Carole Pope: Not Going Gently
Part one of an exclusive interview with the Canadian rock provocateur
Rock and roll is a vicious game, goes the song by Canadian rockers April Wine. The music machine has chewed up and spat out many artists over the years, and being a rock star has a relatively short shelf life. So, it isn’t often you come across a musician who not only defined an era, but managed to transcend it. Carole Pope is one of those people.
Here’s a brief history of the not-so-brief history of Carole Pope. She began singing in a band called O in 1970 with musical partner Kevan Staples. O begat the Bullwhip Brothers the following year and the beginnings of a provocative career were born. By the mid-70s the Bullwhip Brothers became Rough Trade, a band that would shake the foundations of Canadian music thanks to Pope’s pansexual, political wordplay and in-your-face stage persona.
Rough Trade would record several albums that went either gold or platinum, win Juno and Genie awards (the Canadian Grammy and Oscar, respectively), and tour the world with megastars like David Bowie before hanging up the bullwhip for the last time in the early 90s. Occasionally the band would regroup for small tours or special events. While Rough Trade may be part of Canadian music history, its frontwoman Carole Pope is anything but trapped in new wave nostalgia.
Not satisfied to rest on her many musical laurels (High School Confidential, All Touch, et al) Carole Pope has continued to make music that pushes buttons and draws adoring fans wherever she plays. In October, Pope released Landfall, her first full-length album since 2007’s Transcend. The album is filled with catchy hooks; evocative, tough, observant lyrics; and, of course, Pope’s distinctive voice, which sounds more confident and commanding than ever.
Why Landfall and why now? “The state of the world and the state of our collective psyche,” Pope explains as to what inspired her to record the album. “Half of the album is kind of political and the other half is about love and romance and general kinkiness.” While general kinkiness is one of the first things people think of when they think of Pope (the song “Did I Mention” boasts the lines, ‘used to wear a coke spoon around your neck/you used to work your rage at a discothèque/dried spunk on a blue dress/Life was simple then’), this anti-diva dives a lot deeper than just sex.
“I think we’re all a bit psychically damaged. We’re all scarred and we’re all basically searching for some kind of peace,” Pope explains about the overall theme of Landfall. “The songs ‘Did I Mention’ and ‘Landfall’ really deal with that. It’s all about how we’re in a state of flux and how we’re looking for landfall,” she continues, “a place to settle somewhere, because everything is so unsettled now.”
Sex, religion and politics have equal representation on Landfall. Pope explores how each of these themes affects us as individuals and collectively as a society. These days she is really excited and inspired by movements like Occupy Wall Street. “I think people are finally realizing that things have to change,” she says. “I’m amazed by Occupy Wall Street and how everybody is embracing it. We have rights. Why are we suffering,” she ponders, “when the banks should be made to pay?” She laughs and says that ‘Did I Mention’ should be adopted as the theme song for the Occupy movement.
One of the many standout tracks is the gritty, danceable ‘Shining Path.’ Backed with trippy, reverb electric guitar, Pope growls ‘shut the fuck up, shut the fuck up’ followed by her urging for someone to ‘give me something meaningful.’ “What’s meaningful to me?” Pope asks rhetorically. “Nature. The environment. Friendships and people and relationships, and the Earth. I hate how it’s being raped and violated. All that stuff is meaningful to me.”
Pope explores the nature of relationships on several songs—and how technology helps create, shape, facilitate and get in the way of them. “I think we’re addicted to technology and we’re self-medicating with it,” she says. “I love my iPod, I like my computer, but it just sucks you in. I’d rather be face-to-face with people or talk on the phone. I’d rather not rely on the computer as much.”
With the advent of technology like Facebook and Grindr and the abundance of websites for dating, hookups and cruising, we may be losing our knack for the personal touch. With all the ways to connect online, we seem to be getting lonelier. “It’s a whole weird thing staring at a screen and trying to find someone when you can just go out.” Pope shouts, laughing, “Go outside, people!”