“I lucked out big-time is what happened,” explains 29-year-old singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas of how he wound up making music under his nom de indie rock, Perfume Genius. In the early part of this decade, Hadreas was living in New York City and attending film school at NYU. But he eventually dropped out and went on a massive months-long bender. “I was doing a combination platter of drugs,” he recalls. “Like a Chinese buffet.” Two years ago, he moved back to his mother’s suburban Seattle home to detox and regroup, and after a few weeks of playing video games (“I was in a gay World of Warcraft guild called Taint,” says Hadreas. “They weren’t nice.”) he began writing music using a cheap headset microphone and the family piano. Semiautobiographical songs like “Mr. Peterson”—a conflicted ode to a sexually predatory high school teacher—began to pour out. Like much of Hadreas’s recently released debut album, Learning (Matador), “Mr. Peterson” features a catchy piano riff and an infectious chorus that belies a kind of plainspoken lyricism. “He let me smoke weed in his truck / If I could convince him I loved him enough,” sings Hadreas on the track, his voice fragile and aching. Almost immediately after Hadreas started posting songs online under the name Perfume Genius, the raves began to accumulate—as did comparisons to other openly gay performers, such as Antony Hegarty and Jónsi of Sigur Rós. For his part, Hadreas is ambivalent about these kinds of critical evaluations of his music. “I love those other gay people, but our sexuality is the only reason we’re lumped together,” he says. “Almost all of the songs come from my experiences. It’s hard if you’re gay for shame not to come in. I was a ball of all that bullshit my whole life. But I’m glad everything happened the way it did. I couldn’t make the things I wanted if it didn’t.”
Photos: Perfume Genius in New York, July 2010. Right: Shirt: Diesel Black Gold. Necklace (throughout): Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci. Left: Pants: Dsquared2. Belt: Ann Demeulemeester. Grooming Products: Kiehl’s Since 1851, including Creative Cream Wax. Fragrance: Play by Givenchy. Styling: Natasha Royt/Art + Commerce. Grooming: Kristi Matamoros for Nars Cosmetics & Kiehl’s Since 1851 Men’s Grooming Care/Kate Ryan, Inc. Production: Brachfeld-ny.