Hidden Cameras: “The Gay Thing Doesn’t Go Well in America”

(c) Tore Hallas

Joel Gibb took some time to talk about the new album AGE, drunk tambourine players, go-go dancers at concerts and dealing with homophobic reviews

Joel Gibb not only is the lead singer of The Hidden Cameras – he is the Hidden Cameras. Apart from him, there are no fixed members but rather a varying roster of musicians who keep changing from show to show. Since the Canadian started the band in 2001, the Hidden Cameras have become widely known for their unconventional style and high-energy live-shows. We met him before their gig at the Waves Vienna Festival.

mokant.at: You have some of the weirdest music videos I’ve ever seen. How do you come up with ideas?
Joel Gibb: Well, I directed six of them, so it depends on which one. I did a video for Doom last week.

(c) Elsa Quarsell

(c) Elsa Quarsell

mokant.at: What is it about?
Joel Gibb: It’s about three unlikely people – a woman, an old man and a dominatrix – who kidnap business men. There’s a bit of dominatrix stuff going on, so it’s erotic, but also very funny. The bankers get Stockholm syndrome and don’t want to leave their captivity. It’s kind of an anti-capitalist feminist statement – and it has revenge in it, which is what we need! There are too many narratives where the gay guy gets killed or kills himself.

mokant.at: Like in your video to Gay Goth Scene.
Joel Gibb: Yes, I didn’t direct that one myself, that was Kai (Stänicke, Anm.). The video is about bullying, but the song is more about forbidden love. Originally it was supposed to be Carrie-esque and about revenge. But I still like it because it’s probably the saddest music video ever made. Which I’m quite proud of (laughs).

mokant.at: You’ve also played at very interesting venues. I read you’ve played at churches and porn theatres, for example…
Joel Gibb: One porn theatre, one time! But it always says this – that we played in porn theatres. It actually used to be a real movie theatre a long time ago. It was a very strange experience, and it got people’s attention in Toronto, people were talking about that gig.

mokant.at: But Canada is supposed to be less conservative than the US, is that true in your opinion?
Joel Gibb: Maybe. Canada is conservative in some ways, but I guess people are more open minded, yeah. You can’t really categorise America all as one thing.

mokant.at: That’s true. But does it make a difference for you where you play? Is the audience different in Europe, for example?
Joel Gibb: It really depends on the show and on how drunk people are. And if it’s a free gig, you get way more excited people. Or sometimes the majority are real “fans” who really focus on the music.
We always have an arc in our show – we start off very distant and then, as the show progresses, we get more connected to the audience and then I usually ask people to dance, to stretch or to move. And sometimes we bring out go-go dancers.

mokant.at: That’s actually a very important question I have – will there be go-go dancers tonight?
Joel Gibb: No (laughs). Have we ever had go-go dancers in Vienna? I don’t think so. We should!
When we were playing churches years ago, it was a whole performance. We did this church-type music of our first record and projecting the lyrics, like it’s a service, but flipped on its head because we also added the dancers to that. But that’s old. Our new record is completely different music so that wouldn’t make sense any more.

mokant.at: So you don’t describe your music as “gay folk church music” any more?
Joel Gibb: No, I only did once. I never do now, never never never. I wrote it on a flyer to refer to a specific show in a church. And it really does refer to the first record, and maybe the second record a little bit. Because the signifiers were there – the pipe organ, the choir, the tambourine, the acoustic guitar, the major chords and so on.
But The Hidden Cameras is all sorts of music, my next record will be a country record. People just want to keep saying the same thing and they don’t fucking listen to the new record. They just look at what’s written somewhere… and that’s really irritating actually.

mokant.at: I guess people just like to label bands so they know what to expect.
Joel Gibb: We’re not Coldplay, you know. We’re not U2. Those bands do the exact same things all the time. So that’s it (laughs).

(c) Hidden Cameras

(c) Hidden Cameras

mokant.at: Okay, different topic. How many people are you going to be on stage tonight?
Joel Gibb: Uhm… five, maybe six.

mokant.at: You don’t know yet?
Joel Gibb: A friend who lives in Vienna said he’ll join us maybe.

mokant.at: I think I’ve never heard of that before – that a band changes their members from show to show.
Joel Gibb: I know. For example, I have like five drummers (counts them in his head), or six or seven.

mokant.at: So whenever you go to a different city, you just invite other people you know to play with you?
Joel Gibb: Ideally. In a way, that’s one of the core values of The Hidden Cameras. I was never asked to be on a band in High School. I only hung out with visual artists, but I always wanted somebody to ask me to play tambourine in their band. So that’s why I always ask people to come join the band because that’s what music should be about. It’s about community and coming together with people.

