A lot has changed for the rock band the Cliks and their charismatic frontman, Lucas Silveira, since the band's formation nine years ago in Toronto.
The Cliks began as a quartet, led by transgendered singer, songwriter and guitarist Silveira, playing alternative rock that was compared to the music of David Bowie and the White Stripes. The band recorded and released two albums—Snakehouse in 2007 and Dirty King in 2009—for Warner Music Canada/Tommy Boy Records. Both are out of print, as is an early self-titled effort, although you can find them through online services.
Along the way, numerous personnel changes (the original group disbanded in 2005) have led to the Cliks becoming primarily a vehicle for Silveira, who now employs a rotating lineup of backing musicians. With this year's release of the Cliks' impressive fourth album, Black Tie Elevator, the band has a new sound: a groove-oriented combination of gritty retro rock and R&B, with touches of blues, doo-wop and reggae for seasoning.
The Cliks will play their new material during their first-ever visit to Tucson for a concert Tuesday night, Oct. 29, at Plush.
During the period between the Cliks' second and latest albums, Silveira—who was born female but has long identified as male—began a physical transformation to male starting with testosterone treatments. This is significant not only because it changed Silveira's outward appearance, but also because it threatened his singing voice. Thanks to a careful and purposely slow-paced regimen of testosterone injections, his singing voice has been preserved. These days, it's deeper and huskier than it once was, a sexy, bluesy growl with excellent range and tone.
But Silveira was nervous during the process, which did not happen overnight, he said during a recent interview.
"Absolutely, I was scared. Music is the most important thing in my life, and some people who had taken testosterone have lost their ability to sing. You can sing after taking it, but it depends on how you how do it. We did low doses spread out over a long period of time. But I was worried. I was told it would start breaking, and it did. But because of the really slow process, my voice changed and was OK. I compare it to the way a boy's voice changes when he becomes a man."
Silveira recounted how his changing voice affected his band's music.
"The earlier stuff I did was sort of full of rock influences, even classic rock influences. I think there was something about rock that feels masculine and helped me establish a voice, or the sound I was looking for. The way I was writing at the time, I think, I used it in a bizarre way to compensate for the fact that I didn't look male. After I started taking testosterone (and) my voice changed, I started looking more like I feel, looking like myself."
Silveira said he now is able to sing the material that he always wanted to.
"I grew up listening to the Jackson Five, and Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye, and I think now I am allowing my love of R&B to come through. In the past, with my female voice, I never felt authentic enough to delve into that style of music. As soon as my voice started changing, I really felt more comfortable with this kind of material."
Silveira, who is 40, was born in Toronto to Portuguese parents, and most of his family played musical instruments. They also lived in the Azores from the time he was 4 years old until he was 10. It was during this period that he became enamored of the Beatles.
"One of the most important moments of my childhood was when my dad gave me a tape of the best of the Beatles. It was the greatest discovery of my life and the best music made by human beings. ... And after that all I ever wanted to do was listen to music."
And then make music.
"The first time I ever picked up a guitar, I immediately tried to play Jimi Hendrix's version of 'Wild Thing'," he says.
During Silveira's pre-transition years, the Cliks toured with Cyndi Lauper's multi-act True Colors Tour, sharing stages during 2007 and 2008 with such artists as Margaret Cho, Debbie Harry, the Gossip, Rufus Wainwright, the Dresden Dolls, Erasure, the B-52s and Tegan and Sara, among others.
The Cliks didn't record for more than four years during Silveira's transition, but he did make a solo album. He released the mostly-covers Mockingbird in 2011, which featured covers of artists such as Leonard Cohen, Lady Gaga, Jeff Buckley, Kanye West, T.I. and Kings of Leon.
"I thought if it was covers I could sing them and still not have it be a definitive statement of who I am."
In many ways, Black Tie Elevator is the first Cliks album, or the first of a new era for Silveira.
Most of the songs on it refer directly to Silveira's personal life, either events in his past or issues directly preceding the creation of the new album. He even finds a personal connection in tunes that were informed by other sources, such as "Dark Passenger." That song's clear admiration for the TV show Dexter allows Silveira to use the story as an allegory for exploring his own dark side.
Silveira says he wishes listeners could hear his music without knowing he is a transgender man, but he figures that in this world that is rare.
"If it's part of the audience the Cliks have had in the past, they know what I'm all about. And I am finding slowly that fans who don't know about me, as soon as they Google me, they know. I am comfortable with that. It's not the original reason I played music, and I hope it's not the reason people listen to me."
Silveira obviously held nothing back during the interview. He doesn't mind sharing anything about his personal life (he is engaged, by the way) or providing information about transgender issues in general to curious parties, but he's always reluctant when put in the position of being a spokesman for the LGBTQ community.
"When I get asked to explain myself or talk about the trans community as a whole, I don't mind. But there are all sorts of different people and experiences within the trans community, and the part that makes me feel uncomfortable is when someone from the mainstream media asks me to represent the trans community. I can only represent myself."