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Perfume Genius' Outer Space Magic

Perfume Genius

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Perfume Genius' Outer Space Magic

Ahead of his new album, 'Set My Heart On Fire, Immediately,' the pop experimentalist talks to the Recording Academy about fate, rolling in the dirt and how dance helped him reassess his relationship—both with music and himself

GRAMMYs/May 12, 2020 - 08:07 pm

Mike Hadreas, the creative force behind Perfume Genius, has been whispery and confessional. (See: his first two albums, Learning and Put Your Back N 2 It, which addressed physical abuse, addiction and pain.) He’s been confrontational. ("No family safe/when I sashay," he sang on 2014 track "Queen.") And thanks to a string of experimental performances with the YC Dance Company in November of 2019, he’s even become a dancer—though to hear him tell it, that particular skill is a work in progress. But when it came time to record his fifth album, all Hadreas wanted to be was himself.

Set My Heart On Fire, Immediately (out May 15 via Matador) marks Hadreas' move into a different sonic arena, its Blake Mills-produced sound stripped of the lavish excesses he’s explored on previous releases. It isn’t a more emotive release (Hadreas admits everything he does is extremely personal), but rather a space where jagged guitars meet vulnerability ("The lock on the door is barely holding/Can you just wait here with me?"), ambling synth-pop beats become a place to yearn for an unobtainable crush ("I cross out his name on the page") and ballads are sung with a newfound immediacy.  

Ahead of the release, Hadreas spoke with the Recording Academy about fate, rolling in the dirt and how dance helped him reassess his relationship, both with music and himself.

You seem to have made this album about emotional freedom at a time when we're not really getting a lot of that.

It's weird to make a record that feels really physical and about connection and being in the world and being a part of it, and then have that be something that's not allowed.

Do you believe in creative fate?

I think definitely it was what I needed and the kind of things needed to wrestle with and think about right now, and then. I don't have it all figured out, and I don't know exactly which way I'm supposed to go. But I know I'm supposed to go somewhere with it. I guess I've always felt very solitary, and I thought that was required before the music. And now I'm realising that I can be connected and be more present and a part of the world and keep all of that outer space magic that I thought I could only access in my weird room by myself.

Where was that turning point for you when you realized it was okay to access that magic in public?

Me and my partner Alan moved to L.A. We were living in Tacoma, which was sort of a hermit-y nest, really cozy and much-needed for a long time. But in between records we started thinking, you know, maybe we want to be where we know more people or be can be more creative and not have to get on the plane to sing with someone. Stuff like that. And then, in the dance performance, that really blew up how I thought art could be made or how I work, because it required a whole new set of things and different roles and it shook me up a lot.

I love that even in your late 30s you still have these moments where you realize everything you thought has been turned on its head.

I know that it's eventually gonna lead to somewhere really rewarding. And I have some of those rewards right now, but it's still such a jumble. Which is when I was trying to detach from in the first place to kind of mess of trying to figure everything out. So, I know that all this stuff is like coming up and then I'm like thinking about it. Ultimately, I’m gonna move into something better. I wish the smoothing was less chaotic.

How did studying dance change your relationship with music?

Well, when I was in the room with all the dancers, I was watching them move and I found that they're writing, they're there in the place that I go to when I find myself in writing. And they're there right now with the air at with a chair with each other with me. And this is like, very new to me. I think also when I danced on stage, it's almost always a rebellion. It was just me throwing myself everywhere, just like slamming against stuff trying to get it out. There were some graceful moments, but not super considered and it was not very kind, and not very warm to my body, or warm to the stuff around me. I was landing with my head into something. I'm still going to do that, because I enjoy that and maybe just knowing that I enjoy is warming that up. But my body is considering things in a much more patient, calmer way. All the edges are kind of removed. And so, that was really thrilling to me. And I think of the music, it feels very physical, the record. And it feels very much like the portal I found by being really hyper-present and being in the world. Having all that like supernatural weight to it, and not having those things be separate.

Was there a song or moment that pointed the way and helped you realize how you wanted this album to sound?

"Whole Life," I think. I wrote a lot of the songs in a batch and pretty quickly like one right after the other within like a week. And I think "Whole Life" was the first song that was the beginning of that batch. And I was just like inhabiting a certain way of singing and a way of like carrying myself even. Very performancey and almost classic. That felt very satisfying for to go there and have that the be the funnel that all the music was coming through that week.

It sounds like a lot kind of clicked into place for you at the same time.

