The Cliks’ leader on gender, romance and the Beatles.
Over the years, there have been more than a few times when I’ve discussed relationships with other men: traded war stories, commiserated over a broken heart, or attempted (often in vain) to better understand the female psyche. But doing this over drinks with Lucas Silveira is different from doing it with any of my other buddies, if for no other reason than that he used to be a woman. As longtime Curve readers and alternative music fans know, Silveira is not only the leader of Canadian rock band the Cliks but also a transgender male, the first trans male, in fact, to be signed to a major label. On a frigid February afternoon, over drinks in Brooklyn, I remind Silveira (who is now engaged) of something he told me in 2011, a year when both of us had our hearts broken. “Oy. Women, dude. I wish having been one would give me more insight. But the more I’m around them, the more I fully realize that I am indeed a man—inside and, now, out.” Having found that fascinating on a number of levels, I ask Silveira to expand on it.
“This is going to bite me in the ass, isn’t it?” he asks with a laugh. “Well, I think when I said that I was going through some heartache. What man who’s dumped doesn’t say shit like that, right? But in all seriousness, it’s true. I think like a man, and I know it because of conversations I’ve had with men around trying to understand the complexities of women. My cousin told me the other day something that made me laugh, which was that in any relationship you can either be right or you can be happy. I think women choose more to be right and men choose more to be clueless.
“Being a person who identifies as a male in a physicality [that is] still female, and then transitioning to a male, was a very interesting thing,” he continues. “I still believe that somewhere in my psyche there is a place that has been conditioned and socialized to be female. So I do think I have the upper hand on understanding women. But at the same time, there is something about the connection to emotion that is very different. And trying to understand women while also having been one was probably one of the most complex things I’ve ever done, and continue to do. Especially now, because I believe that [the] hormones have made me really think like a dude! I don’t know if they change your brain chemistry, or what they do, but things that used to bother me don’t bother me anymore. The way I process information now is very different. I can’t multitask anymore. I forget things a lot! I could say that’s a male attribute, or I could say it’s a unique thing to myself as an individual—maybe I just think about different things [now]. You know, it’s very complicated. But the whole female thing is…it’s so…it’s like this whole mourning thing I had to go through. I love women so much. I feel so comfortable around them. In a group of dudes vs. females, I always find myself wanting to have more conversations with women than I do with men.”
“But you never really felt like a woman?” I ask.
“No! I mean, I thought I did, but no. It’s very, very hard for me to [say either] ‘I don’t get them because I never was one,’ or ‘I do get them because I was one.’ I know that sounds really complicated and I don’t think I’m saying what I mean, exactly. I feel like women are built differently, emotionally. I truly believe that women have a higher tolerance for emotion. Like, now I get sad and it’s really intense, but it’s never as intense as it used to be. I feel like I wanna cry but I can’t—there’s a numbness. But that’s my particular experience. I’m not saying that all men are like that.”
In addition to the other changes that Silveira has endured in the last few years—biologically, geographically, musically, personally—he has fallen in love again. By definition a hopeless romantic, he met Skye Chevolleau a few months after moving back to Toronto and is now engaged to her. “She’s awesome,” he replies when I ask him to describe her. “And, of course, [she’s] always right! Seriously though, she’s great—an extremely talented and beautiful human being who doesn’t see her own potential. She’s a piano player, can play classical music by ear, yet she doesn’t call herself a musician. She’s also an amazing singer.
“The beautiful thing is that she sees me. She doesn’t see my gender, she doesn’t see my sexuality, she sees the person that I am. And that’s what I always needed from a human being. When I met Skye, she was primarily lesbian-identified. I was like, ‘Is this gonna be a problem? Am I [running] into a wall here, trying to be with a woman who really, really loves women?’ And it totally isn’t an issue. I’m who she wants to be with—but she’s also attracted to women. It made me think about these straight women I would meet who would all of a sudden fall in love with a girl. They’d be like, ‘I don’t understand it! I know I’m straight, but I’m in love with this chick. Does that make me gay?’ And I [was] like, ‘No, not really. It just [means] that you’re in love with a woman.’
“So many people want gender and sexuality to be this very simple thing. You’re a man or you’re a woman! You’re gay or you’re straight! And if you’re bisexual, then you’re confused. And it’s like, ‘No, it’s not like that at all.’ I always bring it back to the whole Cynthia Nixon [thing]. When she said, ‘I chose to be gay,’ the gay community fucking went crazy about that. Why are you losing your shit about a woman saying she chose to be gay? [People think] you can’t say things like that because if you say things like that, that means we can choose to not be gay. Like, if you choose to be gay it’s wrong, but if you don’t choose to be gay it’s OK? No! People need to start realizing that if you want people to accept you as you are, you need to accept them within [the] community for how they are. I have seen so many gay women…who will totally be like, ‘I’m done with you’ when they find out that one of their lesbian friends started dating a guy…They see it as a betrayal.”
