In Residence: Perfume Genius covers Leonard Cohen and performs acclaimed new work

Perfume Genius. Photo credit: Camille Vivier

Perfume Genius — the nom de guerre of Mike Hadreas — runs in a flourishing creative lane, one that really found its trajectory when he turned to the incomparable production of fellow In Residence alum Blake Mills . Mike Hadreas’ music currently stands alone in an upper tier of slick, glossy indie-pop. His lyrics are exposed and full of desire, love, and sex. The body plays an important role lyrically and in his performance through dance and movement. Perfume Genius from a macro view fits closer to high art — full of allusion, nuance and it’s best packaged from the totality of sound and visual performance. On the micro level, his music will move and challenge you. On his recent and stellar 2020 release "Set My Heart On Fire Immediately," you're taken in and out of relationships, control, and love. It’s a benchmark, even by his standards, that has continually progressed from his arrival in 2010. 

Hadreas and Mills stroll through many genres and styles, as they wind their way to a pulsating and provocative pop sound on “Set My Heart On Fire Immediately,” and it absolutely shines in this exclusive In Residence session, recorded from a safe studio environment with a full band. On the cusp of a big breakout year that would have undoubtedly sent him to all corners of the map, we’re pleased to showcase Perfume Genius for a live performance featuring new tracks “On the Floor,” “Jason,” and a striking cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On The Wire.” Enjoy the session and learn more about this very important artist in our conversation below. 

You’ve had an impressive run of acclaimed albums dating back 10 years now. And with “Set My Heart on Fire Immediately” you’ve really honed in on your rich and textured pop sound. Would you say over the arc of your albums that you had an ‘a-ha moment’ where everything clicked from production to lyrics, and even performance wise? Has working with Blake Mills enhanced that?

My first album was self-recorded alone and released before I had ever played a show or even sang in front of another person. I’ve been in proper studios now since then, learned along the way what that meant. It changed how I wrote, knowing I could have a trombone later down the line if I wanted one. Making room in my songs for Blake Mills to play guitar… things like that. But I’ve always loved the way I actually wrote in the beginning, before anybody was listening. I like my first lyrics the best. This most recent album feels like a harmony, like I conjured all the things I’ve learned and these new sonic places I can go — but still kept the way I wrote in the beginning, when the words were the most important ingredient. Feels like harmony now, for a while it felt like either/or.

I understand that you recently moved to LA — do you have any go-to spots around the city for creative inspiration? 

I like being able to be outside casually. Eat outside, wander about… those are all things that had a different flavor in Seattle or just weren’t an option sometimes. I like the desert, I like anything that is nothing like space.

Both dance and the visual representation of your music seem fully intertwined in your performance. Do you approach all of it — music included — as one discipline, or do you somewhat separate the artforms and bring it all together?

I think of it as world building and try to just bring myself to the place I’ve created and see what images, movements, and sounds make sense there. I’m a hippie. It’s a lot of rolling around and feeling and trying to channel something.

Perfume Genius in studio. Photo courtesy of Perfume Genius

Related, when we get back to live performance — do you have a venue or city you’re most looking forward to playing? 

My very first tour we played in Brussels and it was the first time I really felt the crowd enough to break through my nerves. It was really magical and overwhelming. I feel like when my music got louder they were less interested. America likes loud music, I have bigger crowds here now because I’m yelling. But I’d like to go back to Belgium and play a show and feel that again, like a full circle thing.

— Written by Tyler Hale

Check out more In Residence sessions:
Norah Jones
Jensen McRae
Peter CottonTale
Rufus Wainwright
Rocky Dawuni
Lianne La Havas
Blake Mills
Laura Marling
Aloe Blacc
Devon Gilfillian
Jonathan Wilson
Juana Molina





Michael Hadreas - Lead Vocals
Alan Wyffels - Keyboard and Background Vocals
Meg Duffy - Guitar and Background Vocals
Patrick Kelly - Bass and Background Vocals
Greg Uhlmann - Guitar and Background Vocals
Tim Carr - Drums and Background vocals

Mixed by: Joseph Lorge
Engineered by: Chris Harbach
Asst. Engineer: Farrokh Shroff
Recorded at Red Gate Recorders

Edited for broadcast by Desmond Taylor