The most powerful, important, vital and timely album of the year just dropped on Friday. Melbourne trio Camp Cope -- guitarist and vocalist Georgia Maq, bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich, and drummer Sarah Thompson -- have quickly blossomed from DIY indie upstarts into world-beating feminist torch-bearers, building their brand of propulsive, plaintive indie-folk-pop on the back of an uncompromising message promoting gender equality in a male-dominated music scene.
On the back of 2016's debut self-titled album, which broke into the Australian top 40 charts, the band made regular headlines by calling out as simply point-blank unacceptable the type of incidents that many women find (sadly) an all-too-regular occurrence in the music scene -- a lack of opportunity for female artists, harassment and groping at concerts, dangerous moshpit behaviour. They started pausing their concerts to single out people behaving badly, launched their own industry-wide campaign 'It Takes One' encouraging other bands and fans to fight back against such behaviour, and even teamed up with the Laneway Festival to kickstart a phone hotline for festival-goers to report inappropriate activity.
Late last year, Camp Cope again kicked the hornets nest in a major way by criticising the Falls Festival live on stage for a lack of female representation on the lineup, altering the lyrics for hit single 'The Opener' to say "it's another man saying we cant fill up a tent, it's another f*cking festival booking only nine women".
They're making major waves and bringing about some serious cultural change already, to the point where it's almost easy to overlook how good a band Camp Cope is. They've toured the world, sold out the Sydney Opera House, and led a new generation of plain-speaking, earnest, stripped-back indie-folk. Their new album 'How To Socialise And Make Friends' -- the afore-mentioned most powerful, important, vital and timely album of the year -- is a stunning treatise on where the band are at at this point in their lives, three young women operating in a world and music scene dominated by men.
The album is unvarnished and raw (deliberately so, due to what the band say was a "no frills" recording process), all the better for the messages to filter through clearly. 'The Opener' is a direct rebuke to all those who opposed or scoffed at or denigrated the band so far through their career, and has already become something of a rallying cry for Camp Cope; and woven through, most prominently on the stunning, melancholy 'UFO Lighter', and the album's title track, probably the most upbeat and poppy song on the LP, are comments on dodgy relationships and love. But it will be 'Face Of God' that might be the album's most important point, a sombre and fragile and delicate number on sexual assault.
"I had to say no and stop, more than once, way too many times, and you just kept trying to change my mind...Could it be true? You don't seem like that kind of guy," Maq almost-whispers.
"Now you've got me questioning everything I did, or what would've happened if I'd done one thing different. And I saw it, the face of god, and he turned himself away from me, and said I did something wrong, that somehow what happened to me was my fault."
"We were a bit unsure about ['Face Of God']," Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich told HuffPost on the cusp of the album's release.
"We thought 'this is one of those songs where it could go the wrong way'. We weren't sure how people would react to it. But when #MeToo came out, we knew it was really important for that, for us. #MeToo made us braver to speak out and it continues to do that."
Kelly-Dawn spoke to HuffPost on #MeToo, dealing with internet trolls, and the responsibility that Camp Cope feel to speak up about what's rotten in the music scene.
HuffPost: So the album is almost out. I've been listening to it for a few days now, and some of these songs are just so brutal and raw and intimate. When you're getting ready to release something so personal and revealing, how do you feel?
Kelly-Dawn: This is the second time around, so I feel a lot more at ease than the first one. It's a bit of relief this time, we're much more relaxed. We were so happy with [the self-titled debut album] and there were still people who said we did things wrong. Now we're like "no matter what we do, they'll find something they don't like about it." we like it. We're ready for it to come out
Is that part of the process, accepting that no matter what you do, there will be people who don't like you?
It is a process. I'm learning to do that. Me and Georgia especially, we take things very personally. We don't mean to upset people or offend people, but there are some times when you can't please everyone. But definitely something we're learning. It's new to us. We're just people, were not infallible and we're not perfect. There will be times we make mistakes and make people angry, when we point out what was done wrong, but I want people to remember we're still learning and we're not perfect. As we learn to accept that opinions, everyone has one, but also I hope people learn that we're not perfect humans and there will be times when we don't do something right
One of the cardinal rules for people working online is this idea of "don't read the comments", "don't feed the trolls". Especially since all the Falls stuff, you three have been responding to critics online, all the time. I've been interested in, why even reply to these people who have five followers and are just people who don't like women in bands? Why even respond?
[laughs] I feel like when we do that, I want to prove to them that we do know what we're talking about. It is silly. We do get in trouble, for reading the comments and engaging. But I feel like I've kind of explained something a bit further so people understand why we do something; 'you have this doubt in your head, let me explain why that's wrong for you to say'. Maybe it's as a learning tool. But I definitely need to learn to stop reading the comments. Is that something you can do? Just not read the comments?
It's definitely a process. I still do it. I read the comments and respond. Sometimes people are just wrong and need to be told they're wrong.
Camp Cope have been pretty heart on sleeve about politics since the start, but in recent times, things have really turned up. We've mentioned Falls a few times, then there were the t-shirts at Falls [where Camp Cope handed out shirts to other bands with the slogan 'THE PERSON WEARING THIS SHIRT STANDS AGAINST SEXUAL ASSAULT AND DEMANDS A CHANGE']. Was this always the plan, to be loud and passionate about issues you care about, or has this just developed as you've realised you have this big platform?
