Lala Lala and Perfume Genius Have a Lot of Catching up to Do
Lillie West the indie-rock phenom also known as Lala Lala, is back with her third album I Want The Door To Open—out on October 8th. The long-awaited record comes after a three-year hiatus following the release of the Chicago-based songwriter’s 2018 record The Lamb, an introspective offering that spawned stand-out singles like “Water Over Sex” and “Destroyer.” In honor of the upcoming album, Lala Lala took some time to speak with her two friends— and fans— Mike Hadreas (known as Perfume Genius) and his partner and collaborator Alan Wyffels, about playing in shitty dive bars, getting flat tires, and working for eHarmony.
LALA LALA: What’s up, guys? How’s it going?
ALAN WYFFELS: Your hair is so dry. Did you blow-dry it?
LALA LALA: No! What a rude thing to say, Alan.
PERFUME GENIUS: It’s just not wet.
LALA LALA: How long have you both been back from your tour?
WYFFELS: About a week.
LALA LALA: How was it?
PERFUME GENIUS: It was really fun. I thought it would be overwhelming in bad ways, and it wasn’t. It was good. It felt like summer camp and the shows felt wild and fun.
LALA LALA: I’m really nervous about our first show. I feel like I’m gonna lose my shit.
PERFUME GENIUS: Have you been rehearsing?
LALA LALA: We have, but it’s really hard. This record is complicated. There are about 13 musicians on it.
WYFFELS: When I first listened to it, the first thing I thought was, “How is she gonna do this live?”
LALA LALA: Well, we’re not. That’s how.
PERFUME GENIUS: You just have to perform the spirit of the song, not the original version. That’s how I feel about it. People just need to feel the same way when they hear it, or better.
WYFFELS: Do you feel like any of the songs take on a totally different direction when you play them live? Or are you trying to keep it as close to the record as you can?
LALA LALA: There are certain songs that we’re trying to make exactly the same. I was feeling really disheartened to perform “Straight & Narrow” live, but we worked it out in a new way that I’m obsessed with. Now, it’s my favorite one to perform. We had to stop using tracks for a couple of them. I don’t know if you’re supposed to reveal that to the public. But some songs we couldn’t make work otherwise.
PERFUME GENIUS: We used no tracks on tour just because there was so much shit on the recordings. At that moment, I wanted it to be full-on and there’s only four of us on stage. There were also a lot of world instruments.
WYFFELS: Just curious, are you addicted to anything right now?
LALA LALA: I started smoking cigarettes again when I was in New Mexico and just stopped. But it was so interesting observing this addictive behavior in myself that I hadn’t experienced for years. I didn’t want to smoke, but I just kept doing it. I noticed that it started to mess with my singing voice.
WYFFELS: Do you warm up before you sing?
LALA LALA: Yes, if I remember to. This is the kind of thing that you could remind me of as my personal assistant. Anything to do with my career, I ask you about. Aesthetic, technical, spiritual…
WYFFELS: It’s been really fun watching the rollout of this record. You’ve done such a good job at making shit that’s out of the box. The trailer that you did is so funny and weird.
PERFUME GENIUS: Yeah, how did you come up with that?
LALA LALA: I was thinking about the record as an immersive experience. I wanted the rollout to be like that as well. I had a lot more ideas that didn’t happen. These are just the ones that won. I workshopped them all with my managers. For the infomercial, the team just ran with it and killed it. I didn’t want it to be boring. I wanted it to be fun for me, too. It can get kind of tedious doing the same thing with every record, and the language on Instagram is so homogenous. I also think I had more energy since I didn’t tour for two years. I had more mental space to think about this stuff.
PERFUME GENIUS: Well, I did not have that. Everything felt hard.
LALA LALA: Your record came out the day COVID smashed.
PERFUME GENIUS: Yeah, and I had a lot of ideas that then could no longer happen. I didn’t have the energy to come up with new ones.
WYFFELS: It was a hard thing to navigate. You didn’t want to have to compromise your vision.
PERFUME GENIUS: I could’ve come up with ideas that worked. I just refused.
LALA LALA: Well, you did the Instagram live streams and the shows without an audience.
PERFUME GENIUS: Yeah, I liked the live streams.
LALA LALA: It was amazing, flawless, incredible.
WYFFELS: As a touring musician, to have that taken away was like, “Who am I without this thing that I do?”
LALA LALA: What was it like performing to no one? Were you imagining an audience?
