Camp Cope On Fighting Industry Sexism, Embracing Activism, And Letting Your Audience Change
Stream the Australian trio's sophomore album, How To Socialise & Make Friends, now.
Being the change you wish to see in the world isn’t as easy as it sounds, primarily because there’s no how-to guide. The Melbourne-based punk trio Camp Cope knew Australia’s music scene wasn’t exactly what they wanted it to be, but they weren’t sure how to change it. To be fair, they weren’t looking to change it at the start.
In the years since their formation in 2015, Camp Cope have swiftly pulled the rug out from under the institutionalized sexism that they faced with their self-titled 2016 LP and a split EP. The trio make it look easy: frontwoman Georgia Maq balances a part-singing, part-screaming vocal tone that calls for goosebumps, every word articulated with pure heightened emotion; bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich establishes simple, bold bass lines that hold the group together; and drummer Sarah Thompson finds a way to steer their songs at an inviting pace for listeners to join in singing along.
On their sophomore album, How To Socialise & Make Friends, Camp Cope find their stride by embracing every aspect of their personalities, as musicians and as women. Whether they’re pointing fingers at sexist music industry hurdles on “The Opener” or fucked-up power dynamics on the title track, the trio have no problem calling it as they see it. Being outspoken is a good thing when you use the power that comes with it properly, and How To Socialise & Make Friends is an example of how to do that without grandstanding, a humble straightforwardness at its core.
That type of blunt dialogue which calls for change and rattling off injustices, big or small, put the band in a new place. Camp Cope were calling sexism, bigotry, and assault as they witnessed it. But the way Melbourne’s punk scene saw it, that was the type of drama no one wanted to get involved in — which is the very antithesis of punk. Next thing the band knew, the existing punk scene had ostracized them.
The truth is, Camp Cope never really fit in there, or anywhere, because they weren’t concerned with doing so. They were either too poppy, overly commercial, or too individualistic. As painful as it is to be booted from a scene, the trio found their stride shortly thereafter by forming a one of their own. “People say it’s cool to not fit in, and it may look like it is, but you wind up doubting yourself a lot,” Thompson says. “Now that we’ve been a band for several years, it’s cool to see our trajectory despite that. We’re in a group of bands of all women, queer people, or others who want to join a scene of supposed misfits, even if they aren’t misfits. We’re all outspoken. We’ve created our own scene now and we don’t need anyone else to approve of it.”
What hurt back then and made it hard to believe in themselves only made them stronger as individuals — and now they’re flourishing. In between pushing for equality and prepping for their album release, all three members of Camp Cope crowded around in a record label closet to talk with me over Skype about defeating trolls, proving naysayers wrong, and the importance of lifting other women up no matter what their social status is.
STEREOGUM: After the news surrounding Falls Festival, you’ve been labeled an activist band now more than ever. Is that a label you want to fall under? Are there any burdens that come with it?
SARAH THOMPSON: Yeah, it was weird. The things we said at Falls were there for everyone to see. If you look at the timetable, we literally vocalized what was on the timetable: there’s no women after 4PM. There’s no women on the main stage. People said it was a controversy when all it was was the truth.
GEORGIA MAQ: I wish we could just play music and not have to talk about these things, but we have to talk about them. None of the other bands at that festival pointed out that there’s no women on the main stage. I would love to have that ability to be able to play a festival and feel comfortable, respected, safe, and happy. But we have to do what we do. If that comes at the expense of people’s opinions or us losing a part of our audience, then fine, it’s worth it.
STEREOGUM: It’s been a long time coming, though. Almost every song on the album carries a sense of realization, like the three of you knew you could retaliate against oppression and find yourself despite that. What is it about making music that helps you figure out what you are, what you aren’t, and what’s worth yelling about?
MAQ: Why are you all looking at me?
THOMPSON: Because you’re the one who wrote all the lyrics!
MAQ: Well, fine. Ever since the first album was released, I learned a lot about our power and how we don’t want to be treated — or rather, how we don’t want to accept how we’re treated. This album is something rising from the ashes. And what’s rising is us.
STEREOGUM: Was there a point when you realized that change in self was happening?
