Toronto queer dance-punk band Kids on TV are back, and have just dropped the video for Bobby, a collaboration with Diamond Rings and Snax, which will be the lead single from their upcoming album Pantheon. The full album won't be out until the summer, but you can get a sneak peak this Saturday at Harbourfront, as part of the centre's HATCH artist-in-residence program.
The trio will be joined onstage by special guests Katie Stelmanis (Austra), Reg Vermue (Gentleman Reg/Light Fires), Siân LuLu Teuse (The Sphinxs), Diamond Rings himself, and many of the other guest musicians from the album. Expect an over-the-top spectacle, and possibly some gay superheroes.
We talked to vocalist/breakdancer John Caffery about the HATCH residency, the video for Bobby, and the upcoming album.
Bobby is inspired by the secret gay love affair between artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, which is a relationship often left out of the official history of 20th century art. What interests you about these hidden queer histories?
Yes, Bobby and other songs on the album Pantheon are about discovering a hidden history. Although the histories are hidden to varying degrees, we have a song titled Liberace's Lover which looks at the relationship between him and his chauffeur. Everyone knew Liberace was gay but he denied it his whole life to the public, even as far as to take out law suits against newspapers that reported he was gay (which he won). Uncovering these stories helps to make the invisible visible and exposes identity struggles that people continue to be challenged by.
I first heard of this story of an affair between Robert Rauschenberg and Japser Johns through Sholem Krishtalka when he had me pose as Robert Rauschenberg for his painting series Opera for Drella. The paintings looked at how Jasper and Robert shunned the company of Andy Warhol out of fear being seen with him would out them. I think 1960's art-world gossip is pretty entertaining.
How do you see the relationship between the subject matter of the song and the video?
With the video I wanted to reference the romance of Jasper & Robert but I wasn't interested in reenacting their story or doing a period piece with Diamond Rings. Part of the inspiration for the lyrics and the video was from Rauschenberg's sculpture in Berlin called "Riding Bikes". It's a stunning sculpture of two neon bikes riding out of a pool of water. I played with the image of neon bicycles and the idea of young men cycling about finding treasures in the trash.
The HATCH series has been traditionally more connected to theatre than music. How does a group like Kids on TV approach this kind of opportunity, and what have you guys got out of it so far?
I do think the HATCH series is more traditionally aimed at theatre and yet several of the shows Jess Dobkin curated this year have strong musical components. I think there are commonalities between the shows Pantheon and Paper Laced with Gold and Mortified. The process leading up to the residencies has been about meeting up at potlucks and supporting each other through the artistic process. I think Kids on TV approached this opportunity with rabid enthusiasm. Often musicians get a short soundcheck, having an opportunity to work out of the Harbourfront Studio Theatre with the technicians for an entire week is amazing. It is such a gift to be able to experiment with new music and video in this way.
Your last album was quite a while ago - why so long? And what's changed with the band since those early days?
A big part of why it has been a long time is because we lived through some very difficult experiences and our collaboration was put on the back burner. It was strange the way the three of us were simultaneously going through hardships and it was also comforting. I think because of that, the songs grew with us over the three years we worked on it. I think that since the early days our intentions remain the same but our approach is very new. I think this album sounds so different from our previous work.
I understand you're aiming to do a video for every song on the album - will they connect, or function as distinct pieces?
Although they will seem quite distinct in their style and tone, the videos are connected in that they explore our personal and collective mythologies. Another strong connection amongst the videos is that we've personally directed them. Roxy, Minus and myself have rotated taking the lead and carrying out a particular vision in connection with the songs on the album. It is fun to shift those power dynamics and work together in different ways.