The first time I remember being properly, painfully moved by music was when I heard the song "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" by Prince. I was just a kid. I remember sitting on the living room floor, listening to it, and recognising a new feeling. It's not a feeling you get very often: It doesn't come from a pop song you have on repeat. It probably doesn't happen with nostalgic 90s singles. It's a feeling you get when you hear a song that speaks to both the extremely sad and extremely hopeful part of you. Even if you wanted to, you can't listen to it over and over, because it kind of hurts.
When I hear "GUTS" by Melbourne solo artist Spike Fuck for the first time, I feel it. The lyrics themselves are enough to do it—"Oh baby, tell me why, can't I just fall asleep? I lied. So I just lie here. Thinking, thinking about it. I'll never ever get over it"—but the bittersweet melody is the bit that really corners me.
Even before that first song finds me, Spike has already taken on a kind of mythical quality for me. Her name, memorable as it is, has been following me around for weeks. I keep getting told I "have to hear this stuff." My housemate is blasting the two songs on Spike's Soundcloud over and over in her room day and night; people keep asking when I'm going to write about her. From what I hear and read, Spike is a transwoman recovering from heroin addiction, seducing audiences with her tender and—dare I say it—raw brand of new wave-y rock and roll. Just a year after starting out, sometimes playing three or four times a week and often to less than ten people, Spike has suddenly sold out a club in Melbourne for the launch of her first and only EP Smackwave.
I get in touch and ask to interview her. When I get to the bar we're meeting at, I find her leaning against the wall in the cold. She's wearing a long skirt, a diamante choker around her neck and a safety pin through her ear, with a bleached blonde mullet sticking out from under a black baseball cap. I offer her a cigarette—she tells me she doesn't smoke—and a beer; but she says she doesn't drink. So we get two Cokes and we talk.
A week later, I'm seeing her play for the first time in a dark and quiet bar in Fitzroy on a Wednesday night. She's playing the same set she's been playing for a year: Her, a microphone, and a computer—which plays the instrumentals of her songs—under blue and red stage lights. She calls this her "karaoke set."
For the first thirty seconds, from Spike picking up the mic and making introductions, to pressing play on her first song, you can sense a kind of cold skepticism in the room. The thirty or so people who've ended up here slowly quieten down. About half are fans, you can tell by the way they don't take their eyes of her. The rest are those who've been dragged along, like my housemate's date for the night, or those who've wandered in out of the rain, bewildered. Spike doesn't look like an exciting new musical anomaly. She actually just looks kind of like a junkie.
She dances alone on stage with immense confidence, heaving and pacing. It's disarming, and strangely hypnotic. She demands to be watched, and after just one song, everybody claps with a kind of dumbfounded, not-sure-what-to-do-with-this-information look on their face. Between songs she's shy and uncomfortable, which makes the metamorphosis all the more strange and delightful to watch.
Afterwards, when we're sitting at the bar, we can't really talk for being interrupted. People continue to politely introduce themselves, to tell Spike what a talent she is, how much they loved her set. She's thankful to the point of being awkward. They buy a tape or a t-shirt, which she pulls out of a big cardboard box that usually lives in the back of her car, but lives on her lap now. The tapes are new. I take a look at one and Spike says "I made them all myself. Those insert things are really hard to cut out." They look really fucking hard to cut out.
Like most people I know, Spike spent the better part of her teenage years navigating feelings of sadness and loneliness. She puts some of that down to being raised part-Irish Catholic and not knowing where she fit within the church. She had football and rugby players for cousins, and an accountant and powerlifter—at the time—for brothers.
Spike's parents' small business began to boom when she reached high school age, so the family moved from the outer-suburbs to the inner-city. Spike was then enrolled into one of Melbourne's most prestigious all boys' schools. I remember hearing stories about what would go on at Scotch, infamous for its boys' club camaraderie, feeling fascinated and a little bit scared.
As a closeted misgendered teen, she found herself feigning masculinity and hopping between friendship groups during her adolescence — jocks and cool kids; musos and nerds. Her classmates would challenge the way she spoke or held herself. They'd pick on her for being small and effeminate, and sometimes beat the shit out of her. Both "equally as difficult and 'complex-forming'," she says.