THOMPSON: I feel like I’ve lived 10 lifetimes in the time that I’ve been in this band.
MAQ: Yeah, I’ve aged about 35 years, I think.
KELLY-DAWN HELLMRICH: You have to call things out. You have to be an activist. My partner said the other day, “You’ve gotten so defensive about everything anyone says to you.” And I just said that it’s because my tolerance is so small that it doesn’t even exist. I’ve got to be that way. I’m ready now for people to criticize, because that’s all it’s been for a long time. It’s made me harsher, but it’s also made me believe in myself more, and I think that’s where the harshness comes from. I don’t let people push us around anymore. These two have made me stronger, especially as a unit.
MAQ: I feel like women together lift one another up.
HELLMRICH: And I feel like that’s what we’ve done.
MAQ: Yeah, all while there’s a hundred men dragging you down.
STEREOGUM: How do you then decide which aspects of that to address?
HELLMRICH: We have this thing now where we know how we work. I don’t know how to explain it.
MAQ: I know my worth. I know your worth. You’re right; I don’t know how else to explain it, but it’s like you know what to bring out in one another. Now I feel like no one can touch us. And if they do, we don’t care.
THOMPSON: Because you have to wonder why people are so quick to criticize three strong women. It’s like the Kardashians. People hate them, but why?
HELLMRICH: If I was alone, I think I would have felt the criticism a long time ago. I’d doubt myself. Thankfully I have Thomo and Georgia to remind me that we’re doing something that’s beyond ourselves. It stands for something, especially in an industry that’s been doing things wrong for a long time.
STEREOGUM: That unity is noticeable. The first time I heard “Sagan-Indiana,” I got a lump in my throat because of the way you three play together.
STEREOGUM: There’s a singular feeling driving that song, and the way you described your work communication reminds me of that feeling.
MAQ: We’re not used to people having heard these songs so that’s why we all gasped for a second there. I wrote that song a few weeks before we recorded the album. I was driving home one day alone — that song title is named after my friend, and she’s like a big sister to me — and that’s when it hit me. It’s just about everything I’ve learned. You have to put yourself out there to get better. Any way to heal is the right way to heal as long as you’re healing, you know? My dad died a year and a bit ago. The healing process from that experience involved learning how to heal from all the incredible women in my life.
STEREOGUM: The other song on the album that has a similar intensity behind it, a real earnest, painful tone, is “The Face Of God.” You recorded it before the #MeToo movement started, but it feels like a strong effort to move that effort forward because it doesn’t rehash sexual assault stories that victims have shared so far. It’s incredibly personal, but familiar. What made you feel comfortable publishing that song? Especially given the public support system that’s being built now, which makes it easier for survivors to come forward, wasn’t as strong several years ago.
MAQ: I started writing that song in April of 2017 after a horrible experience. It took me a very long time to finish it. Finishing that song was me addressing what happened and healing from that. We’ve played it live once. That’s it. But I was really scared to put this out there. Once the #MeToo movement happened, I didn’t feel as afraid anymore — which is sad. What happened to me happens all the time. It happens to everyone. And that’s really, really sad. So I hope that the song helps people or provides some solidarity the way that movement helped me.
THOMPSON: I remember when Georgia sent us the phone recording. It was an acoustic version of it. And all I could think was, “Fuck.” You hear all the time about men in bands doing this and how they get away with so much stuff because people like their band. The first time I heard it, I felt relief almost. This needed to be said.
STEREOGUM: When you combine “The Face Of God” with several other songs on the album, an overarching resilience rises up. It masks itself as the traditional angst of punk, but it’s different. It’s you singing about wanting liberation, and these songs feel like the realization that sometimes you have to make your own path when your dream path doesn’t appear before you. How does someone liberate themselves in that way?
MAQ: Well certain songs on there, like “The Opener,” just feel more relevant as time goes on. It feels like the album needed to happen. I believe in fate, and it feels like this album had to come out.
THOMPSON: It’s like how 50 people will come forward about a person and others will claim they’re making it up for attention. Oh, really? All 50 of them? Their stories are the same, you moron. I think the moral here is that everyone on the internet is an idiot.
