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Perfume Genius on ‘rebellion’ against insecurities, bringing drama to the stage

When listening to Too Bright, the third release from Perfume Genius, out last year, nervous is the last word that comes to mind. It’s self-assured, it’s full, it’s controlled in its dynamics.

When he's not on tour, Mike Hadreas — the birth name of Seattle-based musician Perfume Genius — binge-watches The Bachelor.

"I kind of watch The Bachelor as a sci-fi show because I can't identify with him or any of the women or anybody on that show," Hadreas said. "It's like watching all the people from high school that I was terrified of who are pretty much exactly like I thought they were."

Other shows on his guilty pleasure-viewing list? Gossip Girl and "awful sci-fi shows." He can't behind the phenomenon that is House of Cards, though.

"I'm not even averse to watching shows where I hate everybody, because I've watched a lot of shows like that," he said. "I tried a couple episodes of House of Cards and even though all my friends are losing their minds over it, I can't get into it. I don't know why."

When Hadreas is on tour, as he is currently, playing Union Transfer on Tuesday, March 24, it's another story. He's got a strict schedule, a time to do everything and a lot less room for spending endless hours on Netflix. It's a sort of lifestyle he's grown accustomed to — not having to deal with some of the more tedious parts of "real life."

"I don't have a lot of willpower as a person on my own. I don't manage my time very well. I kind of really like that part about tour. I know exactly what I'm supposed to be nervous about every night, I know exactly what I'm supposed to be and be doing and there's allotted time for eating."

When listening to Too Bright, the third release from Perfume Genius, out last year, nervous is the last word that comes to mind. It's self-assured, it's full, it's controlled in its dynamics. The somber, light and piano-driven repertoire that is Perfume Genius' back catalogue — from 2012's Put Your Back N 2 It and 2010's Learning — gets a glimmering and bold update on Too Bright, with syths, yelps and drums: a bold rapture consisting of both ends of the spectrum — delicate and jarring, a place in which Hadreas finds himself in both music and in his day-to-day.

"In my daily life, I can be fairly goofy and joke-y. And a lot of my music is kind of darker and weirder," he explains. "There's no real middle. I'm either laughing or crying. I'm never just kind of chilling."

So when it came time to write Too Bright, Hadreas took both an introspective examination and an outward survey on his own music and that, which dominated a more mainstream musical culture.

"I had people telling me that if I wrote less explicitly about the subject matter I usually do, and essentially if I wrote lyrics that were less specifically gay that I would have a broader audience and be more successful," he said.

He then considered the music of other artists who's songs lacked an air of "discomfort," as Hadreas calls it, and pondered if he could pull of a more "universal language" while still being distinctly himself. Then he trashed those ideas.

"So almost as a rebellion to myself, I just said 'f--- it' and started screaming and putting distortion on stuff and writing about things that I really cared about, regardless if they were too gay or too weird," he said. "I started, not out of spite, but as a rebellion. I was kind of pissed off so I gave it a direction and purpose."

The energy and frustration came out in a package deal of powerful and emotive sonic layers and lyrical content, sending not only a verbal message, but one that made a profound statement as far as accompaniment goes. Because for all of the recognition his gay-identifying lyrics may receive, there's another aspect of Hadreas' songwriting that deserves a nod: the general sound of the album.

Much of the extravagancies on Too Bright came with the shaking of insecurities regarding vocal range and technical know-how. Throwing caution to the wind, it became less about being confined by limitations and more about trial and error where if it works, great, if it doesn't, scrap it, or if something unexpected turns up, let's work with it.

"A lot of times when I was about to scream [while recording], I didn't know if something was going come out. I wanted to sing a certain note, I didn't know if I was going to be able to hit it. But I just went for it all anyway," he said. "I feel really open about what I can do now. I don't feel a lot of the insecurities I felt about writing that I used to have."

That same newfound confidence has also translated into the way Hadreas carries himself onstage. Because when you're belting out lyrics like "No family is safe when I sashay" there should be a sort of physical oomph to back it up.

"It should be dramatic. I should be trying to go for it every night. I don't know how cool it looks, but I've been trying to go nuts."

He's also recently quit smoking — that's added fuel to the live-act firepower.

And that lyric? (From the goliath "Queen.") It's just another way for Hadreas to not only silence any outward naysayers, but address his own insecurities.

"In a weird way, even though I'm proud of myself, I still carry around a lot of that shame. I'm very conscious about how I look and how I seem and how feminine and tiny and weird I feel like I am. I'm sick of feeling like that."

So he just turns it on even harder. Completely aware of any stereotype or pigeonhole, Hadreas makes it a point to put himself out there. Whether it be making his late-night television debut in a white pantsuit, heels and red lipstick on the Late Show with David Letterman or donning a gold, gem-emblazed bodysuit for Too Bright's album art, it's all a part of the game plan.

"I do this to myself on purpose to hopefully throw it back to them," Hadreas said of any labels he might get. "People could say it was flamboyant, or whatever word they decide to use, but I still think it's completely badass."

Perfume Genius plays Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden St.) on Tuesday, March 24. Tickets are still available.