Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #126. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Camp Cope are here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and… Well, you know the line. Matt Doria dives into one of 2018’s most crucial albums with frontwoman Georgia Maq and bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich. Photos by Ian Laidlaw.
After two years of fervent outspokenness on the back of their self-titled debut, it shouldn’t come as any shock that Camp Cope are upping the ante for their second coming. How To Socialise & Make Friends is immediately more intense in its virtue, pulling a grand total of zero punches with a raw, scathing assault on industry sexism in lead single “The Opener”.
“It’s another all-male tour preaching equality,” bites frontwoman Georgia Maq in the scorcher’s pay-off; “It’s another straight, cis man that knows more about this than me.” The abundance of all-male tours and condescending gatekeepers is a tedious issue plaguing the current landscape of rock music in Australia. As such, it’s understandable that Camp Cope’s breakthrough banger has become somewhat of an anthem for the marginalised.
“I just needed to write ‘The Opener’ for myself,” Maq tells us. “I knew it was a fiery song, but I didn’t realise how much people were going to take from it. It’s kind of created a thing of its own, which is really f***ing cool.”
In a climate where gender-diverse acts are being actively snubbed in favour of their all-male colleagues, tracks like “The Opener” are vital now more than ever. And with Camp Cope’s newfound spotlight in the mainstream, the Melbourne trio have found themselves with an opportunity to permeate and affect communities that may never have considered their impact otherwise.
A prime example came in January when only nine women were booked on the Falls Festival lineup (three of which being the members of Camp Cope), which led to Maq calling its organisers out onstage. Controversy sparked instantly, but according to bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich, that was instrumental in getting their voices heard to begin with.
“When we [called the Falls Festival out], one of the main responses we got was, ‘Why would you want to play at a festival and then criticise it while you’re there?’ Well, what better audience to reach if you’ve got criticisms about how a festival is run, than the people at that festival? Because if we’re only speaking our minds in DIY spaces and punk venues, we’re kind of just singing to the choir.”
“I feel like it’s an abuse of power not to use our platform to help lift people up,” Maq says. The response to their activism at Falls indicated success in that regard, with many praising the band for giving smaller artists a chance to be heard in the future. It’s another notch on a growing list of crusades that Camp Cope have driven in the past, including 2016’s successful #ItTakesOne campaign and a hotline for punters to voice their safety concerns at live events. As Hellmrich explains, such initiatives come from the band’s own devotion to sparking change.
“It’s a personal responsibility,” she says. “I don’t think anyone else is putting the pressure on us – we just want to make things a little better for the people who were like us in the past. As a woman playing music, it’s never been the easiest thing. We’ve copped so much of it on the chin, but now that we do have this platform and we’re on commercial radio, I’m like, ‘Nah, it’s time for change.’ For the girl who’s 12 now and has an interest in playing music, I want it to be so much easier for her to pick up a guitar and be in a band than it was for me.”
It’s a common theme in a male-dominated industry, that of the young woman who falls in love with the guitar and fosters a passion to pursue it, but is quickly thwarted off by men telling her that she’ll never amount to their successes. Maq’s directive for those young women is simple: “Just do it, because you are the future and you’re better than [their pettiness]. And they know that, and that’s why they’re trying to keep you down.”
Camp Cope’s unremitting ethics reach far beyond their intolerance for sexism. The band embody an eager DIY ethos, recording, releasing, touring and promoting their music all on their own terms.
“We’re really staunch people who just want to do what we think is right, and we don’t care too much about what money that’s going to make,” Hellmrich asserts. “I don’t know if there are many people in the industry who would agree with that – I’m sure there are, but we knew that we could do it ourselves anyway. We know where we all stand, and it’s easy to keep moving forward when everyone is facing in the same direction and wanting the same thing. And we see ourselves as being extremely capable to do a lot of the things that people often don’t think bands are capable of doing on their own.”
When it came to laying How To Socialise & Make Friends down on tape, the band rebelled against expectations that a lavish studio and lengthy timeline would chronicle the process. Much like the path they took in bringing LP1 to life, the band recorded all nine of their new gems in a single 48-hour session helmed by local legend Sam Johnson.
“Sam is just the perfect engineer for the dynamic of our band,” Hellmrich rhapsodises. “When we went in to do our first record, we hadn’t even been a band for a full year and we were so scared about recording, and Sam was absolutely perfect to be in that situation with because he really believed in the music. Sometimes it’s hard to find a person that fits your dynamic, knows exactly what sound you want and really believes in you as a band, and Sam is exactly that to Camp Cope.”
In maintaining the raw, polarising atmosphere of their live set, the band recorded together with focus put more on impact than abundance. “This one is even more stripped back than the self-titled album,” Maq points out, citing her prized Jay Mascis Fender Jazzmaster as the sole axe on display. “I wired it so that it just goes from the neck pickup to the jack, and then that’s just plugged into a BBE boost pedal and a tuner,” she informs us.
Equally crucial in the mix is Hellmrich’s deep and melodic bass leads. Driving many of the tracks, (including the inevitably iconic line in “The Opener”), she plays a US Fender Mustang plugged directly into an amp – “usually an Ampeg, but I’m not even fussy about that,” she laughs. “I’ve been in bands before where I’ve had, like, eight different pedals for the bass, so it’s refreshing to be doing what I do here. I think it gives everyone a bit of a heart palpitation when I plug straight into the amp, but it’s a really good bass and it doesn’t go out of tune, so I’m fine!”
Hellmrich says the band were initially skeptical about the lack of technicality on How To Socialise, but once they hit the studio, those worries were immediately shed.
“We realised that no matter what we do, there’s going to be people that don’t like it and people that tell us we’ve done it wrong anyway, so we’re just going to do what we want,” she says. “I feel like we had more confidence this time, and so much of that comes from our amazing fanbase because they were really keen to hear new songs. It was a bit scarier with the first record, because not many people had heard recordings of us. We were like, ‘What if people hear this and hate it?’ But our fans have just been so incredibly supportive, and we believed in ourselves a lot more because of it.”
Maq echoes the sentiment, musing that dealing in more emotionally taxing lyrics gave her a stronger outlet of catharsis. “There’s never any hesitation,” she says of her writing process. “It’s kind of exciting to be exposed, y’know? I’m not sure if I’ll ever play some of the songs on this album live, but I felt like they needed to be out in the world.”
As for the future of Camp Cope, Hellmrich and Maq are both adamant that expectations have no place in the band’s collective mentality. “I just want to take this band wherever I can take it,” Maq says, though she’s quick to point out one particular item on her bucket list: “I was listening to Gold 104.3 the other day – the ‘classics’ radio station – and I was thinking about how cool it would be to get played on there. I don’t know if they’re super racist or problematic, but I was listening to Prince and Nirvana back-to-back and I was like, ‘Hell yeah, maybe someday we’ll get played on this station!’ I think that would be pretty cool.”
with Chastity Belt
Wednesday March 14th - Republic Bar, Hobart
Thursday March 15th - Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne
Friday March 16th - Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne
Saturday March 17th - Tivoli Theatre, Brisbane
Tuesday March 20th - Jive, Adelaide
Wednesday March 21st - The Basement, Canberra
Thursday March 22nd - Heratige Hotel, Bulli
Friday March 23rd - Metro Theatre, Sydney