Joel Gibb

Interview by
Danny Calvi
Photography by
Miguel Mateo


Joel Gibb moves through the after-hours world inhabited by indie bands and their blogging fans with a kind of big-dick confidence one associates with celebrity jocks or movie stars. After a blistering set that included sped-up, amphetamine versions of songs from the most recent Hidden Cameras record (plus a few surprises like an energetic cover of Ton Steine Scherben’s 'Macht Kaputt Was Euch Kaputt Macht'), I meet up with Joel inside the pitch-black tour bus that he calls home for the next few weeks. We whisper — his bandmate and a new friend are taking a recreational nap in one of the bunk beds — as he fills me in on what’s new since he last met up with BUTT in 2003.

Danny: How have you changed since you were in BUTT 8?
More grey hairs…
Salt and pepper hair is sexy.
Oh, thank you. I don’t think I was fully prepared for my BUTT interview. It was like the first record, the first tour of Europe. I’m more comfortable with who I am now. I mean, I was comfortable with who I was then, but it was kind of overwhelming having to like do it everywhere.
Do what everywhere?
You know, your thing. Present yourself and do interviews about these songs — especially with the songs that were on the first record — that you wrote before you had a band and before it was public. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
Did you feel vulnerable?
Well, I made myself vulnerable. Those songs came from a very innocent place. It wasn’t like I was trying to shock or provoke.
Do you ever try to shock or provoke?
Not really. I try to interact, to engage.
You’re also not single anymore.
No, I’m not.
Have you ever written a song about your boyfriend?
My current boyfriend?
Boyfriends or ex-boyfriends past, present or future.
Oh my god, there’s so much material from the first one. It’s always the first one that’s really fruitful. Or even a lot of non-boyfriends.
If you were to write a song about your current boyfriend what would it sound like?
It would have a good beat. And it would be catchy.
Does your boyfriend ever come with you on tour?
He’s here tonight, and visited me on the North American tour. The North American bus had a proper lounge with two beds. You could remove the back part of the seat so it was very comfortable.
And you guys would have sex on the tour bus?
Well, technically yes, but not in a proper way.
How many people are on the bus?
At any given time, maybe ten.
That’s sounds too close for comfort. Are there any privacy issues on the bus?
No, you have your own bunk and a curtain. Once you’re in your bunk it’s your own little world.
Last night, I dreamt you were driving the Hidden Cameras tour bus yourself and got pulled over for speeding by a hot Canadian mountie. You were naked, of course, and you were able to talk your way out of being arrested and having to cancel the rest of the tour.
Really? I talked my way out of speeding once.
Do you like to put the pedal to the metal?
Not really, but once I was driving to my mom’s place from Toronto, it was really late and I was listening to Roxy Music. When I got pulled over, I imagined myself going into court with a boombox and being like: ‘Exhibit A, ‘Do the Strand’,’ and then pressing play and being like, ‘I was listening to this song. I really couldn’t help it.’
What was the last sticky situation you found yourself in?
That was at the border of the UK and I couldn’t talk my way out of that one. Sometimes, I can make a horrible fool of myself.
Like when?
Uh…trying to pick up guys. If there’s a guy that I actually like, I say the stupidest things. When if a guy comes up to me, I’ll just repeat something horrible back. They’re like, ‘Do you know what time it is?’ and I’m like, ‘No, do you?’ It comes out sounding rude. Maybe I should’ve been like, ‘It’s time to rock.’ You know, when the big hand is touching the little hand.
What do you do to keep your vocal chords in shape on the road?
I use oregano oil if I feel a sore throat coming on. Warming up before a show is always a good idea.
What do you do when you warm up?
You hum the quietest sound possible in the lowest part of your diaphragm, and you bring it up. Then you start–I don’t know how you’re going to transcribe this…(makes a strange sound).
Are you a baritone?
I don’t know what I am. Tenor? Maybe I’m a bassy tenor. I can go high and I can go low.
Tonight’s show is a benefit for homeless gay youth. Have you ever been homeless yourself?
Have you ever dated a homeless guy?
Have you ever had sex with a homeless guy?
