Ever since forming in 2015, Camp Cope have embraced openness and vulnerability as tools of empowerment. The Australian trio’s first two albums, 2016’s self-titled debut and 2018’s How to Socialise and Make Friends, are captivating records marked by a unique emotional and social awareness, with vocalist-guitarist Georgia Maq’s honest, biting lyrics bursting with both anger and empathy as they weave the personal and the political. They also serve as documents of the band’s growth – as musicians, as friends, as people – learning how to navigate and find peace in the world around them. It’s clear that this has been the goal from the start: “It all comes down to the knowledge that we’re gonna die/ Find comfort in that or be scared for the rest of your life,” Maq sang on Camp Cope’s ‘West Side Story’. “So I sing and I scream and I strum and I try to help out.”
The band’s third LP, Running With the Hurricane, out today, is the closest they’ve come to reaching that place of comfort, one that truly feels like home. It’s also their richest and most rewarding effort to date. Although it opens with the lines “I’ve been seeing my own death, I’ve been laying down, I’ve been going down giving strangers head,” it takes you on a journey that ends with tremendous optimism – as bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich puts it, “it’s like holding your hand through the uncomfortableness.” A lot of that confidence comes down to the group becoming more attuned to their dynamic capabilities, expanding their palette and incorporating more harmonies while sounding more relaxed – and together – than ever before. Not only does Maq play piano and sing on the closing track, she encourages everyone else to do the same, and the moment’s resonance is suddenly amplified: “You can change and so can I,” she repeats as the music builds to a cathartic finale. What you’d expect to be a slow, quiet conclusion suddenly feels like a bright new start.
We caught up with Camp Cope’s Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich to talk about how Philadelphia, seeing Florence and the Machine live, A Star Is Born, climate change, and more inspired their new album.
Can you talk about what Philadelphia means to you and its relationship to the album?
It’s been an important part of our band from the beginning. The first big shows we did was with Modern Baseball who are from Philadelphia, and that introduced us to the audience there but also a lot of other bands. When we first started, one of our main influences was Cayetana, who were a band from Philadelphia. They’re three women, and I can’t find a lot of bands I can compare our sound to, but they’re one. When we got there and played our first shows there, it honestly felt like going home. And that’s such an important feeling when you’re on tour because you are so far away from home, especially when you’re in Australia and you travel across the other side of the world from our island. Philadelphia became somewhere that felt more like our music scene than Australia did – we’ve always felt maybe a bit out of place or like we didn’t quite fit in with a lot of bands in Australia, but to go across the other side of the world and fit in there and feel like we’re a Philadelphia band, even though we grew up so far away. That’s why originally we wanted to do the album there because we had done the other two in Melbourne and we wanted it to be completely different, and it really holds an important part in all of our hearts. But it didn’t work out that way. I feel like there’s still Philadelphia in the album though, and we’re really excited to eventually bring it there again.
In what ways do you feel like there’s still Philadelphia in the album?
I think how much we’ve grown as a band we owe a lot to our mentors in Philadelphia. There’s been lots of them who have homed us and and made us believe in ourselves as musicians. We’re more sure of ourselves and that’s all to these group of people who mentored us and believed in us. And then also, there’s one song, ‘The Screaming Planet’, and at the end, you say, “I always come back,” and that’s about Melbourne. “I’ve been around the world, and I always come back here.” I feel like it’s like because you find home in other places, but then you come back to like your real home. I think of America a lot in that song.
Seeing Florence and the Machine Live at Laneway Festival in 2018
I feel like the confidence that you’re talking about ties into the next inspiration, which is seeing Florence and the Machine live at Laneway Festival in New Zealand.
