Mike Hadreas, the singer-songwriter who works under the name Perfume Genius, has a rare gift for opening lines.
The first few lyrics of his new album, “Set My Heart on Fire, Immediately” — out May 15 on Matador Records — are simple, direct and sum up what really has been a complicated awakening for the Seattle-born Hadreas, now 38. “Half of my whole life is gone,” he sings in a Roy Orbison falsetto on “Whole Life.” “Let it drift and wash away. It was just a dream I had, it was just a dream.”
“I think I maintained that kind of teenage invulnerability for a long time before I did the music and then doing the kind of job I do just kind of extended that even further, you know?” Hadreas said in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home. “And I think I got to carry around that kind of way of thinking and feeling for a lot longer than other people did.
“When I started thinking of youth as something separate from me, it was very strange. I feel like I kind of like lifted my head up and looked around at what actually was around me. ‘Oh, no, wait!’ The whole record is sort of about trying to reconnect in a way to what I’ve been disconnected from for so long.”
This transformation began when Hadreas left Seattle for L.A. and a new life in 2017 with his partner and musical collaborator, Alan Wyffels. And it accelerated when Hadreas joined forces with Seattle-based choreographer Kate Wallich to create the dance project “The Sun Still Burns Here.” The outfit debuted the work in Seattle, then went on a limited U.S. tour. Not long thereafter, Hadreas entered the studio with producer Blake Mills, who helmed Perfume Genius’ 2017 Grammy Award-nominated album, “No Shape.”
He quickly found that the experience of working on the dance project had changed him, opening up something inside that he’d purposely kept closed while making the intensely personal string of albums that started with his 2010 debut, “Learning.”
“I thought in order to work, in order to feel better, to feel different, to feel some sort of magic in my life and then in my body, I essentially had to be disconnected from everyone and be in hiding and just think myself somewhere else or just dream myself somewhere else,” Hadreas said. “And that was always very solitary and always very disconnected from what’s probably really going on.”
This was not the case with the “Set My Heart On Fire, Immediately” sessions, which included not only Wyffels and Mills but an all-star lineup of session musicians: guitarist Jim Keltner, bassist Pino Palladino, drummer Matt Chamberlain and singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers.
“And through the dance, all of that magic was still intact,” Hadreas said. “Like I still felt all that kind of wildness and supernatural, heavy spiritual stuff. But I was in a room with these specific people and required to be really technically in my actual body, not some other body or with some other people, some dream people. I was with them. And I realized that I could have both. I could be present and be hyperphysical and have that be a portal to this other place, too, and have things live in tandem with each other.”
The result is Perfume Genius’ most robust and multifaceted album. It still retains the intensely personal nature of his earlier recordings. But in songs like the one-night stand of “Jason,” the sprawling love song of “Your Body Changes Everything” or the yearning of “Just One Touch,” Hadreas is unfurling like the petals of a delicate orchid that’s rooted in surprisingly rugged terrain.
In essence, it’s Hadreas’ first L.A. album, a reflection of his new life, Mills said.
“The move down here probably also marked a turning point for him,” Mills said. “In some ways, I would venture to guess, this was furthering a commitment to this thing that they’re both a part of, which is making music and creating records and writing songs and performing. When you uproot your life and all the momentum you’ve been building in a place that you’ve been living for however many years they were up there, I think that that is a profound gesture that does have some meaning to it.
“I’m just selfishly happy that they’re closer and that beyond the record making, every once in a while we could go catch a movie or have some ridiculous conversation.”
While Hadreas’ day-to-day world view hasn’t really changed — he can still get lost in the weeds, he admits — he does think he is living his best life, the one he imagined when he first started thinking about moving to L.A. He is allowing himself to be indoctrinated, exercising and eating salads, watching the sunset from time to time.
“I thought because I grew up in Seattle, I thought that the weather would be very difficult to adapt to, especially considering whenever it was summer,” Hadreas said. “Like I just cut all my clothes in half. I didn’t know how to dress for the heat, you know what I mean? So I just looked at my clothes and said, well, I’ll just like rip things off of the stuff I already have. And then I got used to it really quick. I still don’t like being in the direct sunlight, but I like it. It’s available to me.”