TORONTO – New wave icon Carole Pope hopes a film about her band Rough Trade will expose today’s youth to Canada’s raucous, politically charged music scene of the early 1980s.
“It was no holds barred. Bands were very supportive of each other. Everybody was everybody else’s fan. It was kind of an amalgamation of the arts scene and the theatre scene. It was like a big, amazing, creative epicentre,” recalled Pope in a phone interview.
Pope will kick off an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for the new film project, called Rough Trade, with a Saturday performance also featuring Peaches at Wrongbar in Toronto. Based on Pope’s autobiography, the film will be produced by Jan Nathanson and Andrew Boutilier.
The forceful vocalist and guitarist first met multi-instrumentalist Kevan Staples in Toronto in 1968 and the two immediately clicked. Their breakout song as Rough Trade was “High School Confidential,” a playful 1981 tune that explored lesbian desire.
When the song was released, it was one of the most sexually explicit songs to hit the Canadian pop charts. Pope shocked radio listeners with the lyric, “It makes me cream my jeans when she comes my way.”
“I guess we hit a nerve and there wasn’t anything like us out there, when I was an especially androgynous, kind of threatening woman,” said Pope. “I also think we appealed to a lot of people and we had been playing live for so long that there was a ready audience.”
Pope, now 63, said she feels the Canadian scene is often forgotten in nostalgia about punk and new wave. She pointed to “amazing” bands like The ‘B’ Girls, The Diodes, The Viletones and The Dishes, which all exploded out of Toronto in the 1970s.
Asked who she would like to see play her in the film, Pope suggested Evan Rachel Wood, the 26-year-old American actress known for her edgy style and performances in The Wrestler and Thirteen.
“I have no control over any of this,” Pope added with a laugh. “But it’s gotta be somebody like that, who can bring their own stuff to the character.”
Rough Trade split up in the late 1980s and Pope now performs as a solo artist. Her new EP is called Music For Lesbians, a tongue-in-cheek title poking fun at the self-seriousness of some lesbian musicians. Two singles — “Lesbians in the Forest,” featuring Peaches, and “Francis Bacon” — are already on iTunes.
Pope said she’s watched the music scene change drastically since Rough Trade’s heyday. As it’s become more difficult for artists to make a living, alternative bands seem to be taking fewer risks, she said.
“I find a lot of alternative music is really formulaic and generic and weird. I can’t tell the difference between a lot of the bands because their sounds are so familiar. Everybody was really doing different things in the ’70s and ’80s,” she said. “I can’t think of any new bands that I really especially like. I want to slap a lot of them.”
Asked which bands in particular she wanted to slap, Pope replied: “I don’t know. All the ones with beards and hand claps and insipid singing.”
She recalled seeing The National at a recent benefit in New York. The moody indie rockers were followed by ’70s icons Iggy Pop and Patti Smith — and for Pope, there was no comparison. “Patti Smith is amazing. I’ve seen her a few times, and she blew me away.”
Pope said writing her 2001 autobiography Anti Diva, on which the film will be based, was cathartic. Among other things, the book explores her brother’s death as a result of AIDS and her intense relationship with legendary British singer Dusty Springfield, who died in 1999.
“It was an emotionally draining experience to write it,” she said but ultimately a good one. “The only thing I feel badly about is name-dropping some people that I slept with.”
Her performance in Toronto on Saturday coincides with the city’s WorldPride festivities. Asked why she thinks Pride is still important in 2014, Pope pointed to the global persecution of LGBT people.
“There are so many oppressed homosexual people around the world and it’s a crime and you can be executed for it. I think there are a lot of issues we still have to deal with … People are still having unprotected sex, which is insane,” she said.
“But mostly it’s just a big celebration and a big party. It’s great for Toronto to have WorldPride.”
© The Canadian Press, 2014