Getting to Know Perfume Genius at Pitchfork ’23

photo by Aly Westrin

Before Perfume Genius hit the green stage at Pitchfork fest 2023, WLUW had a chat with Mike Hadreas. We Discuss Hadreas’ inspirations, his writing and performance process, and his Tik Tok! Check out the interview below!

interview conducted by Aly Westrin

I read that you hadn’t started writing and making music until around 25.


Was making music something you always had an interest in? Or did that interest not peak until later in life?

I mean, music is the thing I’ve been the most obsessed with my entire life. And so I always dreamed of it. I don’t know if I always had ambitions to be a musician, but I definitely wished that I could. I mostly did like paintings and writing and stuff like that. Whenever I would sit down to try to make a song, it just didn’t feel the same as when I was painting or something. It just didn’t feel right. And then something happened when I was 25, where it all just kind of came together.

That’s really interesting. I imagine starting a music career at any age, especially with such vulnerable music can be challenging. Did you ever have any moments of doubt while creating music? And how did you kind of combat that doubt?

The doubt was a lot later, not in the beginning.


Yeah, because I just always overshare anyway. Like, I don’t ever really get nervous. So I was never really shy about sharing those things. Especially because with the songs, I was so proud of the music that I felt like, I don’t know, I wasn’t uncomfortable sharing it. It’s more now that there’s more pressure on me and more stuff like that. I start thinking about it in a more, you know, three dimensional way.

Yeah, it makes sense to feel more pressure and doubt when there’s more expectations.

Who or what were your top inspirations when starting to make music? And have they shifted at all throughout your career?

Oh, well, it’s funny, because there are some songs that I remember listening to right before I wrote my first song. There’s a band called Stars of The Lid. And it’s like ambient music. I think it’s And Their Refinement And Decline is the name of the record. And I was listening to that a lot. And Max Richter, and a lot of like, kind of modern classical music, which is not what I ended up making, but for some reason, I think it’s because…and I’m just gonna keep talking…I think it’s because it made me kind of hyper present. It made me kind of feel really, present and connected in some way. And that’s, that’s what made the Music start happening for me as I just sort of sat down and I kind of like got rid of all the shit around me. And then music started coming out. But it took it took me a long time to clear out all the shit.

That’s so interesting to have inspirations that didn’t necessarily translate to your musical style.

So your albums are all very distinct in style, but there’s an intimacy in lyrics and strong emotions is always a constant theme. Between your debut album and your most recent album, Ugly Season, and everything in between, how has your writing process changed, if it’s changed at all?

It’s definitely changed. I think in the beginning, I really just thought of myself as like a writer. And so I would really focus on the lyrics. And then the music felt like an accompaniment to the lyric. And it was underneath, you know what I mean. And then as I did it more, I got more confident musically, and that felt like a communicator. Not like the lyrics went away, but they weren’t as like, you know, they weren’t the singular, most important thing. And now…I don’t know…now I’ve done it so long and i’ve made so many records that I’m just constantly like rebelling against myself. And so I don’t know, I feel like I might go back to the way that I used to write. That feels more exciting to me. Now, I can write in gibberish, and then just like, singing, you know, and then I, then I do the lyrics and something about just going into more writer mode feels kind of nice right now. But it’s hard. It’s difficult.

While on the topic of your music being incredibly emotion ridden, do you ever have a certain feeling you want your fans to feel when listening to your music?

Yeah, I mean, I guess just comfort. Not as in the absence of something bad. It can be while something bad is still happening. But just, like, the reason I listen to music is because it mirrors my feeling, and I feel a little less lonely. It’s not that the feeling goes away. I just don’t feel so like, lonely or like I’m the only one feeling sad or scared. You know what I mean?

yeah for sure. I love that answer.

We’ve also noticed your performances to be quite theatrical, and your most recent album was made with the intent to be kind of a dance on stage. Has that always been a goal of yours? Or was it difficult to get into that performative mindset? Because I know you were really shy when you first started performing.

Yeah, I mean, I kind of learned how to do everything over time. And the performance part is definitely part of that. I just realized that being in my body and, I don’t know, kind of using that performance as just what I think most people naturally do to communicate. I didn’t really think about it. I just said like, okay, just do the songs just sing and do the songs. And then slowly over time, it’s like, oh, like, where, I occupy space. And that can be part of how I share, you know what I mean. And it can also be part of where how I get to like a really insane, like deranged place that I want to go to when I’m performing. You know, it’s not just all like internal like me thinking crazy thoughts, or it has to be physical too.

For sure, and as a fellow shy person I completely understand.

So you work and perform with your partner? What’s it like to be working so closely with a partner?

I mean, we’ve been together for 15 years, and we played every single show together. We tour every tour. We’re together, like 24 hours a day. I don’t have anything to reference it against really. I mean, it can be difficult just because I don’t know. Being with anybody is hard. It’s a whole different person. You know what I mean? And that’s hard. And then you’re gonna be around each other 24 hours a day, and you just kind of let loose of any, like inhibition of saying anything, sharing anything, acting a certain way. So kind of balls out everything. And that’s what’s beautiful about it. And that’s also can be challenging about it. But we have, it so strong. Our connection is so strong that and I think it’s because of that too.

That’s beautiful.

So you grew up in Seattle, would you say living in Seattle had an influence on your musical style?

Yeah, I mean, it has a whole legacy about it. And, and they’re really proud of it, or they used to be…now it’s like fully tech? Like, I don’t know what they’re listening to now. But um, just the legacy of it, for sure. There’s the microphones, there’s Sleater-Kinny, and like riot girl…there’s a lot. Like all that shit, knowing that that originated really close to where I was, like, helped me feel included in something before I even was available to me. You know what I mean? Like a whole subculture that having it be so close, even though I was like 10 or 11. I was like, Oh, I can go there. Like maybe it sucks right now. But I can go there. And I did. I went to like Sleater-Kinney shows when I was like 12.

That’s so cool.

So you’re a huge role model for a lot of people and your tenacity that’s displayed in your career is truly inspiring. Do you have any advice you’d like to give fans who look up to you?

I mean, creatively, the like, main advice I always give is just to make something. I feel like people are always asking, like, “how did you do it? How do you write a song? How are you doing?” And I was always like, I just did it. Like, regardless of whether it was good or bad, I just finished something and made it and I feel like when you do that you beat yourself. You beat a lot of other people too, honestly, not to be competitive about it. But some of the best artists I’ve ever met, have not made anything, you know. That kind of counteracts what I was just saying. But I just feel like the reason I kind of have everything, like a career and everything is just because I finished, like committed to just making it and I didn’t like give myself a hard time for the first time ever. And just like you know what, this is the song, you know. I guess that’s the hardest part about making things and also living is just trying to remember that everything’s okay. Even when it’s not.

And for final question, we would love to know about your tik tok. Maybe like what inspires it or how it started.

I got asked this in just the last interview too, and I didn’t know how to describe it except for being like really clinical. I don’t know, like, I’m talking a lot about it. But at the same time, I don’t really know why I’m doing anything. And I think I honestly, I think I’m super repressed. Like super repressed. And so, the Tik Tok and my music is just like how I deal with the stuff that other people just deal with, like normally by like having a nice healthy meal or, you know, going to therapy or something. I it just comes out like that. Yeah, yeah.

Well the people love it. We’re appreciating it. It’s unique.

Well, good. I’m glad. That’s the purpose.

Thanks for talking with us!

Nice talking to you. You’re welcome.

Check out Perfume Genius on Instagram and on Spotify below!

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