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Q&A with Joel Gibb (Hidden Cameras)

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Hidden Cameras

Photo:Jeff Harris

Joel Gibb founded art-rockers the Hidden Cameras in 2001, at a time before our local indie scene acquired its international reputation. While helping to kick-start Toronto's indie renaissance, the band opened up a previously non-existent space on Toronto’s live landscape for expressing alternative religious, sexual, musical and political ideas. In addition to making a mark at home, they caught the attention of respected UK label Rough Trade, becoming the first Canadian act to sign with the company.

An influential sum-of-its-parts membership has included singer-songwriters Gentleman Reg and Laura Barrett; recent Oscar-nominee, Polaris Prize-winner (and Live at Massey Hall performer) Owen Pallett; playwright/musician Maggie MacDonald; and musicians Don Kerr and Mike Olsen, known for their work with Rheostatics and Arcade Fire, respectively; and many others.

The band’s upcoming album, ten years in the making, features an all-star cast of co-writers and -conspirators from across the Canadian artistic landscape. “It’s an ode to home,” says Gibb, “whatever and wherever that is, featuring a bevy of new and old Cameras.”


What was the first concert you attended?

Predictably Raffi as a child, although Exposé at the old Ontario Place Forum felt like the first real concert. More importantly, The Sugarcubes at the Concert Hall in 1992 was my first general admission concert.

First concert that made a deep impression on you?

I saw the third and final night of Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour at Skydome in Toronto in 1990 when I was 13 with my childhood friend Paul P; the show that was famously featured in her documentary Truth or Dare where police officers were called after a complaint was made by a "concerned" parent, presumably because of the onanistic routine of "Like a Virgin." Seeing this played out in a film afterwards made that concert moment funnier and more impressionable.

First album that you bought?

First Offence - Corey Hart

What artist made you want to do what you do?

Every artist I encounter somehow provokes me in some way. If it's good it inspires me and often when it's bad it makes me want to do better.

What are your musical influences?

They are many. Nina Simone for example is an artist who has influenced me. Her music and the way she creates beauty from pain.

What is your Massey Hall moment? What does Massey Hall mean to you?

We performed before a rousing speech by Stephen Lewis at a Vote Out Poverty event at Massey Hall in 2007. Waiting in the wings with the evening's host Mary Walsh was a particularly special moment.

What music were you listening to on the way to the shoot?

"Be yourself" - Danny Tenaglia & Celeda

What will you listen to on your way from the shoot?

"It's over" - Scott Walker

Tell us about a memorably amazing onstage experience you’ve had.

Log rolling on top of my fender amp.

Tell us about a memorably ridiculous onstage experience you’ve had.

In 2002 at a Canadian university while performing with an early incarnation of the Cameras, several extremely drunk students invaded the stage harassing, groping and mocking us. It was our first sleepover gig. There was an electric energy that night – some positive, some not. It's the only gig I can recall where there was such a strong negative reaction from some of the audience. At one point, someone called one of our female go-go dancers fat and our stage decoration was vandalized. I don't think they understood what we were trying to do. I remember the only positive feedback we got that night was from an exchange student from the Netherlands. By twist of fate our first violin player, Owen Pallett, met his current partner as we loaded out of the venue. That night at the hotel, the band bonded over the shared experience of that performance. Hot-tub hours were not observed. The bathroom overflowed. No one was the same again.

What’s your dream gig?

Something with Buffy Sainte-Marie.

What do you hope people take away from your music?

All gods are false except the mysterious God of the Self.

What’s the best thing about doing what you do?

Connecting to other musicians and the audience.

What’s the hardest thing about doing what you do?

The cynicism and small-mindedness of a reconfiguring industry of the imagination.

What do people most frequently misunderstand or under-appreciate about what you do?

That's hard for me to say. I like to think I'm understood.

What’s ahead for you this year and what are you most looking forward to in the coming months?

A new country-flavoured record called Home on Native Land, which is being released later this year. It's the light to the dark of 2014's Age. I've been making the record in supposed secrecy but blabbing about it incessantly for years. It's an ode to home, whatever and wherever that is, featuring a bevy of new and old Cameras.