6 min

The new suv

Sapphic urban verve

ANGER FUELS MUSICAL DRIVE. Lilia Silveira's new band The Cliks, with bass-player Ezri Kaysen and drummer Heidi Chan, tackle suburban alienation in their rocking debut CD. Credit: Paula Wilson

The wave of queer girl electronica that’s been swelling with the likes of Peaches, Tracy And The Plastics and beloved Montrealers Lesbians On Ecstasy since lo-fi pioneers Le Tigre emerged in 1999, is being met with a sudden resurgence of loudmouth Sapphic rock.

Like local darlings Scandalnavia and Cougar Party, pop-rock trio The Cliks, who stormed the scene late-2003, are a force to be reckoned with, already brandishing their self-titled debut that launches Thu, Oct 9.

Fronted by indie powerhouse Lilia Silveira, of solo acoustic LiLia fame, The Cliks have been together since they merged to tour LiLia’s 2002 album, Radio Friendly. “I discovered that Ezri Kaysen was the Zen mistress of bass playing when she became my neighbour,” says Silveira. “And [drummer] Heidi Chan was a miracle sent from the Internet want ad gods. We played together once and it was all I needed to know she was the one.”

Silveira, who coyly declines to give her age ( it’s somewhere in the late-20s) is a musical phenomenon. Since she began playing at age 12, the singer, songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire has also mastered bass, drums and keys, and as LiLia, has demanded critical attention with two CDs, Radio Friendly and Perhaps (1998), and gigs like NXNE in 1999 and the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in 2002.

The Cliks’ garage rock is a far cry from LiLia’s folky strummings, and Silveira says the transformation was necessary. “My music as LiLia had a subtleness that came from being afraid of people hearing my thoughts and actually understanding them. Working with Ezri and Heidi reminded me of the inspiration and strength that gets fuelled when you musically connect with others.

“I started writing harder, louder, edgier music that didn’t fit the solo singer/songwriter bubble I’d built for myself. And the sound just wasn’t LiLia anymore. It was a collective at work, and I wanted the audience to know that.

“The Cliks has allowed me to do what I’ve wanted to all of my life – play loud electric guitar and not give a fuck that someone might say, ‘Oh dear! You sound angry.’ Guess, what? I am angry. So what? The Cliks’ attitude is upfront: ‘Here I am and I don’t care what you think,’ which is howI really am in my life. I’ve learned that as a musician and songwriter, I need to move forward and do what feels most natural even if it means not being a viable commodity. Being something I’m not isn’t an option.”

And their debut album proves it, as Silveira lyrically attests to the trials and tribulations of finding oneself despite cultural insistencies on homogeneity. “Most of the album is about the divide between suburban and urban realities and mentalities. Living in the suburbs – malls, wide roads and driving everywhere you go even if it’s only three blocks away – can really suck dry one’s identity and perception of reality.”

The sexy, rhythmic track “Dreaming” and the subdued lament of “Waiting” articulate the alienation and isolation fuelled by the very suburban landscapes from which Silveira fled when she finally picked up and moved to Toronto in 1999. The saucy “SUV” (“Even my heroes drive SUVs/ What can I do to make my own ends meet?/ I’m selling out”) tackles corporate capitalism and warfare. “I’d always been a fan of Zack De La Rocha [ex-Rage Against The Machine front man] because of his passion within leftwing politics. And then I came across a photo of him driving an SUV. It triggered a lot of contempt in me.

“Despite everything we may stand for, we still live within the confines of a capitalist structure. Selling out becomes an unavoidable casualty in Western culture. The real problem lies in much higher places – the American empire, their foreign policy.

“Even still, I’d never own an SUV.”

Perhaps most poignant, however, is Silveira’s velvet-voiced contention amid the punchy riffs of the track “Disappeared.” “You are so anti-queer/ You can’t admit/ That you don’t fit/ Where you’re not fitting in.”