"I'd go home in tears punching the wall, screaming into pillows, getting smashed on UDLs on a Wednesday night and then throwing up before going to school," she tells me. "Some really devastating, heartbreaking things happened in high school."
She often had to ask her typically cooler older brother to step in and defend her around bullies. "But it shaped me. It taught me how to talk to different types of people. I learnt to bro-down—like speaking to old mate at the store or over the phone to organise a gig, or to one of my Aussie Battler uncles. And Scotch gave me a great education. Not that I used it…"
Not long after school, she found herself getting into even more trouble, usually at the centre of violent altercations. It was because of the way she looked, or because of her desire to "be a man" as she puts it; trying to "do all the things that men do."
"I thought 'fuck it, I've been rebelling for so long against this masculinity, I'll just be what I'm supposed to be. I'll deepen my voice, I'll get in fights, I'll 'pick up chicks,' I'll do whatever it takes."
Not surprisingly, that made things worse. "I got my jaw broken twice," she says. "One time in Kings Cross, a guy literally told me he just didn't like how my face looked… I called him a tosser so he punched me and I hit the concrete, only to look up at him waving a broken Smirnoff Ice bottle in my face."
Spike started using painkillers, namely oxycodone, and morphine around that time; "In a way it was a rejection of the identity that my college and my parents wanted for me. It was also a way to treat what I was feeling. I'd tried antidepressants, Ritalin, all manner of things. My life didn't feel like it was worth preserving at the time... I used to be very nihilistic."
An older, more seasoned heroin user gave her her first bit of heroin, which she then used on and off for years, between flirtations with all manner of other drugs. She was dependent on methadone for 3 years, while in a long term relationship, and living with, the pharmacist who dosed her daily. This all contributed to three stints in rehab, and her current dependency on the drug Suboxone, which assists recovering heroin addicts with their rehabilitation, but causes problems of its own.
"I hate heroin, for the record. I loathe what it's done to my life; and those around me. And the years that I've wasted. The people that I've fucked over and what I've done to myself and my health. And now, I value my life immensely."
The last time I meet up with Spike—before she flies to Paris with her girlfriend—is at her home in the northern suburbs of Melbourne—an artist residence that used to be a bank. Some of the studios are inside old vaults. It's basically a teenager's share house wet dream. Spike is home alone on the grand first floor. We talk, over Cokes of course, about the oddities of growing up queer and not knowing if you fit in with other queer kids.
"I think I'm trans in the old school way. I want to transition from a man to a woman, I don't want to present as non-binary. I'm scared to be seen as a transwoman, yes, but I'm also sincerely grateful for all my sisters that do go out every day presenting in the way they want in fear and actual threat of violence and ridicule. I don't care about passing. I mean, I hope I do… one day. But more than that I want to get to a place of being okay with being a transwoman and just being seen that way."
Because the lyrics we hear on Smackwave are literal, like a private conversation you have with a friend, the invitation to get to know Spike is wide open. Traversing the intersections between love, drugs, her transness, her fantasies, and the always intoxicating subject of feeling completely alone in a world full of people, the EP manages to be more cohesive than any first release should be allowed to be. Spike says the record is a kind of cosplay of a middle-aged, washed up, drug-fucked rock star trying their hand at a comeback, some time in the 1960s or 70s.
Spike's transness and her history with hard drugs are both part of what makes her fascinating to audiences, but it's not a selling point. "When I first wrote the songs for Smackwave, I didn't imagine anyone would hear them. I didn't really wanna tell people I had been a junkie. I also didn't really want anyone and everyone to know I'm trans. I knew I wanted... I knew I had to be candid, though."
Reflecting on the surprise cult following she's collected, Spike says "I think there's a distinct lack of honesty in music and art, I don't know if that's because people don't have anything to say, or maybe they're just scared to say it. But Smackwave is out now and I can't take it back. And it worked out in the end, cause it seems to be getting to people. Who knows where I'll go from here but I do want to keep telling the story of my life..." She pauses for a minute before saying, more to herself than to me: "If I don't, who will?"
Today we premiere her debut video, "TOMORROW WE GET HEALTHY," directed by Spike and local Melbourne artist Hana Earles.
All images by Micha Couell.