The Smittens support Dana Kaplan’s transition while fitting his new voice into their sound
When the Burlington pop band The Smittens formed 12 years ago, bass player David Zacharis decided to brand the group a la The Archies, complete with cartoon replicas and cute nicknames. He was The Greek One. His now-wife, petite drummer Holly Chagnon, was The Littlest Smitten. Loquacious guitarist/vocalist Colin Clary was dubbed The Charming Smitten. Dapper singer/keyboard player Max Andrucki became known as The Dashing Smitten.
The fifth member, vocalist/guitarist Dana Kaplan, was known as The Lady Smitten. Now, Kaplan’s biography at The Smittens’ website shows a new Prince-like moniker: The Smitten Formerly Known as Lady.
Kaplan is transgender. He underwent a double mastectomy in November of 2012, began using the pronoun “he” around that time and has been on a regimen of testosterone ever since.
There is precedent in the music world for transitions such as Kaplan’s. Laura Jane Grace, the vocalist/guitarist for Florida rock band Against Me! who used to be known as Tom Gabel, is perhaps the highest-profile transgender musician. The Smittens have toured the United States and parts of Europe but aren’t widely known outside the “twee-pop” subgenre of indie-rock they belong to and don’t expect increased fame from Kaplan’s transition.
"I don’t feel like we have that big a bully pulpit," Clary said, "and we’re not that highfalutin." The band has always stood lyrically and ideologically behind themes of open-mindedness and inclusion, so his fellow Smittens were quick to accept Kaplan identifying as male — a realization Kaplan took years to discover.
His transition is a bigger deal, however, when it comes to the band’s sound. The Smittens and the mellower Kaplan/Clary side project Let’s Whisper are built around harmonies. With Kaplan’s self-described sweet, soft singing voice now deeper, the band continues to find ways to update its old songs with Kaplan’s huskier tone while imagining how to build future tunes with the new vocal tool he has brought them.
It’s an adjustment for the entire band, especially and obviously so for Kaplan. He has had to come to understand his gender identity, wrestle with telling friends and family about it, embark on a physical transformation, then struggle to accept his new voice that at times seemed so strange and elusive.
"I think I’m coming out of it. There was a period of time, maybe six months, where I was afraid to sing," Kaplan said. "I knew that I was going to have to build a new relationship with my voice, and I just had to wait to find out what that would be."
Navigating the pain
During an interview at a home on North Avenue in Burlington on Monday , band members of The Smittens, left to right, Colin Clary, Holly Chagnon, Dana Kaplan (gesturing), and David Zacharis, talk about some of the changes the band has faced recently.
(Photo: ALDEN PELLETT/FOR THE FREE PRESS)