There couldn’t have been a band better prepared to meet a global health crisis than Camp Cope. Since their inception the Melbourne trio have weathered health and mental health issues – including the death of loved ones, and singer Georgia Maq’s vocal surgery – so they “adapted really quickly” to Covid, bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich says.
She doesn’t mean it lightly: Maq is now a full-time nurse who administered jabs throughout the lockdowns. She got her qualification years ago but, “When the band started I wanted to work in a pub and be cool. Then the pandemic happened, and I was like, well, they need nurses right now so if I don’t do it I’m a bad person.”
When we meet in a Fitzroy beer garden, Maq, Hellmrich and drummer Sarah Thompson are all wearing masks. While their collective image remains punk rock scruff, tattoo doodles and a coiled potency, Camp Cope are forever analysing their place in the world and their duty within it. Upon the release of their third album, their priorities have entirely shifted.
The result is an album that shakes off the tough facade. Running With the Hurricane is golden and soulful, tender and huge-hearted, compared with the unvarnished fury that’s dominated their past work – such as 2018’s The Opener, a rallying cry against gendered inequality in the music industry.
“We all three had the idea that we don’t want this to be the yelly, angry album, we want this to be a beautiful album,” Thompson says. “But I’m still hitting the drums very hard.”
Maq adds: “I just don’t write that way any more. I’m done. I’m like, you can’t yell at shit forever. It’ll kill you.”
For me, Weyes Blood’s benevolently sage 2019 album Titanic Rising (with its overriding message “a lot’s gonna change”) became the perfect soundtrack to the uncertain times, and Camp Cope’s latest could be the bookend: its theme, as described in the album bio, is of breaking through to the other side of a storm. The bio could be alluding to the “media storms” that I’ve been asked by the publicist not to get specific about in my questions – among them calling out festivals for booking too few women, and spearheading the It Takes One campaign to make festivals safer – but it also works as a theme for the times.
The album title sums that up. “Running with the hurricane” is a line from a 1986 song by Maq’s father’s band, Redgum. “I don’t even understand what theirs is about – I think it’s about the war, smoking too much pot,” Maq says. “I just applied it to my own life. Life is chaos. You can get swept up in it or you can become as chaotic as it is.”
As well as adapting to fate, there are tales of masochistic love affairs and jealousy; the bloody enjoyment of poking a bruise. But politics are absent.
“In the last two years, everything is political,” Thompson reasons. “This album is actually a little break from that. And then outside of music we can all just keep yelling at politicians, I suppose.”
For the first time, the band worked with a producer, Anna Laverty. They brought in guests Shauna Boyle of Cable Ties and Courtney Barnett, and branched out into piano, which Maq had been experimenting with. Often there are backing vocals that act as a Greek chorus, including in Say the Line: “I wanna kiss you in my own way (What does that even mean?).” Maq’s vocals are alternately anguished and joyful, and on the occasions she barely reaches the lowest notes it only amps up the passion.
Taking time out proved good for the band. In 2019 Maq put out an electronic solo album, Pleaser, and taught herself to produce and engineer. Hellmrich moved back home to western Sydney and got a job at a music merchandising company – and as “Kelso” she dropped a solo EP in 2019.
“It was never supposed to add anything to my music career,” she says. “It was more just for my own mental health. I think making art is something that everyone should do, whether you want it to be your job or not. It’s like, not everyone can be a professional athlete, but you should still move your body.”
In May Camp Cope will tour Australia for the first time in four years – exhibiting cautious optimism after two years of cancellations.
“We’re still in the midst of it but I think eventually it won’t be a ‘better or worse’, it’ll just be different,” Thompson says of playing shows again. “We’ve got to think of new ways to do this now because the fact is it’s not the same world as it was two years ago. So we’ll evolve, I suppose.”
Hellmrich doesn’t mourn her old lifestyle. “I just look back on how lucky we were to see so much of the world,” she says. “It’s always been an unstable career, to work in the arts, and now the pandemic has brought that to the public attention. People can see how little support musicians and artists get.”
Thompson adds: “At the end of the day it’s a pandemic. People have died. If we don’t play a show it isn’t that important in the grand scheme of the world.”
Camp Cope’s Running With the Hurricane is out now through Poison City Records