Camp Cope: Rad Grrrls Club
Just a year into their narrative, Camp Cope have taken the world by storm. Coming fresh out of the gates with a game-changing debut LP, the Melbourne trio deal in poetic punk jams that will appeal to your anxious mess of a millennial self as much as it will your inner ferocious riot grrrl. BLUNT’s Matt Doria caught up with the band to vibe on their self-titled album, touring, catharsis, feminism, Cruiser shoeys and… just being all-round sickcunts.
It’s 8pm on a Friday night, and Sydney’s near-iconic Black Wire Records is thriving in the warmth of a homely, yet intensely devoted community. Punters soak into the couches, sipping passion pop and glazing over damn-near timeless gig posters; DJY is greeting everybody like the over-excited mother hen he is, and Camp Cope snare queen Sarah Thompson is perched behind the merch desk, palming out her own glossy blue Volvonaut tees. ‘Special’ doesn’t come close to describing the occasion: tonight marks the indie-punk trio’s first ever headline show in Sydney – one that sold out in a matter of seconds, no less. At least for those in attendance, tonight will be one not soon forgotten, especially given the venue’s significance.
“Black Wire is so special to me,” opens bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich. “I lived there for a few months when I was in Sydney, and Tom (the man behind the bear claws) is one of my best friends. My whole association with the DIY music community has been through living at Black Wire; working the door at Black Wire and playing shows there. I’ve been going there since I was 17, so it’s a really special place.”
“We’re doing this tour as sort of like a special album launch/first headline tour, and so we want to do it with our friends,” adds Thompson. “Tom is our mate and he’s always helped and supported us, so why wouldn’t we do it there? And it’s BYO [laughs].”
After getting emo with Hannahband and watching Ouch My Face crush it (whilst absolutely sloshed), a house now smushed with as many people as it can fit gathers to have their hearts ripped out by Camp Cope in the flesh. It’s hard not to smile when the claws become their bookends and the three give each other an “Oh shit, this is happening” look as the house lights go down. A quick clamour for #girlstothefront later, and frontwoman Georgia Maq is well imbued in the melancholic energy of LP opener “Done”. From the first buzzing bass note, the band are at the top of their game – above all, they look confident: a vibe that likely wasn’t intact just a few moments earlier.
“We’re definitely not ready to go right out the gate,” Thompson stresses jokingly of their pre-show rituals. “I hide for a little while… I think we all have our ‘thing’: Georgia goes and does her vocal warm-ups – farts a lot – Kelly walks around to me going, ‘Is there a rider!? What do I do!?’ and then I usually just go to the bathroom and sit there for ages, until it’s time to start, then I run outside and go, [ghastly scream].”
“We’re not a ‘fist pumping before the show’ type of band,” Maq chimes in. “We’re usually just crying and being scared.”
“I didn’t even know what I was trying to do until we started Camp Cope, so I was always just a solo artist.”
Of course, Camp Cope’s adoration didn’t come out of nowhere. The band have spent the past year honing out an impassioned artistry with an idiosyncratic sound – a culmination of Maq’s past as an acoustic-wielding solo badarse, Hellmrich cutting her teeth in a handful of local acts, and Thompson reigning as one of the diehard legends behind Poison City Records. Their histories fused to form a musicality recalling the wistful meridians only common with the icons: even if it seemed their paths were unlikely to align.
“I’ve been in a bunch of DIY punk bands,” Hellmrich reminisces, “I’ve been in a shoegazing band… I used to be in a band called Palmar Grasp – we were like a feminist, emo, sort of skramz-y band.”
“I took, like, seven years off before Georgia found out that I played drums,” Thompson interjects; “I kept it a nice little secret. I’d given up music forever. I’ve worked in music for a long time, so it was like, ‘I’m jaded, I don’t need to be in a band anymore, everyone sucks…’ And then, basically, my parents needed space at their house – they lived in Queensland, and they were like, ‘You need to move this stuff,’ so I brought my drum kit down to Melbourne and… Started again. The secret was out [laughs].
