It's hard to stand out at SXSW, but doing things his own way comes
naturally to Hidden Cameras frontman Joel Gibb, and
it pays off. In a room full of wannabe rockstars, hipster kids and
industry suits, the Cameras were instantly recognizable. Not that
they were wearing some garish '80s costumes like those goofy boys
of Gil Mantera's Party Dream, but it's hard not to spot a guy
wearing a red and white striped wife beater. Physical appearance aside,
the Hidden Cameras are known for making waves with Gibb's candid lyrics
about his personal life, and the performance-heavy interactivity of
their live shows. Sadly, they couldn't bring their usual male go-go
dancers with them to the festival, but their live show was nevertheless
a spectacle worth beholding
and joining in. After their set -
which, by the way, included an entire song performed blindfolded,
bringing up audience members to play the tambourine, and leading the
audience in a "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"
dance - Gibb was kind enough to join me under the bleachers for an
intense make out session. Erm, I mean, join me by the Port-O-Potties
for a brief interview.
Hybrid Magazine: So, how has SXSW been for you so far?
Joel Gibb: Good, but getting across the border is another story.
The customs people are very mean.
HM: I've heard that.
JG: They have a whole system of signs and symbols to make you
feel like a grade one year old.
HM: Yeah, the Unicorns missed their whole showcase
last year because of that.
JG: Yeah, it was scary. It made me fidgety.
HM: I bet. Anyway, one thing I noticed when reading other interviews
and articles about you guys, and something that I just witnessed here,
is that [the Hidden Cameras] are more performance oriented. You do
a lot of interactive stuff with the audience; there's almost a theatrical
element to it. How do you translate that to your albums, or do you
just think of them as separate entities?
JG: Yeah, I think they're separate. I mean, a lot of bands try
to replicate their record [on stage]; we don't really
to replicate melodies, but they don't necessarily have to be played
by the same instruments. Or, if we don't have someone to play tambourine,
we'll just get someone from the audience to play it. You know, a live
thing is completely different.
HM: And I read that you tried to find people who didn't necessarily
have a background in music performance?
HM: What was the impetus- I mean, it works, it's great, but
what was the purpose behind that?
JG: Well, originally, I never had been in a band, so asking
people to be in my band seemed kind of strange. Like, "Oh yeah,
I've never been in a band, but do you want to play for me?" So
it was really easy to ask my friends, like Mikey [EB]
and Maggie [MacDonald] to do it. They just sort of picked
up keyboard and whatever else just by being in my band. Just, like,
this song [has] three chords, four chords, whatever, just learn it.
It's pretty easy. I mean, there's this whole kind of mystique about
being in a band that you have to get over. So part of the Hidden Cameras'
live experience is just kind of destroying that mystique, and maybe
bridging the gap between the audience and the band. There are a lot
of bands who like to create a kind of barrier - like they're the "cool"
guys who know how to play their guitars really well, so that everybody
else will go, "(mock awe) Oooooh! They're nothing like me,"
- but everybody should play music, I think.
HM: That's good! Yeah, and you know, at SXSW there's a little
bit more of a coldness - that barrier that you mentioned - that comes
from the whole industry party aspect of it, but do you go places where
crowds just don't reciprocate at all? What do you do when that happens?
JG: I think it depends on what we do and our mood. Sometimes
we're not as open, like if we're on tour and maybe we're tired. I
find that most people want to participate. They don't just come to
a show to sit around and do nothing. They come to the show to watch,
but maybe even to do something, you know, not just be spectators.
I think that's the problem with our culture: there are too many people
just watching things and not enough people interacting and doing things.
HM: Yes! Have you read Dave Hickey's book of essays,
HM: There's an essay in there called "Romancing the Looky-Loos"
that's about really loving music and participating in it instead of
just being in the audience to look cool. You know, when I was younger,
and new to live music, I felt really embarrassed by how into it I
was when everybody else in the room was just standing there with their
JG: Yeah, me too!
HM: And here's this guy, Dave Hickey, who's been really active
in the arts all over the United States, and I mean for decades, and
he's writing this article about how passivity and aloofness is wrong,
about how it's vital to participate.
JG: And there are even laws in America where you can't dance,
right? In New York?
HM: I've never heard that before! Is that true?
JG: Yeah. You need a license for dancing.
HM: Are you serious? Wow.
JG: That is kind of the inspiration for some of the live aspects
of our band: me going to shows as a kid and feeling that same way.
Why isn't everybody else dancing?
HM: Yeah, why is that taboo?
JG: It's like - what? You need do be on drugs and listening
to jungle music to be able to dance? That's stupid.
HM: Yeah, I agree. So, I've heard about your project "In
HM: How did that get started?
JG: The choreographer
saw us play a very grand show where we had thirty dancers, and he
was really interested in the incorporation of dance in our live show.
I didn't think of it as modern dance, but he was like, "Wow,
this really works." Because we did have dance elements, but we
were just like, "Oh, let's make a good show. That's what I want."
So we did one project two years ago, called "You Are the Same",
which was like a Hidden Cameras show with dancing in more of a classic
sense, and then this new show was actually all of our new record,
and it was more conceptual. We were all dressed in 1940s gear, and
it was more of a modern dance piece. We danced more, the dancers played
our instruments more, and it was a lot of fun.