Yeah, it was our second time playing Laneway Festival. The first time we were very young and it was our first-ever festival, so the second time we had a bit more confidence but we were still trying to find where we fit in and who we were. We were still developing our sound at that point – we knew we want it to be more than what we already were. We’re so close, the three of us, musically we’re really tapped into each other, but also emotionally we’re like sisters, we’re family. And it was a very scary [collaborating with] other people in the writing process and playing live. We’re so scared to break out of that. I remember Georgia and I were standing on the side watching Florence and the Machine, and I don’t know if you’ve ever had the opportunity to watch them – it’s honestly a band I was aware of but never sought out to go see live or listen to much, but the production was so gorgeous. You see all these rock bands in a day and then this, like, performance art. The lead singer just completely transforms the stage into a different world. Her vocal range is phenomenal, but her confidence in the way that she controls the stage and the sound was so big – it just didn’t feel like a rock concert. And we were just like, “Wow, we want a bigger sound.”
We were so nervous to play music. It’s so funny, I was on anxiety medication for most of the time we had to go play, and to watch someone just go up there and like, they made their own world on the stage. It was really inspiring. And I know that that was a big turning point for like, why can’t we do a big production? Why can’t we expand? Not maybe to that level where we’ve got like a harp and fireworks or whatever [laughs], but just that maybe we should expand, maybe we should grow and move a bit out of our comfort zone so we can create something a bit bigger.
Vocally, I also see Georgia stretching her vocals more on this album. Did you see her taking inspiration from Florence in that way as well?
Yeah, Florence was a huge part. I know that she’s really inspired by them. During the second album, Georgia got nodules on her vocal cords. She had to get surgery and there was a point where we actually didn’t know if she was going to be able to sing again. It was very emotional, very scary. The surgery worked, but she had to learn to sing a different way because she was damaging her vocal cords. So she did, she went to vocal training and just completely changed the way that she sings, and you can hear the difference from the past albums to the new ones. And I reckon every night on our last American tour, she would sing Florence and the Machine in the shower. [laughs] You could hear her listening to her on her phone, and she would just be belting. And you can hear her working it out, and at first it wasn’t as perfect as was but then towards the end she really got there. And you can hear the inspiration I think vocally in the album, definitely.
One moment I wanted to single out is the closer, ‘Sing Your Heart Out’. Especially because so much of the album revolves around the feeling of isolation, that feels like such a moment of connection to me. Did it feel like that when you were bringing the song to life?
Yeah. I remember the first time Georgia sent it, I was just like, “Oh, wow.” [laughs] I was driving with my partner and she sent the demo of her on piano. And it’s always very special when Georgia plays piano – she’s done it since she was a child, but she just never brought it to the band until this album. I remember the growth of that song, she always wanted it to be a really big finish. A big criticism from other people but also us was that our last two albums were just not very dynamic, and so we took that on board. The other two albums finished with a song Georgia just by herself, so that one, we wanted it to maybe be like, “Oh, here’s another song Georgia just by herself,” and then boom, it’s different. [laughs]
But lyrically, I think it’s the full stop of the album: you can do things that make you uncomfortable, you can do things that you might think are wrong, that maybe are wrong, but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. And it’s also commentary on a lot of stuff that’s going on in the world as well. Does doing bad things make you a bad person? Is there room to grow? Can someone change? If you don’t believe that someone can change, what’s the point? We’ve changed a lot from the last album to where we’re at now, and you can hear that. And I think there was a bit of fear of like, people saw this as this one thing, is it going to be jarring for them to see us as this other? So there’s lots of themes about change – it’s personal and musical, I guess.
Double texting is specifically referenced in two separate songs [‘Blue’ and ‘Jealous’]. Was there a moment where you realized it’s a recurring thing that’s related to bigger themes on the album?
Well, it’s extremely Georgia, and it’s actually a big theme of our band. Me and Georgia are pretty bad – Georgia’s the worst, like she will text you constantly and if you don’t reply, her world will crumble. But Thomo [bassist Sarah Thompson] is always like, “Can you guys put what you want to say in one big text?” And it’s also just a metaphor for, like, not being certain, right? Not being certain about yourself, about a situation, which I think is what a few of the songs nod towards. Not sure if you’re doing the right thing, not sure if you’re doing something that will make other people like you. And then also being vulnerable and being like, it’s okay to double text. Because why is that a rule? [laughs] You know, that’s a thing that you shouldn’t do because it makes you look a certain way, but if you want to say it, just say it. If you want to send another text, just do it. But yeah, we noticed when it came up a couple of times. [laughs] We’re like, “Oh, the double texting album.”
