Ottawa to host legendary Canadian rockers, Rough Trade

ABOVE: Church of the Trees and gross trade will be at the Bronson Center on April 27. (PHOTO: Tree Church by Karen Bisson)

High School Confidential, All Touch / No Contact, For those who think young, avoid Freud. . . They are monuments to the rich history of rock and roll in Canada. Breaking taboos in the late 70s/early 80s, Rough Trade titillated us with their graphic homoerotic lyrics and philosophical interrogations.

Carol PopeandKevan Staples, the award-winning duo and Canadian-Songwriters-Hall-of-Famers, known as Rough Trade, come to the Bronson Center in Ottawa to perform their timeless hits. For those who lived through that defining time, your chance to relive the glory of your teenage angst arrives on Wednesday, April 27.

For anyone who missed the chance to see them, now is your chance! Get out your leathers and dress for the occasion; it will be a visual and auditory experience. (A sock puppet may also be involved!)

The good news is that the Ottawa Tree Church is opening its doors for the iconic band. Arrive early for the full experience. Tickets are available online:

Ottawa Life caught up with Carole Pope, lead singer and co-writer of Rough Trade, and Bernard Frazerfrom OttawaChurch of the Trees.

OttawaLife: The last time we all spoke was in January 2021, the world was still in lockdown, but you two worked together and recorded a single. Tell me how this connection came about.

Bernard Fraser: Carole and I were working on our own projects with a common colleague, Rob Preuss(Spoons). Knowing that I’m a huge fan of Carole, Rob suggested that I write a song that would suit her style. I was nervous about it, but I took the plunge and did it. Carole listened to it, liked it and agreed to record it with me. It was a real step in my musical journey. I was really happy to work with Carole. The single is called The world is a female dog. It was released during the pandemic and really expressed our collective frustration with the virus, the lockdowns, and the lack of human contact.

Carol Pope: Yes, we recorded the song in Toronto and released it shortly after. Just recently, Rough Trade was booked for Ottawa, so I thought, hey, I’ll ask Bernard if he’d like to open for us. At first he said he wasn’t ready, but within 12 hours he formed a band and accepted the offer.

OttawaLife: Carole, as you mentioned last year, you have focused your energies on creative projects during the pandemic. Will new material be presented during this tour?

Carol Pope: Oh no, this show is all Rough Trade music. In fact, it’s the soundtrack for what will be a musical called Gross Trade. This is the musical that I worked on in memory of my brother, Howard Pope, who was an incredible artist, a god of rock. His career and life were cut short by the AIDS epidemic in 1996. Howard was part of an advocacy group that fought to raise awareness and provide AIDS drugs to those in need. I want to honor his memory and that of all his creative peers that we lost during this era of heightened creativity. It was such a great time for the arts in New York and Toronto. Our Rough Trade shows were a combination of music, dance, fashion and theatre. I want to bring that back and relive that era of abundance.

I know our lyrics shocked a lot of people at the time, but they came from an honest background. We never tried to be anything other than ourselves. In the end, fans could feel it. We said out loud what they were thinking or feeling. Kevan and I haven’t played together since 2016, and we’re both busy doing our own thing and working on various projects. But when we get back on stage together, it’s like time hasn’t passed, and we connect like we always have.

OttawaLife: How are you going to prepare for this show since you and Kevan don’t play together very often?

Carol Pope: It’s stressful but so much fun to do. A friend asked if we could play the El-Mocambo as part of the 80s bands he featured. Both Kevan and I were available, so we accepted. I just need to refresh the lyrics in my head. I’ve done a few solo gigs recently, so I’m ready. I’ve been busy; never a dull moment. My latest single is Speaking in code, and it’s with Clara Venice, a Theremin-playing Unicorn. She looks like a Japanese anime character. Look for it; she is fabulous.

OttawaLife: I feel that Ottawa is privileged to be included as a stopover this month with a sold-out show at Toronto’s El-Mocambo.

Carol Pope: Yes, it’s only two shows: Toronto and Ottawa. Since this is a Rough Trade show, the visuals and staging are as important as the music itself. To be honest, at the moment I still don’t know what I’m going to wear [she laughs]. It will definitely not be leather! I’ve done it before, and it’s way too hot on stage. I realize that people come to see the music, the show, the antics. Kevan and I can’t wait to bring this show to you.

Kevin Hearns of Bare Naked Ladies will join us on keyboards. The band also includes Andrew Lamarche on drums – he’s from Ottawa; Tim Welch on guitar, who I’ve worked with for years; and Mike Borkosky on bass.

OttawaLife: I really admire your energy and wonder what keeps you energized. What is your secret to longevity?

Carol Pope: Hey, I’m just doing what I love. I love to write and perform, and I guess that’s what drives me. Performing live and writing makes me feel young and gives me life. I’m also excited and motivated by the musical. I saw David Byrne’s American utopia and I loved it – it really inspired me. You know fans love Broadway shows and come back to see them again and again. I hope Rough Trade, The Musical will have the same effect.

We are shopping for the musical, and I hope to bring it to Canada next year. It’s a huge feat and it’s very expensive, so there’s a lot of work to do up front. We invite producers and industry people to the workshop – first in New York, then in Toronto.

OttawaLife: Have you ever felt the pressure to create art and get it out into the world?

Carol Pope: Nope. I’m still polishing the songs and working with other songwriters to improve the material. There is a process to this. I get inspired by making art. In the end, I’m going to say what you think – I’m going to tell the fans.

OttawaLife: So Bernard, this is a great opportunity for a band from Ottawa to open for these iconic Canadian legends.

Bernard: We are excited, nervous and extremely honored. This is a great opportunity for our small group from Ottawa to open for Rough Trade. But we have a great line-up: Stella Panacci will be on vocals with Peptides’ inimitable DeeDee Butters, and Destroy Clocks alum Kevin nHell will be on guitar. I’m on keyboards, of course. DeeDee will perform the songs she worked on with Church of Trees, such as, Like Gary Numan.

OttawaLife: Carole, this makes me wonder if you have a desire to mentor emerging groups.

Carol Pope: Well, I don’t think Church of Trees needs framing. But yeah, I did something at the U of T a few years ago where pros sat down with songwriters to help them work on material and offer constructive criticism. But for sure, if I like a band, I will totally support it. Church of Trees is amazing, as is Clara Venice. And there’s a lot of things that I hate [haha]. Too much rehashing and auto-tuning. But hey, I like Billie Eilish.

OttawaLife: Tell us a cool story of your days on the road a long time ago.

Carol Pope: We opened for David Bowie in Toronto in 1983. It was cool. He watched us from the side stage and then we watched him. He was funny and liked to chat. So he was chatting with me and laughing at the things that were going on. We talked about me and Dusty Springfield, who I was dating at the time. Then we kissed, and he was so sweet. Those were fun times.

Rough Trade will perform at the Bronson Center in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 27.

Tickets available online:

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