Ahead of the release of the IMMEDIATELY Remixes album by Perfume Genius, we caught up with Mike Hadreas to find out more about it.
2020 was a tough year for musicians but one of the few who emerged artistically enhanced was Perfume Genius. His fifth studio album Set My Heart On Fire Immediately was hailed as his best work to date, his vision fuller, his musicality grander; if his earlier works were coming-0f-age records, he sounded more complete on it.
As Hadreas delved deeper into the queerness and masculinity, themes that have always occupied his work, the sound morphed around the lyrics: ostensibly an art-pop piece, there were flashes of disco, touches of R&B, even shoegaze.
In its aftermath, Hadreas found himself contending with the new perimeters of the music world. IMMEDIATELY Remixes, then, was his clever way of still being creative: give his art over to other artists and let them reinterpret and rework his songs as they saw fit, perhaps even from the comfort of their own homes.
While working as a companion album to the Perfume Genius original, it’s also fully capable of standing on its own in terms of quality. For perhaps the most refreshing thing about the remixes are just how starkly reworked they actually are: ‘Moonbend’ becomes an ambient club track; ‘On The Floor’ drizzles in 80’s funk; ‘Leave’ even features a mid-song meta commentary on the very nature of remixing.
Ahead of the album’s release, we spoke with Hadreas and discussed the Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, the process of remixing, and the artists involved in the project.
IMMEDIATELY Remixes by Perfume Genius is out now via Matador Records/Remote Control Records.
Check out ‘Describe’ by Perfume Genius (A.G. Cook remix):
TD: How did the remix record idea come about initially?
PG: Oh, I don’t even know (laughs). It was such a while ago. Initially we just had the idea to have a couple remixes so I started making a list of people I’d like to worth with. I thought we’d just reach out and see. And then the list was very big! So much was put on hold for my last record and tour and things that I thought I was going to do so this was a way to make something. I didn’t do very much though. Every remix is really thoughtful and intentional, all the work was essentially on them! But I got to go to a creative place that I fell far away from in the middle of all this (COVID-19 pandemic).
TD: Was it the extra time afforded by COVID-19 lockdown that made this record even happen?
PG: I think it had a lot to do with it. It was a way to collaborate without being in the same room. People could do it at their home and everybody had free rein to completely demolish my song and make something new.
TD: Did you know many of the artists personally beforehand?
PG: Oh yeah. Jenny Hval, we toured together and became friends. I was going to say Westerman was my friend but they’re not, I’m just obsessed with him. I have been listening to him obsessively since he first released songs so I’d like to consider him a friend but I’m more of a fan.
TD: What was it about Set My Heart on Fire Immediately that you felt made it the best of your records to be reworked?
PG: I think it was the best. I think because in some ways the mood was really heavy and there were fewer elements. There was room in it so I guess there was more to work with. You could also keep intact some of the spirit of that album more.
TD: There were so many genres you touched on in that album too. Do you think that made it more receptive to remixes, because there was so much to play with?
PG: I think so because I’m just not sacred about genre. Even with my own music. There was never a risk of me being disappointed or needing it to sound a certain way, I’m open to whatever and I’ve always been like that.
TD: Because the album was intensely personal lyrically, was it hard to give it over to other people?
PG: No because doing that has just become my job. Actually the album was way more personal and confessional in the beginning because I record myself and there’s my dogs barking in the songs and coughing and stuff. And then the shows are just me behind the piano being watched! Just being shy and everything. I would be nervous and anxious but it wasn’t because of what I was sharing. As the songs and the lyrics are connecting I’m never nervous because of that.
TD: Obviously as an artist you primarily make music for your fans but I was interested to hear if you ever think about what other artists think of your music? Is this something you’re conscious of?
PG: I don’t know if I think about it when I write the record. I think once it’s out I wonder about what everybody else is thinking! I think with all the artists I’m friends with, of course I want them to like my music, especially if I’m a fan of what they make too. I feel really rewarded when they like what I do. Sometimes they straight up don’t like it though and they will straight up tell you that as well! So edgy, you know?
Check out ‘Without You’ by Perfume Genius (Jim-E Stack remix):
TD: I remember reading an essay Ocean Vuong wrote for your album last year where he called music a beautiful disruption. I think that idea is doubly true for a remix record.
PG: Well, it’s portal-making. It feels to me like taking a moment and the air is cut. Like I’m singing, playing a note and then I’m just stuck there for a little bit of extra time. You feel out of the regular rules for a moment. Then you get kind of used to the portals that you make all the time so that’s why some of the remixes made me cry because I heard my voice and my song in somebody else’s portal. It was a world I’d never be able to go to on my own. But it still gives me that feeling.
TD: That’s what I liked about Jenny Hval’s remix of ‘Leave’. That mid-track meta commentary really puts you behind the artistic process.
PG: It’s so her too (laughs). It couldn’t have been more perfect that remix. I love her so much. If someone like her agrees to remix me and likes my songs, I feel really fancy. I feel good about what I made.
TD: A lot of it – especially Jim-E Stack’s remix of ‘Without You’ – reminded me of Arthur Russell.
PG: I’m a fan of his. That remix also had a lot of Bruce Springsteen-y rock in it. I have a bunch of demos where I’m actually trying to do that. Even my song ‘Slip Away’, that was going to be like that but it ended up different. I do like Arthur Russell though. He’s an adult find. There’s some music that was suggested to me when I was younger that I just didn’t get at the time. It was the same with Joni Mitchell. I mean, she was perfectly made for me but it was only as I got older that it finally clicked!
TD: What remix do you think transformed the original the most?
PG: Danny L Harle’s remix of ‘Just A Touch’. That one was very wild but also not that wild because that’s what I was expecting from him. And the ‘Describe’ remix by A.G. Cook made me cry. It almost feels more emotional than the original but maybe that’s because I’m so used to performing it. A lot of the time when people ask me to collaborate with them it’s often on their slowest or saddest song, so to get these remixes back and hear my voice really slick it was really satisfying to me.
TD: I know you’re not going to answer this question but do you have a favourite remix?
PG: I don’t want to say but I do really love the ‘Describe’ remix.
TD: What about original new material? Have you been working on anything?
PG: No (laughs). At the very beginning of quarantine I was writing a lot but it was more just the beginning of ideas and I never really finished them. I usually write after something happens, when I have enough distance to say something smart about it. It’s hard for me to write something when I’m in the middle of some big event. Some people process things like that but it’s not how I work. It’s just been a blurry, anxiety-ridden awful year.
TD: Well this remix record must feel like a gift from friends and artists at the end of it all then.
PG: I mean, yeah. These people were making these remixes in this situation right now and I just felt so far away from that sort of energy. So to get these little presents it was really heartwarming. So many things were put on hold and if there was anything new for me to do, it was hard for me to conjure the energy.
TD: And what are your plans for the rest of the year?
PG: Well I did make a whole other record. I don’t know if I’m supposed to talk about that but oh well. I don’t care (laughs). I do want to release the music from this dance performance I made. I always recorded that music to be an actual record. The dance and music can exist without each other but I want it to be something together. The songs on it are capable of being singles, it’s a listenable thing.