Perfume Genius is the project of singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas, whose music spans fragile piano ballads and swaggering glam rock as he explores subjects such as sexuality, homophobia, and domestic abuse with brutal and often poetic honesty.
Growing up in Everett, Washington, Hadreas was bullied for being gay and coped by painting, writing, and listening to artists including PJ Harvey and Liz Phair. While attending Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, he was hospitalized after he was attacked by a group of young men in his neighborhood. Once he recovered, he moved to Brooklyn and spent a few years working at a bar and partying. He returned to Everett in 2005 to go to rehab, then lived with his mother and stepfather.
During this time, he began making music, pairing unflinching lyrics with simple piano melodies. By 2008 he had set up a MySpace page and began offering his music there, along with similarly spare and evocative homemade music videos. His work caught the attention of Los Campesinos!, who championed Perfume Genius and helped him get a deal with their label, Turnstile, which released the single “Mr. Peterson” — the tale of a suicidal pedophile high school teacher — in 2009. Hadreas also signed to Matador Records, which released Perfume Genius’ full-length debut, Learning, in mid-2010. To tour in support of the album, Hadreas brought Alan Wyffels, a classically trained pianist he met in group therapy, as an accompanist. Eventually, they became a couple, and Wyffels performed on Perfume Genius’ later tours and albums.
These included 2012’s even more intimate Put Your Back N 2 It and 2014’s snarling Too Bright, which was inspired by glam rock, PJ Harvey, and Hadreas’ growing frustration with casual homophobia; it featured Portishead’s Adrian Utley and longtime Harvey collaborator John Parish. Perfume Genius returned with new music in 2016, collaborating with Sharon Van Etten on a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “To Lay Me Down” for Day of the Dead, a Grateful Dead tribute album produced by the Red Hot Organization to fight AIDS/HIV and related health issues around the world. That September, Hadreas also issued a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” that was featured in the ad campaign for Prada’s La Femme and L’Homme fragrances. Hadreas recorded Perfume Genius’ fourth album, No Shape, in Los Angeles with producer Blake Mills; spanning influences such as gospel, goth-pop and soul, it arrived in May 2017. ~ Heather Phares