On a bitter March evening, a few dozen folks huddled into Venus Envy on Barrington Street to listen to Lucas Silveira play an acoustic set. He previewed a few tracks from The Cliks' then-forthcoming album, Dirty King.
Silveira revelled in the intimate setting, cracking jokes about pictures popping up on Facebook of him playing against the backdrop of a wall of dildos. (Naturally, a slew of photos did appear. The toy rainbow made for a rather docile back-up band, standing in for Cliks bassist Jen Benton and drummer Morgan Doctor.) But scrolling through Silveira's own Facebook photos, it's the shots with his arm around Beth Ditto, singing onstage with Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Harry, Perez Hilton, Tegan and Sara and Margaret Cho that ascertain his celebrity status.
"There is nothing normal about this life," Silveira says now. "And that's what's bizarre about it---when I first started coming home and doing interviews all day, I said to myself, 'This is totally strange. I don't know where my head is from my ass.'
"You think in time that you'll get used to it. You don't. I was on tour with the True Colors tour with Cyndi Lauper, and she was complaining about packing and unpacking," he says. "I said that I figured she'd be used to it by now. She said, in an accent, 'Kid, you never get used to it. Keep getting used to not getting used to it.'"
Noted as the first transgendered musician signed to a major label (Warner Music in Canada, Tommy Boy's Silver Label in the US), Silveira has become the poster boy for trans-visibility. The album cover of Dirty King portrays Silveira as a snarled-face boxer in the ring, bloody and covered in bruises, with a crooked crown resting on his head. His rather posh bandmates are gussied up in 1920s attire---slim-fitting long dresses, hats with veils and pearls. The image plays on Judith Butler's theory of gender as a performance and nods to the butch/femme paradigm.
"Dirty King speaks to this sort of duality of being on the road, being like a musical persona and being who you are," Silveira says. "The album sort of came out of the experience I had when I was touring.
"I'm not insane. I'm not losing my mind. I don't think the human body and psyche is supposed to be in motion all the time," he says. "We are supposed to be still, we are supposed to reflect. There is no ability to reflect on tour. Then you are told, 'Go reflect, go write songs.' I don't know if I have a handle on it yet."
The Cliks released Snakehouse in 2007, and found themselves on a merry-go-round schedule of touring. Dirty King came out last month, produced by Sylvia Massy (Tool, Henry Rollins, The Deftones) in her studio in Weed, California.
"There was a big sign that said 'Weed like to welcome you, population 3,000.' Sylvia is such an interesting person," says Silveira. "Everyone has this idea of Sylvia Massy being a rock 'n' roll goddess, but she's so funny, cool and easygoing."
Instead of packing their bags and hitting the road, The Cliks have made post-release appearances at home in Toronto for NXNE, Xtra's 25th anniversary party and the MuchMusic Video Awards. Silveira says it could, in part, be due to the recession, though their performances at Halifax Pride and Calgary's Virgin Fest with Pearl Jam will see them through the summer. There has been talk of touring come September but nothing's confirmed.
"Bands aren't supported like they used to be. There are so many right now," Silveira says. "Because there is so many and people have the access to all of this music, the idea of making a comfortable living as a musician is impossible. The whole Michael Jackson thing doesn't just represent Michael Jackson as a human being or as a diddler, whatever. It's the death of the pop star. It shocks me, like how long is this going to last? It doesn't seem to last the way it used to."
But it's not about long-lasting fame for Silveira. He wants to make music, that's his purpose in life. The Cliks have weathered various line-up changes and saw Silveira through his transition (female to male). The trio is still learning to navigate the high seas of the tumultuous music industry.
"The biggest lesson, I don't know if I've learned it officially, but we are human beings that work in an industry that is based in the creation of art," says Silveira. "The people who create it are the most vulnerable because they are so attached to it, but the people around you who believe in you, they see it as a product.
"They see it as something that needs to be sold. It's really tough trying to tough to balance the soul and the sale," he continues. "That's the part where I have the most trouble with; that's where I feel the most exposed. As an artist, you have a vision, then there are the people who try and sell what is marketable. I'm having a tough time. I think the music industry is so volatile. Music is viewed as so disposable, what people forget is the people who make it aren't disposable."
Shannon Webb-Campbell is a journalist, writer and photographer. She's Paris-bound come September to live in a bookstore, write a novel and take pictures.
Halifax Pride 2009