THE CLIKS playing on Pride’s South Stage (Church and Wood), Saturday (June 27), 7 pm. Free. pridetoronto.com.
Montreal - The cavernous warehouse shakes with the intense vibrations of what sounds like a speed rock band. The gritty title track from the Cliks' Dirty King album is being relayed over speakers at almost double time so the final image in the snazzy video can be played in slow motion.
The band look like they can barely catch up to the music as they mime playing while the cameras roll. Lead singer Lucas Silveira rolls his eyes in frustration. Bassist Jen Benton - doing whiplash-inducing head swings - tries timing her jumps to land on the first beat and needs five takes to get it. Morgan Doctor settles for playing drums at half-time until she realizes she's going to have to start thrashing.
A 25-person crew looks on. Four years ago, when Lucas was Lilia and performing as a female solo singer/songwriter, he was making less money a year than it cost to rent the fancy camera the crew's using here for a day. Small clubs were his venues, and he hadn't yet evolved with the Cliks to the point where he could play stadiums, including two years on the True Colors tour with Cyndi Lauper in 2007 and 08.
But things are booming now. With veteran Jake Gold as their manager and a third album out on a major label, the Cliks' guitar-shredding, gut-wrenching hard rock has finally, er, clicked.
Not bad for a queer band, and unheard of for a band fronted by a transman - a transman who's out and outspoken about it.
"I formed the Cliks because as Lilia the music and the image focused on me as lesbian singer/songwriter, and I wanted to be removed from being seen that way," he says, recalling that creating the new band dovetailed with his decision to transition.
At the time, Silveira didn't realize his new band's name blends the words "clits" and "cocks." That came later, but he was already on his way to changing his gender and his life.
"I'd always known I was trans," he says, sitting with me in the NOW Lounge. Articulate and intelligent, he obviously sees the value of sharing his experience. "I just didn't have language for it. I thought, ‘Well, what is it about this I-want-to-be-a-boy thing? It must be that I like girls.' So I came out as a lesbian."
Brave, but it didn't give him the payoff he was looking for.
"I didn't ever identify with being a lesbian. Then I went through a major breakup, I lost band members, a friend got sick, my dad had a stroke, and then I woke up."
With the trans movement burgeoning, he had some help figuring out the next step.
"I knew what was wrong. I could continue living as a woman and persevere with my music career. Or I could come out as trans and never be commercially successful. I decided to slug it out, because I need to be happy."
But he miscalculated - in a good way. Coming out as trans wasn't career suicide. Quite possibly, it turned into the Cliks' essential commercial hook, eclipsing the outfit's many personnel changes. (The band's had five different incarnations). Manager Gold happily pumps the trans theme, and Dirty King producer Sylvia Massy (Tool, Johnny Cash) came on board precisely because she liked the band's "story."
It also didn't hurt that Silveira made important decisions about how and to what extent he wanted to transition that allowed the band's sultry hard rock sound to remain the same even as he went through his changes.
He's had top surgery (check out the scars in the pic of Silveira shirtless on the Cliks' CD), but he said no to bottom surgery - "Too risky, " he says, "and you can lose the ability to orgasm, and I don't want to go there" - and doesn't take testosterone. That hormone, he explains, can thicken your vocal cords and alter your pitch.
"At first I thought, ‘I can't believe I finally have this opportunity and I can't go through with it,'" he says wistfully. "But some kids, and adults for that matter, decide they want to go on with their lives looking as they do and still identify with a different gender. That's huge.
"Would having hairy arms and a hairy chest make me feel like more of man? Sometimes I think that's bullshit, but sometimes I think it would. Still, I understand why people say, ‘I don't want to do that - I know who I am even if the world doesn't.'"
This kind of candour is unusual in a trans person and off the charts for someone in a band on the brink of mainstream success. But the Cliks are not a collective. The camaraderie at the Montreal video shoot is palpable, sure - Silveira admiring drummer Doctor's impossibly long eyelashes during makeup, the band operating as a finely tuned and disciplined machine during the very demanding shoot.
But it's Silveira's project, and he'll keep talking trans regardless of what his bandmates may think.
"The first thing I learned about being in a band was that you have to maintain your vision. You have to make that clear to the people you work with. Be fair and supportive with you bandmates, but not so supportive that it takes away from your vision.
"I'm a people-pleaser, the kind who wants to make everybody happy. But when you make everybody happy, you wind up miserable because you're so busy taking care of others.
"Sometimes you have to be the boss, something I've never wanted, but if it's my vision I have to accept that."
On playing in public for the first time
On the difference between playing big and small venues