The Melbourne-based singer is making a name for her new wave and post-punk-inspired ‘smackwave’ – writing candidly about gender identity, love and addiction
“I guess I kinda fit into a lot of places but at the same time don’t fit into any,” confesses Spike Fuck, the Melbourne-based singer who recently caught the eye of Rick Owens. Last month, Owens urged his followers to check out her latest video with a post on his Instagram – in the clip, which the YouTube description declares was made with a broken iPhone and iMovie 2011, Spike Fuck postures for the camera and drives through a superimposed digital landscape, her hair a bleached mullet, as she sings the lyrics to her track “Tomorrow We Get Healthy”.
The title (along with that of her EP, Smackwave) makes reference to her past as a heroin addict, a topic that she doesn’t shy away from in her music, preferring honesty over veiled metaphor. As a trans woman, the same is true for her gender identity, but it’s clear that none of it is done for the clicks. “I never set out to write about drugs or transness or addiction or love or whatever,” she says. “Just as I didn’t choose or plan on being an addict or trans or in love. I just write about the things I’ve been through in my life.” Beyond the tongue-in-cheek reference to heroin, ‘smackwave’ is also the name of Spike’s own invented genre, brilliantly described as “a blend of late-80s new wave and late-70s post-punk, with a dash of country music/singer-songwriter sensibilities delivered in Las Vegas Ballroom karaoke vocal style.”
It was only a few weeks ago that she met Owens and his wife, Michele Lamy, after being introduced by Luke Mayes, Owens’ head of visuals. “I only really knew the name from that A$AP Rocky song, I wasn’t fully aware of Rick’s work,” Spike admits. “He’s an extremely generous, warm, calm and calming person – it was really an honour to meet him and feel so welcome in his world.” Owens is similarly complimentary: “Youth and beauty in peril is an eternally classical and alluring motif,” he shared over email. “And when this story is told well it’s irresistible.” Spike Fuck tells us more.
Video in collaboration with Melbourne-based artist Hana Earles
When did you first start making music?
Spike Fuck: I’ve been playing music as long as I can remember… I won’t go there with the first music I made but I remember I was around 14 or 15 and I played at literally the worst pub in Melbourne to a room of maybe ten to 15 people. I didn’t then play a show in Melbourne for another decade after that… I think we even had to pay them to play. I only started performing as Spike Fuck about a year ago, around the same time I came out as trans. It gave me room to explore and find out about myself as a person, woman, performer, whatever, you know. It helped for my old friends and family to understand because they could see I was happier and more at ease, and so they started coming round to it.
What are your influences?
Spike Fuck: I remember being a kid and inheriting CDs and tapes from my oldest brother – he was a punk in the late 90s, so he started me on the right track. I guess my roots are in punk, mainly... I also loved Jagged Little Pill and I think Alanis (Morissette) is pretty damn punk-rock. But, as for my adult life, I would have to say the prerequisites for my favourite musicians have been (a) country-singer sensibilities, (b) a failed band and subsequent solo career, and (c) a dysfunctional personality/mental illness and/or drug problem. I didn’t type those keywords into Google to see what popped up; that’s just the pattern I noticed... So this is where the concept behind Spike Fuck comes from.
How does your past addiction inform your creative output?
Spike Fuck: Simply put, that aspect of my life doesn’t really inform my music any more. Pretty much that was then and this is now. I suppose what does inform my music right now in that sense is my ‘recovery’. I was on methadone and anti-psych meds when I wrote most of the songs on Smackwave and, by the time I produced them and started performing two years later, I was completely clean and sober. Unfortunately, I fucked up and relapsed at the end of last year, though I now know for sure I never wanna go back to that place again… I find drugs boring to talk about; I find the lifestyle boring to live and I think if I tried to write any more about drugs that too would be boring. I just hope the people that listen to my stuff understand that I’m just in the business of writing about my life as candidly and honestly as possible. As hard as it may be sometimes, it’s ultimately really rewarding because I think it helps me in a cathartic way to sing and dance about all the bullshit you go through when you’re a junkie and a closeted trans girl.
