In the backyard of TV Eye, a sleek, moody rock and punk venue in Queens, people are chatting, drinking, smoking, flitting about and fitted up—a white ski mask and sunglasses; a long, translucent red dress; a lot of camo and neon; a band tee that says “policia no me jodas”—when we hear a command over the loudspeaker.
“Everyone needs to get their ass in here right now or I will not do this fucking set. Get in here now.” It’s LustSickPuppy, directing us with a dommy growl. Everybody gets their asses into the room, stat.
“Shit goin’ happen. ’Cause that’s what the LustSickPuppy shit do, you know?” Audio of a man’s voice is playing and LustSickPuppy, a.k.a. Tommy Hayes, is on stage wearing a long fluorescent pink wig, bright green eyeshadow, a baby pink lingerie set, neon pink mesh shorts—to match the wig—and combat boots, nonchalant, hand on hip, waiting for people to trickle into the room. Someone from the crowd yells, “And that’s what Tommy fucking does!”
“EGO BRUISER” starts playing. Tommy yells, “Close that door!” The show is hot already. They start rapping over the track’s breakneck, Bugs Bunny cartoon-like beat: “Tommy, that little mommy/She freaky, she keep it cheeky/They lurking, and moving sneaky/This pussy, I keep sticky.”
“This is the only set that I have planned for this month because I was just fucking tired,” Tommy says. “So, I put my all into this set. Hope you like it.” People go wild immediately, dancing and yelling along under a UV light that’s making Tommy’s outfit glow.
The previous Thursday, in Bushwick: Tommy arrives at the Burger King on Knickerbocker and Myrtle, a campy, movie-themed ’90s time capsule with vinyl animal-print seats. Bug, the CREEM photographer, and I have been waiting in a glittery blue car booth. Instantly recognizable, tall and casually suave, in a sequin butterfly top, long, gray denim shorts, and platform lace-up New Rock boots, Tommy is coolly disarming from the get-go. Hugs for both of us and then logistics. We’d planned to hang out here, amongst the head shots and black-and-white stills of Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg, and Antonio Banderas. Tommy is down, but ultimately not really feeling it. We consider for a moment inquiring about taking photos in the playroom—now, that’s something Tommy can get behind. But they’d also prefer a Korean corn dog over a milkshake and fries. In fact, they’re particularly craving a K-dog today. A Capricorn with a Libra moon, Tommy has the kind of presence in which one, honestly, tends to want to do whatever it is Tommy wants to do. Clearly comfortable with themselves, easygoing, no fuss, but like, yeah, we’re following Tommy.
So we exit the Burger King, leaving behind the checkered star-print rug and the kid dancing by the soda machine, and step out underneath the M train. We pass street vendors selling fluffy monsters and Sonic the Hedgehog bucket hats. Tommy remarks gleefully on a particularly absurd design, a backpack with a 3D-looking print of stacks of cash. It kinda cranks, we all agree, and keep walking. At the spot called Ugly Donuts & Corn Dogs, a Korean street food joint on a graffitied corner of Himrod, we order our snacks on the giant touchscreen. Doughnuts and bubble tea for us, and a corn dog for Tommy, who picks us a spot by the door.
“That show was crazy,” Tommy says after we sit down. We’re talking about a festival in July, called In Broad Daylight, that was thrown by Corpus—a label and community-oriented collective started by local hardcore band Show Me the Body. LustSickPuppy was the ninth of 20 acts performing in The Ruins, a factory boiler room–turned–outdoor event space adjacent to the Knockdown Center venue in Queens. During Tommy’s set, someone dislocated their knee and was wheeled out, biting on a belt. “Out of everyone playing, my set?” Tommy says quizzically. In an email, SMTB bassist Harlan Steed wrote that “Tommy immediately made sure the person was okay before continuing to demolish the crowd with their powerful music. It’s easy to disconnect in the chaos of a show but LSP is a hyper-present performer.”
It’s surprising to me, at first, that this is the craziest thing that’s ever happened during a LustSickPuppy performance, considering that people do go pretty damn bananas. But Tommy explains that “there’s a level of care that goes into the pits” at LustSickPuppy-type, rave-techno-hardcore shows. As opposed to, for instance, the white-male-dominated hardcore scene, which is radically different from the queer- and POC-dominated scenes Tommy typically plays for.
“There’s only so much that actually belongs to us, you know?” Tommy says of the scene, and of the one-of-a-kind merch they hand-paint, which consistently sells out. “And my music belongs to me, but it also is giving to a lot of people. I like to create art that’s like, ‘This is for you,’ and having that person connect with the art and be like, ‘I know that this is mine.’”
A Capricorn with a Libra moon, Tommy has the kind of presence in which one, honestly, tends to want to do whatever it is Tommy wants to do.
