Ottawa synthpop band Church of Trees has hooked up with legendary Rough Trade vocalist, Carole Pope, on a new single WORLD’S A BITCH. The single captures the global angst over the COVID pandemic and the desperate need for vaccine distribution. The JUNO award-winning Pope, who pushed the boundaries of sexuality and sexual politics both in Rough Trade songs and on stage, says “I think the song encapsulates how we’re all feeling about being locked down…and you can dance to it!”Wow! How great is it to see one of Canada’s iconic, game-changing artists stepping up when we need someone, anyone, to kick the collective arses of those national and provincial “leaders” who have been caught napping when it comes to vaccination roll-outs? Thanks to former Spoons/Honeymoon Suite keyboardist Rob Preuss (pictured below) who was working separately with both Pope and Church of Trees, he suggested that Trees’ frontman Bernard Frazer write something that might suit Carole’s voice. Frazer says, “I leapt at the chance. I’ve been a Rough Trade fan since the 70’s, and Carole’s voice has always resonated with me. So, to write for such a legend was a dream come true.”I reached out to Bernard to ask him about the new single, hoping that Carole would also add her voice to the interview, and voila! This is what they had to say….
As professional musicians, how has Covid impacted your ability to stay connected with your fans and allow you to showcase/sell your music?
BF: Multi-member projects, like ours, aren’t able to physically get together to play things like Facebook Live events. So, unless you’re willing to compromise Covid protocols (which we’re not), you can’t get together to rehearse no less play a virtual gig. In that respect, it has been a big pain in the rear! However, we have been incredibly active producing new music and making it available digitally. So, we are able to connect with fans in that way. (Bernard Frazer, pictured below)CP: It’s difficult, we made a couple of socially distanced videos. One with BNL- I also released a couple of singles and have one more I’m working on. This really impacted my plans for Attitude, a musical I wrote with Kate Rigg which was supposed be workshopped at Buddies In Bad Times theatre. Because of that we’ve gone virtual and I’ve created a GofundMe page so fans can contribute and get involved in the creative process.
Obviously, touring is off the table until the pandemic is under control, so have either of you created or participated in any online concerts or have plans to do so?
BF: When things lifted a bit in the late summer, we were just starting to re-group so we could rehearse, but then the second wave started to rear its ugly head. So, we thought better of it. If there is an opportunity, say after we get our vaccinations, we will definitely start rehearsing for some type of performance. We are itching to play live again.
CP: I had to cancel and postpone several live dates. We were part of NAC’s Canada Performs series and Tim Welch, my guitar player, and I have done one curated performance for a fan’s wedding and we’d like to do more. Since we couldn’t be inside, we shot a stealth video at the CNE grandstand. Now the world has access to music without setting foot in a record store (sadly) or having to purchase hardcopy CDs, vinyl, etc. has that opened up new markets/audiences to you as well as creative collaborations with int’l artists?
BF: Definitely. As synthpop artists, we have found a large, worldwide, “family” of synth-based artists who not only promote each other, but collaborate, as well. We’ve done several collaborations with Rob Preuss, who is now in New York City, as well as the electro-band Graflex from Manchester, UK. We are looking at future collaborations with an artist in the Netherlands, another in B.C., and a great electro-duo from Colorado. We have also discovered a fantastic group of internet and terrestrial radio stations and radio shows that solely promote electronic music. We now get played around the world, from the UK, France, and Germany, to the Netherlands, Japan, South Africa and Australia!
CP: I’ve been collaborating with people in Canada and the US for the past few years. I’m not great at promoting my work – I just want to make art, but am inspired by the connections Bernard has made. I will try to work my music more this year.There are so many opportunities to stream your music – which platforms do you prefer and where can fans find Church of Trees and Carole Pope?
BF: Church of Trees prefers churchoftrees.bandcamp.com because it enables the artist to recoup a reasonable percentage of sales (downloads and CD sales). But we also respect the fact that so many people prefer on-demand/playlist driven music. So, Spotify, iTunes, Deezer, and Google Play are great too.
