• By: OLM Staff

Carole Pope’s COVID lockdown blues will make you dance!

ABOVE: Carole Pope and Bernard Frazer have teamed up on a new single, World’s a Bitch.

Legendary Canadian rock icon teams up with Ottawa artist on a new single about the pandemic

We all remember our first concert. For me, it was in the heady summer days of 1979 when I first saw Rough Trade. I was a teenager. For context, the airwaves at the turn of that decade were fraught with highly diverging music genres. In late 1977, the film Saturday Night Fever was responsible for the ensuing disco craze thanks to a best-selling soundtrack featuring mainly the BeeGees. Around the same time, on the other side of the pond, the Sex Pistols were wreaking havoc with the their one and only album, Never Mind the Bullocks. The Disco Sucks movement ruled (it would have been a hashtag today).  At the same time, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a strange, dark arthouse musical was gracing late night repertoire theatre screens. Disguised audiences threw toast and confetti at each other while the hyper-sexual, fishnet-clad Dr. Frank’n’Furter seduced us with his hip-grinding moves, deep baritone voice and cake makeup.

Meanwhile, in the dark recesses of Toronto, Canada emerged a rock-noir band fronted by a genre-bending, androgynous and sultry Carole Pope who skillfully weaved daring lyrics that shocked straight kids and tantalized those who were experiencing doubts about their own sexuality. That band was Rough Trade. Their 1981 hit single High School Confidential was an unapologetic homo-erotic ditty that broke taboos and social norms.

When I went to see Tim Curry (aka Dr. Frank’n’Furter) at the Ottawa Civic Center Salons in July 1979, Rough Trade was the opening band. It was a wild show! I remember squeezing up to the front flanked by an army of hyperactive sweaty teenagers! That was the life. Before masks!  Before the pandemic!

So how do you release a new single in 2021 in the midst of this virus? How do you express your frustration with the COVID pandemic almost one year into lockdown mode?  Well if you’re rock anti-Goddess, Carole Pope, you sing about it hurling guttural expletives at it. 

The Canadian icon has teamed up with Ottawa’s own Bernard Frazer of Church of Trees on a scorching new single about our weariness with the lockdown measures and limited social contact. The new single, World’s a Bitch, captures the global angst over the COVID pandemic and the desperate need for vaccine distribution.

OttawaLife caught up (virtually) with both Carole Pope and Bernard Frazer to find out how this all happened.

OttawaLife: It’s an honour to chat with you today, Ms. Pope. I was a Rough Trade fan from a very young and impressionable age. Many of your songs are deeply etched in my memory banks. I have several of your albums.  [I show her my albums. Pope is clearly humbled by my enthusiasm!] 

Carole Pope:  I love it! Look at those. And you have the Tim Curry albums too. Birds of A Feather is a Rough Trade song, which he covered beautifully. He was such a great artist to work and tour with.

OttawaLife: There’s so much we could cover today – past, present and future. Let’s start with this new single, World’s A Bitch. How did it come to be that you two created this song together?

Bernard Frazer: For a few years now, I’ve been working on my Church of Trees project with Rob Preuss, former keyboardist for Canadian bands, Spoons and Honeymoon Suite. I knew that he was also working with Carole, who has been one of my heroes for many years. One day, out of the blue, Preuss suggested that I write a song that could suit Carole’s voice. So I did! Preuss pitched the demo to Carole who loved it and agreed to record it. Within two weeks, we recorded it, sent it Jordan Zadorozny (Blinker The Star) to mix and it was ready to go! It was a whirlwind and dizzying for me because, wow, it was such a special opportunity. I was like a kid in a candy store!

OttawaLife: Carole, you are a prolific and creative writer yourself, are you generally in the habit of singing other people’s songs? 

Carole Pope:  I don’t normally, no. But I listened to this and I liked it. I could relate to it as an uplifting song with dark lyrics! And you can dance to it!  You can stress out over COVID and dance to the song. It has a great hook and I thought, yeah, I’m in! 

OttawaLife: So how’s your lockdown going, Carole?  Are you stressed, inspired, frustrated?

Carole Pope: I think all of the above. It’s nerve-wracking. I’m stressed out when I’m around people. But I’m creating. I mean, what else are you going to do? Sit around and be depressed and eat junk food? Bernard organized a very safe and socially distanced environment for us to record in. I’ve also managed to do some socially distanced videos. I think most artists are used to being isolated anyway when they create. But this is over the top! 

OttawaLife: When High School Confidential became a #1 hit in Canada in 1981 outing one’s sexuality was still very taboo. Do you think it’s easier today? We’d like to think we are more progressive and accepting of diversity – but I wonder whether we’ve really evolved much at all.

Carole Pope: Yes, it would be much easier to come out today. Although, there’s still censorship on commercial radio and TV. For instance, High School Confidential was just inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame last year. I had to re-record a clean version of the song for that event. In 2020, some of my lyrics are still too offensive! I couldn’t believe it. But definitely things have changed, especially for queer artists. There are so many talented queer artists doing amazing work today.

Rob Preuss of the Spoons and Honeymoon Suite.

OttawaLife: Do you ever feel that you broke down some barriers for the next generations?

Carole Pope: Yes, sure. Absolutely. But we were just doing what made us happy as performers and that translated to the audience who picked up on that. That’s what started our fan base. It was not easy back in the 70’s and 80’s. But I did love the androgyny of the 80s. Sexuality was more fluid and guys were wearing make-up and they dressed a lot better!  That part was cool.

OttawaLife: You published an autobiography in 2000, called Anti-Diva. It’s been 20 years. It’s ready for an update! 

Carole Pope: Yes! There are more stories to tell.  Since then I’ve worked on several projects.  Right now I’m working on an art rock musical called “Attitude”.  It’s based on the life of my brother Howard, who moved to New York City in the 80’s and was part of a new wave, avant-guard band and later became an activist for research on drugs and treatments for AIDS. Unfortunately, he tested positive in the 80’s and died of AIDS in 1996 at the height of the epidemic. So I’m working on the musical which will feature lots of Rough Trade material. I’ve discovered that putting together a Broadway-style musical is very expensive. I’m currently raising funds in the hopes of producing it maybe next year. It’s a lot of fun. I’m really enjoying working on it.

OttawaLife: What are you most proud of in your catalogue of music or any other artistic endeavours?

Carole Pope: Oh I don’t know… [there’s that humility again]. I’d say my solo stuff, my latest album, Landfall. Kevan Staples (Rough Trade) said to me that it was my “Revolver”. That was so flattering!  I really enjoy the learning process and learning to write by myself.  I’m really proud of the track Landfall which I did with Rufus Wainwright. And another hilarious song with Peaches, that you’ll never hear on the air because of its content. That was super fun!

OttawaLife: What message do you have for any young or emerging artists? What pearls of wisdom would like to impart?

Carole Pope: Just be yourself – your true self. Don’t let other people tell you what to do. Don’t try to fake it, people will see through it. Just be true to yourself and believe in your art. Let your freak flag fly!

So far, the single, which just dropped on January 15 is charting in Canada and Australia. A video is planned for the song. The single, as well as a club mix of World’s A Bitch will appear on an upcoming Church of Trees EP.