The Hidden Cameras' Joel Gibb

The Hidden Cameras' Joel Gibb
While he isn’t leading his gay folk church orchestra on stage or in the studio, the Hidden Cameras’ ringleader Joel Gibb spends his time in Berlin, a city known for its fruitful merit in the arts. Launching an eastern tour of Canada at the end of November and into December, Exclaim! managed to get a hold of Gibb on his neighbour’s phone to discuss his 2007 and what we can expect from him in 2008.

Hello. That’s much better.
I was in a plant shop when you first called and there were these two giant parrots fighting, so I had to jump for cover. I was buying a little plant that hopefully won’t die when I’m gone for a month back to Canada.

So tell me what you’ve been up to over in Europe?
The past month I’ve been living, recording a little bit at my friend’s studio, working on demoing stuff, but I don’t know if some of the stuff is what I’d put out on record – it’s basically made from keyboards and guitars. I can imagine having other instruments on it, but it’s mostly keyboard music.

Will the album be keyboard music?
Some of it, but from the stuff that we’re going to mix when I come back in December that will comprise of the beginning of the record - we’ll likely mix half of it – some of it’s super orchestral and other songs are completely different, so it’s a little bit more diverse than any past record. And last week I was in London recording Jamie, our violin player who lives there, I was looking for a church to record in but that didn’t work out, so I used my friend’s studio apartment that has tall ceilings. It wasn’t really the exact sound I was looking for but we did some good stuff. And when I went to Brighton for the first time, I met Verity from Electrelane, and we recorded a song we did in Sweden in August. We did that Arthur Russell EP release party and she brought the chords to "You Can Make Me Feel Bad” and we just performed what we did in Stockholm, and recorded it in Peacehaven, which is a town next to Brighton.
I’m coming back to home and we’re touring east Canada, we’re going to play Corner Brook and St. John’s, Newfoundland, which’ll be a first for us. We’re very excited. We’re also just finishing plans to play the Great Hall in Hart House at U of T, it’s the best room in Hart House. We’ll be playing Toronto Thursday, December 13 for an AIDS benefit. I don’t know who else is going to play, but we’re excited.

So, what do you get from working over in Berlin that you don’t here in Toronto?
It’s just a new space, a new city, a new perspective, an alternate place to live.

Are there fewer distractions for you?
Yes, very much so. Totally. Everything resigns to emailing and I have friends in Berlin, but… Toronto’s a small place in a way but it’s easy to get distracted. I also just like being in a new city. I never really lived in a new city before and I always wanted to. It’s a good learning experience.

Have you laid down any roots there? Is it somewhere you see yourself returning to each year?
Yeah, I have a visa, a bank account and I’ve registered with the police. I have a lot of stuff that’s accumulating. But Toronto’s always a place I’m always in because the band’s there and we record there, my family’s there. I spent a great deal of time in Canada this year, I came back four times. So, I don’t feel like I’ve left Toronto at all. I just feel like I live in two cities.

You mentioned the new album. Is there a date you’ve set for release or an idea of when you’re looking to release it?
Not really. I want to finish it before I can think about that. There’s so much lead up time to releasing a record that I think it’s silly to put a date and then work towards that. I’m really enjoying this down time. I can’t wait to have a nice winter, hibernating reading Dostoevsky and working on art.

Have you been keeping up with your art?
Yeah, this week is my art week. I’m trying to finish a piece, and my show from New York last January is being remounted at this gallery in New York, which I’ve never heard of but it’s supposed to be this renowned punk rock venue. It starts pretty soon. I’m also in a group show in New York at the Heskin Gallery, which is pretty cool. It makes me want to get another show together.

Tell me about the gig you played for German footballer Mehmet Scholl in front of 100,000 or so people.
Basically our booker Thomas Lechner lives in Munich and he was able to help produce the show in a way. He got together a choir of local musicians and we also know a violinist there through Thomas who played with us, and this percussionist Michael Gambacurta who played on Mississauga Goddam and lives in Frankfurt came, so it was a really big band. Since we were playing in a football stadium, they don’t really do a 40-track soundboard mix, so we had to do playback for the first time, like lip-syncing, which was a lot of fun.

