The Cliks, Reinvented and It Feels So Good: The Autostraddle Interview & Photoshoot

the-cliks-featureHanging out with Lucas and the two new members of The Cliks (3.0) is like hanging out with your best friend and the girl she’s just totally fallen in love with who genuinely loves her back — these kids are just so happy together! They just, you know … CLICK.

I photographed The Cliks earlier this year in their former incarnation, before the July release of Dirty King and before September, when The Cliks announced on their myspace page that Morgan Doctor and Jen Benton had left the band. Lucas explained at the time, “…to be blunt, the road beat us up and knocked us out. When we all woke up, we each saw a different road ahead. These things happen, it’s that simple.”

In November Lucas announced that Brian Viglione and Tobi Parks had joined up and they were back to making music, so I was eager to talk with the New Improved Cliks and be the first photographer to get a chance to capture the trio together (in menswear!) for a photo session.  Luckily I have plenty of experience with engagement photos. ;-)

We talked about how they all got together, future musical plans, the impact of a genderqueer band, their backgrounds, the importance of queer visibility (our favorite topic!) and… well, you’ll just have to read it and find out.

It’s clear that Lucas, Tobi and Brian are three musicians made for each other… and if they can rock a stage anything like they can rock a tux (and I think they can), there are definitely amazing things in store for this group.

Robin Roemer Photography

Robin: I just want you to tell me about the new band, how’d you guys get together, how’d you guys start playing together, and maybe introduce these guys for anybody that doesn’t already know.

Lucas: Ok! So, I was looking for a new band, obviously. Brian was the first drummer that came to mind when I was thinking about that. I’d met him on the very first True Colors tour when he was playing with The Dresden Dolls. After the tour we kept in touch and every time I came to Boston, Cambridge; he was there like, “hey come out to the show.”

When I first asked him he was already in another band, so it was like “I’ll do some shows with you, but you know I’m in another band so I can’t do that full time.” So we did one show in DC, and then through a mutual friend of ours through Cyndi Lauper I was introduced to Tobi. And when I met her I was like, “Hey, I know you!” ’cause we’d played the show at The Knitting Factory where her band Bambi had opened for The Cliks. So it was like this small, weird world.

And that’s how it happened. We did one show on the basis that these were like our “guest” musicians for The Cliks and we played one show, we had one rehearsal and the chemistry was just perfect, as Brian puts it. I was like, “PLEASE BE MY BAND.” And here are Brian and Tobi!

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Robin: How is this version of the Cliks different from the previous? How has the sound changed? From your perspective, how you’re feeling it’s evolving?

Lucas: I think one of the most obvious changes is people can’t really put us in a box anymore, because I always get this whole like “oh it’s an all female band!” even though I identify as a transman. Or they’re like, “it’s an all female band with a transgendered singer!” and I think the great thing about what’s happening now is that people can see that this is all about music. It’s not about gender.

Gender is a facet to what I do, but it’s only one thing. The other thing is that these guys are really positive people, which is forcing me to be a positive person as well. They’re teaching me to focus on the right things, and that’s great after being in a sort of “situation” or a relationship with band members that was a little bit toxic and not very healthy.

Artistically, the biggest change is that I feel really artistically open. I’m writing music from a good place now, not from, “OHHH GOD I gotta write an album.” I was on a path before feeling like I’d been put into a little box and feeling very protected. Now I feel really liberated, ’cause these guys are that way.

“It’s important to remind people that underneath everything, underneath any label, THIS is the heart of what counts and what’s translated to people.”

Robin: How about you guys, how do you see the sound, how is it different?

Brian: Well I think right off the bat I think there’s a little bit of a harder attack. Tobi and I both kind of gave each other the secret knowing nod the very first time. ‘Cause we had never played together until our first rehearsal and kind of went “oh. You’re one of those too.”

So there’s a really strong driving element for drums and bass, and a lot of showmanship and a huge energy boost. There was overall a cool demeanor to the band before, and now it’s a bit more visceral. Lucas touched on it before — the beautiful, vast ambiguity in terms of sexuality, gender and personality. You can’t pin anything down as any one thing these days, and that’s good! It’s important to remind people that underneath everything, underneath any label — THIS is the heart of what counts and what’s translated to people.

Lucas: And I found out today actually many of the lesbian viewers or people who go to Autostraddle find out that Brian is a huge Ani DiFranco fan. So actually he’s the lesbian of the group.

[laughter]

Brian: You gotta let it shine, absolutely! Well yeah, I mean again, one of the main things is you want to feel comfortable to express yourself wholly, every facet of your personality and your individuality. You want to let that spread, and compliment the band’s other personalities and traits. When you have any group over two people, you want everyone to be able to come into themselves and fully devote themseleves to that experience. It only magnifies what people perceive, and it’s very new for us but it gets expressed to the audience as well. That’s a really important thing.