Is cleanliness in the bedroom important to you?
Yes, it is. I like underarm smell, but I’m not big on stinky breath. I’m okay with like, you know, a sweaty crotch or maybe one days worth of filth. I appreciate good oral hygiene.
I see you are wearing a ‘Gays Against Guido’ button. Who is Guido and why are the gays against him?
Guido Westerwelle is the new vice-chancellor and foreign minister of Germany. There’s this campaign on GayRomeo. I bought it at Möbel Olfe.
Why are gays against Guido?
Cause he’s this neo-liberal guy with big business interests who just happens to be gay. Last weekend, I met the guy who started the campaign.
Was he hot?
Uh…yeah, he wasn’t bad. He had urban primitive piercings in his ears.
Are you into that? Piercings, tattoos…
Not really, but I’m not against them either. There’s this one guy in Berlin, he looked like he had like a really big piercing at one time, then reneged on the whole concept and took it out so his earlobe was just kind of…hanging there. Whenever I see him I just want to like…chew it. Or bite it off. It looks chewy.
Is activism sexy?
It can be, but most of the time it’s not.
On a scale of one to ten, how important is, let’s say, charity or activism to you?
Like one being not important at all and ten being the most important thing ever?
You probably wouldn’t be here tonight if it was ten. You’d be on some Greenpeace anti-whaling mission or chaining yourself to an ancient redwood.
Five maybe? That sounds bad though, but it’s good compared to most people right?
One does what one can. You’re a songwriter for chrissakes.
Six? We just recorded a string part for a song on this Amnesty International compilation coming out very soon.
You’ve also appeared in this PETA campaign about protecting seals.
Yeah…Canada’s Club Scene Sucks.
Did you get to meet Pamela Anderson?
How did you hook up with PETA?
I met the vice president, Dan Mathews, at Berlin Hilton — the club. Did you know he’s been arrested like twenty-five times? Anyways, we got to talking and discussing animal rights, of course, and one thing led to another.
Did you and Dan like, get together?
That sounds like a yes. What’s Dan like in bed?
Oh god. We had a conversation mostly.
Did you make out?
Yeah, we kissed a little.
Is he a good kisser?
He’s pretty good, yeah.
Are you a vegetarian?
Yeah, I’m vegan. If you put that you’re vegetarian on your rider, you get a lot of vegan food. Although today they provided ham sandwiches.
How rude.
London… Anyway, I figure if you’re going to have a band and tour around on this gas guzzler, you can at least be an environmentally-friendly band.
What’s the best meal you’ve been served on the road?
You know that mushroom, pfifferling? I once had a really good pfifferling pasta at Kampnagel in Hamburg.
Would you have sex with someone who wasn’t vegetarian?
Oh yeah, of course.
What about like when it comes to rimming?
Rimming a meat eater?
Yeah, doesn’t that like, go against your principles?
I’m not that militant of a vegetarian.
The Hidden Cameras had never really released remixes of your songs before, but for this record you did. How did those come about?
Jake Shears and Baby Daddy were subletting my place in Berlin. They did the remix while I was away. And Dolby Anol, he’s this Scottish guy, Graham, and he did it in like an afternoon. He’s like this genius on the computer. He’s just like…bassline, drums, done.
He doesn’t mess around that one…
Yeah, it’s crazy. And then we have all sorts of other remixes coming out. We’ve got a Holy Fuck remix coming out this week in the UK. Noblesse Oblige did this very hard, very fast, kind of evil, techno remix of ‘Origin Orphan’. And then this band Hidrogenesse from Spain.
What are they called?
Hidrogenesse. I think it’s a brand of soap or something. They’re this gay couple who make music together. When I met them they looked like Sparks. They re-recorded ‘He Falls to Me’ with this octave bass-line groove thing and like whipping sounds. They wanted to do more, so I gave them parts for other songs and now they have a whole EP that’s coming out on their label. They are all interesting versions of the original tracks, more like covers.
Would The Hidden Cameras ever do a covers record?
I think the whole concept of a covers record is maybe perhaps not my thing. But we’ve done some covers for this rootsy record I’ve been working on for like years. We recorded a Tim Hardin cover and a Dolly Parton cover. We did ‘The Log Driver’s Waltz,’ this Canadian folksong.