A Star Is Born
What are your memories of watching the film with Georgia?
We were living together at the time. We used to live in Georgia’s apartment. It’s a really small apartment, it was us and our cat. And the movie came out, we went and saw it, and we bawled our eyes out. And then we watched it another two or three times in the cinema, we could not get enough of it. We didn’t cry so much for the love story of it, it’s just that journey of loving music, wanting it to be your whole life, the absolute high of music being your whole life and finding success in music, and then the low, when you stop or when it doesn’t go in a way that’s healthy for you. And that question of, is it healthy for you? Because we watched the demise of their relationship and their life, and when you’re a musician or I’m sure any artist would watch that and be like, it’s so true: something that gives you the biggest high will give you the biggest low.
And then the songs – Lady Gaga is another huge influence to Georgia’s vocals. I remember the first night, I think we listened to the soundtrack in the car, we went straight home and I heard her the rest of the night playing songs on our keyboard. So I think that she was super inspired by that soundtrack as well.
You said that it’s not often that she will write on the keyboard.
When people would find out that she played piano, like if there was a piano at a venue and she just hopped on for fun, we’d be like, “Yeah, she’s a way better piano player than she is a guitarist.” [laughs] Because she’s been playing since she was a child. But we were stuck in that guitar, bass, and drums – if she gets on piano, who’s going to play guitar, what are we going to do? That doesn’t work. But then she branched out and she was starting to write songs on piano. There were discussions about the album for the two years or so we worked on it, which was, “Maybe we get this person to come in and play piano,” and we’re like, “Why don’t you do it? You’re really good at it.” And you can hear that, I think, especially in ‘Running With the Hurricane’, because she sang and played that at the same time, and it’s phenomenal. The piano is crazy in that in that song. But I think that’s my first memory of Georgia kind of busting out the piano and writing, which is why I wanted to put that in there.
You obviously had an emotional reaction to the film, but was it also something that you also discussed in relation to your own lives or the band?
Absolutely, we talked about it at length, for weeks if not months. I mean, we are people who have had relationships on the road, whether it’s having a relationship with someone back home or having relationships with other musicians, so it does hit in that way. But also, just how hard it is to navigate care when you are a travelling musician, and I think that’s what really hit us – care for yourself and the people around you that you love. Because it’s a very hard career in that sense. You have to make a lot of sacrifices, and I think the biggest is relationships, and not just romantic ones.
The album is named after a song Georgia’s late father, Hugh McDonald, wrote for his band Redgum. How did you reach that decision?
I think when she wrote the song ‘Running With the Hurricane’, she brought it to us and she was like, “My dad has a song called ‘Running With the Hurricane’, and I never really liked that song very much, but I really liked the title.” She’s like, “To me, running with the hurricane feels like such an emotional phrase. It stirs up this feeling.” So she wanted to write that song, and then the song, we knew from the very beginning that it was always going to be the main single. When we were discussing album titles, we were just like, “Let’s name it Running With the Hurricane.” It’s something I think that describes our whole experience being in a band, and it’s that nod to Hugh, which was really important.
He was in the studio for our first album, and he really supported us all. It wasn’t just about his daughter being in the band. He would message Thomo, like, “This is why I think you’re a great drummer, this thing you do stylistically,” and then he’d come to me and he’d be like, “These things that you do as a bass player, they’re amazing.” And he just really believed in what we’re fighting for as well. I think my last memory of Hugh, I think the last time I saw him – he was sick in the hospital, but they’d let him come out to watch us win a music award in Melbourne. So he got all dressed up and he came and watched us win this music award. And not long after, he passed away. He’s very important to us as a band and as people. We wouldn’t be here without him, definitely.
What kind of conversations did you have about climate change, and how did it inform the album?