“I’ve never been in a band before because I didn’t know how to start a band,” Maq says, buried in her knitting tools (for context, we’re huddled around a table in a cosy North Sydney café). “I was always too nervous to play with people, and I never felt like anyone ‘got’ what I was trying to do – I didn’t even know what I was trying to do until we started Camp Cope, so I was always just a solo artist.”
With nothing more than her trusty acoustic and a head full of aspirations, Maq started busking in 2006 – before she had even started high school – playing to pretty much anyone that’d listen on the sunny streets of Footscray, VIC. In the ten years since, collaborations have been few and far between – her honeyed desolation burns its fiercest when unscathed by second hands, so it’s hard to fault her decision; but as Maq elaborates, it’s not that she was unfazed by the concept of playing in a band – rather, she was unfazed with the concept of sacrificing her personality.
“I always imagined [being in a band] would be really stressful,” she continues; “that’s why I could never play with anyone else, because I felt like they were changing the songs into their style, instead of having the same idea for a song that I had – but I fully trust these two to make it into… I don’t know, I feel like we’ve all got the same idea as to what sound and what kind of music we want to make, and… Did that make any sense?”
[Hellmrich and Thompson violently shake their heads in unison]
So how did the stars align for Camp Cope to join forces?
“We’ve always known each other just through being sickcunts,” Maq explains in the grouse-est of Melbourne accents. “I didn’t even know that you [points at Thompson] played drums, and then you mentioned that you played drums when you brought your drum kit down from Queensland. We had one jam and we did, like, half of one song, and I was like, ‘Yep! This is just easy and perfect. We don’t have to worry about the rest of the song, we can just go to the next song!’”
“It was like, ‘We didn’t even get to the chorus yet!’ …‘It’s fine, you’ve got this!’,” laughs Thompson.
“You know what you’re doing! You just, like, know what to do, and it’s really perfect… And then I met Kelly in a kitchen – I freaked her out.”
“She was getting a tattoo on the kitchen table,” muses Hellmrich. “When I first moved to Melbourne, I lived in a milk bar, and Georgia played there but we didn’t really meet.”
“I thought you were the girl from Purity Ring!”
“[Laughs] so she was getting a tattoo on the kitchen table, and we started talking about music – I mentioned that I played bass and she looked at me with so much intensity, I was like, ‘This girl is weird. What did I say wrong!?’ And then she got the friend that we had in common to message me asking whether I wanted to jam with her, so I wrote her back immediately saying, ‘Why are you scared to talk to me?’”
Introspection pillars Camp Cope (the album) like the steel beams of a skyscraper jet fuel supposedly cannot melt. From Maq’s exasperated musings of hospital work and life’s monotony on “Flesh And Electricity” to her flaring howls ranting from a distance at crumbled relationships on “Lost (Season One)”, it’s a wholly honest and intimate affair. But where some bands will release heartfelt opuses from an otherwise reclusive stand, the personal aspect of Camp Cope isn’t in any form restricted to their album: it glazes every edge of their virtuosity, right down to the band name itself.
“When I first moved to Melbourne, I was really homesick: I had no job and no friends, so I would sit in my room all day and play bass by myself,” says Hellmrich, strangely cheerful. “I would give [the songs I wrote] little names – one of them was called ‘Camp Cope’ because I was super homesick from night swimming in Sydney, at this place called Camp Cove. I moved from Sydney, where it was Summer and I would go swimming at Camp Cove, to my first Collingwood winter – lonely and freezing – and I was writing and playing music with these guys to ‘cope’.”
“And also we had a show booked where we didn’t have a name, so we had to kind of come up with something on the spot,” Thompson chuckles.
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Camp Cope / Cayetana
Sat Sep 10th – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Tue Sep 13th – Rad Bar, Wollongong
Wed Sep 14th – Transit, Canberra
Thu Sep 15th – Newtown Social Club, Sydney
(with Pity Sex)
Sat Sep 17th – Manning Bar, Sydney
(I Love Life Festival)
Sun Sep 18th – The Triffid, Brisbane
(I Love Life Festival)