Forced to abandon initial plans for their third album in the wake of a global pandemic, Melbourne's Camp Cope have come out the other side, stronger than ever.
As Georgia Maq, Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich, and Sarah Thompson of Camp Cope all sit down at Fitzroy’s Commercial Club Hotel in early January, it’s clear that current events have been taking a toll. Freshly armed with an album that thematically approaches the idea of walking through hell and coming out the other side, it almost feels as though we’re right back in the midst of it.
In a perfect world, the group wouldn’t be talking to me right now—they’d be gearing up for a last-minute afternoon comeback show at the Northcote Social Club. Just days before it was set to take place, rising case numbers saw it quietly canned. But in true Camp Cope fashion, the band forged ahead, ignoring what feels like an impending apocalypse because, as their new album asserts, once you’re at the bottom, the only way left to go is up.
Like any story, we can’t talk about where we are without touching on where we’ve been. It was in August of 2015 that a nascent Camp Cope played their first show, with support slot opportunities for international names such as AJJ, The Hotelier, and Waxahtachee soon coming their way. Already armed with the songs that would make up their first record, the band’s self-titled debut arrived in April of 2016. Critical acclaim followed, before international touring preceded the release of their second album, How to Socialise & Make Friends, which arrived in early 2018 and earned them both a Top Ten spot on the national charts and an ARIA Award nomination for Best Rock Album.
“Looking back, I’m sort of surprised at how well [the album] did because I listen back to it and I’m like, ‘This is awful’,” admits Maq.
“There wasn’t a gap to be like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we’ve got a record coming out’,” recalls Thompson, who in addition to serving as the band’s drummer, also works at their label, Poison City Records. “It was just like, ‘Last one is finished, we’ve finished the tour, [and] we’ve got a month or something’. We quickly wrote it, quickly recorded it, put it out, and went on tour again. It’s like we didn’t think about it.”
As Hellmrich adds, their second album was never made with the intention of writing a hit record to move themselves into the next stage of their career. It was about allowing the trio to grow as musicians, and to complement their repertoire with new songs that represented this artistic growth.
With a positive response to this growth, and with widespread media attention for their musical activism (single “The Opener” famously attacked male-heavy lineups on events such as the Falls Festival with the line, “Yeah, just get a female opener, that’ll fill the quota”), Camp Cope kept on with the standard cycle a band goes through in the lead-up to an album. While Maq would release her debut solo album (the electronically-influenced Pleaser) in late 2019, the band had been intending to kick off the sessions for album number three soon after. Of course, life had other plans.
“It was three days before we were meant to fly to America to record the album in Philly, and the borders shut,” Maq recalls. “Georgia, especially, has got a real emotional connection with Philly. So that was where we were going; we wanted something new,” adds Hellmrich.
“If we write in a different environment, you might come up with a whole different sound, emotion, and stuff like that,” she continues. “So I reckon if that had gone ahead, it would have been a completely different sounding record.”
While the trio had a record’s worth of music written before things went south, they admit a few of these tracks were completely canned, while three more were written at the end of 2020, including first single, “Blue”. Ultimately, Maq admits there was something of a silver lining to taking more time to reflect on things, with some songs relating to since-closed chapters of her life falling by the wayside in favour of more relevant ones, though lockdown did leave her going “a bit mad” at one point.
“I made a whole electronic album, which no one’s ever going to hear,” Maq laughs. “That taught me how to produce stuff, how to write different parts, and that language [around] how to make a record. So when we ended up making the record, I knew how it worked, what I wanted, and I knew how to get what I wanted with it. I feel like if we’d recorded in Philly, it just would have been very different.”
Noting that the album “would have sounded like a Philly record” had they gone with original plans to make the album in Philadelphia’s Headroom Studios, Camp Cope ended up working alongside producer Anna Laverty at Sing Sing Recording Studios in Melbourne, with the final result almost appearing as something of a celebratory testament to the tenacious nature of the group’s home city.
“After the way that Melbourne experienced the pandemic so differently to other states, making something beautiful and having that turn into a bit of a positive experience, it’s almost like a whole other little celebration of Melbourne,” explains Hellmrich. “And it’s like, ‘Oh, we got to make this album in a really, really hard time in Melbourne at that point’, which is something that we can always look back on as a positive.”
Though the initial premise of a pandemic provided the members of Camp Cope with a chance to extend their already well-earned break in their relentless cycle, it soon began to take its toll on the band. Though lucky enough to maintain their respective jobs (with Hellmrich in childcare and Maq requalifying as a nurse), it left the band feeling completely worn out by the time they got back into the swing of things.
“Physically, it was hard because we hadn’t touched an instrument for like a year, so when we went back and started rehearsing once that was allowed, it was like everything felt wrong,” recalls Thompson. “Like, ‘How did the songs go? What did we write? Is it good? Is it still relevant?’.”
“I had too much time to think about all the options of the songs,” adds Hellmrich. “I feel like it was not easy to write because we had more time; it was harder for me. I found it really challenging.”
Strangely though, the opportunity that was provided to the group was reminiscent of their early years, with the desire and need to craft a stellar third album that continues their musical evolution being replaced by an urge to simply do what would make them happy; the same mindset that followed into the recording of their self-titled debut.
“It’s not like, ‘Oh, we’ll release an album, and it has to be appropriate to fit this scenario and this scenario, and whatever’,” explains Hellmrich. “It’s just like, ‘Well, we actually don’t know what we’re going to do with it, whether we will be able to tour, what it’s even going to look like to release an album in the future’. So we thought, all we need to do is make something that makes us happy and then we’re proud of that. And that was what we did with the first album.
