TWO-THIRDS of Camp Cope are sitting upstairs at Melbourne’s beloved Vietnamese restaurant Thy Thy but lead singer Georgia Maq is nowhere to be seen. “We give Georgia a different time to be somewhere so she’s there early,” laughs drummer Sarah ‘Thomo’ Thompson.
When Georgia arrives five minutes later she’s mildly fuming. For once she’s arrived on time, but her bandmates have neglected to answer her calls asking if she’s in the right place. To prove the point, she shows Sarah and bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich her phone display. “Look, I called you!” she exclaims
It’s a particularly warm summer night in Melbourne, and the mercury has just topped 34 degrees. The heat inside feels oppressive and the ceiling fans above us don’t provide much comfort. It’s so hot in fact that Sarah isn’t sporting her trademark beanie.
"Ultimately though, being in a band is like being in a sexless marriage."
We’re here to discuss the band’s second album, the sardonically titled How To Socialise & Make Friends, and the heat gives our conversation some animated fervour. The band are so engaged they neglect to eat the spring rolls in front of us, but this might also be in part to Georgia spitting a mouthful out upon realising they aren’t vegetarian.
It’s a similar reaction when talk turns to the intense scrutiny the band has faced since their eponymous debut turned their lives upside down upon its release in 2016.
“Camp Cope is like a game of ‘Whack-a-mole,” laughs Kelly. “It’s also bit like an oBike,” she adds, referring to one of those widely loathed, yellow additions to the city’s streets.
Georgia interjects. “We’re like an oBike trapped in the middle of a road, or trying to ride an oBike and realising the wheel has been kicked in.”
“Ultimately though, being in a band is like being in a sexless marriage,” says Kelly. This time she’s serious. “That’s what we learnt from being in Camp Cope.”
EVEN from their very first jam back in June 2015 Camp Cope have always meant business. “We don’t fuck around when it comes to this band,” proclaims Georgia. It’s this hard-working, gung ho attitude that has compelled them to release a second album without taking a proper break in between releases. “It felt like we were about to have a break, but now we’re not,” says Sarah.
A break would certainly be well deserved given how much they’ve achieved in their short existence: a critically acclaimed album that debuted at #36 on the ARIA charts with no major label backing. Dates across Australia multiple times over. A triumphant first tour of the US. And a sold-out stint at Sydney Opera House.
“I’ll just sleep later. It feels like we’ve been a band for a really long time in some ways, but it also feels like the shortest amount of time ever.”
That Camp Cope have achieved all this within a short period of time is no surprise given their tenacity. But as documented on the first single off their new album,
The band are quite frankly sick of it, so much so they’ve decided to bottle that experience in a song. “It’s another man telling us we can’t fill up a room,” sings Georgia in the song’s pointed final verse. “It’s another man telling us to book a smaller venue.”
“‘The Opener’ is our big diss song,” says Georgia. “Literally the whole end is just quotes of what men have told us. On our first album tour we were like ‘Oh, let’s book Newtown Social in Sydney’, and this man, who will remain unnamed was like, ‘Oh nah, you should do Black Wire [Records]. You don’t want to have a half empty room, then Black Wire sold out in 20 minutes. Someone also told Kelly that she should go on lead guitar to fill that missing frequency and it was just like, ‘Fuck off!’”
Now with a legion of fans, the band feel more supported than ever against their detractors. “The thing I love about going into the new album is that I feel more confident,” says Kelly. “The fanbase has given us this whole other level of confidence that we didn’t have with the first album. I feel like I have thicker skin this time, so I’m not going to sit there and listen to or read everyone’s comment.”
“I’m going to do that,” Georgia chimes in. “I read every single comment and that’s why I’ve gone mad.”
How To Socialise & Make Friends was recorded in two days at Holes and Corners in South Melbourne with Sam Johnson brought back into the fold again. The band still loathes the process of tracking songs, preferring to get it over and done with as quickly as possible.
“We hate recording so much,” says Kelly. “We all go in as a ball of stress and then Sam’s just like ‘Let’s chill’. We don’t need to think about it that hard, it’s not like we’re going to do anything outrageous like get an orchestra,” she jokes.
Georgia: “We were like, we have enough songs to make an album let’s do that. There’s not much thought or extra production behind our albums, it’s just like, ‘This is what we are.’”
