Perfume Genius is the project of singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas, whose music spans fragile piano ballads and swaggering glam rock as he explores sexuality, homophobia, and domestic abuse with brutal and often poetic honesty. His earliest home recordings -- many of which appeared on his 2010 debut, Learning -- established a comforting, confiding connection with listeners that never wavered, even as his sound became fuller on 2014's snarling breakthrough Too Bright, the elaborate collages of 2017's Grammy-nominated No Shape, and the ecstatic liberation of 2020's Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.
Born in Des Moines, Iowa and raised in Everett, Washington, Hadreas was bullied for being gay and coped by painting, writing, and listening to artists including PJ Harvey and Liz Phair. While attending Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts, he was hospitalized after he was attacked by a group of young men in his neighborhood. Once he recovered, he moved to Brooklyn and spent a few years working at a bar and partying. He returned to Everett in 2005 to go to rehab, then lived with his mother and stepfather.
During this time, he began making music, pairing unflinching lyrics with simple piano melodies. By 2008 he had set up a MySpace page and began offering his music there, along with similarly spare and evocative homemade music videos; a year later, Turnstile Records released his debut single, "Mr. Peterson," the tale of a suicidal pedophile high-school teacher. Hadreas also signed to Matador Records, which released Perfume Genius' full-length debut, Learning, in mid-2010. To tour in support of the album, Hadreas brought Alan Wyffels, a classically trained pianist he met in group therapy, as an accompanist. Eventually, they became a couple, and Wyffels performed on Perfume Genius' later tours and albums. These included 2012's even more intimate Put Your Back N 2 It and 2014's ferocious Too Bright, which fused the swagger of glam rock and early PJ Harvey with Hadreas' growing frustration with casual homophobia. Featuring Portishead's Adrian Utley and longtime Harvey collaborator John Parish, the album marked a breakthrough in Hadreas' career.
Perfume Genius returned with new music in 2016, collaborating with Sharon Van Etten on a cover of the Grateful Dead's "To Lay Me Down" for Day of the Dead, a Grateful Dead tribute album produced by the Red Hot Organization to fight AIDS/HIV and related health issues around the world. That September, Hadreas also issued a cover of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love" that was featured in the ad campaign for Prada's La Femme and L'Homme fragrances. Hadreas recorded Perfume Genius' fourth album, No Shape, in Los Angeles with producer Blake Mills. Spanning influences such as gospel, goth pop, and soul, it arrived in May 2017 and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards; Mills also received a nomination for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. Reshaped, an EP featuring six No Shape remixes by the likes of Mura Masa, King Princess, Blake Mills, and more, appeared in 2018.
Hadreas' next project was writing music for and performing in The Sun Still Burns Here, a dance piece choreographed by Kate Wallich and featuring her company the YC. The experience had a profound impact on him and influenced the creation of Perfume Genius' fifth album. A looser, freer-sounding set of songs that touched on dance-pop, country, and the anthemic power of Bruce Springsteen, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately reunited Hadreas with Mills and appeared in May 2020.
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