There’s no question that having been born a woman but living as a male (one who has had top surgery and undergone hormone replacement therapy) has given Silveira a unique way of looking at gender. But other things have changed for him as well since the last Cliks album, Dirty King, arrived in 2009. The band’s long-awaited third studio outing, Black Tie Elevator, arrived in April. Produced by the Toronto-based musician Hill Kourkoutis, the 11 songs on Black Tie Elevator will no doubt surprise those who thought they had the Cliks pigeonholed after the ballsy but melodic rock of Dirty King and their ace debut album, Snakehouse. Turns out, a physical transformation wasn’t the only change Lucas Silveira had up his sleeve. The new Cliks album largely abandons rock in favor of blues, reggae, and soul.
“It was sort of a fluid thing that happened,” says Silveira of the change in musical direction. “I didn’t really notice that it was happening, [but] every time I played for somebody, they’d be like, ‘Wow, this is really different!’ [I was] like, ‘I know!’ I’m starting to feel more comfortable writing from a place of the influences that I’ve always had, which were, like, Prince, Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Marvin Gaye. I’ve always had a real big love for soul music—but I also loved rock. When I first started the band, I was in this really rock phase in my life. It might have had something to do with the fact that I felt like rock and roll was really masculine, and, as somebody who was embodying this new identity, but having to remain in the physicality of a female, I really feel like I was trying to overcompensate, without even realizing that. Whenever I would sing a soul song or try to write [one], I would always break it off halfway through. [But] when my voice deepened and I saw the texture and the soulfulness, it just felt like a natural place to go to.”
Though it takes a bit of getting used to, Black Tie Elevator rewards repeated listening and represents an important step in the Cliks’ evolution. Like many of the best musicians, Silveira refuses to make the same album twice. Some of the highlights of the disc include the reggae-tinged opener, “Stop Drinking My Wine”; “Sleeping Alone,” a ballad that could have been recorded in the ’50s or early ’60s; “4 Letter Words,” which features a lovely vocal turn from Chevolleau; and the dramatic “Walking in a Graveyard,” which closes the album. Of the latter track, Silveira says, “[That] was one of the last songs I wrote before going into the studio. After returning to Toronto from living in Brooklyn, I came back to a lot of loss. My ex-girlfriend had done a lot of damage to my life by spreading rumors that weren’t true—and because of it, I lost some really close friends. I also feel like I lost part of my community, from judgment. People don’t know the truth but they are always apt to judge. [So] I went through this bizarre range of emotions that made me feel like I was in a city with the living dead. This may sound funny but I started writing the song after watching an episode of Star Trek: Next Generation where Dr. Crusher attends her grandmother’s funeral and stays at her house and is then haunted by her grandmother’s invisible lover. There’s a scene where she goes to visit her grandmother’s grave, trying to figure out what’s happening, and the image just [resonated with me]. I got on the piano and boom! There’s the song. It was strange, the whole way it came out. It reminded me of something from New Orleans.”
Despite Black Tie Elevator’s foray into new musical stylings, rest assured that Silveira has not lost his love of melodic rock. I’ve always known that he is a huge fan of the Fabs and, in fact, that his first rule in life is not to trust anyone who doesn’t like them. This time around, I had to ask him point blank what the Beatles mean to him. “No one’s ever asked me that question and I love it,” Silveira replies. “In my opinion, they’re one of the most revolutionary bands ever. They opened so many people’s minds. When you go from ‘Please Please Me’ to a song like ‘Within You Without You,’ how can you not be like, ‘What the fuck is going on?!’
“When I was a kid, I lived in Portugal,” he continues. “I lived in a village of, like, 600 people, and we had very little music. So my dad and my sister would order music from a magazine. You’d pick out what you wanted and you’d pay for it. My sister would order stuff and then my dad ordered a Beatles Greatest Hits [collection]. I was a very lonely kid. I didn’t feel comfortable hanging out with other kids, and I think that was mainly because I was always being referred to by gender. And I just remember sitting in front of this tape player—literally, with my arms crossed and my eyes closed, at the age of 6 and 7—listening to the Beatles. I really believe, fundamentally, that my love of melody comes from that place. They were my teachers.” And Silveira was clearly a good student. Like the Beatles, he continues to evolve, to make good music, and to defy expectations all along the way. (thecliks.com)