If I felt sort of alone in my band in a certain aspect, now we’re joining up with other people who are equally allowing you to flourish in that way.  That’s really important, a really significant ..

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Tobi: Even to this point we haven’t really had the opportunity to do a lot of playing together. We’ve had these sort of these very sort of tight situations like, “alright we have this thing to do.” I’m just really excited about when we’ll have some downtime to really be able to play off of each other. In DC, the show was amazing because it was a very organic sense. But I think when we’re able to sit down and really learn how these guys function — drummers and bass players have this thing where you give a look and you know he’s gonna raise his elbow or something, and you learn to follow each other that way. I’m excited to see where it’s gonna go and where Brian’s going.

Lucas: Everybody has musical personalities. The longer you learn how to play with someone, the more you understand them, not only as people but as players. The one show we did do together, it felt like we did know each other, like, “Oh, you guys are old souls to me.” That’s why I was like, “what? This just feels so right.”

I always compare bands to like being in a relationship. Sometimes you just walk into a person and you know that you’re in love with them. You don’t have to know them or anything. Then there’s people you meet where you really have to work hard to make it work. Sometimes the part about “not working hard” is so so good. ‘Cause then you can get to the sex!

[laughs]

Lucas: That’s like the music.

Brian: Definitely.

Robin: So you feel like you’re opening yourself up a little bit more, I know in the past I don’t know if you felt like you were pigeonholed as a queer band, do you feel like you’re opening it up a little bit more to the mainstream? Do you feel it’s important for queer artists to find a home in the mainstream? How do you think this new feel, and this new band is going to make that possible?

Lucas: Well, I do believe that it’s important for bands like us to be in the mainstream. I don’t want to be excluded from the queer scene because those are my roots & those are my most supportive fans and the people who’ve supported everything I’ve done. Those are the fans I’m most grateful for ’cause that’s where they got us.

But it’s important for bands like us to be in the mainstream because then we become the mainstream. Then it’s not an issue. That visibility is so important — for people to understand that they don’t need to be queer to relate to your music. Art is art. When you look at a painting in a gallery, you don’t think about whether it was done by someone gay, straight, a woman — you just kinda look at it and it touches you however it touches you.

That’s what people need to be doing with music. People get put in little boxes based on genre or where you come from, and what this band is doing right now is going, “Look. It’s The Music.” Things are changing behind it, but it’s always about the music. It doesn’t matter if it’s two queer women doing backup and a transguy in the front. It’s the tunes, man.

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Robin: Are you working on new songs?

Lucas: Right now I’ve been writing a lot, like I said, I feel like this new kind of like freedom. We’re having some issues just geographically because I live in Toronto and these guys live in New York, which is great ‘cause I get to come here a lot, it’s my favorite city in the world besides Toronto. It’s true. But I think it’s going to be a matter of .. like Tobi said, I cannot wait for us to not have this pressure – you gotta get these songs down kind of performances where I can just come in with a bunch of new songs and send them stuff over email like mp3 and go “listen, this is what I came up with, why don’t you guys work on something over there and then when I come we can sort of have a base to go from”. So I can’t – that’s what I’m most excited for, is to be able to do that. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that in the near future. And we’re planning on going on tour in March so we best be doing that.

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Next:
“I think creative collaboration has a very organic lifespan. The ideas & the creative energy between people have a beginning, a middle, and an end.”

Robin: That’s what I was going to ask you. That’s great. What are your tour plans?

Lucas: Cyndi Lauper’s manager and Cyndi Lauper are planning a True Colors “offshoot” tour they want to do with younger bands who are ready to go out and promote the True Colours name and what True Colours is about — human rights for the LGBTQ community. So we’re one of the bands, another band that’s supposed to be on it is Hunter Valentine and the third band right now I think they’re still trying to find. That’s what we have in the works right now.

Robin: I know that people at Autostraddle are really curious about you, Brian, and whether you and Amanda have had any plans to play together again — I know you’ve both been doing your own thing… Will there be collaboration with her at some point?

the_cliks_2Brian: Not in any foreseeable future. The way that I feel about all of that is that it was a very important stage in my life that I’m really grateful that I had the experience for and learned a tremendous amount. But in many ways it was an opportunity for me to confront a lot of the lessons that I needed to learn.

So to go back into that situation would feel strange and regressive.

I feel like a different person than I did five, six, seven years ago when I was really in the thick of The Dresden Dolls. I appreciate all the work we did and the people we met along the way, but it’s not really something I’m feeling drawn to at this point. I’m so enthused and invigorated to be where I am right now that going there would just be for nostalgia.