It was pre-COVID that we had these feelings of like, the world is ending and we’re making music. I think a lot of people have alluded it to the band playing music as the Titanic sinks. You get very in your head, like, “The world is ending, what are we doing to make it better? I’m just making music, is this doing anything that’s worth anything?” That was something that we talked about a lot. I mean, we tried to do small things, like no one of our touring party has disposable drink bottles, everyone has a drink bottle or there’s a jug of water and cups. Going to venues and being like, “Just don’t put straws out.” And most people were like, “Okay, so no straws tonight at the venue.” We’re always trying to think about this. And then I think ‘The Screaming Planet’ is a song that feels very influenced by climate change, but not only just in the title, but the overall feel of the song. Also, running with the hurricane, that phrase is all being like: Everything around you is uncontrollable, what can you do? You should make art, and just try and do small, tiny changes, you know, like Frightened Rabbit, make small, tiny changes within the mess and the hurricane and you’re on the screaming planet and all these things are happening – let’s try and find the beauty in that. And then COVID happened and it became even more real. It’s kind of crazy to listen back, especially to ‘The Screaming Planet’, and think about how it was written before COVID.
Gang of Youths’ Dave Le’aupepe
He’s a very charismatic frontman, and I can see how he would have been an inspiration in wanting to take things in a more theatrical direction.
Yeah, definitely. He gets on a stage and he completely transforms it, just in that way that Florence does. But we did get to know him on a personal level. The first time I met Dave was at our first-ever festival, the first day of our first-ever festival, and I was sitting there eating lunch with our guitar tech. And he walked over and he said, “Hey, I was listening to –” I think our first album had just come out – “I was listening to your stuff since the first song came out on Bandcamp. And I just wanted to say I’m a really big fan.” And I was like, “Oh, thanks! Who are you?” I didn’t know if he was crew or – I was like, “What do you do?” And he’s like, “Oh, look, that’s not important. I just wanted to come say that I love your band.” And I was like, “Oh, cool. Thanks, man. That’s really nice.” And then he walked away and our guitar tech was like, “That was the singer of Gang of Youths!” And I was like, “Who’s that?” And then he was like, “You need to go watch them, they’re really good.” And then we went and watched them, and obviously, they were amazing. That was our first introduction to Dave. But from that, he just would always send us messages and support. At that point, we were really young and we didn’t have that many people like that in our lives. That’s why we’re really grateful for the ones who were there from the beginning.
And then Go Farther in Lightness, that album changed my life. It’s so beautiful. And it’s that thing: it talks about uncomfortable things, but it holds your hand through it. You feel like you’re going through these painful, uncomfortable things, but then they’re like, there’s beauty in that, there’s growth in that, and we’re gonna bring you through it. [laughs] And we’re gonna feel it together. Me and Georgia were really inspired by that album. We wanted to make an album that makes you feel like that.
We went and saw them at the Forum and that’s when the piano comes back in. We were sitting up at the top, and it was us and and some of the guys’ wives, we had our own platform. And he just gets out there with the piano by himself, and you could feel the emotion of a couple of thousand people and a piano and someone with a very powerful voice and a really important story to tell. We were really inspired by that, and I think you can hear that in little moments in the album too.
I remember once I sold my guitar for a bus ticket or something, and he was like, “Don’t sell your guitars, they’re gonna be in a museum one day. You guys, you don’t understand how important your band is.” And to hear that from someone that writes music that I’m such a fan of…
Have you had any interactions around this album or their album that just came out?
No, we haven’t seen them since – they were on that Laneway tour when we saw Florence, they were on our first-ever Laneway and then on our second one as well. But because Dave moved to London and then COVID, and he’s not really on social media at all. He’s a very big recluse. But I’m interested to see what he thinks of it. But yeah, because of COVID we lost touch with a lot of our friends who live internationally. It’s been hard.
My partner is Samoan, and so I introduced him to Gang of Youths because obviously there’s so much about culture and his father in the latest album. And I remember hearing Dave talk about – the death of his father was around, I think it must have been one of the last times we all hang out as bands. They were doing a show in Sydney the same night we were playing the Opera House, and I remember that was a really hard time. To hear that worked out in the album is classic Dave, and I love how he does that. I know him and Georgia relate on that level too, they really work out their own trauma through the music. And it helps others, too.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.