Album of the Week: Perfume Genius, 'Set My Heart On Fire Immediately'

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Perfume Genius, 'Set My Heart On Fire Immediately'
Perfume Genius, 'Set My Heart on Fire Immediately' (Matador Records)
Interview: Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius
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The recording project of Mike Hadreas has evolved from indie pop songs to full works of glam rock that you hear on Perfume Genius' new album, "Set My Heart on Fire Immediately."

While the themes of isolation, anxiety and sexuality are everpresent on the 5th studio album, Mike Hadreas brings a new sense of confidence in writing and production which you can hear on songs from "Describe" to "On The Floor." Known for being a soft spoken advocate for his fans, Hadreas turns up the volume on the new album which has dark pop gems and danceable chorus'.

Perfume Genius' new album "Set My Heart on Fire Immediately" is your album of the week on The Current.

Interview Transcript

Jesse Wiza: How are you, right now?

Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius: I mean, I don't know. I have no idea. I think I'm good. I mean, I'm just doing what's in front of me, what's figured out already, and then just trying to adapt and work with whatever's going to happen.

So you've got a new record coming out in May. How would you describe the story of this record?

I mean, there are a lot of ingredients, but I think after talking about it for a while, I've realized a lot of the songs are about connection, trying to connect to my body, connect to the moment, be more present, and connect to other people. I don't know. A lot of the times when I'm writing, and a lot of the times even in my head, it's very internal. I'm kind of out in my own world dealing with these ideas, and trying to soothe and manage anxieties and stuff. I felt like for my work, and even for my mental health, that I needed to be in hiding, and just sorting and thinking, and I realized through the dance, and through moving to LA and being more social that I need more people. I need more of a connection, and I need to be here, and that can be as rewarding and as fantastical and transcendent as the places that I go when I'm alone and in my room playing the piano, you know? Those are new ideas. I think that the record is me thinking about that and wanting more of that, and being greedy.

When I read the title 'Set My Heart On Fire Immediately,' I personally - I think that when I'm trying to describe when I feel really passionate about something, I use kind of aggressive words and descriptions, so I thought of this title as a positive thing, but I was like, "Well, maybe he didn't mean it that way."

No, it is. I mean, I don't know if it should be, but at least the question is asked in an excited, positive way. A lot of the stuff that I'm thinking about; introducing and wanting bigger feelings, more wildness, and liberation, and being less inhibited used to be a recipe for really reckless, destructive stuff for me, and essentially was just like looking for oblivion. Now, I don't want that. I want to stay here, but I want some of that stuff. Once I found some containers through the dance, and through other things that were giving me that kind of heightened and sustained passionate feeling, I just don't want to not have that.

I was reading this ID piece that you did, where they interview you, and they said that you felt the most you, and it sounds like this has carried on into the next project, and you've been able to continue to feel like yourself.

Yeah. I think it even gave me the courage, in some ways, to direct my own videos and have all of my ideas be 360, and feel like I could bring all of those out, and that I can carry through with that. It has been really satisfying to feel like a dream or a vision that I had in my brain [was] made real, and that's what the dance felt like. It felt like feelings made real. It's very therapeutic, and also really rewarding, because I've been kind of working in the same patterns for awhile, always riling against the way I work, and pushing myself, but in one format. Having these other formats, and having to be uncomfortable in my body, in space, and with people - I don't know - It became really addictive realizing that I can shake up more than just how I sing, or what I sing about.

So when you're writing now, do you think there is more physicality in your mind as you're putting together these songs?

I think so. I've always been very dramatic in that room by myself. I was always, like, humping the wall or slamming my head against it, or something, while I was singing. Now I just do that on stage in front of people, and with other people, but it changed a lot of what the songs are about and how I wanted to write them. When I first started writing music, there were a lot more names, places, and specific nouns, and stuff, in the songs. As my music went on, it became more abstract and impressionistic in the things I was talking about, and I left them that way. In this record, maybe if I was even dealing still dealing with those kind of things, I wanted to make them into a story that felt like you could see bodies in it and you could feel a moment captured, even if I had to fictionalize the feeling, or turn the feeling and make it into something, like a story or something you could look at, you know?

Yeah, and I have to say, I saw The Sun Still Burns Here when it came to Minneapolis, and I don't frequently see shows like that. I'm just more of a concert person, and that's just something that I really took away from it. It doesn't have to be so literal, and you can just be at peace with that, and not have to try to figure it out all the time. It was a really freeing experience to watch that and just be like, "I can just enjoy this and not have to force a narrative on it." It was really enjoyable.