mokant.at: That’s cool – so every show sounds different?
Joel Gibb: It depends, but yeah, in Toronto it is, because there’s like twenty people. Maybe the harp player plays and maybe there’s a choir or back-up singers. Then there’s one member in the band who once took his ten-year-old son into the audience and brought more kids up on stage to play tambourine! I didn’t even plan that, he did that – it was like a freak show (laughs).

mokant.at: You have to be really spontaneous!
Joel Gibb: I have to be open to that because I’ve created that within the band. That’s the natural outcome of creating a culture that’s open to stuff like that. And sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s actually amazing and sometimes it’s not so good. Like, I once asked this really drunk Spanish guy to play tambourine and he almost tripped over everything and ruined the whole show (laughs). But people love spontaneity in live shows. They really react to that.

mokant.at: So you’re not someone who has to control everything.
Joel Gibb: Yes, I am.

mokant.at: You are? But how does that fit together?
Joel Gibb: I am pretty controlling with the recordings and producing the records, and when we’re rehearsing arrangements. But once the show happens, I’m kind of open to spontaneity, a little bit.

mokant.at: When some people criticize your music or your lyrics, can you distance yourself from that and maybe even laugh about it? Or is it hard to hear or read this stuff?
Joel Gibb (after a long pause): I think nobody wants to read a bad review, if that’s what you mean. There are some bad reviews where you can tell the person is homophobic. And they’re not actually saying it in the review, but the way they dismiss it… you can just tell it’s a straight male that’s writing this. You never get that from women. They’ll even quote my lyrics wrong and make it even more gay, you know. They don’t actually even listen and that really pisses me off actually. I’m just thinking of one review where they didn’t like the music and the lyrics, but they actually misquoted them.
I don’t know, I just had this dream. I would think that people could identify with a gay perspective or a gay narrative, just as somebody gay or bi or trans can identify with a straight narrative – boy meets girl or whatever. Art is about communicating and finding communalities in experiences.

mokant.at: I actually tried to find out if the majority of your audience is from the LGBT community, but I didn’t find out much. It doesn’t seem like the band appeals only to a certain kind of people.
Joel Gibb: Well, in Austria it’s different than in other places, like America for instance. You get this from every band – from the Pet Shop Boys to Scissor Sisters to whoever – the gay thing doesn’t go well in America. It doesn’t matter if you’re a small or a big band, if you’re gay it’s like you’re playing to way less people. Europe is different. In Europe, people just view music more as music, they don’t really see it as something taboo. In Austria they play us all the time on FM4, they just like the music, it’s not gay or straight. And the people that come to our shows are just really mixed.

mokant.at: Also, when I read up about your band, it didn’t seem like people focused on you being gay that much.
Joel Gibb: I don’t really think about that any more. The first record and the performances were very explicit. There are references to gay sex and stuff in the first record. I’ve kind of evolved since that, I don’t really want to talk about that any more. In the new record, there are so many layers to my lyrics. I’d rather talk about other stuff. For example, the new country record is not sexual, it’s more sweet and traditional.

mokant.at: The sound of your new album AGE is also darker than on previous records. Are the lyrics more sad as well?
Joel Gibb: Well, all of my lyrics can be quite sad sometimes. But yeah, it’s the teenager-angst-depressing album. AGE is about one protagonist transitioning into adulthood. The song Gay Goth Scene is about forbidden love and at the end of that song, that person is kicked out of the house, in my mind. The next song is a trippy dub song and he’s walking around at night, trying to find the after party – and the next song is clubby, so that’s the party. So it really is a journey. I don’t know if anybody noticed or cares, but in my mind it is (laughs).

mokant.at: Okay. Four short questions: What’s the last concert you bought a ticket for?
Joel Gibb: Uhm… I don’t know. I never go to shows. I go see my friends play, but that’s it.

mokant.at: But at festivals, don’t you listen to the other bands?
Joel Gibb: I hate festivals! Being a concert-goer on a festival is like the last thing I want to do. It depends what festival but those big, outdoor festivals – no. It’s loud and annoying and dirty and you get tired and that’s just not fun.

mokant.at: Do you have a Guilty Pleasure Song?
Joel Gibb: Shania Twain maybe (laughs).

mokant.at: If you saw yourself ten or fifteen years ago, what advice would you give yourself?
Joel Gibb: So much. So much! I wouldn’t even know where to start. I would never say it in an interview actually, but lots of stuff. You only have one life though, I don’t like that question (laughs).

mokant.at: What are your happiest moments as a musician?
Joel Gibb: Any time where you finish playing and they’re singing the song you just played, which happens sometimes. That’s just the best.

Titelbild: (c) Tore Hallas

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Rebecca Steinbichler ist Redakteurin und stellvertretende Ressorleiterin (Gesellschaft) bei mokant.at. Kontakt: rebecca.steinbichler[at]mokant.at

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