“I get annoyed that people are stuck in the past,” announced Rough Trade’s Carole Pope on the phone from New York, immediately shattering my line of questioning. The next sound you hear is that of scrunched up ball of paper containing my questions, landing on the floor.
And so we move on! “So what have you been doing lately, “I ask, recovering from the disruption of my original train of thought. “Well, I’ve released two records; ‘Transcend’ (in 2005) and ‘Landfall’ (in 2011). I wouldn’t say they were a commercial success but I did get some airplay on CBC Radio,” acknowledges Pope. “Then there’s talk of my ‘Anti Diva’ book (Random House 2000) being turned into a movie, but these things take ages.”
“I’m still performing, still trying to get my name out there,” she allowed. “I’m into musicals and film; I’d like to develop in those areas. There’s always talk of potential Rough Trade projects but I am determined to forge my own identity.
Try as she might, Pope cannot completely divest herself of her past, particularly when Rough Trade were true pioneers in championing the mainstream acceptance pro-Gay movement in the early eighties in – well before anywhere else In North America.
“Kevin (Staples) and I were just trying to make a statement. We were creating music as a form of expression; we weren’t trying to spark any Gay movement or anything like that,” explained Pope. “It just so happens that we came along at the same time as Parachute Club and then there was k.d Lang and even Holly Woods from Toronto. And then there were similar movements in London and New York, but it was all positive. Especially in Canada, this country was well ahead of anywhere else in the acceptance of the Gay rights movement.
Of course the song which sparked all the commotion was `High School Confidential’, Pope’s ode to lusting after a female high school student. Yet despite the song’s controversial lyrics, the track received extensive national radio airplay and won Pope Juno Awards for top new female vocalist in 1981 and Top Female Vocalist in 1982 and 1983. Such was Pope’s popularity that she was even named a spokesperson for Pepsi Cola Canada in 1983, the U.S spokesman being Michael Jackson!
“Canada was just like a European country at that time,” noted Pope. “We were writing about sexuality at a time when a lot of innovative music was coming out of this country. “We were fortunate enough to be signed by Bernie Finklestein for his True North label. Bernie believed in us and gave us a freedom to express ourselves. Other labels would have never done that.”
Pope, who met Kevin Staples when the two auditioned for the same band and ended up joining forces playing Yorkville coffee bars as O and then The Bullwhip Bros before being signed by True North, feels that eventually the band’s notoriety was their undoing.
“With our first two albums, “Avoid Freud” and “For Those Who Think Young” we got this reputation of being outrageous, which is ridiculous when you think of Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga these days,” explained Pope. “The public wanted me to be the Queen Of Raunch but that’s just not me. When we put out later albums like “Weapons”, “O Tempora O Mores’, we were experimenting all over the place but I guess we weren’t shocking enough for people.”
“People tell me now that they think we were just ahead of our time,” offers Pope. “And they are probably right. We were championing Gay Right and Freedom Of Expression like 30 years ago.”
Rough Trade didn’t officially disband until 1988 and by that time, Pope had performed in the Vagina Monologues show in 2001 after launching her Anti Diva tell-all autobiography the previous year.
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“Writing that book was a very cathartic experience,” revealed Pope. “I upset some people which I am very sorry about. I just wanted to write a bunch of essays about my life but the publisher wanted all the dirt and gossip.”
Pope’s book contained lots of gossip including her affairs with British singing star Dusty Springfield and a liaison with SCTV comedienne Andrea Martin plus a shocking look at the state Bee Gees’ younger brother, Andy Gibb was in just before he died of a drug overdose.
Considering that Pope was the original Queen Of Raunch, what is here opinion of latter day sex sirens like Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga?
“Miley Cyrus, give me a break!, she drains the word sex right out of sexuality,” fumes Pope. “There is nothing erotic about her. She just leaves it all out there. And as for Lady Gaga, she is talented but derivative. This dumbing down of Gay society by calling everyone `Her Little Monsters’ is a bit much.”
Pope admits that she is very picky about what she likes but is a huge fan of P.J Harvey and Amy Winehouse.
“Both of these two project eroticism purely through their voices,” noted Pope. “Winehouse, Wow! What a voice. She was obviously damaged but she was an amazing talent.”
Running her own record company out of necessity, with the decline of the established record industry, Pope is not a big fan of social media to market her product. “There’s no time to be creative, it’s all about setting up YouTube accounts, Twitter, Face book and I Tunes accounts. I don’t have time for all this stuff, I am thinking of hiring an Intern to deal with it.
“You can say that monies from iTunes goes into your pockets instead of being accumulated by your record company, but in the end, what’s the difference. “I don’t get anything like the 99 cents they claim you get for a song down load. More like 60 cents which means someone at iTunes is making a stack of money.
“And I hate the idea that people who download my songs illegally are taking money out of my pocket,” continued Pope. “I’d love to go over to their house and steal something of theirs just to show them what it feels like.”
– Keith Sharp