LONDON, Ont. (CUP) &- “People are repressed. Our society is repressed,” says Joel Gibb, brainchild and producer of The Hidden Cameras, a Toronto-and-Berlin-based outfit whose edgy indie-pop has been dubbed “gay church music.”
Though Gibb now resides in Germany, he’s back in Southern Ontario preparing for a Canadian tour, and he took some time out of his day to chat on the phone.
Much of our conversation dealt with the sexually explicit nature of his lyrics, especially in the context of fun, melodically catchy songs complete with horns, strings and even a small choir, courtesy of friends like Arcade Fire arranger and songwriter Owen Pallett, and Arts & Crafts labelmate Gentleman Reg.
On his 2003 album, The Smell of Our Own, a song called “Golden Streams” sparked controversy with its apparent reference to urination as a sexual kink, and Gibb spent much of his time dispelling such accusations.
“The first couple of records of The Hidden Cameras had some sexual imagery, but it need not be interpreted literally all the time, and journalists didn’t really write about the complexities about that, and how there’s metaphorical dimension to the imagery,” Gibb explains.
The Hidden Cameras’ film counterpart might be indie flick “Shortbus,” which filmed real sex, masturbation, even ejaculation as part of its aesthetic. And while scouring art for symbolism and metaphor is ingrained in higher culture, most still see the extremes of sexuality in its literal form &- deviant behaviour, says Gibb.
“I [just spoke to] this journalist from Kentucky. He sort of quoted my lyrics but got them wrong and got them more perverted,” Gibb recalls. “That happens all the time. I’m always misquoted by journalists, and it’s always turned more graphic. It says more about the journalist than about me. It says something about our culture I guess.”
The Hidden Cameras’ newly released Origin:Orphan has been subjected to the same fine-tooth combing of writers, and a song called “Underage” is often singled out as perverse, for lyrics like “Let’s do it like we’re underage.”
Once again, Gibb has been put on the defensive as he explains, “It’s about finding that place that you usually lose use through education and becoming adults.” Still, if that’s what people see in his lyrics, it’s fine with him. “I like to let the song speak for itself.”
Gibb’s songwriting is full of these juxtapositions, but perhaps the most interesting is The Hidden Cameras’ balance between fun songs and political songs. Two albums prior to Origin:Orphan was Mississauga Goddam, the title a reference to Nina Simone’s civil rights protest song, “Mississippi Goddam.” The album revolved heavily around suburban life, and particularly the battle for gay/lesbian rights.
But he doesn’t see a dichotomy between fun and politics.
“I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive… I think there’s poetry in fun.”
The construction of his songs is also perplexing. Heavy ’80s synthesizers sometimes accompany lush string arrangements. A choir will appear out of thin air with a brass section and disappear just as quick. And apparently, all the parts are written when Gibb isn’t trying.
“I usually write a song when I’m not trying to write a song,” he says. “Usually [it’s] when I’m late and out the door and in transit so I have notebooks to write things down . . . I could sit down and write a song. It might not be that catchy, though. The songs need to catch me, and sometimes I don’t even write down a melody or an idea, it just keeps recurring in my brain and then that means that I should just write it. They sort of ask to be written.”
The Hidden Cameras are performing Saturday Oct. 31 in Montreal at Il Motore.