to me, is a compliment. And I hope he understands that’s a compliment, because I do like him. He favorited it. Lana [Del Rey] did respond to it, because I put her in Slytherin, but like “in a rad way.” And she was like “I’m a Gryffindor.” [laughs] “Everybody thinks I’m Slytherin but my music is Slytherin but I’m actually a Gryffindor.”
No Shape is out now via Matador.