“I don’t think we’d ever record with anyone else,” adds Sarah. “He just gets us.”
"The fanbase has given us this whole other level of confidence that we didn’t have with the first album."
WHILE the band have touring and navigating Australia down pat, they faced their biggest challenge while travelling to America for their first international tour with New York band Worriers as main support. The tour was almost derailed by visa issues.
“That was one of the most stressful times of my life,” says Sarah. ”We’re never going to do our visas ourselves ever again, otherwise I’ll end up in hospital!”
Not just a rigorous lesson in band admin, the tour also exposed Camp Cope to the scope of the music industry on a global level and the hard work of their American peers.
“It’s a completely different environment over there,” says Kelly. “We saw the bands we toured with in America work their asses off constantly. I get complacent after four days in a row on tour and those people go out for like seven weeks non-stop, have a break and then go out on tour again. It’s wild. They work so hard and they’re so dedicated considering how much ground they have to cover when they go on tour.”
With such an intense schedule, they have started to prioritise their mental and physical health. “I take care of myself and know my boundaries,” says Georgia. “I don’t smoke or drink at shows, I always warm up.”
“We’re also not a party band on tour,” reveals Kelly. “We go home and get lots of sleep and eat good food. We see this band as a job. There’s no longevity to this if we get trashed at every show, we’d just burn ourselves out. It’s hard enough trying to stay healthy when you tour, adding a party lifestyle on top of it all would be impossible. That’s why we still like each other as well. We don’t have to wake up hungover and get an early flight.”
The shows may be getting bigger and the tours longer, but Camp Cope have no intention of expanding their team. Thompson, who works for the band’s label Poison City Records, still manages all of their bookings. And though she’s spent more than a decade in the industry, working across Poison City and Shock Records, there’s still plenty of people telling her how things should be done.
“It’s not people being mean or thinking that we don’t know how to do things, but it’s still insulting,” she says. “I’d like to think that we’re at a point where we’ve gotten past everyone trying to tell us how we need to run our business. We know.”
They feel the same way about the new album.
“[It’s] is our small child,” adds Sarah. “We feel very protective of it. That’s why I don’t like it when people butt in and tell us how to it needs to be done. When the single premiered I was just waiting for what everyone thought.”
HOW To Socialise & Make Friends could be easily seen as an ironic statement around the band not caring whether they’re likeable or not. And it’s this fearlessness that informed the writing of the record.
“There’s no holding back on the album because I feel like I’ve got nothing to lose,” admits Georgia. “I don’t have anyone to impress, or anybody to let down, it is what it is.”
Georgia has a unique ability to make the personal experiences from which she draws upon feel universal. And while she says the songs are open to interpretation, the overarching purpose is to empower non-men.
“The themes on the album revolve around empowerment, not caring about what any man thinks, dealing with death, loss and trauma,” she explains. “It’s all from the heart. I feel like the album speaks for itself and I have no interest in talking about any of my personal issues to anybody. I’m just going to sing about them and they can be interpreted however anybody wants to interpret them.”
“It’s almost like what was hinted at in the first album is in plain sight on the new album,” adds Kelly.
Camp Cope’s sense of responsibility to their audience has taken on a practical dimension too. In 2016, they spearhead the It Takes One campaign which sought to address the prevalence of sexual assault at gigs. For the campaign they joined forces with the likes of Jenny McKechnie (Cable Ties, Wet Lips), Courtney Barnett, Jen Cloher and American musician Jeff Rosenstock in speaking out against those who deny punters from the right to feel safe and respected at a show.
The take home message from the campaign is that it only takes one person to call out shitty behaviour and make a change.
“It was a really bold move to make a statement like that,” says Kelly. “The first time we called someone out at a show it wasn’t really normal. Now there’s almost like a standard of behaviour, people are really aware. The internet has now exploded with women now demanding a certain standard of behaviour and if you don’t align with that you’re going to get called out which is a huge change from when we first did the campaign.”
As for where the band want to take it from here, they explain that the live music environment is just the beginning of the changes they want to see.
“I think it’s a lot easier now because everyone knows our stance on most things,” says Sarah. “Whether they do it or not is what we want to make sure is followed through wherever we are.”
“There’s lots of stuff that we’re working towards, activism that doesn’t directly relate to sexual assault at shows. I think we want to go bigger and deeper than that.”