When Peaches joined Carole Pope onstage at WorldPride for their duet “Lesbians in the Forest,” she wasted no time in reminding the crowd that they were in the presence of greatness. “Carole fucking Pope,” she shouted during almost every break in the song.
Pope was in town to launch her new EP, Music for Lesbians. The legendary vocalist and performer says the lead single was inspired by a trip to the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, where she was performing.
“I was invited to the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, and I don’t know. I think the lesbian community takes itself too seriously, and there are so many funny, tragic things about being with women,” Pope says. “I just had to look at it with a sense of humour. Tim Welch and I came up with “Lesbians in the Forest” while improvising live. We recorded the song, and I sent it to Peaches to see if she wanted to add a rap. Her reply was, ‘This shit is funny,’ and she contributed a brilliant rap.”
Pope and Kevan Staples formed Rough Trade in the early 1970s in Toronto and quickly rose to prominence in the local live scene. The band struck gold — platinum, in fact — with their 1980 record Avoid Freud, which spawned “High School Confidential,” a gutsy, barebones new-wave number in which Pope came out.
“She’s a cool, blonde scheming bitch. She makes my body twitch, walking down the corridor,” she famously crooned over a wall of thumping bass and sparse piano.
Rough Trade enjoyed major success through much of the 1980s, with other hits like “All Touch”and “Weapons” — not to mention “Shakedown,” which was included on the soundtrack of William Friedkin’s 1980 gay classic Cruising.
A film about the seminal band is currently in production.
Pope has also enjoyed a solid career as a solo artist, with several releases spanning four decades, including 2011’s gorgeous and inventive Landfall.
“I started writing music years before I was in a band and was encouraged by other musicians to keep at it,” she says. “I think my style is not like most people. I wasn’t really influenced by any other singers, but I like old-school gospel ’60s bands, Bowie and Björk.”
Through her storied career, Pope has been widely influential and a game-changer in the conversation about being openly queer in pop and rock music. Peaches, an icon in her own right, says she was thrilled to finally work with Pope on “Lesbians in the Forest.”
“Carole and I have kept in touch through the years, and this was a chance to finally collaborate,” Peaches says. “Carole’s music shaped me, made me know it was okay to say direct, straightforward things about sex. She was not afraid to show her image, which was completely unheard of at the time and very captivating. And that voice.”
She should talk.