Tommy, who’s 25, grew up in the 2010s in Crown Heights—a historically Black, Jewish, and Caribbean residential area in Brooklyn—sneaking around, going to gay bars and to the kinds of very New York shows that only someone who’s been a teenager in New York will understand the significance of. Their first punk show was 2010s-core garage punk bands FIDLAR, Shocked Minds, and the “now canceled” Orwells at Bowery Ballroom in 2013. After high school, they frequented Show Me the Body shows, starting in 2016 at the now tragically shuttered venue Brooklyn Bazaar. In the years since, SMTB have become supporters themselves. Harlan also commented that all of Corpus are “big fans of Tommy and their vision. [LustSickPuppy] captures and incorporates my favorite elements of hardcore and electronic music and is unique in how Tommy presents the project visually and stylistically."
Also on the late-teen-era dance card were the fashion-centric GHE20G0TH1K parties, Pauli Cakes’ mutual-aid-focused DisCakes raves, and events at Webster Hall that Tommy would often be asked to host. “I have existed in nightlife for a while,” Tommy says. “People hit me up [to host] like, ‘You’re a look queen, come be at our party.’ And I was always down to do it, even though I wasn’t getting paid, ’cause 20-year-old me just wanted to be out and get pictures taken and get their free drink. But I wasn’t actually having fun because I was in an uncomfortable outfit and I didn’t eat and I’m tired and my feet hurt and I can’t dance ’cause my feet hurt.”
But it was a breakcore show at DIY venue Trans Pecos, in 2018, that Tommy says changed their life. It was there that they found their community of “out- casts and weirdos,” and quickly started shifting away from just hosting parties. “When I first started making music, I was like, I don’t wanna do that anymore. There’s nothing in it for me. It doesn’t really feel fun. I want to be more than just this superficial version of me. I also wanna be more part of this community, not just entering these spaces to be cute and then leaving.
“When I found [the breakcore] scene, I was like, ‘Oh, you don’t have to be cool here.’ You just are. You’re here for the music and you’re here for the chaos and you’re here to feel and not be seen ’cause it’s so dark. It took some pressure off of me to have to be this person. Like, no, I’m actually just here to dance.”
When Tommy first started making music, it was a kind of turn of fate; impromptu, a following of the white rabbit. “I was always writing shit and had been in various choirs. But it wasn’t something that I intentionally meant to do.” Basically, Tommy wrote a freestyle and sent it to a friend, the friend said it was fire and Tommy should record it, and so Tommy did, and put it on SoundCloud. Next thing you know, there’s a show Tommy wants to play, but they only have the one song, so they chop and screw some Donna Summer into seven minutes, improv some lyrics onto it, “and then people kept asking me, like, ‘Yo, we want more,’ da-da-da. So I was like, okay, I guess this is the thing that I have to do. Because it seems like I’m not too bad at it,” they say with a little giggle. “I opened up GarageBand and started fucking around. The earliest is not that good. But I mean, you gotta start somewhere, you know?”
At this point our snacks are ready. As we start to munch, we talk a bit about how the end of a shitty relationship led to LustSickPuppy—the “path chosen”—and how ideas tend to come right as you’re falling asleep, and about being unhinged and up at five in the morning, and then I ask Tommy what kind of music they listened to as a kid, and whether it informs their music now, and the answer is: “Gorillaz and Blue Man Group.”
I say that makes a lot of sense. And Tommy says, “I love telling people that: ‘What are your inspirations?’ Blue Man Group. And if you listen closely, I guess it checks out."
I mean, it does. Blue Man Group’s goofy-to-the-point-of- being-creepy mime aesthetic, the makeup, the physicality of it, the humor, the playful grandiosity, the super weird live hard-rock remix of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”... Honestly, what the fuck? Take LustSickPuppy’s “Graveyard Smash,” from 2020’s COSMIC BROWNIE, for instance, which opens with a sample of “Monster Mash” that leads into a super sexy track that demands we “crawl” and “have a ball” under the full moon. Or the video for the new track “might be,” which begins with 10 different people in LustSickPuppy’s classic yellow-and-black face paint, each saying “I’m LustSickFuckingPuppy,” and then it’s a whole party of LustSickPuppies grinding and tongue-kissing, interspersed with Tommy’s saturated visuals.
Okay, but it wasn’t just Gorillaz and Blue Man Group. There was also the British metalcore band Bring Me the Horizon. Suicide Season and There Is a Hell Believe Me’ve Seen It. There Is a Heaven Let’s Keep It a Secret. were the first CDs Tommy ever bought. “I grew up heavily Christian,” Tommy says. “I went to private school, had to do fucking chapel and shit like that. One of my friends at the time was super obsessed with Illuminati shit, and then showed me Bring Me the Horizon. And I was like, ‘Oh, this band is demonic as fuck.’ And then I was like, ‘Oh, this shit is fire, low-key!’”
