Perfume Genius: Second Coming

Photographer Luke Gilford Captures the Emotionally Charged Musician’s Soaring New Spirits

Radiant in a rose-emblazed shirt and silk kimono, Perfume Genius, AKA Mike Hadreas, is haloed against the backdrop of a New York skyline in photographer Luke Gilford’s double-exposed portraits. First writing music after leaving New York to return to his mother’s place in Washington State, Hadreas garnered a cult internet following and critical acclaim through his freshman effort, Learning. His second album, Put Your Back N 2 It, released next Monday, sees the singer-songwriter resurface with newfound confidence and poise shining through his hauntingly emotional piano-led ballads. "Some writer described him as a Hollywood starlet trapped in a twink's body," offers Gilford. "Usually on shoots I'm trying to reel myself in from getting too weird but Mike actually embraces that weirdness and totally runs with it, wanting to push things even further. More strange, more funny, more fucked up. It's surprising but kind of delightful." As well as making the album art for both records, Hadreas creates his own homemade videos by repurposing fetish films and vintage Russian cartoons, and recently hit the news after a 16-second advert for the new album––featuring him topless and embracing porn actor Arpad Miklos––was controversially banned from YouTube. Here the Seattle-based rising star opens up on bar life ennui, stepping up to the plate and dissecting asphyxiation films.

What do you like to do when you come back to visit New York?
I like to go shopping. There isn’t a Topman in Seattle. You can’t really find anything. It’s all Southwestern prints and TexMex specials. 

Where does the name Perfume Genius come from?
You know the book Perfume? And the movie was really bad? I was watching it with a friend and she kept calling the main character the “perfume genius.” When I was starting out that was the first thing that came to mind. I didn’t think about it much. To be honest, if I knew it was going to stick I probably would have thought more about it. I like the way it looks, the words, the letters, but some people think it is a ridiculous name.

Being sober now, are you going out at all?
No. I’m starting to figure it out after I stopped drinking. It gets really old to have a couple of diet cokes and be in a bar that is really loud. I used to spend, like, 20 hours in stank-ass bars. I go to shows, but mostly I stay at home.

As a title, Put Your Back N 2 It arouses different expectations than Learning. Is there a new personality to this record?
There is. I wanted to step up. I’m into the bravery part of the title, talking about things that are tough. If you’re sensitive and people think you are wimpy, that pisses me off. I think you can be tough and brave and gentle at the same time.

How do you find the source material in your videos and collages?
I know exactly what I want a song to sound like or an image to look like and then I’ll do all this manic research to try to find it. It’s funny because my boyfriend notices my behavior now. He’ll come home and be like, “What are you doing?” I’ll have fetish videos playing on mute, silently watching footage of people trying not to breathe, or be reading some autopsy book. Maybe it’s helpful that I don’t think about it too much.

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