“That first album was about just making something that we really enjoyed and then going back to that. So it’s like it’s holding hands with the first album. It’s like it’s come a long way.”
At its heart, Camp Cope’s Running with The Hurricane showcases a new version of the band, one that has gone through hell and come out the other side “stronger, more loving, more peaceful and better friends”, as Maq said in a statement. While lead single “Blue” sonically illustrates this shift thanks to a sound described as “softer”, “more relaxed”, and “more refined”, it still captures their true essence. Meanwhile, the song’s title track captures the themes of resilience, with Maq singing, “There’s no other way to go, the only way out is up”.
Both the album and track of the same name are borrowed from a Redgum song, written by Maq’s late father, Hugh McDonald, and Michael Atkinson. Despite admitting she wasn’t particularly a fan of the track, its title soon found itself representing the record as a whole, burning its way into her soul and noting that “it felt like my life had been boiled down and summarised by those four words”.
“I asked [Atkinson]. I said, ‘Hi, I’ve written a song called this, do you mind if I use it?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, I was actually going to call my song something like “Running in a Hurricane”’,” Maq recalls.
“It just feels like an album title,” she adds. “I think it really encapsulates everything that’s happened since the second album where everything’s just this big mess, and it’s about how you deal with that. You can get caught up in it and get swept away, you can let it kill you, or you can just like fucking lose your mind.”
Apart from the title, the presence of Maq’s father also provides a bit of a ‘full circle’ moment for the group, too. Having been in the studio for their debut album and their 2017 split single with Philadelphia’s Cayetana, his passing in late 2016 was soon felt strongly by the whole band, with 2018’s How to Socialise & Make Friends even ending with a tribute to him by way of “I’ve Got You”.
“He was in the studio with us for the first two releases, then we really felt the absence of him,” explains Hellmrich. “It was very sad to not have him on the second album. But with this one it’s like, he is there in a way, like in the album.”
“I feel like there’s like a piece of my dad in everything we’ve kind of done,” Maq notes, “and this is me like adding in that piece without having a song about him or anything.”
Running with The Hurricane shows Camp Cope feeling more at peace with who they are, their place in their world, and content as musicians. But there was still something of a fear when it came to releasing music after a few years away. Even though an evolved sound was noted with “Blue” (one that wouldn’t have made the original version had they recorded in Philadelphia), the group note that it is ironically the one song on the record most like the rest of their catalogue, and possibly the best way to invite fans into their new album.
“I wasn’t freaking out or investing too much [into what people thought of ‘Blue’],” Maq begins. “Because in my head, I’m like, ‘Well, global warming is going to kill us in eight years, we just went through a global pandemic, people are dying…’ This shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It’s just art. People are going to like it or they don’t. It’s all subjective anyway. Like, art isn’t good or bad. It’s just what it is, and if one person likes it, that’s great.
“I feel like we’ve never done it to be liked. We’ve never done it to be famous. A lot of things have happened to us and we’re just the result of that.”
But while it shows their fearlessness, it also captures their desire to constantly grow as well. With Maq using some of her unintended time off to work on her voice and refine it as an instrument, this was representative of the approach she takes towards her entire musical career.
“I don’t wanna stay stagnant and sound the same,” Maq adds. “I want to level up. I want to get better at all these skills. I want to get better at songwriting just for the sake of getting better at songwriting. I want to keep growing and getting better and learning how to play piano and sing at the same time and not just play chords and stuff.”
Of course, despite the band’s desire to never rest on their laurels, there is something of a consistent ‘winning formula’ they like to use for their records, with the structure of all three of their albums currently following the same sort of musical guidelines.
“I like structuring an album in a certain way. The first record’s like that, the second, and this one. I feel like the structure is incredibly similar,” Maq explains. “Like, we always start with a 13-second bass solo, we end with an emo number that’s usually acoustic. On this one, like it is acoustic, but then it blows up.”
“Always start with the bass,” laughs Hellmrich, “or else it’s bad luck!”
Despite releasing an album that sonically represents the efforts taken to overcome adversity and difficulties, the record arrives at a time when it feels as though we’re right back where we started—the same environment which halted the initial recording sessions.
COVID-related restrictions still continue to make touring a difficult minefield through which to navigate, and general uncertainty makes planning anything a fool’s errand.
“There’s obviously plans [to tour], but at the end of the day, I don’t think any of us are like, ‘Fuck it, let’s just play and give 2,000 people COVID’,” explains Thompson.
“Everyone’s got their own thing going on. It’s been two years of not working, and everyone’s got their reasons for doing stuff. But I think we’re a band where if it doesn’t feel good, we just wait.”
Whatever happens though, it’s obvious that after getting through the years that have been, Camp Cope are capable of anything, and from here, the only way is up.
Camp Cope’s Running with The Hurricane is out now via Poison City Records.
Camp Cope Running with The Hurricane Australian Tour
With special guests
Saturday, May 7th
The Tivoli Theatre, Turrbal Land, Brisbane, QLD
Thursday, May 12th
The Enmore, Gadigal Land, Sydney, NSW
Tickets: The Enmore
Friday, May 13th
The Forum, Wurundjeri Land, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday, May 14th
Theatre Royal, Dja Dja Wurrung Land, Castlemaine, VIC