Well hidden

Toronto music group The Hidden Cameras will be performing in St. John’s for the very first time on Saturday, December 8. The “gay folk church music” collective, known for their provocative, sexually explicit lyrics and quirky, catchy melodies, often put a theatrical spin on their live shows.

At the show, will there be go-go dancers? Strippers? Will there be costume-changes? Will there be choreography? Streamers? Banners? Videos?… The band’s shows, just like the group’s frontman, are difficult to predict, and hard to pin down.

Elling Lien got a chance to talk to The Hidden Cameras’ head-honcho and singer-songwriter Joel Gibb  about the visit and their shows.

So, you’re coming to Newfoundland!
It’s our first time. We’re so excited.

You may also be interested to know Newfoundland is to the land of Dildo and Come-By-Chance.

Dildo and Come By Chance. They’re town names.
Really? Those are towns?

Will we drive through Dildo on the way to St. John’s?

You’ll pass close by it. It’s a few minutes off the main highway.
Well, we have to stop for a coffee.

At least a coffee. There actually was a town in Newfoundland called Gayside.
That’s amazing. Am-ay-zing. Who are these people that name these towns? Where are they from?

I guess England, originally.
Did they just name it after themselves, basically? “My name is Dildo.” Right? Just some guy named Dildo.

It’s one of the great mysteries of this island. So, your show—who are you going to be bringing here?
I just found out our cello player—he fell off his scooter and broke his wrist so I’m assuming he’s not coming on tour. I can’t imagine him playing with a brand new broken wrist. It depends which wrist I guess. A broken wrist sounds like you’re going to have a cast—a big one. Even though its for your wrist you’re going to have to get a big one that covers your arm.

Yeah. Um. I hope he’s ok.
So minus one. Lief Mosbaugh is coming, he plays viola, Shaun Brodie on trumpet, and John Power from St. John’s drumming, and Laura Barrett on piano…

Yes, John Power is originally from St. John’s. How did you meet him?
Through Kevin Hegge…

… Whose that?
A guy.

So John was a friend of a friend?

What about him made you want him in the band?
I thought he was a great guy and really sweet and nice and an amazing drummer, so it sounds good to me.

Has he talked to you about Newfoundland much?
Oh yeah.

What does he say?
What does he say… Does everyone really know each other there?

(Laughs.) I was planning on quizzing you about Newfoundland actually. What do you know about it?
What do I know about Newfoundland? I mean, what don’t I know!

It’s the only province I’ve never been to. Um, we’ve been researching the drive and the ferry, and we’ll be playing a show in Corner Brook. John even sent me a picture of downtown St. John’s, which is exciting. I want to just be there. Have some quality time.

The Hidden Cameras have played in other Atlantic provinces, right?
Halifax, Sackville, St. John, Moncton, Fredricton…

How have the shows been in Atlantic Canada?
Halifax is the best. It’s sort of my favourite city to play in Canada.

Why’s that?
There was crowd surfing at our last show! Who doesn’t love that? The kids just get really excited and that’s fun. But we’ll see how the Newfie kids compare. I think it’s more distilled in Newfoundland. More pure maybe.

The enthusiasm you mean?
I don’t know.

The purity of the Newf.

We actually have a company called Purity here. They make syrups and candies. They make Peppermint Knobs.
Really? Yum, I’ll get some.

From talking to friends about your music, they say in Toronto you’re more distanced from the music scene and closer to the art communities. Do you think that’s true?
When I said that I was talking about in university, all my friends were artists. Our first show was in an art gallery. Ahhh… I don’t know. But I do think Toronto people do mix a lot more frequently than other cities I’ve seen.

You mean the music and arts communities?
Yeah, I don’t know if that’s systemic to the fact that Toronto is just sort of like a small town the way all of Canada is really. I don’t know if it’s an exceptional thing about Toronto.

Another friend of mine saw The Hidden Cameras perform in a church in Toronto and she loved all the performance elements—she said each song was like a number, with choreography, costumes… How do you put your shows together?
With what you have. A show can be anything it wants to be. Up to the very last minute you can decide something.

Like, say, will you have go-go dancers?…
There’s no Hidden Cameras formula to a show. That would be really boring. We’ve had go-go dancers before. And if somebody in Newfoundland wanted to go-go dance we’d of course be into it. But we’re fine not having go-go dancers too. There are many different ways you can connect with the audience and interact.

We had a show once with go-go dancers and I rehearsed with the go-go dancers and just showed them what they did for each song. Its not choreography. It’s more like instructions. Like ‘here’s when you go into the audience’, ‘here’s where you do this.’ That kind of thing. But yeah. That would be me. I’m the artistic guy….

I think each show and each tour is different. It depends on who’s available. We have many different musicians that we know in Toronto and other places. It just depends.

But it’s always going to be The Hidden Cameras.

The Hidden Cameras are playing with Mercy, The Sexton and Oddly Enough at The Rock House on December 8th.  There are a limited number of tickets available at Fred’s (cash only) for $15. 19+. Doors open at 9:30.

Elling Lien chats with local uberfan and Hidden Camera show organizer Chris Shortall

When did you first encounter the Hidden Cameras?

I really don’t know when I first found out about the Hidden Cameras… I think it was 2003 when my Toronto cousin Clare was visiting and we spent a weekend in Fogo, Twillingate, Mortons Harbour. She mentioned that the Hidden Cameras were the hottest band around, that they played in churches and were gay art rock…  so I looked into it.

It was a slow progression, like falling in love.  I knew immediately that they were hot, but then over time I grew to adore them and everything they do.

I don’t think any one album or song is my favorite… I enjoy them more like a genre. They have their own unique style — a style that makes me giddy and excited in all the right places.

You’re not exactly a professional promoter … When did you decide to bring them here?
For the past 2-3 years I’ve been keeping an eye on their tour schedule, as part of the mild mannered army (fan club), and anytime I noticed they were coming to the east coast I sent them an email saying they should play in St. John’s. And really, it only took around three emails before Joel Gibb got back to me and said he’d do it.

All this and you’ve never seen them live?
I’ve never seen them live, no. And for the first few years I was only listening to downloaded music! It was only in the past year that I bought their entire collection and started listening to it non-stop.

As for being their superfan or uberfan, I just like them. And I started talking them up around town. Once people knew a bit about them, or I found people that liked them, then I heard more stories about how rockin’ they were.  and that they have preformed outrageous shows with dance companies, in churches, random sneak performances, and now in Newfoundland.

I also found out that local celeb John Power is their drummer.  I found that out after they agreed to play in town… I guess it was the moment of convergence. I still can’t believe it’s going to happen.

So it’s only been a few months of planning, I got the yes, sought out the venue and got to work getting posters designed, confirming the opening bands, looking into promotion, and then getting tickets sold. From the looks of it so far, it all serendipitiously fell into place… Maybe event planning is my calling?