HM: Have you ever considered touring it?
JG: Yeah, we want to take it somewhere!
HM: Like Austin?
JG: No. Maybe New York.
HM: Ok. Maybe I'll go up to New York, then.
JG: I don't know. Does Austin have a good modern dance community
HM: Well, not modern dance specifically, but it does have a thriving
JG: It's the artiest city in Texas, right?
HM: Yeah. Well, it's one of the artiest cities in the States,
actually, but not so much in a large-scale, organized way. There's
just a lot of independent or, whatever, "counter-cultural"
music and theatre going on. One of my favorite venues is this place
in east Austin called the Off Center, and it does a lot of crazy,
unconventional performance art. There's a lot of stuff like that here.
JG: Show me the money, that's all I gotta say.
HM: (laughs) I can send you some information if you want!
JG: Send me a check! We'll come to Austin, but it's expensive.
We have nine musicians and fourteen dancers. It's insane.
HM: It's hard to do. I understand that. It's just wishful
thinking on my part. What upcoming projects do you have?
JG: We're putting a record out, we're shooting a video at
the end of the month. Uh
what else? We're going to record more
material. We're going to do a goth album.
HM: (laughs) Awesome!
JG: Or an EP. All songs in minor keys. I have all these songs
in minor keys that should all be on a record together.
HM: That's cool.
JG: Yeah. And a country album.
HM: You are doing a country album?
JG: Yeah. We're just going to completely go schizo after this
new record. Personality disorder.
HM: You're going genre jumping.
HM: Well, everybody in the Hidden Cameras has multiple side projects.
How do you coordinate that with your band?
JG: Communicate. I mean, I live in Berlin, actually. I don't even
live in Toronto anymore. I found love, and so I live there. But I
come back every few months and we just plan the year out in advance.
Maggie's the busiest. She just released a novel: "Kill the Robot".
HM: Yeah, I read that.
JG: And she did a rock opera featuring a lot of members of the
Hidden Cameras. It's like a play/musical. Um, yeah, everybody does
their own thing, and I do my own thing, too. I have a visual art thing
that I do, and...
HM: You guys just kind of make it work.
JG: Yeah, we're not a band in the sense that we hang out all of
the time. I mean, I like the idea of a band being a gang, but when
a band actually is
when they just hang out and drink and that's
it, that's boring.
HM: No, I think it's really important for everyone [in a band]
to have their own things. I know I get really bored if I'm just doing
one thing, and I think a lot of bands break up because they're just
together all of the time.
JG: And it's also, you know, my songs. These aren't their songs,
so I don't expect them to just be wanting to do my songs. That would
be very boring for them. So I think it works better this way. Because
a lot of bands that do work like that just break up, for "creative
differences" or whatever.
HM: They get sick of each other's shit!
HM: Well, I think that's pretty much it. I would normally have
more questions for you, and I normally have questions submitted by
fans, but I didn't have time to do that this time because of the mad
rush of the festival. I also like to let musicians ask a question
of their own, either to me or a band mate or somebody at the show,
just to turn the tables a little bit. But that's entirely optional.
JG: Do you have a boyfriend?
HM: (laughs) No, I do not.
JG: Do you want one?
HM: (groans) Not necessarily, no.
JG: What are the men like here in Austin?
to be fair, there are all different
types of people here, but-
JG: Some of the guys here look cute, especially the employees.
JG: The doorman.
HM: Yeah, well...
JG: Are there a lot of gay guys here?
HM: Actually, Austin has a huge gay community.
JG: Are there any gay clubs here?
HM: There are quite a few, yes.
JG: Is there a gay party at SXSW?
HM: I actually do not know the answer to that.
JG: I think there should be.
HM: There should be.
JG: We could play, The Gossip could play, Lesbians
I think I want to do that.
HM: You should do that!
JG: That would be a party.
HM: You know, I know so many people who would want to go to
that. I have a ton of gay friends here and there are always gay parties
to go to, and I'm always dragging them to see new music, but there
aren't any gay music parties that I know of.
JG: Why not? They have parties for every fucking label and magazine
and industry thing. Why not just have a not-industry-related party?
JG: All the bands play like five million shows while they're here
anyway. I know a band that's playing six shows at SXSW.
HM: You know, you need to do that. Next year, bring everyone for
a gay party.
JG: I don't know anyone who works at SXSW.
HM: Well, I don't either, but it doesn't matter. I mean, people
throw dayshows at their houses. We were going to do that this year,
but I lost my house. We had bands lined up and everything. It can
JG: Oh, wow.
HM: Yeah, you don't need SXSW's permission. Fuck them. You can
just do it on your own.
JG: Is there an alternative to SXSW?
HM: Oh, there's a ton of them. There's South By Southeast, some
other one with all the directions in it, like North By Northwest By
West by Southwest
I don't know. Something that just goes on and
on. And then of course there's Fuck By Fuck You.
JG: Oh, that's a good one. Well, we'll come back next year and
play a gay party.
HM: Awesome! That sounds like a plan!
- Emily Strong
Photo by Jim Narcy
More Music Features
e-mail the chief
Like this article?
it to a friend!