Oh, that one’s certainly ripe for a homoerotic re-contextualization. What Dolly Parton song did you do?
We’ve done two actually, ‘River of Happiness’ and ‘At the Dark End of the Street’.
Stephin Merritt recently offered some advice for budding young songwriters: Don’t come out!
Oh really?
He said he thought it damaged a lot of people and that the best way to be successful was to come out later. Has being out damaged your career?
Well, it’s hard to say. I came out and then I started my career. If you’re going to do something publicly, why not be who you are? Maybe that’s stupid idea though. Maybe it’s all about being who you’re not. That would really limit my songwriting, you know. Like what the hell am I going to write about?
You’d have to write everything in the second person, I guess. Like Tracy Chapman.
I would feel like a big fraud. I had to get my identity in check before I even thought of being an artist. He probably said it with a hint of, you know, irony.
What about file sharing and illegal downloading? Does it annoy you?
The times we’re in annoys me. I mean, I feel it would be much more fun to be in the ’60s or the ’70s making music. There’s something really unromantic about a download single, you know? Oh my god, it’s download only… How exclusive is that? Crappy quality mp3s are really a turn off.
Is it cutting into your bottom line?
Would you be a rich man if there wasn’t file sharing?
I don’t know about that, but I’m into the idea of industries shrinking. There’s a consensus that the economy needs to be growing every year and that every industry should be expanding. That’s a really a fucked-up mentality. Some industries should definitely not be growing, some of them should be shrinking, you know? The arms trade, the meat industry… So I don’t mind the music industry following suit, but sometimes it seems like the music industry is one of the only industries that shrinks every year.
Do you think this shriveling of the music industry impacts independent acts more than say somebody like Madonna?
It’s hard to say. I don’t know what the figures are and I don’t really follow them, but it is sad. It’s sad to talk to music industry people these days because they are so cynical.
I guess you make your living from touring?
I make my living from my songwriting. It’s hard to make money with so many people on the road. It’s more about getting my songs out there. Every time a songwriter’s song is played on the radio, you potentially make something.
Do you have an iPod?
Why not?
I can’t take that crap.
What do you mean?
My old boyfriend got me one, I returned it for a shaver. Then my current boyfriend got me an iPod touch and I was like, ‘Oh thanks,’ but I never took it out of the wrapper. I don’t really like to listen to music on headphones. I don’t take an iPod on a train for example and listen to music. I might listen to my music on headphones if I’m working on something, but I don’t ever listen to other people’s music on an iPod. I buy records.
Only records?
Second hand records is about all I can muster.
You’re not like a Hi-Fi guy?
What’s that?
You know, guys who need to hear their music on the best possible system.
I did inherit a lovely record player from a neighbor, like a really good record player. But I have a pretty cheap system. I can play cassettes, CDs, records, but no, I don’t have a quality obsession. In fact, I can barely play music because the neighbor below me always comes up and complains.
Are you a noisy neighbor?
No, I’m like never home. When I’m not touring, I’m usually at my boyfriend’s place. So the one afternoon I come to my apartment and a put on a record, she always comes up. Once, I got an Eartha Kitt twelve-inch and I was playing it for Vaginal Davis. My neighbor came up and she was like, ‘Es ist wie eine Disco unten. Bitte, kannst Du ein bisschen leiser sein, bitte. Es ist so laut.’
You speak German.
I get by.
One a scale of one to ten, how gut is your German?
Ten being…
Ten being fluent and one being like infantile.
I’m definitely not that high, but higher than one. Like somewhere between two and five depending on my day.
Do you and your boyfriend speak German or English to each other?
Both, but mostly English.
Did you take German classes?
Yeah, one year I took two weeks at a Sprachschule. And then a year and a half later I took another two weeks.
Would like to become a German citizen one day?
Sure, I’d love to collect passports. I want a UK passport too.
Could you, in German, describe your cock in some detail?
Hallo, meine name ist Schwanz. Ich bin freundlich, lecker, sauber und gesund.

Published on 26 March 2010