For his new album as Perfume Genius, Mike Hadreas aimed for a bigger sound. He recruited Fiona Apple collaborator Blake Mills to help produce, and took some songwriting risks. The resulting album, No Shape, which drops May 5 on Matador, feels borderline panoramic, hinged on lavish melodies and full-bodied arrangements. But it’s still anchored by the sort of angsty intimacy that has made all of his work so beloved. “I tried to push myself to not go to the chord I naturally would have,” he explained in his FADER cover story. “I wanted to be like, I’m a musician! To go for it.”
“Slip Away,” the record’s impossibly bright first single, is a nice example of this more texturally rich approach. There’s a whole little world in this track, and in its official video, which was produced by The FADER and is debuting above, director Andrew Thomas Huang helped construct that world, for real.
The gorgeous clip unfolds like a painting come to life, and it’s reminiscent of loopy, surrealist fairy tales like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. It stars Hadreas and Teresa "Toogie" Barcelo as best friends on the run from a pair of creepy schoolboys, who look a little bit like Trump. The video is just three minutes long, but it’s easy to get lost in. You could imagine watching it for a lot longer.
We spoke to Huang, who’s maybe best known for his immersive work with Björk, about making the “Slip Away” video, which he says was inspired by Victorian portraiture and Thelma & Louise. Read that conversation below.
How did this project come together?
Mike and I followed each other on social media for a while, and I've always been a fan of his music. Mike sent me the track and album and some images of where he was going, like, visually and thematically. He sent me a lot of really romantic imagery — really sweeping, kind of Victorian portraiture, particularly of women, or sisters, with painted backdrops. He showed me his album artwork, which was him against these kind of romantic — but definitely artificial — landscapes.
My first thought was that I really just wanted to recreate one of these portraits that Mike sent. That was what we achieved first thing in the video, and then the rest of the video is all about taking it apart, you know? I think tonally it was so clear that this album was a bit more baroque, more maximal, and so I just knew it was time to bust out the full-on fantasy guns — and, like, make it as frilly and ridiculous and kind of Adam And The Ants-ish as possible.
What ideas informed the video?
Mike said that the album, and “Slip Away” particularly, had a lot to do with finding kinship and companionship with his female friends. He told me the song was about that intimate, blood-oath kind of friendship where it's you two against the world. We talked about movies like Thelma & Louise, and Celine and Julie Go Boating — movies about friends who are close in an "I would die for you" way. There's usually some kind of outer force that's threatening them, that they have to run away from.
So I just came up with the idea of a video where Mike is opposite a really close friend. They're like two sisters on the run from the man, you know? They had to be running from something, so I had the idea of them running from little schoolboys, but we would cast old men that kind of look like Donald Trump. So we created these Trump gremlins that organically became the villains of this fairy tale world.
I just wanted the video to be melodramatic, fun, but also campy. I think it's fitting for Mike, because his music is so somber, but he also has the most wicked sense of humor. My goal was to capture Mike being himself, which I think is always the most magnetic thing to watch.
Do you think campiness is often part of your work, or did this feel like new ground?
A lot of my recent videos have been really heavy. I've been doing work with Björk for the past four years. We did Vulnicura together, which was like, so heavy — and fun and exciting.
I've always been into the Muppets, and Jim Henson. And I like how Jim Henson can go from Kermit the Frog to, like, The Dark Crystal. Both inhabit the same level of artifice and whimsy. I think [“Slip Away”] was the first time I've been able to do that for a while, and I really enjoyed it.
We obviously live in a really politically tumultuous time, and it's the time for parody and satire. The video ends with the world falling down, on an apocalyptic note. I think it needs the camp to [bring out] some of those darker tones as well.
Can you tell me a little bit about other projects you have coming up?
I've been talking with Kelela for a long time. We're trying to get funding to do a new project. I'm also working with Björk on a video for her new album.
Have you listened to Björk's album?
I think it's a bit too early for me to say at the moment, but, you know, Björk's already written quite a bit of it. We just want to evolve what we did in Vulnicura, which was so personal and introspective. What I can say is this new album's gonna be really future-facing, in a hopeful way that I think is needed right now. I'm excited. It will probably be utilizing more of my visual effects background as well.
The styling in the Perfume Genius video is amazing. How did the outfits come together?
We worked with a costumer named Mindy Le Brock. She chose some amazing pieces for Mike. I'm really proud of the snakeskin gloves that she picked for him. It added an extra level of weirdness that we really needed. And also, something that I don't know if you can tell, they're wearing these insane high-heeled boots throughout the video that they had to dance around in. We found some great actors to play the Trump clowns, who had to run around in clogs.
We shot the outdoor stuff in a park in Granada Hills in L.A. We got really lucky; since it's been so rainy here, everything looks majorly green. It almost looks like we shot it in England or something.
There’s a kind of dreamy meta-quality to the clip — like, when they’re clawing at the curtain at the end, it really feels like they’re pulling down the sky.
I've really been enjoying videos by Angel Olsen lately, because they're not that deep. I love how you can tell how much fun they have when they're shooting it. I think that's something new for me. I try to be so seamless in everything I do, but for this one, it was fun to not focus my energy on that, and rather focus on getting a good performance out of Mike, and having a good time.
Director: Andrew Thomas Huang
Production Company: STRANGELOVE
Executive Producer: Sara Greco
Executive Producer: Rob Semmer
Producer: Jeremy Hartman
Production Manager: Madison LaClair
Post Production Supervisor: Chris Jones
Director of Photography: Logan Triplett
Production Designer: Jill Bencsits
Costume Designer: Mindy Le Brock
Choreographer: Sara Silkin
Hair & Makeup: Mandy Perez
Assistant Director: Bashir Taylor
Gaffer: Robert "Junior" Oliva
Key Grip: Christopher Pevey
Wardrobe Assistants: Jessica Worrell & Adrian Gilliland
Featuring Mike Hadreas and Teresa "Toogie" Barcelo
Schoolboys: Jim Donnelly & John Hirsch
Color: Electric Theatre Collective