Yeah. All these things that I'm thinking about can feel very abstract or confusing. And so, when I do click into something that feels purposeful and I have enough distance, I make a container for them. So, either been confusing, have that be okay or be tidied up and figure it out a little bit, with me throwing myself at it.

Do you believe you were tapping in a higher power or something otherworldly?

It's very confusing to me. And I think about it as music—like, is it this hyper-personal thing purely therapeutic and selfish? Or is it something spiritual thing that I'm getting close to that's like, beyond and magical? I like to think of it as both [earthly and magical]. And I listen to music that same way. The making of it, it's all fuelled by design. I'm trying to name things that I can't otherwise like, couldn't talk to you about. For to anybody who isn't myself. And so, I just keep buzzing on that frequency. Feels like really buzzing and I need to somehow get it out.

Is it ever difficult tapping into that, knowing that there's an audience waiting, and a whole bevy of social taboos about gender expression, sexuality and life to contend with?

It's just like a balance. I mean essentially I just do whatever I want. My presentation has always just been my presentation. I know that doing that is a choice and it means something. I'm packaging it and always the performance element to it no matter what, but I am actually literally performing to it continue doing it continually. It's more confusing now than it used to be. I used to play shows in whatever I was wearing off stage, and now I put things on, specifically to go on stage and I just think of it as like a world-building thing. It's that same combination of being really close to me, but also magnifying it or stealing and blowing it up. And even people keep asking, "Why are you dressed this way—presenting more traditionally masculine?" Just because I feel like it. But also, it's fun to play with that. Like, I'm serious about it because it's closed to me, but it's also a performance. I just want to be covered in dirt. I don't know how to explain it. Maybe like, further down in the record cycle, I'll be able to tell them exactly why I want to be covered in dirt all the time. But at this point, I don't really know. Just feels right.

Where did the title Set My Heart on Fire, Immediately come from?

It's just greediness. Like, once I figured out these little things that I want or ways that I could get there, I just want all of it. I guess, being insatiable and being kind, usually not being restless and even younger. And now I feel like I have enough of a centre that I can let some of that in and have it not overwhelm me. And once I figured that out, I just didn't like will bring all of it to me.

I think it can be hard to admit how badly you want something.

A lot of my instincts are like—I just want to do something I shouldn't do. But I don't know why I shouldn't do it. Like, why not? I will want to just lay down on the ground when I’m supposed to be standing up. Nobody's gonna care. Why can I just lay down?

Does that instinct help you when you’re writing a song like "Jason," that’s so intensely personal? Would you have written it differently before going into yourself like this? 

Maybe not in the exact same way. It's closer to how I how I started writing. It's like a story of something that already happened. You know, I put other stuff on it and I decorate it to make it song. But it's essentially based on a memory and my memory. And I think I always felt like that. When I think there's a little folder. Anything that's in between, like a feeling in between the lines. I feel like I kind of shared that feeling at the same time now. I've definitely been kinder to that memory now than I was when after it happened.

That's something that I'm learning a lot as an adult—just learning how to be kinder to my own memories.

Yeah, I mean, you did all that stuff for a reason. There's something really freeing about all the problems you have or developed. You have them because they worked at some point.

Do you believe in love first sight?

Yeah, I do, but I also believe that I could know a person like 30 years and then fall in love with them. Yeah, why not? We're all changing all the time.

Blake Mills On Staying Creative During Quarantine, Turning People Into Songs

Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

Joan as Police Woman

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 07:21 pm

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.

Thursday, April 2

[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.

[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it. 

Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy. 

[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always. 

[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment. 

I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.

[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.

[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh. 

Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot. 

[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).

[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music. 

[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night. 

If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website

Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage

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Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

How sound planning for a creative future in our urban areas makes all the difference for artists and musicians

GRAMMYs/Oct 24, 2019 - 01:27 am

The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.

To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."

"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"

According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.

"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."

The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.

"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."

On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate

"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."

For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.

"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."

The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.

Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."

In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.

"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."

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Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Ice-T In 1993

Photo by David Corio/Redferns

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Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Led by iconic rapper Ice-T, the L.A.-based seven-piece keep their socially conscious themes consistent and the music louder than ever on their seventh studio album

GRAMMYs/Mar 10, 2020 - 10:06 pm

In early 1992 Ernie Cunnigan visited the Burbank office of Howie Klein. The guitarist (who goes by Ernie C.) and the then-president of Reprise/Warner Bros. Records were listening to the upcoming self-titled debut from Cunnigan’s band, Body Count, fronted by his Crenshaw High School buddy Tracy Marrow, already famous as rapper Ice-T. Ice, with the savvy creative connectivity that guides his multi-hyphenate media career to this day, introduced his forthcoming metal band in 1991 via tracks on O.G. Original Gangster, his fourth album.