Do you have any reservations about making such personal music?
Spike Fuck: To be honest, when I wrote the songs on Smackwave, I didn’t intend for them to be heard by anyone. But I’m the kind of person who tends to get a bit carried away with things, and I definitely like to wear my heart on my sleeve. So I had all these demos I’d made by myself when my friend (Elliot Munn) offered to help produce them... And now, before I know it, it’s a year later and things have gone better and further than I ever would’ve expected. I suppose I do feel some sort of vulnerability at times. But I think that’s important and that it means I’m actually on the right track. The most rewarding and life-affirming part of writing personal stuff is when a person tells me that my music helped them in some way, or that it made them feel like they were a little less alone. Despite the sometimes – maybe often – dark subject matter, or maybe because of it, I think that relatable, naked aspect of it makes people feel validated – or at least a little less alienated. And I guess it helps if it’s something you can hum along to.
“The reason I choose to be out in the open with drug stuff – and all stuff, for that matter – is that I don’t want it to be this veiled, mysterious, dare I say it, glamourous thing” – Spike Fuck
Are you concerned that your transness and drug history will become clickbait or allow others to put you in a box?
Spike Fuck: People have been making art, music, whatever about drugs and addiction for ages and ages, or at least in pop music explicitly since the 60s. And people have always had this fascination with it; it’s a story as old as time. I like to just write, ‘I used to do heroin, it was bad and people I knew died from it.’ The reason I choose to be out in the open with drug stuff – and all stuff, for that matter – is that I don’t want it to be this veiled, mysterious, dare I say it, glamourous thing. I just wanna tell it how it is, or at least for me – warts and all. I try to relay the monotony of taking something every day so you don’t get sick, or feeling like you wanna jump out of your skin, or the feeling of staring at your life slipping through your fingers but not being able to do a single thing about it. That’s all part of addiction and is often the part that is not communicated, especially in music. And I think people relate to those feelings, drug-addicted or not.
How is best to counteract that?
Spike Fuck: I think so much of my PR and online presence, as well as the names of songs, Smackwave, even ‘Spike Fuck’, are all in their own ways, tongue-in-cheek or intended to be somewhat humorous. Like everyone, my online and public persona or whatever is an enhanced, almost caricature version of me, and you gotta play with that, considering how painful self-promotion can be at times. That, along with the inevitably cheesy aspects to being a singer-songwriter means you kinda have to laugh at yourself and not take all of it too seriously. I also feel like – because the time between writing the songs and releasing and promoting them was two, almost three years – so much had changed and I can laugh and make light of things that I maybe once couldn’t have. In that way humour, sarcasm, satire are all pretty effective tools in keeping people on their toes as to not getting put in a box. But I am an ex-addict and I am trans and those particular things aren’t subject to change, so why hide it? And if someone stumbles across it because of those things? Great! I’ve reached someone new. And if they pigeonhole me? Well, to be honest, maybe they just didn’t get it.
What kind of a relationship do you have to clothing and fashion? Is dressing up key to you as a performer or is it secondary?
Spike Fuck: Music and style are one and the same for me, really – as in, they’re both an expression of who I am, or who or what I want to be. What I wear and how I present myself is very much an organic thing. My fashion, style, clothing, whatever you want to call it, has also definitely now taken on an even more integral role in my life since coming out. It is really interesting to think about how you are read in the world and how you can change how people see you for the better. Like, for instance, coming out as trans, because I’m early on in my transition, unless I’ve caked on make-up and am wearing my hair over my face, I don’t think I pass very easily. But people – well, my friends and the queer community, at least – will see me as a woman even in jeans and a t-shirt, au naturel, you know. So if that’s not testament to the power of shifting people’s perceptions, I don’t know what is.