This leads Tommy into an analysis of hyper- pop, the maximalist, distorted pop scene that’s blown up in the past few years—“so much of it is derived from that scene-core sound”—which leads to a small reverie about VH1’s morning music video blocks, which is how Tommy first heard Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” Disturbed, and System of a Down (“I was like, ‘All this shit is really fire’”), and then a lament about how that kind of outlet for music videos no longer exists.
A pause to deal with the corn dog—“Could you grab some more napkins, please? ’Cause this is a very messy situation.”
LustSickPuppy music videos are a vibe, to put it mildly. Each one is conceived by Tommy and produced with the help of vari- ous friends. The video for their popular track “EGO BRUISER”—from this year’s EP AS HARD AS YOU CAN—came out of an idea Tommy had about a “super muscly, hyperfeminine woman.” Tommy wanted to portray a version of themselves that “could be feminine and also extremely strong at the same time.” They get the cliché of “having to be strong” thrown at them a lot, and with that, they say, comes “a lack of femininity.” So they thought: “What if I’m both in the most chaotic way possible?”
“I searched for muscle suits for, like, forever, but they don’t exist in brown skins,” Tommy recalls. “So I was like, ‘I have to make my own.’ My sister helped me construct this suit, and I spent a few days painting it. And then we just went to Prospect Park and shot that.” Which is how the unhinged, brightly colored video of a bulked-up, muscle-suited Tommy, on a hot dog picnic date that ends in some ass-beating, wearing blue eyeshadow and hot pink lipstick and glasses made out of LustSickPuppy-emblazoned door knockers, came about.
For Tommy, the allure of art and making music are similar—it’s about focus, turning your brain quiet, like meditation. In the LustSickPuppy music-video universe, the two mediums become one. “It’s always really important to create a heavily saturated, fucked up nightmare landscape,” Tommy explains. “I want people to watch something that I do and feel like they entered my brain.... If you open the doors to my mind, what would be in there?”
A whole fucking lot.
LustSickPuppy is “an entity” Tommy created—“there’s me, and then there’s the performance me,” they say. Known not just for their incendiary music but also for their look, LustSickPuppy is kind of a surrealist hybrid of scary and cute. Recently, for instance, they commissioned an artist called Lil Dog Co to make them a pair of stuffed-animal- adorned platform boots, featured in the “might be” video, that look like they’re meant for a Neopets-themed rave.
Tommy’s conception of this doubling seems to me like an exaggerated, almost symbolic manifestation of what it felt like for kids who grew up during a very specific era of early internet. They tell me their digital adolescence was spent on a site called Meez, an avatar-based virtual world that’s like DollzMania meets Club Penguin, in which Tommy created a character who was goth, had wings, and wore fuzzy boots. “She was definitely super fly,” they say.
And the Newgrounds sex games. “You know, just unsupervised on the internet.” And, of course, Tumblr. “I was obssssesssssed with Tumblr,” they say, elongating their s’s, snakelike. “Porn is gone and gore is gone, which were two of the things. The internet used to be a much more cursed place.”
The internet was indeed more of a cursed place 10 years ago. Much more cursed than the now-standard removal of Instagram posts, which has happened to Tommy numerous times, including modified images with tits out, but no nipples, and one of Tommy naked with their legs open. “But instead of my pussy it was a mouth with a long tongue,” they say. And one where they’re having a threesome—with themselves. Despite being strategically edited so as not to really be NSFW, the posts were taken down. “I was so mad,” says Tommy of the latter image. “I blew it up and made a giant poster. It’s so dysmorphic to be gendered so hard.”
There’s long been reports that Instagram disproportionately censors people of color, as well as bodies that the platform perceives as female. The act also assumes that a person with tits is necessarily a woman. “I exist in this body by force, and not even in a way where I am crippled by it. But it sucks to have to be put in such a box that I don’t even really relate to. It sucks having my shit be taken down just ’cause of tits. It’s just so fucking stupid.”
Speaking of tits: During one of the shows they did this past summer while on tour with the hard- core bands Candy and Restraining Order, Tommy was wearing one of their looks, but decided that if they con- tinued in the outfit, they’d pass out. “And I’m on stage, and I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna change really quick. ’Cause it’s too fucking hot up here.’ And the whole room got silent. It was weird. I took my shirt off and put on a different one. And someone was like, ‘Wear a bra!’ And I was like, ‘Whoever said that, fuck you, dude.’ We’re in 2022—you’re scared of tits? I feel like I’m just constantly being gendered—and not even misgendered, just gendered in general. People will just perceive you however the fuck they want and make it your whole identity when it’s not. It’s easy to be like, ‘Oh, I don’t care.’ But you feel that. You feel it because you are being othered by the eyes watching you.
