When it Cliks by Cindy Filipenko
Three years ago, The Cliks were a semi-professional trio playing the usual gigs available to openly queer bands.
Today, they’re a polished quartet with a major-label debut, the only constant being their lead singer, who’s been through some significant changes as well. First, there was the demise of a six-and-a-half year relationship, which provided the inspiration for most of the songs on the band’s major label debut, Snakehouse. That breakup became the catalyst for another major change, the decision of lead vocalist Lillia Silveira to start living life as Lucas Silveira.
So far, the impact of Silveira’s transition to male has, happily, been negligible. “It’s been amazing how we’ve been accepted so well. We’ve found a place in the mainstream,” according to Silveira.
“The label [Warner] has been totally cool. I get asked, ‘Can you educate us on what’s okay and what’s not okay?’ They’ve been nothing but amazing. A lot of people have been shocked, as was I, by the fact this major label took us on, period.” Image-wise, The Cliks appear to be alternative band.
The three female members of the band—drummer Morgan Doctor, guitarist Nina Martinez and bass player Jen Benton— identify as queer. Moreover, androgyny is the shared preferred look. “I think it works for them [Warner]. It’s good to have something that’s new and different.” Ironically, what’s new and different sounds a whole lot like revisiting the ’80s, making many critics compare The Cliks to The Pretenders.
“I love The Pretenders and I love Chrissie Hynde. I listened to them when I was younger. I don’t think we particularly sound like them, but if I’m going to get compared to someone and it’s The Pretenders, I don’t have much of a problem with that.”
Silveira’s voice, a flexible contralto, is probably the main reason for the comparison to Hynde. But the band’s sound, guitar-driven rock with a thumping backbeat, probably has more in common with the White Stripes. Much of that sound can be attributed to The Cliks’ drummer.
“Morgan adds so much to our sound. She’s essentially the backbone, she decides where a song goes,” says Silveira. And as the band’s sole songwriter, Silveira is always blown away by what the others bring to the pop-influenced rock tunes he’s penned.
“The other members are solid, independent players who bring their own energy into the sound. I trust the vision they have for my music.” One of those player, Nina Martinez, was picked up after The Cliks’ original guitarist, Jordan B Wright opted out.
“Being out on the road is a very surreal life," says Silvera. "You’re in a different place every day. You never have to make your bed. You never have to go out and buy groceries. You don’t have to pay bills. It just kind of takes your life away. All your friends become someone on the phone. Your girlfriend is someone on the other end of a phone—someone you’re desperately trying to connect with.”
The upside of touring is that it will definitely open up some doors for The Cliks. The band played five of the 19 dates on Cindy Lauper’s True Colors Tour this past summer, a tour that included queer mainstays Rufus Wainwright, The Indigo Girls and Erasure, as well as hipster favourites The Gossip and The Dresden Dolls.
Hosting the tour was the ever-increasingly pansexual comedian Margaret Cho, who recently came under criticism for labelling herself “transsensual.” The criticism stemmed from comments in Violet Blue’s online column, Open Source Sex. “For me, it’s trans men. I’m doing a few things, like working with Ian Harvey. It’s not even FTM—it’s FTX. There’s a band from Toronto called The Cliks that’s all trans men and it’s like a hot boy band,” said Cho.
“The girls just go crazy and scream for them—it’s like Beatlemania, but for queers! And packing, and the politics of packing, that’s, like, so hot.” Cho’s comments were interpreted by some as encouraging a view that sees trans men as persons to be fetishized, as opposed to simply being accepted as male. Silveira feels the reaction has been over the top.
“This woman has come out and said she realizes that she’s attracted to trans men. Why should it be such a big deal? There’s some website I saw that was going on that trans people are people not fetishes. God forbid, anybody should be attracted to us! She’s been such an amazing supporter of the queer community, to have a bunch of people come down on her for saying, ‘Finally, I get it,’ seems really unfair.”
While Silveira has no problem taking a stand on this specific issue, he’s not interested in being an FTM poster boy. “I represent me as being transgendered male. I don’t pretend to represent any part of the male transgendered community, we’re all so different,” says Silveira.
“I have a responsibility to myself to be open and who I am, and if that helps anybody be who they are, whoever they are in the world and whoever they are in their body, that’s great.” To be who he is has meant a few compromises for Silveira. Although he has changed his name, had top surgery and presents as male, injecting testosterone is not currently an option. “It kind of sucks,” he admits. “I really, very deeply want to do T, but I’ve had to come to terms with the fact I can’t. My priority right now is absolutely my voice, and I can’t risk losing it.”
Just how good that voice is becomes apparent on the band’s cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River,” a track suggested for inclusion on Snakehouse by producer Moe Berg. “I really connected to the lyrics. When I start singing a song and I can’t get it out of my head, I learn the whole thing so I can come to terms with it,” says the unapologetic fan of pop music.
“I brought it to the band one day and I started playing it on the guitar. They joined in and it became something far different. We started playing it live, we started using it as a little therapeutic session on stage.” These days, Silveira is obsessively listening to Amy Winehouse. Perhaps a queercore take on “Rehab” is in the offing?