The two wolves in Perfume Genius

He’s a critically acclaimed musician with a new album out next month. However, to some, Perfume Genius is only known as an excellent Twitter account. He talks to Sam Brooks about how he balances these two styles of self-expression.

There are two wolves in Mike Hadreas. There’s the critically acclaimed musicianship Perfume Genius, who smoothly and sexy slides between genres both on record and in outrageously emotional and candid live performances. And then there’s the guy who tweets “Why am I gay,” followed by a photo of Tori Amos on her laptop.

These wolves coexist, and both are great.

Now the musician wolf can finally tour again after Covid lockdowns prevented him from touring IMMEDIATELY in support of his latest album Set My Heart on Fire. This album was released in February 2020, just as the pandemic was hitting the world. Hadreas had to turn to other means of promoting the album, including live streams from his home, which he admits was initially reluctant to do.

But he’s proud of the highlight of those live streams: a concert at the Palace Theater in Los Angeles, with all ticket proceeds going to benefit Immigration Equality, a queer immigrant rights group. It took place in an empty venue, with a stripped down, socially distanced, six-piece band. “It really all just fell into place in a way that feels really satisfying and feels exactly how I’m supposed to do it,” he says. “Maybe it wouldn’t have been like that if I had carried on with all my ideas from two years ago.

“To be honest, two years ago I was very manic. I was in a really intense place. I wasn’t grounded at all.”

A full album cycle later, he’s finally making his way to support his next album, Ugly Season, due for release on June 17th. For Hadreas, touring again after a two-year hiatus feels strange and familiar at the same time. “It’s like a lot of things,” he says. “There’s this tension that sometimes makes shows seem really wild. Sometimes it feels more disturbed than usual because everyone is a little more disturbed than usual, and then some viewers might feel more hesitant or shy.”

“Or maybe it’s been so long I don’t even really know, and I haven’t read anything specific!”

When it comes to touring again, his point of reference is Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel’s novel (recently adapted into an acclaimed television series) about a Shakespearean troupe touring a post-pandemic wasteland of America. “It feels like a camp. It feels post-apocalyptic, it feels like we shouldn’t be doing it,” he says. Aside from that, the live performance process is just as stressful for him as ever – putting the concept together, rehearsing, and cramming it all into a tour bus to make each night work.

So far the shows – so far all in the US and Canada before moving here in June – have felt a lot more sentimental than in pre-Covid times. He attributes it to people who are more emotional and need the experience of live communion more. “It feels rebellious,” he says. “Especially since everything is shit. Things just suck and spending an hour doing something gay and funny and weird and not necessary many people find… It feels rebellious. And fun.”

This energy could also explain Hadreas’ Twitter account. His music is esoteric, wholehearted and serious in the least terrifying way. His tweets are archaic, camp, and always so easily off the rails. The only thing that connects the two is that they are both really gay.

He has nearly a million followers on Twitter, an impressive feat considering there’s almost no overlap between his music and his tweets, other than the name behind them. For context, indie icon Phoebe Bridgers, who provided harmony vocals for “On the Floor” on her latest album, has just over 550,000 followers. And on the other end of the commercial spectrum, 2021 superstar Olivia Rodrigo has 1.8 million.

“I think I need an outlet. All the time,” Hadreas says of his tweets. “My valves are not the ones you should use in everyday life, like talking. Doing regular stuff doesn’t feel like an outlet to me. It feels tough and I need a place to store my excess energy that would not be appropriate to bring to the table.” As of this writing, Hadrea’s recent tweets include a promo for a collaboration with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a TikTok video he put his voice over and this phrase:

He used to worry that his online presence would get in the way of his music or they would clash with each other, but now he’s accepted that somehow they do, and that’s fine. A lot of people who follow him don’t know that he makes music, only that he talks about “Aliens queefing“.

There is also a lot of overlap between his two fan bases. People will yell things at shows that come from his tweets, not a record — often about his advocacy rat arthritis. “It can pull you out,” he says. “I like it though. I like to read the chat when I’ve done some live streaming. It’s so disturbed. I just hope I’ve built a following, no matter how small, that’s just totally screwed.”

There is something compellingly human about the two sides of Hadreas’ personality – the intense, rich world of his music and the fleeting, lightning-fast brilliance of his tweets. These two sides of his personality exist more in conversation than in competition these days.

“I’m grateful to be able to share all of these things. People stay on board with me,” he says. “Because actually everything is close together and part of the same thing. Whenever I’ve tried doing it against my stomach or anything against why I would naturally do it, it sucks. It just doesn’t work. I really can’t help it.”

Perfume Genius plays at Powerstation in Auckland on June 6th and at San Fran in Wellington on June 7th. You can book tickets here.

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