We’re in 2022—you’re scared of tits?
“That was the most aggressive thing that happened on tour,” they say. “Which I’m so grateful for. I was so scared going into this tour. ’Cause we’re going to these red states, the antiabortion law just passed in all of these places. And then you have me, black and queer, in these spaces where I don’t know how they’re gonna receive me. I was like, ‘Oh, I could be called the N-word.’ I just didn’t know what was gonna happen. But I talked to a couple of people about it and they were like, ‘The people who like your music who live in these places need you to be there, because your presence is the thing that will bring them into these spaces and know that they are safe in those spaces.’ And it immediately took a lot of the fear out of it.”
This is why the spaces that cater to queer, POC, and black people are so crucial, Tommy explains. Like the shows put on by the amorphous group of noise musicians called the Mutants that used to happen all the time in Brooklyn, with LustSickPuppy and Deli Girls and Dreamcrusher on the bill. “There’s a level of comfortability that exists about people who look like you. You don’t have to think, ‘This is a weird thing that I’m doing,’ or ‘Someone’s gonna say something about this.’” Fuck that, and fuck Instagram, essentially. “Sometimes you have to have a fuck-you attitude for shit,” Tommy says.
Pause for the last bite of corn dog. Pause to admire—and how could we not?—Tommy’s new hairstyle: six neon pink micro buns secured with lucite-ball hair ties on a landscape of bright yellow, shaved close.
As we leave the K-dog spot, we return to Blue Man Group. “It definitely feels like a clown doing tricks in front of you. We just need shit like that sometimes.” Favorite clown? I ask. “Me,” says Tommy. “McDonald. Pennywise.”
And this is how I learn, while Tommy offers us strawberry Pocky, that they don’t like horror movies. But they do love Little Shop of Horrors. And Halloween. On our way to nearby Maria Hernandez Park, they are making us laugh, boasting about their best costume: “It was this triple-breasted, tripled-faced, demon witch thing. I shitted. I snapped with that. I was so proud. I constructed that costume. Nobody could tell me shit, I’m sorry. I never do characters that exist, I just make my own. Because why would I not make my own character? That one, I snapped.”
Humor is so key to LustSickPuppy. The “Intro” to 2020’s COSMIC BROWNIE is a fucked up distortion of the 1950s novelty song “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” I ask them about their childhood crushes, and of course, there was Bow Wow. “I was so obsessed that now I am my own puppy character,” Tommy says. “Oh God, I should get him on the phone. Like, ‘What’s up? We should collab.’”
Incredible idea, even though Tommy usually works alone, in their home studio. They are adamant about wanting to own their sound. There’s “something really powerful about femmes being producers, and not being vocalist-only and having to rely on these other people to create their sound,” they say. “I say femmes, but I really mean black women, or just women in general, but that’s not super specific to me anymore. But it’s still powerful. I’m not gonna have all of my hard work be diminished because your name’s on my shit. I spent a lot of time making sure that I could stand on my own two feet as a producer.”
“I’m trying to do more songs with no lyrics so I can get the producer credit that I deserve,” they say. “Produced by who? Me. Let’s not play games.”
Back at TV Eye: Tommy’s just played a new, vocal-less breakbeat track and tells the crowd they’ve been tinkering with different kinds of production. “I’m trying to do more songs with no lyrics so I can get the producer credit that I deserve,” they say. “Produced by who? Me. Let’s not play games.”
There’s an intoxicating confidence to LustSickPuppy. Tommy is clearly aware. At one point, they announce: “For this next one, I need a simp. Who in here’s a fucking simp? Oh, no one? Make some noise if you’re a top.” People cheer. “Some of you bitches are lying,” they say and laugh, kinda evil. “There’s nothing wrong with being a bottom.”
They bring out their friend, the artist RUGiRUGZ, on stage. Tommy instructs her, “Put your hands behind your back, and keep them there,” and proceeds to dance on their captive while performing “BUSTDUSTER,” a song whose chorus is “Bounce bounce bounce/On that dick till I’m sick of it/Squirm for me, for me to take a lick of it/You’re fuck- ing disgusting/But I fucking love it.” When it’s over, we’re scolded: “Next time I ask you to volunteer for something...”
Yes, we simp. People are stomping, pogoing, yelling the lyrics to a song that came out not even three days ago, aroar at practically everything that comes out of Tommy’s mouth. “The sick puppies are really, really sexyyyyy,” says Tommy from the stage, flipping that pink wig and simply, completely owning shit. And that, my friends, is LustSickFuckingPuppy.