With the recent release of the third album from Toronto-based alt-rock band the Cliks, front man Lucas Silveira says he can now die happy. Black Tie Elevator, says Silveira, "is the first record I've made where I feel like everything that I've ever wanted to do musically, I've done."
The album is heavily inspired by the blues, and it features soulful tracks that speak to love, loss, and longing. Silveira debuts a sultry, husky voice that is at times reminiscent of Adam Levine, at other moments channels Jack White, and occasionally alludes to David Bowie. It's haunting and unlike anything Silveira's recorded before. There's a good reason for that.
Silveira, now 33, made history in 2006, when he became the first out transgender man to be signed to a major record label. Despite identifying as male, Silveira was still hesitant back then to begin testosterone hormone therapy, afraid that the subsequent deepening of his voice might destroy his singing career.
Many transgender men see quick, noticeable changes when they begin taking testosterone, including a deepening of the voice that resembles the uneven, occasionally squeaky tonalities of a pubescent boy. But Silveira began his hormone therapy slowly, incrementally increasing his dosage and doing regular vocal exercises to minimize damage to his changing vocal cords.
"It was a really scary time," says Silveira, noting that he consulted with doctors, coaches, and other trans male vocalists who had successfully transitioned and continued singing. "For a good year and a half to two years, I had a really tough time just finding my voice and knowing exactly where it was going to end up."
The three years Silveira spent retraining his voice overlapped with a four-year hiatus from the Cliks, after tensions with band mates and management resulted in every original member except Silveira leaving the group and the band's major label, Warner Music Canada, dropping it.
But Silveira, who founded the Cliks in 2004, isn't lamenting the changes. "It was my band," he says. "It was my music.... For me, it was just another experience to grow and another way to move forward -- sort of using the 'Cliks' name as my vehicle to continue to pursue the music that I wanted to."
That pursuit resulted in Black Tie Elevator, which maintains the emotionality found in earlier Cliks albums Snakehouse and Dirty King but this time adds Silveira's sultry baritone, scooping and dipping against smoldering guitar riffs and lyrics pulled directly from Silveira's life. His favorite track, "Cerise," is about a friend, but Silveira says it's also an effort to offer brotherly advice to his sister, who he says can't escape an abusive relationship. "Oh, Cerise," sings Silveira. "You are coming down off your cloud / You just can't rely on wicked men / They have taken you for granted..."
Silveira identifies as queer, as does his fiancee, fellow musician Skye Chevolleau, with whom he lives in Toronto. Silveira fondly recounts the moment he proposed to Chevolleau, onstage at Pride Toronto 2012 in front of thousands of fans.
"It was beautiful and it was such an amazing moment for me," Silveira says. "And of course she said yes. In fact, she said, 'Fuck yes!' Even better."
While the Canadian has long been open about being transgender, he says the political aspect of the identity doesn't resonate with him personally.
"I'm transgender by definition, but not by identity," says Silveira. "I don't really want to be called a transgender person or a trans man because I feel like it's becoming more of a political identity than a personal one."
The singer came under intense criticism for his use of the word "tranny" to refer to himself on social media last year, and he says the hostile reaction from LGBT people surprised and disappointed him.
"I just find that a lot of the queer communities are not allowing for personal individual narratives," says Silveira. "And then calling out people for being politically incorrect with the things that they say."
Silveira says he didn't use the word in a derogatory sense, but activists rained criticism on the singer. A widely reblogged Tumblr post recounting the entire exchange -- carried out between Silveira and detractors on Facebook -- is titled "Lucas Silveira of The Cliks is an unapologetic, privileged, willfully ignorant, transmisogynistic piece of shit."
"It actually sort of broke my heart and took a piece of me," says Silveira. "Sometimes I wonder whether I should have let it, to protect myself.... But I was emailed and cyberbullied and threatened by trans women and a couple of trans guys. I was like, Wow, this has never happened to me with the mainstream heteronormative people. And now this is happening with people who call themselves my community?"
Experiences like that led Silveira to take a step back, he says, from being more visible in the LGBT world.
"I'm just going to be Lucas," he says. "And yes, I'm very proud that I am the man that was born woman.... People don't like to hear, 'Yeah, I was once a woman,' because that means I'm not 'legitimately trans.' "
Silveira still believes his music is honest and authentic, and he argues that anyone who listens to Black Tie Elevator will get a glimpse into his soul.
"I think part of being a musician is also about being open about who you are and your personal life, to a certain extent," Silveira says. "Especially if you're the kind of writer that I am. I'm a very personal writer."