It's not unusual for high school pals to form a band. What was unusual, though, was that Body Count was a hardcore thrash metal band comprised of all-black musicians, with point-blank lyrics that were both insightful and incite-ful concerning racial and social inequities and the climate of America. Listening to the 18-track debut, Klein praised it, while voicing concern about the lyrics of "Momma's Gotta Die Tonight," a song about the matricide and dismemberment of a racist parent. Turns out it was the last track, a ditty called "Cop Killer," that should have given the executive pause. 

While Klein was and remains stridently opposed to censorship and is a dedicated free speech advocate, Body Count, per the era, was released with a parental advisory sticker (as was Original Gangster). Less than two months after Body Count dropped, Los Angeles exploded in fiery violence in reaction to the acquittal of four policemen in the beating of Rodney King, as well as the shooting death of black teenager Latasha Harlins by a Korean grocer. (The grocer was given only probation.) It was the worst possible climate for "Cop Killer," with lyrics including "Fk the police, yeah!" and shout-outs to then L.A.P.D. chief Daryl Gates, Ice's "dead homies" and King. The blowback went all the way up to then-President George Bush, and though Time Warner supported Ice-T in his fight against the song's opponents, he eventually pulled the cut from new pressings of the album.

Currently, streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music offer the version sans the group's most (in)famous song, replacing "Cop Killer" with "Freedom Of Speech" from Ice's 1989 solo album, The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say, edited to add samples of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" and the voice of political punker Jello Biafra. On YouTube, "Cop Killer" has more than 1.5 million views, with most of the comments thoughtful and positive, understanding the intentionally incendiary messages Body Count was delivering. Ultimately, if Body Count isn’t a classic record in the way that critics consider Nirvana’s Nevermind or Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back to be, it’s an important and groundbreaking one. As Ice-T has said, Body Count is: "a protest record,” not the norm in the metal world, but still the way BC's songs operate today.

Indeed, 28 years later, things haven’t changed. Biafra is also on Body Count's powerful new album, Carnivore. Police actions like "stop and frisk" (the NYC law enforcement program that was proven to disproportionally target black and Latino men) wasn’t legally discredited until 2014. Body Count’s one-time bassist, Lloyd "Mooseman" Roberts III, was murdered in South Central Los Angeles in 2001 in an accidental drive-by; in the last 12 months, 126 black men were killed by guns in L.A. County, as opposed to 23 white men. And Ice-T and Body Count are still raging against the machine.

Ice-T enjoys pushing buttons lyrically, and if they’ve sometimes been heavy-handed or misguided ("KKK Bitch" or "Bitch In The Pit"), Ice-T is a politically eloquent, passionate and personal songwriter, which can be too easily overlooked given Body Count's volume-heavy metal chops and Ice's delivery, a speedy vocal style that’s been traditionally more aggro-rapping than melodic singing.  

That said, Carnivore is Body Count’s best album to date; it’s the most fully realized musically, and there’s a cohesion to the vocals and music that led Body Count bassist Vincent Price to lay out the band’s growth in a Metallica timeline: "Manslaughter [2014] was basically Kill ‘Em All; Bloodlust [2017] was our Ride The Lightningand Carnivore’s our Master Of Puppets."

He's not wrong, and though Ice-T’s more than 20-year stint as detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit has precluded lengthy Body Count tours, the buzz is loud for this seventh album.

Ice-T may be the original gangster, yet he’s patient, articulate and fervent in explaining songs and motivations to audiences and the press alike. "When I'm Gone," featuring Amy Lee of Evanescence, was inspired by the killing of Nipsey Hussle. It’s a reminder, as he says in the tune, to "tell the people that you love, that you love them now. … Don't wait; tomorrow may be too fking late."

His prolific musical social criticism and seemingly left-leaning views are thoughtful and targeted, despite the vitriol of so many Body Count songs. In the nearly 30 years since founding his revolutionary band, Ice-T observes, "I think you’ve got less racism; less people, but more avid racism. It’s unnerving to think that we’ve come so far but there’s still so far to go." As he advised in a 2017 interview, "Don’t just be angry. Know what you’re talking about so you don’t alienate someone who should be an ally."