CP: I’m on Bandcamp but do better on other streaming sites like iTunes and Spotify etc. I also sell merch on Teespring.com and my own website.
Carole, back in the late 70s & early 80s, you were instrumental in bringing excitement, danger and sexuality to live performance – in your opinion how do today’s music stars measure up with their sexualized performances? Do you think they overuse it to the point that the music/lyrics are only secondary?
CP: Some singers are unconsciously sexy like St Vincent and Billie Eilish, but a lot of artists throw it in your face and it’s like yeah whatever. There’s some really bad factory manufactured cookie cutter shit out there. And don’t get me started on the lyrics. I find a lot of supposedly sexy songs forgettable and insipid. I’m a huge fan of my gurl Peaches who’s a great lyricist and very sexy performer who pokes fun at sexuality. I know I’m not mentioning any guys but I think they broke the sex mold when George Michael and Bowie (the most beautiful man ever) passed.
And Carole, other than this impressive collaboration with Church of Trees (and Rob Preuss & Jordon Zadorozny), are there any artists with whom you’d like to record/write?
CP: I’ve worked with Peaches, Nona Hendryx, Dusty Springfield, Alain Johannes, Hawksley Workman and Rufus Wainwright, and tried to collaborate with Dave Gilmore on a Pink Floyd album (which didn’t happen) but would love to work with Bjork, Radiohead and St Vincent. A woman can dream.
Bernard, you’ve been guiding Church of Trees’ musical journey from its formation in 2017 to the upcoming EP “Pause” – can you tell me who were your early music influences? I hear perhaps a little early Brit synth/pop like Howard Jones or Thomas Dolby, and was wondering if you ever listened to Japanese pop/classic genius Ryuichi Sakamoto?
BF: I love Ryuichi Sakamoto. I listened to Yellow Magic Orchestra quite a lot in the 80s, and have followed Sakamoto’s solo career, including his film scores, over the years. I loved his scores for The Last Emperor and The Revenant. David Bowie is, perhaps, my all-time fave artist. I have listened to everything he has release, from the 1960s (Konrads, King Bees, Manish Boys) through to Blackstar. Howard Jones, Thomas Dolby, Duran Duran, OMD, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Soft Cell, Japan, and Gary Numan are all massive influences, as well.
And finally, Carole, I was intrigued to learn of your upcoming (and very personal) theatrical project “Attitude: The Musical” based on the life of your brother, Howard (pictured below), a New York-based musician who died of AIDS in 1996. Will you be performing in the stage version or on the soundtrack album? Or will you remain behind the scenes as writer/producer working with the director?
CP: Attitude is ever evolving so I might show up in the stage production but mostly I’m going to work behind the scenes. I haven’t thought about singing on the sound track but thanks for the idea.WORLD’S A BITCH is available at: www.churchoftrees.bandcamp.com … and all streaming services.
Follow Carole Pope at IG: @carole_pope Twitter: @carolepope www.carolepope.com
Follow Church of Trees at IG: @church_of_trees Twitter: @churchoftrees www.churchoftrees.com
A note of trivia: Back in the late 70s, Carole was my next door neighbour in Cabbagetown and I would frequently see superstar visitors walking up her path. I’d often sit on my tiny front porch with a cup of tea and wave across the flower beds. She and her Rough Trade partner, Kevin Staples, were the quietest, most polite neighbours you could ask for. Meanwhile, my house was ground zero for wild gatherings that included Second City & SCTV cast members, celebrity photographers, musicians – usually the band Songship which featured Catherine O’Hara’s sister Mary Margaret as lead singer (the band’s drummer Bruce Moffatt was one of my room-mates), and I occasionally played host to legendary skater and artist Toller Cranston who lived a few blocks away.
If you wanna learn (or remember) what it was like in Toronto back in the 70s and early 80s, pick up a copy of Carole’s tell-almost-all autobiography, Anti Diva.