PERFUME GENIUS: I thought of the camera as the audience. I felt like I was in a movie or play. It felt like there was something there, even if it wasn’t people. But I’m ready to play a shitty bar in Denver soon. Actually, maybe I’m lying about that.
WYFFELS: Playing “shitty dive bars” always sounds terrible, but usually they’re really fun. There’s an energy that’s unique to those shows that you don’t get at a theater.
LALA LALA: It’s really nice to be that close to people.
PERFUME GENIUS: I don’t know how touring is for you, but I get really anxious until we’re actually on the bus. Then I can relax.
WYFFELS: I feel the same way. But our bus broke down on the first day of tour.
PERFUME GENIUS: I didn’t even notice that.
LALA LALA: Were you sleeping?
PERFUME GENIUS: I was having fun!
LALA LALA: [Laughs] You were like, “The bus stopped. That’s weird.”
PERFUME GENIUS: I didn’t realize it was such an issue. I was just like, “Oh, whatever.” [Laughs]
LALA LALA: Why?
PERFUME GENIUS: I was just done stressing.
LALA LALA: You have a cosmic acceptance now. You’re just like, I have no control, and everything will be fine.
PERFUME GENIUS: I have that kind of when it’s happening in a communal way. I’m walking and I fall, I don’t care. But if I’m in a room by myself, I do not have that cosmic acceptance at all.
WYFFELS: I’m the same way. I do everything I can to prevent a flat tire, but when I do get a flat tire, I don’t care.
PERFUME GENIUS: Maybe this is a personality disorder.
LALA LALA: That sounds like some addict stuff: control issues and trying to manipulate any situation. Mike, I wanted to ask about your new Substack.
PERFUME GENIUS: Yes, my newsletter. There were times where I’d be writing it for nine hours straight and laughing the whole time. I don’t know if that’s what they were expecting me to do on that platform.
LALA LALA: Oh, they requested that you do something? They’re really funny. It’s a really good illustration of your type of comedy.
PERFUME GENIUS: Yeah, and it was very open ended.
WYFFELS: My guess is that they reached out to you because of your Twitter. If you were to do a longform version of your Twitter, this would be it. I don’t think they wanted you to put out academic writing.
PERFUME GENIUS: You can’t help what’s in your brain. I have a question about music. It feels like your music is built around lyrics. Is that how you usually write? Which one comes first?
LALA LALA: It changes. I write lyrics down all the time and they come to me randomly. But I’ve never set words to music like Elton John.
PERFUME GENIUS: That’s weird because I felt like I heard that happening in the songs. The words were guiding the music. Maybe it’s just in certain moments.
LALA LALA: The lyrics are built into the song structure before any production.
WYFFELS: Have you ever said a word in a song that your collaborator or producer told you that you couldn’t say?
LALA LALA: “Bandaid.” Also, I heard a song that had the word “slimy” in it the other day, and I thought that was unacceptable. When I heard that Mariah Carey lyric, “images of rapture,” everything changed for me.
PERFUME GENIUS: She’s a writer.
LALA LALA: She is! Ok, I have one last question that has nothing to do with music. What jobs did you guys have before doing music full-time?
PERFUME GENIUS: I worked for a personal ad company. People who didn’t own a scanner would send me pictures to add to their dating profiles, and I would scan them and add them to their profiles. I’ve kept them all. I have stacks of pictures.
WYFFELS: Like eHarmony?
PERFUME GENIUS: I don’t know how to explain it. I worked at one that was a system that multiple sites that had personal ad sections used. It was fun!
WYFFELS: I was a barista for a million years. Before that, I worked at a leather store. I got so much swag from there. I have so many leather pants. This was when I was 18. I lived in this small rural town, and there I was wearing leather pants to the gas station.
LALA LALA: I love it. Whenever I’m in a small town, I’m like, “Everyone take a look.”
WYFFELS: You’ve never worked a day in your life, have you?
LALA LALA: How dare you? I worked in a kitchen when I was 15 in London. I also worked at a movie theater for a while and for the company that does the cemetery screenings in LA. Sometimes I would have to collect emails from the people there, and no one wanted to give me their email, so I’d go into the Port-O-Potty and make up emails.
WYFFELS: [Laughs] Also, we’ve never seen you live. You haven’t seen us live either, right? We’re always on tour at the same time.
LALA LALA: No! Let’s do something fun.