There was a very honest devolvement of the creative energy between Amanda and I and it didn’t end before its time. I think creative collaboration has a very organic lifespan. The ideas & the creative energy between people have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I’m happy and proud of the way we saw things through. Around 2006 we started to split and rather than force it, we both acknowledged that it was time to move on and do other things. That’s the best way, I think. A band, or people, can handle something like that. So maybe down the road if it’s the right time, sure, but I can’t really say yes or no either way.

Robin: I’d love to hear from you, Tobi, a little bit about your background, your musical background, what you’ve been doing…

Tobi: I’m from St. Louis, Missouri, which has a fantastic music scene and I was really involved in a lot of experimental music stuff. I was in a trio called The Start Up, which was like this queer punk — well, I can’t really say “queer” ’cause I was the only queer one in the band — it was sort of feminist art punk.

We did a lot of touring with bands like The Butchies and Le Tigre and Gossip and things like that. Like Brian was talking about with The Dresden Dolls; we had started this great thing, we had an arc, and you continue to create with people and you develop different visions of where things should go. That’s what happened with us. But also there’s this strange thing where you feel like you’re constantly banging your head against the wall like we were — see I’ve always been in bands that are a little left of center, the Cliks is the most mainstream band I’ve been in. It’s one of those things where we all really love what we’re doing, and it’s really creative & exciting stuff, but it’s not an easy pill for mainstream audiences to swallow. So I’ve accepted that, and I like to create art for art’s sake.

So I played in Star Death for five years, and there’s another band in St.Louis I’m actually still involved in that’s more experimental metal. So we shoot mp3s back and forth to each other and I go there every once in a while to record some things. The band I’m in now, Bambi, in New York — it’s one of those things too where it’s very organic and these guys, no matter what happens in my world, I think we’ll always create together. We have different aspirations in terms of what we want to do musically, like it’s a duo-fronted and the two singers are a girl and a guy who are actors and very tied to the New York theater scene. So touring is difficult for us. The guitar player’s also in another band so it’s like we’re all kind of pulled in these different directions but we love creating music together and we create these really interesting (at least I think they’re interesting) projects and so that’s kind of what I’ve done.

Lucas: She’s pulling in all over!

Tobi: I am. I always say that I’m musically slutty and I’ll play with anybody at least once.

Lucas: I’ll buy you breakfast, don’t worry.

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Robin: What are you guys listening to right now that’s inspiring to you?

Lucas: Oh, God. I can’t get off the Lady Gaga [sidenote: HELL YEAH]. Lady Gaga and Beyonce have been like the number one things on my mind/ipod. I’m a pop music slut. I love the pop.

Brian: I’ve been sort of between three different things. A lot of 90’s hip-hop stuff that I’m coming back and listening to, and 1940’s pop, Johnny Mercer, that era. I’ve really been getting into 40’s World War II swing. I’ve been finding these Leonard Bernstein concerts for young people really inspiring. These DVDs that are just absolutely amazing, with Berns conducting the New York Philharmonic talking about all these aspects of music it’s just incredibly beautiful. He goes through all these different composers so that’s been really a huge RUSH.

Lucas: This morning I was staying with Brian and he went from listening to, what’s it? M.C…?

Brian: Young MC?

Lucas: …to like this flowing jazz and then I come downstairs and he’s listening to like death metal I was like “weellll, somebody’s got very eccentric taste!”

Brian: Yeah, that’s true. That spells it right there, Young MC to Lester Young to Pantera.

Tobi: I’ve been listening to a lot of M’Shell Ndegeocello which is fucking amazing. I’m not really one to idolize musicians too much but Oh My God.  Really, it’s strange, after a while I get kind of burned out on music a little bit so I’ve been listening to a lot of NPR podcasts. That’s basically what my time is, like old classic rock and stuff like that. Oh there’s a guy, Bobby Kahn (?) of Chicago who is fantastic so I listen to a lot of his stuff all the time.

Lucas: [this part we can’t hear and therefore transcribe we are very sorry -the interns] He’s actually from Brooklyn, he’s got a little Novice Theory, he’s a transguy. Geo Wyeth. He’s amazing, sort of cabaret. Up your alley there, buddy [to Brian].

Brian: I think I’ve even seen some clips.

Lucas: Yeah. He’s really good.

Brian: I have to remember. There’s some really famous New York cabaret artist who looks a little bit like Mark Allman.

Lucas: Hah! Really?

Brian: Yeah. This is probably not Geo Wyeth.

Lucas: No. Definitely not.

Brian: I gotta try to find this guy’s name again. Yeah, so, again, there’s a really great diverse but complementary kind of thing. It’s gonna yield some powerful stuff I think.

