AWOL Marine: Perfume Genius

"There were these expectations on me..."
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There’s a moment on the new Perfume Genius ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ where everything – voice, lyrics, arrangement, production – seem to pull together, as tight as the head of a pin. ‘AWOL Marine’ ends with Michael Hadraes’ voice sucked up into the heavens; synth swirl pushing harder and harder until the whole landscape is rendered as noise. Yet while challenging, the piece has a blissful edge – melancholic, but melancholy with a beautiful serenity.

It’s a serenity which has taken Perfume Genius a long time to achieve. Attempting to re-focus after the surprise success of debut album ‘Learning’, Michael Hadreas found himself locked in limbo. “There were a few months where I was aimless, trying to write and couldn’t” he sighs, permitting a vein of exasperation to enter his voice. “Just because I was getting a little nervous – I knew I was supposed to, y’know? There were these expectations on me. I wanted to – I don’t know, I just really wanted it to be good. I was thinking too much about it so it became forced and not very genuine. I just realised how uncool I was, I kind of came to terms with that. I realised that I’m just going to make something which is really earnest and not very hip. I just started doing what I normally do.”

Initially overawed by the reception afford to his debut album, Michael Hadreas found that he could use this audience as a means to pry open his own songwriting. “I think what I initially found hard for me to navigate was that I was thinking a lot about the people who were going to listen to what I was writing” he explains. “I was sensing myself but then I kind of realised that I can write for other people, that I can be deliberate and not be phoney. When I first started thinking about who I was writing the music for it became easier, instead of thinking about the public in general, who might hate it or who’s gonna think what I could just write it for who I wanted to write it for it became a lot easier.”

Intensely personal, ‘Learning’ almost felt like peering through a keyhole into someone’s life. By way of contrast, ‘Put Your Back In 2 It’ is a more relaxed, confident affair. Still capable of crafting something heart-grippingly emotive, Perfume Genius has evolved to grasp hold of lush aesthetics. Partially recorded in a studio outside Bristol, ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ has an easy, un-rushed feel. “I was thinking about the kind of music I listen to before I go to bed and things that I spent a lot of time with. I kind of liked that I suppose. A little more simple, fluid and not so jarring” says the songwriter. “I listen to some more difficult music but it’s not something I listen to for years and years and years, y’know? So I was trying to make something that people could listen to for a long time.”

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Something to have, to hold ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ is built around a series of broad, pastoral brushstrokes. Yet the material remains quite personal – ‘All Waters’ for example, deals with some of the more everyday examples of homophobia Hadreas has encountered (a subject which sadly reared its head again recently). Lyrically, Perfume Genius remains a profoundly literate, challenging proposition yet the music always feels accessible, always strives towards being universal. “When I was growing up I listened obsessively to music and that really helped me, but there was always sometimes like a dis-connect, like I couldn’t fully related to it. Or there’s something keeping me from really feeling like they’re talking about me” says the songwriter. “Even when I was making the album I was listening to a lot of older music, a lot of older ballads where I really loved them but I couldn’t imagine anyone like me in any of that music. So I wanted to make something which had the same qualities – something soulful but for a broader range of people. I just like writing in a way that people can take whatever they need to, I guess.”

With the new album now adorning shelves across the country, Perfume Genius face the task of bringing ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ to life onstage. Naturally shy and introverted, Michael Hadreas initially found the idea of life on the road imposing. However now it seems that the demands of a tour schedule actually help to energise the songwriter. “It’s just really nice to have direction too, everyday” he says. “At home, I’m kind of aimless but I always have stuff to do when I’m on tour. Just thinking a lot more about it, it’s not so terrifying anymore. I’m thinking a lot more about how the live show is going to look, trying different things it’s a lot more exciting as opposed to scary.”

Initially making music only for a select group of friends, Perfume Genius finds Michael Hadreas enjoying critical acclaim, playing shows around the globe. Finishing, I wonder if the demands placed on him will lead to sacrificing elements of the intimacy whch fuel the project. “I think that’s kind of dangerous. If I got overly confident and started telling people things instead of asking them, so it would seem like ‘listen to this message I have for you’. I still don’t feel like that but I can own it and be a little more professional but still retain that intimacy”.

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'Put Your Back N 2 It' is out now.

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