Carole Pope has to be seen to be believed. She first caught the attention of the media when, in the ’70s, she performed unapologetically queer songs with BDSM overtones. Based in Toronto, the band she formed with several other musicians was called Rough Trade.
But it was a single on Rough Trade’s 1980 album Avoid Freud that shot up the charts and made the band and Pope a sensation. “High School Confidential” had Pope expressing her passionate desire for a girl in high school. There was no innuendo, no subtle visual clues — this was a song about a proud dyke lusting after a fem gal. At a time when so many were afraid that coming out might hurt their career potential, Pope was defiantly, brazenly queer.
Rough Trade went on to further albums, hits and touring, but eventually disbanded. Pope has continued to record and perform (her 2005 album Transcend featured a duet with Rufus Wainwright) and in 2000, Random House published her autobiography, Anti-Diva (It’s a fantastic read). She is now developing the book into a film.
Queerty caught up with Pope at her Los Angeles home to chat about her gender-busting, radical punk music career, her Transparent experience and what it was like to tour with David Bowie.
Queerty: With your band Rough Trade, you toured with David Bowie. What’s your fondest or craziest memory of working with him?
Carole Pope: Probably standing backstage watching him perform. He came up to me and started gossiping about my affair with Dusty Springfield. He was really sweet and charming. I remember him hugging me and telling me I was great. That and the lear jets and sushi chefs backstage.
Rough Trade was so far ahead of its time. There weren’t many out performers back then — very few, in fact. Did you feel what you were doing at the time was brave, or did it just seem natural to you?
We wanted to do what made us happy as artists. People in North America are still struggling with sexually, guilt and God. I wanted to mock that, wear a bondage suit and whip people on stage. I really believe audiences can tell when you’re being genuine and people were drawn to us for throwing it all out there.
You had a relationship with Dusty Springfield. Is there something about her that the public doesn’t know?
She was a very funny woman. We used to laugh our asses off. She loved old-school R&B artists from the ’50s and ’60s. She could sing in five languages. She taught me how to diva it up. Tattinger Champagne, baby.
You recently worked on an episode of Transparent. How did that come about?
That happened because of Peaches. I wrote a song entitled “Lesbians In The Forest” and Peaches wrote and performed a rap in the song. She’s friends with the show’s creator Jill Soloway and that’s how we ended up on the show. The song really worked as an opener to the episode about a woman’s music festival.
Now LGBTQ people can get married, join the military and host daytime talk shows. Did you ever think we’d get quite this mainstream and safe?
I assumed straight people would evolve and it would be a non issue. I certainly don’t judge people by who they fuck. There’s so many other earth shattering issues we have to deal with. Sadly, there’s a festering shitload of closeted self loathing homosexuals out there who continue to try to reverse the strides we’ve made. Case in point: the US election/Republicans. I saw a documentary outing gay politicians, all of whom are Republicans.
I’ve seen you in concert. You’re an amazing performer. Do you ever tire of being asked to sing “High School Confidential”?
Awe, thank you. Yeah, I’m over singing that song but I realize it’s an anthem to a lot of people. I’m trying to point everyone to “Lesbians in The Forest.”
Carole Pope will perform and take part in a Q&A session on Saturday, March 12 as part of The Legend Series at Montreal’s Never Apart Theatre (7049 St. Urbain). 7 p.m. $10
Watch the video for “High School Confidential” below.