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Robin: Is there anything else that you want to add or say?

Lucas: FOLLOW US ON TWITTER! So you can hear me talk about ridiculous stuff. Twitter’s a weird world, you find a lot of people there, or facebook. Just to keep up with stuff that we do and myspace and stuff like that. I always find it surprising when people email me and they’re like “when are you playing?” and I’m like “guys, myspace, man”. Go to myspace!

“This is a rock band and if you like rock and roll then you’ll like this. That’s the way I see it.”

Brian: I want to say bring somebody out there if you’re going to see The Cliks and you’ve been before. Bring somebody who’s never been who might not expect to go or feel included there. I just had this experience where a neighbor of my Dad’s out in Jersey who’d been coming to shows and that kind of thing for a while, felt threatened and a little bit homophobic about what was going to happen at a Cliks show and didn’t want to go. He didn’t really know, he couldn’t really understand, and that surprised me. I didn’t expect that. Of course my heart sank.

I was like, “ugh but, how, why would you, after all this time” [spluttering] But again, people just get afraid. And then my father called back and said, “He changed his mind, he really wants to come and is excited about the show.” To me, that was great. I was like, “wonderful!” because I think a lot of the times people feel like, and I saw this with Dresden Dolls too, people said “oh that’s like the goth kids. I’ll be too old, or I won’t fit in” and I want to make sure that everybody feels that they fit in at a Cliks show.

Lucas: Oh yeah, for sure.

Brian: It’s not just for one person or the other. This is music for everybody and that’s a really wonderful thing.

Lucas: If people could close their eyes and see the way I see myself you’d see a little rock and roll 1970s dude closer to Led Zeppelin than anything else. So get these images out of your mind. This is a rock band and if you like rock and roll then you’ll like this. That’s the way I see it. We did the Cult tour, we went on stage and at the time it was me and Morgan and Jen and Nina was in the band too, and all these rock fans, these like biker dudes, sitting around and I saw their faces when we got on stage they’d be like [makes yucky face] and then we’d start playing and they’re like [surprised face] “oh!” and I look into the audience and I see this guy like singing Cry Me a River and I’m like, “Oh yeah, biker dude, what’s going on, you’re digging JT yo”. So it’s just like people need to get that shit out of their head and open themselves to the music that’s all they need to do.

Tobi: On the other side of that, people who have already been Cliks fans might be afraid that it was one thing and now it’s sort of changed and people don’t like change that much. But this is something that’s really good, and really great, and not to pat ourselves on the back —

Lucas: But you should.

Tobi: — I think the trajectory is going to another level than what it was before. So I would hope that both Cliks fans will continue to come and continue to enjoy what we’re doing and be exposed to a new generation of Cliks.
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Alibris

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Check out The Cliks on myspace, go to their shows, and FOLLOW THEM ON TWITTER!

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Robin specializes in entertainment, lifestyle and portrait photography. She's also a Creative Producer, Director of Photography and co-owner of Scheme Machine Studios LLC, her production company based in Los Angeles. Robin loves shooting for TV and film and has worked with media companies like Legendary Pictures and Viacom. She shot and directed the Pride campaign for Google called #ThisIsFamily. Robin has had the pleasure of working on national campaigns for companies like Dove and Levis, and had the unique opportunity to shoot for non-profits and initiatives such as The Black List, Save the Children, Move to End Violence, Have a Hart Day, and The Clinton Global Initiative. She is most proud of the work she has done with organizations such as The Ad Council and RAINN working on national impact campaigns. Her celebrity roster includes Cyndi Lauper, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, The B-52s, Keri Hilson, JB Smoove, Tegan and Sara, Margaret Cho, The B-52’s, Andreja Pejic, and many more. She was there for Autostraddle’s birth and proudly served as A-Camp co-director for many years.

Robin has written 84 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. Oh man as an old-school Dresden Dolls fan I am super excited to hear about Brian and see him in a bowler hat again. Also the Cliks sound like a fantastic group in their own right! I am going to go listen to them right now!

  2. It’s really interesting the stuff about the life cycle of an artistic collaboration that Lucas, Tobi and Brian all talked about in this interview with their respective experiences. When there’s all these sort of little internet skirmishes happening when one person or another leaves a website or a vlog, we forget that sometimes artistic or creative partnerships aren’t necessarily always built to last forever and there isn’t anything wrong with that. It’s interesting with a band because the fans are often so heartbroken about a breakup and it must be difficult to have to explain it. Anyhow what I mean by this is AMAZING INTERVIEW ROBIN AND I LOVE THE PHOTOGRAPHS. TOTAL GENDERFUCK HOTNESS and i look forward to their music!

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