MAQ: After that song came out, someone shared a Twitter post with us that had dozens of reactions from guys. It was guys questioning what we were saying, guys saying we recorded it wrong, guys saying we should have spent more time on the album. And I poked around to see who these people were. It was people who work in fields like construction! These people were telling us we were doing everything wrong. What better way to prove that “The Opener” is a very real, true life experience than to look at a comment section on our work.
HELLMRICH: People even criticize the way we play our instruments! “Her wrists should be straight! Her guitar is hanging too low! She’s sitting on the drum seat too loosely!” Give me a fucking break. I saw someone the other day talking about how bad the strings on my bass are. You know what? I think I’m doing pretty okay. That bass is sounding pretty alright, but hey, maybe my ears aren’t too sharp.
STEREOGUM: From the outside looking in, there appears to be a big ripple effect within Australia’s indie rock and punk scene as a result.
HELLMRICH: There was! And I feel like 2018 is going to be a huge shift in power for women there. It was a big learning curve for males in my life who suddenly realized things that I knew. I don’t think any woman was surprised by #metoo, at all. It was the men who suddenly noticed every women in their life experiences this garbage.
STEREOGUM: Looking back, when did you realize Camp Cope’s success was about more than the songs?
MAQ: I think we knew, because our crowd changed. We had the shared crowd with all the punk dudes in the start. When we started doing our own headlining shows, there were some of those people, but it was always different people that I had never seen before. Melbourne is a pretty tight-knit community. There’s a lot of venues and bands, but you do see the same people at shows. I remember thinking I had never seen these audience members, a lot of whom were really young. I wondered where they came from.
THOMPSON: Lots of girls who said they had never been to a show before.
HELLMRICH: Yes, my heart! It was my favorite thing.
MAQ: They didn’t know about the bullshit that came before.
HELLMRICH: Which circles back to what Georgia said earlier about lifting other women up. It’s not just musicians doing that. It includes dynamics like this. Our audience and fans have made us feel this way. Being interviewed by people who, like you, point out things we’ve done and then state why it’s important. It makes us go, “Really?” before realizing it’s true.
MAQ: Definitely. It takes a whole bunch of people to make us realize some of our actions are true, or big, or important.
STEREOGUM: In that case, how about you step into the shoes of those supporters. What are you most proud of when it comes to one another’s work on the album?
MAQ: Kelly came up with one part in “The Opener” that I love. That part where there’s quiet bits, she came up with that to make the song more dynamic. That was really nice.
HELLMRICH: Georgia didn’t even contribute to the album at all.
MAQ: Oh my god.
HELLMRICH: She added the, “Show ‘em, Kelly!” in “The Opener” which I thought was absolutely incredible. I didn’t know she put it on the album because we record live and then she does her singing bits afterwards while we watch TV. But she did sing it live once before then. I remember being so startled.
THOMPSON: Oh my god, that was the time I misheard it! The first time she sang it, I thought she yelled, “Shut up, Kelly!” I was floored.
HELLMRICH: On a serious note, I love how brave Georgia’s lyrics are on this album. She’s taken a lot of personal risks and I think it’s paid off. It makes it even more punchy and incredible. Not that it differs heaps from the last album. But I think you were trying to find yourself on the first album, and on this one you sound like you really have.
MAQ: Aw. This is too nice.
THOMPSON: Go on, compliment me then.
HELLMRICH: Uh … nice friend?
THOMPSON: Kelly had trouble coming up with a part for “Animal & Real.” Me and Georgia did that song together and left a dramatic gap for Kelly. But she came back into the room, smiling big, because she fit four awesome notes in there. Just like, “Here I am!”
STEREOGUM: Since the album is done and you’re just waiting for it to be released, what are your next steps to keep this momentum you’ve built going?
THOMPSON: Take over the world.
HELLMRICH: I thought this year would be smoother than last year. We’re established now, so we don’t have to yell or scream or keep doing this fight, right? And then it started with the biggest mess. So I’m rolling with the punches because it’s already surprised me.
THOMPSON: Because we don’t have anyone telling us what to do, you can kinda do whatever you want to do whenever you want anyway.
MAQ: We will look back 12 months from now and see what happened, and I’ve got a feeling we will have plenty to be proud of. We just don’t know what it will be yet.