Camp Cope on Gender and Rock in Melbourne

In a mere 18 months, Melbourne’s Camp Cope has risen from a local show opener to a near constant fixture on the national touring circuit. This is largely thanks to the band’s self–titled debut album that has received universal domestic and international praise since its release last April.

And as part of a community and a country’s music scene both notable for a major gender imbalance, all of the trio’s accomplishments are further underlined by their uncompromising social and political stance at the forefront of everything they do.

I spoke with Camp Cope’s singer/guitarist Georgia Maq about inspiration, asserting yourself in less than welcoming environments, and attempting to “be your own hero” when it counts the most.

Over the course of our sprawling conversation, Georgia embarked on numerous lengthy tangents, comparing life to deep yoga stretches, and Jazzmasters to pianos. She also reflected on the current state of gender inequity in the Australian music scene.

First of all, what’s your setup? Why are you using what you use, and are you happy with it?

I’m running a J Mascis Signature MIJ Jazzmaster, which I’ve had the wiring changed on –– the neck pickup is wired straight to the jack with no volume and no tone. That’s all I need! I use a Fender Deluxe when I can, though I’ve learned to be pretty flexible with backline when we tour.

I only use two pedals, and one of them’s a tuner. The other one is a BBE Boost, which I pretty much use to push the amp’s preamp into distorting a little and to add a bit of low end. That’s it! I don’t need a Tash Sultana–type setup, as amazing as that would be. It’s so amazing what she does, but I have no idea what’s she’s doing. She’s fab — she’s so tiny and funny…

Anyway, I went from a Tele to an Orville by Gibson 335 to a J Mascis Squier Jazzmaster to the current. I like the Jazzmaster because it sounds like a piano — beautiful harmonic clarity. I used to think my dream guitar was a Gibson 330 — full hollowbody, two P90s, weighing like 3kg. But actually, I think I have my dream guitar now. Like, I have a Mustang too, but I just don’t find myself needing it.

Sounds like quite a process! How did you go about refining that setup?

There was a lot of trial and error. Which is hard because people want to tell you –– as a woman especially –– what you “should” be playing. I’d go into stores, but I’d be like, “No one’s allowed to come near me or talk to me.” The staff would tell me to try lighter or smaller guitars, and I’d have to be staunch about it. I felt like I had to be very staunch and like I had to know exactly what I wanted in order to get a chance to try anything my way.

Camp Cope - "Done"

Do you feel like that speaks to a broader issue in Australian music retail?

Totally. I think it’s really hard for women, trans women, and non–binary people to feel comfortable in those environments. I’ve heard so many stories of people going into stores and being treated like idiots. I mean, I get treated like an idiot as well, but it’s definitely a broader problem. I’d go in with my Dad or my partner, and the staff would always talk to them exclusively. Women are apparently meant to just do as they’re told.

It’s funny how many people act that way without realising. As a woman, you have to know a lot more than men in order to be treated as if you know what you’re talking about. Found Sound is the only guitar shop I’ve been to where there’s a woman working behind the counter. Once you’re aware of imbalances like that, you can’t unsee them. It’s like going to shows without women on the bill –– you start seeing it everywhere.

It still happens to us. Tour managers will hand us lanyards and say “Okay sweetheart, do you know what this is?” Don’t give me some fetish fucking pet name on account of my gender.

In fact, I remember that the sound guy at our first show wouldn’t let us start on time and cut off our set early. There was a disrespect there. In a way, we were being looked down on. And at a different show, Kelly (our bassist) tried to tell a sound guy what was going on with her sound, and he wouldn’t listen to her until a man intervened and told him the exact same thing. In all of these situations, you walk away feeling the same way. Just listen to me! I don’t need anyone else to speak for me.

Men try to tell you that they’re subject to the same kind of condescension, and it’s like, stop trying to pretend that you know what we’re experiencing. Instead of having the standard knee–jerk reaction, instead of just talking about how you want things to change, actually make the change. If you’ve got a platform, either use it for good or stay out of our way

Camp Cope

Let’s talk briefly about inspiration. Who or what inspires you to make music, and what are you favourite bands in the local community?

Francis Quinlan, Kathleen Hannah, Courtney Love, my Dad, my Mum, and my bandmates all inspire me. My favourite local bands are Two Steps On The Water, The Football Club, Chelsea Bleach… There’s heaps more, I swear!

And finally, what’s in the pipeline at present?

All of the Camp Cope songs so far were written on my own, and I’ve been writing for the past year. I’m trying not to let everything overwhelm me. I’ve been running lots and doing yoga. It’s exactly like yoga. If you do a deep stretch, you have to relax into it. It’s hard to meditate, it’s hard to NOT think. I keep trying to remind myself, “This is happening.”

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