It's both. When we started, we were just bold, loud people who felt very strongly about a lot of things. Before the band, we were three women heavily involved in the music scene for all of our lives. We had these thoughts and feelings, and had been telling people the same thing forever. When we got the platform we have, we didn't shy away from what we believed in. We got louder, because it seemed more important because we could reach more people. We've also been asked about it more. The traction of what was said was really surprised us -- we thought it was really obvious, we were just being honest, then it blew up in the media. At times like that, it's like 'wow, I can't believe people think this is such a big thing'. It obviously means we've got so much more to do and say.
We definitely feel like the weight and the responsibility of voicing an issue, if we are a part of something where we think there's something wrong. We don't want to be complicit in things. With Falls, it was something we were passionate about and something we discussed with them that we were unhappy about. We voice our opinion on stage, then from there, it was a huge mess around that. It's both, we went into it knowing that as people we were never going to shy away from telling people what we thought, but as we get more of a following, we feel more of a responsibility to say that, if people like our band, this is what comes with it.
A lot of bands go to great trouble to hide their politics, not wanting to upset their fans or their label or whoever else in the industry, almost to the point that, when a band like Camp Cope comes along, making any kind of noise, it becomes a big deal. Would you like to see more musicians using their platform to speak up?
I would. I'd like more men to speak about diversity of lineups and that. It gets very lonely sometimes, but there are a lot of bands doing it. There are lots of bands doing it but don't have that commercial reach. That's why we feel we have to get louder, there are heaps of bands that have messages and say things and try to change things, but when you have a big stage and you're on the radio, it gives you more opportunity to share these messages that a whole collective of people are saying. I feel like they're going to start to, plenty are already doing it and there will be more and more. Music reflects a generation, and generationally we are right in the middle of the ability to connect with people from across the world, share our stories and experiences with them, then come together and be stronger. That's come with the internet, movements starting on the internet. For bands, it's important to reflect that. Being a political band is not a new thing, there have been political bands forever, political bands who made pop music, but you need to reflect a generation. What we're doing is reflecting what a lot of our peers are thinking and doing. We're right in the thick of that, that's our personal experiences we're talking about
I read the Pitchfork feature article on you recently, and the headline was 'Camp Cope make feminist rock for the #MeToo era'. Obviously the band has been around longer than the movement, but it's an interesting parallel. We're seeing these big structural conversations happening in the entertainment industry worldwide and in Australia here too. Do you think this is a temporary blip, something that will be forgotten once the media spotlight turns away, or will this be wholesale lasting change?
No way. There's going to be a lasting change. As a woman, last year I felt a huge shift in the power of our voice. All these thoughts and feelings aren't new to women, but being heard lands taken seriously is new. Now we're starting to get that, coming together and pushing movements together. I think it's only going to get greater and greater. More people are talking about it, more music will reflect that. It's interesting, we wrote the album before the #MeToo thing blew up, and having 'Face Of God', we were a bit unsure about. We thought 'this is one of those songs where it could go the wrong way'. We weren't sure how people would react to it. But when #MeToo came out, we knew it was really important for that, for us. #MeToo made us braver to speak out and it continues to do that. At the Grammys, the director telling women to step up, and then the backlash he got from female artists. More and more, people will be speaking about injustices like that. This is just the beginning. There's been a huge shift.
In that same Pitchfork interview, you said "we want to completely shake up the whole music scene and push it forward". In your perfect world, what would that look like? What would the scene look like once you're done with it?
I don't know how to make what would be perfect but I know that I don't like how things are run right now. We want to make it so it's a given that shows are safe, that music is diverse and everyone is given the same opportunities as everyone else. That spaces are comfortable. I want it to be that you can go somewhere, and regardless of who you are or what you do, you can enjoy music without any fear or threat. That would be my perfect world, for everyone to feel that way
Is that what you want people to feel when they come to a Camp Cope show or listen to a Camp Cope record? To feel safe, accepted, not in fear of violence?
Exactly. I want our shows to be for anyone and everyone to feel safe. I want it so you can just see a band and enjoy the music. All my life, i've been small and not very intimidating-looking. I've loved music forever but I always shied away from festivals and big shows, even still I don't feel comfortable in big spaces and feeling so vulnerable. I've missed out on so many experiences of live music, bands that i'll never get the opportunity to see again, out of fear. I think of the younger version of me, even the now version of me, people like me who love music so much but don't feel comfortable going to see it. I don't want anyone to feel like that at our shows. That would be the worst thing for me. If we had a show and 499 people had a good time but 1 person had their worst night, i'd feel that and I wouldn't be ok with that
Who needs to do better in the industry? Who needs to work harder?
I even feel like we need to do better sometimes, so I don't want to say 'these are the people who need to change' because we're still constantly listening and learning. When someone speaks about their personal experiences, regardless of who they are, listen to that and learn from that. The music industry needs to shift the focus less on money and success, and more on how music is the most beautiful thing we have. It's got so much power. Take the focus off money, and focus more on making really quality art that is all-inclusive. That's on everyone. That's on us too.
'How To Socialise And Make Friends' is out now. Camp Cope are touring nationwide later this month. For more information, see the band's Facebook page.