So it was like being on Top of the Pops?
I guess so, yeah. But we played this party in a really nice hall with a great sound system the day before and recorded two songs, so it’s more like time delay rather than actually playing to the record – we were playing to the exact band. He bought us all lederhosen to perform in with the promise that we didn’t wear underwear. He’s a pretty cool soccer player. I don’t know any other professional soccer players but I would say he was probably the coolest.

What was the reaction like from the crowd?
It’s hard to say because soccer fans are not the most… I thought it would be a very excited crowd, but they were very dull the entire game. They didn’t really respond to anything, and just sat there observing. I guess the cheap seats where you have to stand are a little more energetic, but it was a pretty sedate audience. Munich’s not really a crazy town.

Did you hang out with Mehmet Scholl afterwards?
Oh yeah, the party just went on and on. At a certain point, there was this other band that played, Sportfreunde Stiller, who’re the biggest band in Germany, but they’re kind of like Green Day except they don’t look like punks, more like indie kids – he was singing their songs while they were performing acoustically. The Prime Minister of Bavaria was there, he’s a real asshole, but I didn’t know what he looked like, but apparently he was there.

Would you say it was a bizarre experience?
Yeah. But I embrace those bizarre experiences.

Are you still wearing the lederhosen?
I have them. I wore them out once in Berlin and everybody looked at me like I had Ebola or something because it’s only really a Bavarian thing. People don’t like Bavarians in Berlin, which is why I kind of liked wearing the lederhosen.

Let’s talk Arthur Russell. How did you get involved with the Four Songs by Arthur Russell EP?
Jens Lekman produced it and put it together. I went to Gothenburg and recorded a song acoustically, and then El Perro Del Mar came in and put vocals on it, and Jens did some piano. It was just a nice time in Gothenburg. And now we have another cover that me and Verity did, so hopefully we can put together a seven-inch and maybe Jens can do another Arthur Russell song.

What made you decide to put out the EP on Evil Evil in Canada?
Um… just to put a release out [Laughs]. It’s nice to put out things with your friends, which was the point of it. I intend to put more stuff out.

You’ve signed to Arts & Crafts for America. How is that treating you?
Yeah, they’re nice. I love working with them.

I guess Rough Trade wasn’t working out in the U.S.?
I don’t know what they even put out in the last three years in America.

They’ve kind of been floundering and going from one distributor to another.
I don’t even know. But you can’t put a record out with a company that’s not doing anything.

Anyways, back to Arthur. Were you a fan before the EP?
I’m a recent fan, but I like Jens’s idea. I think Arthur’s songs are underappreciated as just songs not as electronic/experimental music. He’s a good songwriter, y’know. To me he’s a modern folk singer. He wrote classic songs that are very unassuming. Jens was telling me that he got some unreleased stuff from Audika that’s country music, and Matt Wolf is making the film and was talking about them saying, "Those were his footstompers.” I’d love to hear a footstomper by Arthur Russell. I think they’ll release it. He recorded quite a lot of material, like that’s all he did was just record.

Have you seen the documentary?
I’ve seen part of it. Matt, in the end, just emailed me saying he’s taking out the part where he filmed us performing Arthur’s songs; it’s gonna be left as a mini-film on the DVD because I think it’s detracted from the story of his life. That’s fine.

You’re touring the east coast starting next week. What made you decide to do such a short eastern tour?
There was an idea – let’s go to Newfoundland! And that was it [Laughs]. I’ve never been to Newfoundland, we’ve never played there and everybody in the band was like, "Yeah, I want to go to Newfoundland.” We didn’t release a record this year, so this was our little project to end the year off. Get together and play some shows.

How many people will you be taking with you?
Eleven, so we’ll fill the van up.

Will you be playing a lot of new material?
That’s the purpose, we’re going to learn a bunch of new songs and play them. I’m stoked for St. John’s.

But what about poor Corner Brook?
I’m stoked for that too. They’re both equally unknown and exciting for us.