Monday, December 11, 2006


Know that when the various and sundry members of Canada’s Hidden Cameras exit the stage from their final performance of the year they will, in all likelihood, be smiling. Not only because they can taste a well-deserved vacation from touring, but because the Cameras are that rare indie pop band whose live show is decidedly dance-inducing, evidently exuberant, and giddier than any group with a glockenspiel has a right to be. In a word, joyous.

Broad grins will adorn the respective visages of whirling dervish violinist Jamie McGregor, keyboard moppet Laura Barrett, as well as the Camera’s court jester of a drummer Lex Vaughn. In fact, every single one of the seemingly countless Cameras will most likely be buoyantly beaming. Except for band centerpiece Joel Gibb.

It’s not that Gibb is unhappy exactly. It’s just that his role as Hidden Cameras frontman stretches as broadly as the grins of his backing troupe. See, Joel Gibb is the Cameras’ lead singer, songwriter, guitarist and record producer. He does all band interviews, owns the record label and has conjured every sketched piece of artwork found on the band’s three albums. He gets by with a little help from his friends, but Gibb, for all intents and purposes, is Hidden Cameras. And while the aggregate of his efforts yields an unquestioned control, it is, at times, a heavy burden to shoulder.

“I don’t think I’m a freak about it,” says Gibb from Stuttgard, Germany, “but I think it’s really important to control your art and to control the destiny of your ideas, you know. That doesn’t mean you have to be a dick about it.”

And truth be told, despite the travail of leading a slew of happy, happy bandmates through eleven countries, thirteen States and seven Canadian provinces over the past two months alone, it is the attempted control of the destiny of his ideas that weighs most heavily.

Over the course of the Cameras’ first two albums, Gibb penned a number of lines that, well, pretty much guaranteed a certain amount of notoriety. Lines like, “As well, it is the smell of old cum on the rug” and “I drank from the wine that came from inside/The heart of his meat and the splurge of his sweet” and “I kissed his ugly gangly greens/He swallowed my pee” and “ My golden bone meets the golden bun/Buns held high in our dreams of men.” Lines that rendered Gibb as the personification of that most uncommon union of alt-folk and sexual frankness.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But in this substantially sexless, genitalless genre (can you imagine Belle & Sebastian or, god forbid, The Decemberists abandoning coy wordplay and euphemism in favor of such directness?), lyrics like Gibb’s wave a proverbially red flag.

“That’s a journalist thing,” he says. “It’s not necessarily my thing. If people want to talk about it then they can talk about it because people don’t talk about it enough. And if I’m an excuse to talk about things like that, then great because people should talk about those things.”

But it may be what’s made Gibb so damn tired.

“I’m into music,” he says. “I would never say I have a social responsibility. I don’t really want to have that responsibility. I don’t want to place that on myself personally. Writing a song and singing it, that’s already giving your soul away.”

“You should be able to access music in any way you want. You should be able to access music for music, or you could access music for the words. It’s up to the audience, you know. You can’t dictate how your music is perceived.”

Nevertheless, Gibb’s role is exacerbated by fervent followers drawn to his unique perspective, but one step towards tossing the albatross of meticulous meaning, it would seem, is the Cameras’ latest album Awoo.

“I always wanted to name an album that was nonsensical,” Gibb says. “And that’s what the record’s kind of about. It’s like nonsensical.

“It plays with the idea of nonsense, not only in talking about the idea of language being a lie and nonsense but actually a song like “Lollipop” where I’m actually delivering it in a nonsensical way, even though they’re all words and I’m actually saying the words but it comes out all mumbo jumbly, so I thought the name 'Awoo' sort of reflected some of those ideas.”

Like Lewis Carroll’s epic poem “Jabberwocky” (`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:), the Cameras’ latest is accented by the apparently ambiguous: songs like the twitter-tongued “Lollipop,” “Fee Fie,” and the catchy title track, “Awoo,” which is liable to attract an audience more accepting of the less explicit.

It’s “something in between” a sound and a word, says Gibb of “Awoo.” “That’s why I like it. It’s a sound I like to sing. It’s like a song, but it also can have a meaning. But I like the idea of a word not necessarily having some specific meaning in a specific language.”

Following the band’s final show in Cleveland, Gibb, like the rest of the Cameras, will head to Toronto. But then Gibb will move on to Philadelphia, followed by New York where his art will hang on the walls of a Lower East Side gallery. Just after Valentine’s Day he’ll arrive back in Germany.

“Going away to Berlin is a great way to just be alone, and to reflect and to work on stuff,” he says. “You can’t always be performing, you know. You have to recharge a little bit sometimes.”

Meaning sometime in February, somewhere over the Atlantic on a transcontinental flight, a little less controlling Joel Gibb may look ahead and, like his bandmates, smile.

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