“I came out when I was 17 and the most difficult part was living in Mississauga. There was nothing, no dyke community, no bars. I’d visit Toronto to get my queer fix, then slide back into being ‘that dyke that’s in town,’ at home. It was exhausting. Getting through it involved a lot of drinking and drugs. And I ended up dating curious straight women. If I hear the phrase, ‘I’m not a lesbian, I only love you,’ one more time, I’ll throw a serious tantrum.

“The thing about being out in the suburbs is that except among close friends and family, you’re never really out. You either meld into straightdom or risk a lot of backlash.”

Cultural acceptability is a contentious bone for Silveira, and she tackles it with a politic of queer radicalism. “Anyone who thinks that gay is queer is out to lunch.I know conservative gays and lesbians and they’re definitely not queer. Being queer is political – it’s about challenging what’s considered normal in this society, whether you’re straight, gay, bi, whatever. I’m an outspoken female musician who writes her own songs – that’s where my queer aesthetic resides. When I played Michigan, it was a great honour, but their ‘no trans’ policy is ridiculous. I went there to say something about it instead of stewing in Toronto in my bedroom with my guitar.”

Born in Toronto, Lilia was just four when her family embarked on a six-year migration to Calheta de Nesquim, a tiny village of 600, nestled on the small island of Pico, in Portugal. Cultural power imbalances were among her first lessons. “I really hated living in Pico. It was a very misogynist culture. Women who challenged men were usually confronted with violence or cast out as crazy. And school was a nightmare. Teachers would often hit kids, ridicule them into nervous breakdowns. The island is beautiful, but when you understand what lies inside the belly of the beast and you have no power, it’s a different story altogether.”

Music was one source of beauty that offered Silveira strength. “Learning to appreciate music was just a natural part of growing up in my household. My dad played the trumpet and is a great singer, while the rest of my family dabbled. I started messing around musically when I was quite young. I played my sister’s double rack organ when I was five. When I was 12, I bought myself an Eddie Van Halen imitation Stratocaster with money I’d earned from a paper route. It was a piece of crap, but it did the job. My parents realized I had an ear for music and nurtured that side of me even though they didn’t have much money.”

While most teens were out causing trouble, Silveira holed up in her bedroom with Wham, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath on her turntable, and taught herself how to play her Casio keyboard, Pearl drum kit and her brother’s bass, in addition to honing her guitar-strumming talents and her voice. “I still can’t read music. I play by ear. I love singing and playing guitar. It just comes naturally to me and makes me feel whole.”

The Cliks’ debut was recorded in just four weekends over a two-month period. “I knew it could be done and I’m stubborn. It turned out to be the best recording experience I’ve ever had. It was the first time I worked with a full band in the studio.”

As The Cliks sort out tour plans, Silveira’s already plotting a mid-2005 follow-up recording, writing new songs and continuing to collaborate with choreographers like Rachel Gorman and Debbie Wilson on scores for dance and theatre. And gigs around town abound. The Cliks recently played queer girl rock-punk showcases ReVulValution (which Silveira organized) at the Gladstone and Ménage à Trois at the El Mo.

“We love playing to an audience. The exchange of energy is like a drug. This year’s Pride performance was amazing. We had a huge audience and the positive energy was actually overwhelming. I almost fell down because I was trying to match the energy going out with what was coming in.”

They’ve had some strange shows, too. “At The Charlotte Room, a posh Bay St poolhall, we had about five people watching us while the rest of the bar was like, ‘Who are these chicks?’ as they looked at their Rolexes.”

With the momentum The Cliks are building, it may not be long before they find out.

* The Cliks join LAL, RAW, Pomegranate Squad, Maewon, DJ Missruckus and short docs by Vicky Manuel-Paul on Thu, Oct 7 at the Tequila Lounge (794 Bathurst St); doors open at 9pm with the show starting at 9:30pm. Tix are $7 to $10 sliding scale; call (416) 536-0346.

Hunter Valentine opens for the Sat, Oct 9 CD release party. For more info, go to


$5. 9pm doors; 10pm show.

Sat, Oct. 9.

Clinton’s Tavern.

693 Bloor St W.

(416) 534-9541.