Exciting critics and making the ladies swoon-these rock stars are redefining queer cool
There's a little bit of punked-out Elvis in Lucas Silveira, the trans female-to-male front man of the Toronto-based rock band, The Cliks. Silveira wears a studded belt, slung low on his hips—hips that glide along to the heavy-hitting guitar riffs and throbbing bass lines that The Cliks have become known for. You can see it (along with a smattering of Billy Idol) in Silveira's facial contortions when he sings. On stage, vulnerabilities are exposed through contagious chant-along choruses and bleeding verses from The Cliks’s new album, Snakehouse. This tattooed crooner is, quite possibly, the first ever transgender pop music heartthrob.
The Cliks—Silveira, lead vocal and guitar, Morgan Doctor on drums, Jen Benton on bass and Nina Martinez on guitar—show no fear and it pays off. It may be easy to focus on Silveira, with his gallery of inked skin peaking through a button-down shirt, usually clasped at the collar handsomely by a tie, and a signature red and white lightning shoulder strap on his electric guitar. But it's impossible to forget that there are four gifted openly queer members of this band, and they all exude the same raw and hungry, can't-get-enough energy.
Silveira is a self-taught musician—the other three members of the band are classically trained. Martinez, a music school dropout, explored music in her way and found her own guitar style. Benton brings 13 years of bass-playing experience to the band and joined just in time to participate in The Cliks’s tour kick-off at Austin's South by Southwest showcase. Doctor, the energetic rhythm section, was classically trained and studied jazz back home in Toronto. They are a tight-knit unit who love having fun together on the road. "We have a bond," Silveira says. "It's really necessary to make this kind of thing work."
The band has been through a few incarnations, one including bass player Jordan Wright, who graces the album’s liner pages. Wright left the band right before they started to hit it big. Drummer Morgan Doctor actually saw the last show of the old line-up and she remembers thinking, "These are really good songs," but still thought more could be done with the music. Once she joined, the band got a little more rock-'n'-rolled-out and the electric music set the lyrics on fire, culminating with the tracks on Snakehouse, released in April 2007. The current Cliks line-up just, well, clicks.
And while they are indeed rock stars, don't only get caught up in their suave, alternative style and gentlemanly vibe. The Cliks make the girls—and boys—swoon, but this band is all about substance. Their album, released on queer-centric Tommy Boy Silver Label, has been met with overwhelming praise from critics. The Cliks have been compared to legendary pop rockers The Pretenders and Joan Jett. With influences like Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde, their music is equally as catchy as their lyrics. The album's addictive first single, "Oh Yeah," reached No. 1 on Logo's New Now Next and Sirius OutQ Radio's Last Call, and was such a hit during Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Tour that it landed a spot on The True Colors Soundtrack (available August 7th). Lauper believed in the band so deeply that she bumped up the number of shows the Cliks played with the tour. And another heavy-hitter from the True Colors Tour is practically forming a Cliks fan club; Margaret Cho, who will be producing a web-exclusive video for the band has described the fans’ (as well as her own) reaction to the band as "queer Beatle-mania."
The band's experience working with a queer record label has been nothing but positive, reports Silveira. "I think the whole purpose of working with Silver Label is to focus on the audience we [already] have and be able to cross over into the mainstream…We have a very queer core audience." For the band, staying true to this audience is important.
The Cliks made their New York debut in the popular Park Slope lesbian joint Cattyshack. Right away, Silveira knew how to charm the intimate, but riled crowd. "All the ladies in the house, say yeah," Silveira wooed, eyes beaming. "I had never said that before," he reflects. "I felt it was appropriate.” The Cliks know how to electrify an audience and the energy at their shows is contagious. The hard playing bassist, Benton, gauges a successful show by "how sweaty you are." And they usually end up pretty sweaty. The combination of Silveira's heart-on-his-sleeve lyrics and the tough-as-nails performance of all the players set the audience on fire. "In Pittsburgh," Silveira reports sheepishly, "I had my first crier. For a rock band that's the big time." And it's not just Silveira who moves audiences. "Everyone has their favorite Clik," he says.
Pop music has seen its fair share of great break-up albums. No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom and Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill certainly come to mind. With Snakehouse, Lucas and the Cliks throw their broken hearts into the mix. At once gruff and heart-felt, Silveira's lyrics are raw and emotional—they successfully convey hurt and disbelief. And yet on songs like, "Oh Yeah," the lyrics are hopeful as well: "Oh yeah oh yeah I'm falling down/But I can get up," Silveira insists, perhaps believing that by growling the hopeful sentiment into the mic, and backing it up with edgy guitar licks, it will
The only song Silveira didn't pen on the album is Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River." Their rock/reggae version of the pop hit has become a fan favorite at their live shows; it makes the audience scream for more every time. The song found its way onto the album because, Silveira claims, "my heart was broken in a similar fashion." They also pay homage to Beyoncé in the live version of Timberlake's song, adding "Irreplaceable" to the jam in a head-spinning medley.
Silveira's successes have helped see him through a tragic series of events this year that would have challenged anyone’s resolve: the break-up of a six-year relationship, his close friend's bout with a recurring cancer, his father’s recent stroke and the death of his grandmother. It was also during this period that Silveira came to terms with his transgender identity. The success of Snakehouse and the buzz surrounding The Cliks have been cathartic for him. "Snakehouse is a collection of songs that I wrote over a one-year period which happened to be a very turbulent time in my life," says Silveira. "I was quite distraught but at the end of it all I ended up creating these songs, so I guess it was all for a reason."
The success of Snakehouse has increased the pressure on Silveira to create an outstanding follow-up. "You have your entire life to write your first album. Then you have six months to write the next one," Silveira recalls a quote he heard about the life of a songwriter. Silveira has been inspired by the whirlwind of the past few months and has already begun work on tracks for their next album.
Since Snakehouse’s release, The Cliks have spent most of their time in a van, touring the country, sleeping in hotels and loving it. "I love performing," says Silveira, "and I love meeting all the people that come out to our shows. I think it's kind of amazing—I always think of myself and The Cliks as this little band from Toronto. And we're going to all these cities and states and all these people are coming out to see us. It's really gratifying that people are connecting with us and we're connecting with them." Silveira may think of The Cliks as a "little band from Toronto" but the excitement their album and live show have generated clearly demonstrates otherwise. By all accounts, they are bringing queer and sexy back to pop music. n
Be sure to tune in for The Cliks on The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson on August 23rd. They are currently touring the Midwest. For dates check out myspace.com/thecliks or visit their Web site at thecliks.com.