A Look Back at Mouth Congress, the “Kids In The Hall” Fringe Punk Band

Mouth Congress

Performers are very often creative polymaths—it’s not rare for them to have talent and acumen in several arts relating to their main craft. The classic narrative is the one of people like Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves, or Juliette Lewis, talent whose success and celebrity helped buoy their musical endeavors. However, comedy troupe The Kids In The Hall alums Paul Bellini and Scott Thompson—and their music group Mouth Congress—was a different beast entirely. Formed almost concurrently with their groundbreaking work as sketch comedy innovators, the band represented the artistically burgeoning duo’s shared discovery of creative expression and new musical formats, primarily punk and industrial acts like Alien Sex Fiend and SPK.

The pair met in university, bonding over being “weird gay guys who had a lot to say,” according to Bellini. It was in this pot smoke-wreathed creative renaissance that they collaborated with key players Tom King, Rob Rowatt, Steve Keeping, and Gord Disley (with contributions from fellow Kids Kevin McDonald and Mark McKinney, with cover art by Randall Finnerty) to create Mouth Congress, an art-damaged, genre-bending, and very ’80s collective.

The band eventually graduated to live shows after initially starting as a studio project. “We performed from ’86 to ’90, almost always to KITH crowds. We were a KITH fringe act. You can’t say Mouth Congress had fans because we didn’t do anything to merit it,” says Bellini. “There was no consequence because there was no audience. No barriers. If Scott wanted to do something ridiculous, I was like, ‘Do it.’ I was actually interested in the results of a fiasco. And I think sometimes people forget that. Because [some people] want so badly to be successful, they forget that being creative is successful.”

In spite of the chaos, Bellini stands by the quality of the group: “It was a crack band, a really tight combo modeled after The Jam…we screamed our love songs.” There is, indeed, a vital and thrilling sound evident throughout Mouth Congress’ discography.

For his part, Thompson feels like his dual-cylinder creative outpouring saved his life. “I didn’t really think of it as a band,” he says. “It was just a group of friends that hung around, smoked pot, and made shit up. It was basically my partying, it was fun…I don’t know if I’d have done so much if it wasn’t for HIV. I think I’d be dead. I’m pretty sure I’d be dead if I had gone out and started having sex the way I wanted to back then.”

Bellini adds, “A lot of our friends were sluts, out having great sex and all this shit. But they were also fraught with fear because they never knew if they had acquired something. We hid it. And we weren’t afraid of straight boys—we mixed and mingled with straight boys from the beginning. That isn’t to say we didn’t go out with our gay friends because we were young and we needed to get laid, but we also needed this creative outlet. We had something to say. It was super hard because of AIDS. That drew a line in the sand. As comedians, we can’t respect the line in the sand. We like to think of the broader picture. Just because we’re victims doesn’t mean we can’t comment on our behavior.”

Thompson attributes their endless output to an art-free upbringing. “I had no preconceptions—there was no music or comedy in my family,” he says. “So all of it was new. Comedy, music, dance, painting—all of it was basically the same thing. When I grew up, those feelings had to be shut down. And back then I believed those kinds of interests were very much tied to me being a homosexual. Back then, the only people openly gay in society were artists. People conflated that belief, that they’re one and the same when the truth is, most homosexuals are just as boring as anybody else. But back then, artists were the only ones with the balls to be open—the Tennessee Williamses, the Truman Capotes of the day. Back then in the ’80s, artists and homosexuals were linked. That’s where that whole belief that homosexuals have a better sense of color, and will help put your living room together, came from. There might be some truth to it.”

In early 2016, the band (featuring original members Thompson, Bellini, Tom King, Steve Keeping, and Rob Rowatt) performed a reunion gig at The Rivoli in Toronto, shortly after uploading their discography to Bandcamp. Bellini explains his desire to release the band’s work as such: “Scott and I were always a creative unit. It represented that. We always had a creative enterprise. I thought we were very in-depth and significant. We only existed for five years, but we really put in the time and had a vision. And when it was over, it was because we had to do a television show [the Kids In The Hall series].”

Due to the overwhelming and daunting amount of work available on the Mouth Congress page, picking through their work and highlighting specific albums was the way to go. As a lot of their works represent collections of songs that were arranged after the fact and not albums, I spoke to Thompson and Bellini about the songs that were specifically organized and pored over. Here are the five must-hear Mouth Congress releases.

One Vision

Mouth Congress

Paul Bellini: One Vision was the first record where I had the four-track and we actually attempted to create songs, be a formal rock band. The big leap forward was when I rented a four-track recorder. Tom King said I should rent one because they used cassettes, and you could have multiple tracks. And I loved this—it gave us the chance to get more professional with the songwriting. I could record weird music and play it for Scott until he got a sense of the lyrics. Sometimes it’d take a long before we figured out what the songs were about. A lot of sketch comedy and creating characters went into the songwriting, so the songs became about the characters. Like the Residents. We were influenced by all the weird bands.

Scott Thompson: ‘Tactile’ was a song that we thought, if it was properly recorded, could’ve been a hit. It’s got a very traditional structure—verse/chorus, verse/chorus, verse/chorus, and it’s peppy, and it’s rock, and it’s lyrically very together with a coherent message. I love that song. And it’s short. It’s basically about me and Paul being little gay kids and feeling like freaks and poets, and wanting to go out and change the world. Kind of a punk song. It’s got a good beat.