That is fine to be, because I always sort of feel my feelings shift constantly, or exist in contrasts at the same time. I've always felt like I'm kind of forced to pick one. If I'm going to share it then I have to kind of pick one, or I need to be one way. I don't have any frame of reference for that performance, and that was freeing too. I had no idea. I was like, "I'm just doing it. I'm just doing this and sharing this with everybody." I guess the only thing I wanted, and was dedicated to was wanting people to be able to vicariously feel what I was feeling, or what we were trying to energetically make together or separately there, and have that feeling be so heavy that [other] people could have it, too.

Does this change the way that you want to do live performances?

Yeah. The way it moved felt very rebellious. It was all just almost punishing myself. I was just throwing myself around, and I'll probably still do that, because that is satisfying, too, but it might be more controlled, or have an edge to it, or a container, like, this is when I do that, instead of from start to finish, I'm just fully body vibing. I won't be a hippie about it, but I think there will be patience of warmth in it, maybe. Also, beyond just the physical part, having these curtains that move, stairs, and things to interact with on the stage brought a lot of weight to it, and just helped build the world, and [it] felt like I didn't just need to rely on just myself to communicate the song or the energy. [I'm] thinking of ways to bring a more theatrical or cinematic vibe to the shows. I mean, there's something fun about rolling up to, like, Denver and playing at a venue that has Walmart lighting, and I have to somehow turn it into some sort of dreamscape somehow, but I kind of want it to be there before I get there. It might be freeing.

Did you record this in LA, now that you're living there?

Yeah. We recorded it all at Sound City in LA.

Is this the first time you recorded an album in LA, or have you done it before?

We recorded the last album here, too, and I think it was a big part of why we moved here. We were here long enough to see the city more for what it was, and less of just beachy, body guys.

Moving from Tacoma to LA, now that you're living in LA, has it sunk into you?

I think so. I think it was a big part of feeling more like a part of stuff because I was literally leaving my house more. I thought it would be hard for me to adapt to the weather, because I'm used to it being gloomy and overcast all the time, but it was like three days tops before I was like "Wow". When people ask you to do stuff, and [when] you know [while] getting from your house to their house, it's going to be nice out, it's much easier to say yes to that. It definitely just made me feel more capable in general. It's much easier to eat healthy and stuff, too. Part of the reason we moved here is because I wanted that to happen to me. I was like, "I hope I start getting super goopy and Gwenyth Paltrow-y about myself, and start taking a bunch of potions and exercising" and I totally did that.

What potion has been the most effective for you?

It's actually not a potion, it's a Vitamin C gel. It's disgusting. For some reason, I feel like that makes it more potent. It's this weird Vitamin C gel that comes in, almost like, a condiment package that you squirt into water, and it's horrible, but I feel like it works.

Is there anything that you miss about Tacoma?

I miss our house. I miss the nest that we made there. I'm good at being cozy, and I can make any house feel like that, but that house there had so much room for your energy to move around. I wish we could just bring that house here.

Yeah, and there are cozy spots in LA. I really like those secret staircases that they have in the neighborhoods. I think those are really sweet.

It's more expensive, but you can still live in a little house here, and you can still have a neighborhood energy, but still be close to three really good sushi places. That's really why I moved here, beyond just wanting to run, or something, or jog.

In collaborating with people, are you having an easier time finding people to help work on your music videos, because you're in a video town?

Oh yeah. All kinds of collaborations are easier because you don't have to plan so much around it. I don't have to fly anywhere. You can just meet people face to face easier, and just make things happen. We recorded those videos, and I wanted this sun-dappled quality to it, and if we were in Seattle, I would not have been able to find a sun-dappled space for that. We just [went] 30 minutes away and were in this bizarre ranch, like, cult, sun-dappled thing in January, or whenever it was.

You were supposed to go on tour with Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, and you both have such beautiful presentations in your shows. Have you ever thought about collaborating with him on music or visuals?

I don't know. We haven't met yet. I know he's heard the record, and I know he likes it. Well, hopefully he does. I don't think he'd ask us to tour with him if he didn't. I'm excited to meet him. I love anybody that can pull of such an epic thing completely, in every direction, and they did it in a 360 way. That's really admirable. I hope I can tap into that, or we can tap into our respective stuff together, in some way.

Related Stories

  • Perfume Genius performs in The Current studios Mike Hadreas has been looking for the right way to explore his life experiences. Based on the extremely personal nature and simultaneously heart-breaking and inspiring anecdotes that he has collected, it seemed only natural to create a new identity to bring these stories to fruition. Perfume Genius was born in 2008 and Hadreas quickly drew acclaim for his sparse and touching compositions and affecting stories.

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