For People Only

Thompson: ‘Young and Alive in 1975’ is all about HIV, and about being a gay person in the ’70s, before the specter of AIDS. In the late ’70s, I think society was very much moving toward acceptance, and then AIDS came and set us back 30 years. I very much worry we are in a similar place now. I think that maybe gay men won’t ever be allowed to be accepted. ‘Showland’ is our super-punk, sexual depravity song. It’s fascinating because all the lyrics are about very perverse sexuality, but it’s almost nothing I’d ever done. I’m singing as practically a virgin about all these perverted things people do. It’s almost a song by a hustler. But it’s pure fantasy and pure projection. Oh god, now I’ve done ’em all. But back then it was all invented! ‘Let’s Hear It For Show Business’ is about people that have been in show business their whole lives—‘I’ve been doing this for 30 years and how am I gonna keep hoofin’ it?’ Like I’m an old Judy Garland, and I’m a 23-year-old guy. It’s ridiculous. Didn’t understand any of it. Didn’t know what show business was. Just made it up.

Bellini: ‘Big Deal’ was a classic punk song. ‘Gonna Be A Man’ was our big gay statement at the time.

Thompson: It’s about ‘How are we gonna be men? What is a man?’ Even singing rock ‘n’ roll was a manly act that was not supposed to be for us. I worked very hard on the lyrics.

Bellini: We got better and better. This was the weird thing. We actually did have an aptitude for this. Because writing songs is a lot like writing sketches—they’re three-to-four minutes, they contain a whole world to themselves, they have a statement, and they have humor. I circulated the [album around], but it was hard because we weren’t a live band at the time. KITH wasn’t well-known before it was the TV show.

Well Past The Moment Of Beauty

Mouth Congress

Bellini: A rare flush of creativity. It was the most fun to do. That hits all the bases—it’s kinda cool, it’s kinda sexual, it’s a little bit gay, it’s a bit punk. We cycle between improv and worked-out songs. Mark McKinney was on some songs. It was very nice; it felt like an actual collection of songs.

Thompson: My favorite album title. Some are worked on—like ‘Jewel,’ ‘The Reich’—and some are improvised. ‘Jewel’ is about a jewel who’s haughty, who think she’s all that, and thinks she’s the number one jewel. It’s like a rap song—‘I’m it, I’m the best. You’re not going to outshine me. I’m the bitch.’ It’s a bragging song. It’s actually sung by [KITH recurring character] Buddy Cole—at the time I was developing Buddy Cole, and if you listen to it it’s basically Buddy. The band really helped me develop him. Other songs like ‘A Wig’ and ‘Queen’s Lament’ [on The Feminization of America] are all done in that voice, a queen voice. ‘The Reich’ is basically taking on a persona—we always did this, we took on personas. Didn’t mean we agreed with them. That’s taking on the persona of a young Nazi in Germany. It’s kind of inspired by that song from Cabaret, ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me,’ where the blonde boy sings and it’s the night of Kristallnacht. Back in those days, punks played with Nazi iconography and made people really uncomfortable. Nowadays, that couldn’t happen. It wouldn’t work. People would be ruined.

Bellini: All of a sudden our songs were reflecting what was happening otherwise with Kids In The Hall. They all happened at the same time—Mouth Congress was November 1984, Scott joined KITH in January 1985. They both fed into each other—they were an opportunity for weird homosexuals to be creative. And we didn’t fit in with other gay guys. We were always very awkward in gay bars, it was quite pathetic. So we had this comedy troupe that was great, and we had this band that was so bizarre.

Thompson: ‘Womyn’ is Bellini’s genius. Quite visionary—basically talking about 4th Wave feminism and the divide between gay men and lesbians, which people pretend doesn’t exist but is absolutely true. Straight progressive people have this idea that gay men and women are marching together, which couldn’t be further from the truth. We have nothing in common. We’re watching the disintegration of the LGBTQ community as we speak—all the letters are falling apart.

The Whole Horror Shhbang!

Bellini: This was mostly Paul songs, and The Feminization Of America was mostly Scott songs. I was under the influence of KISS. They did four solo albums. I had a collection of material. We’d record constantly and then I’d think about how to package the shit—‘This song works for this album, this song works for that project…’ I’d put it together in my mind, the way that [KITH director] John Blanchard was putting together our television show. We had tons of all sketches, some filmed, some live studio stuff. John would have a cork board covered with cards—he’d try to build the shows. You’d try to put seven or eight sketches per show of varying lengths and each one has to have a certain number of the Kids in them. You don’t want an episode with no Kevin. So I saw the balancing act. I tried to create a balance between Scott songs, Paul songs, and Tom King songs. You want to sell your strengths. I felt like we were a collective and we should be represented.

The Feminization Of America

Thompson: I think that one’s way ahead of our time. That’s where we are today. That’s what led to Donald Trump—the feminization of the West. It’s about what we saw in society—the rise of gay people, the beginning of the trans issue. [The ’80s] was a very alpha male time, Conan and Rambo, super alpha males blowing up cities and destroying planets. But society was definitely moving away from that—the rise of women, the rise of feminism. The end of the straight white male’s domination of culture. It’s a great title. It’s mostly improvised.

—Nick Flanagan

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