Aug. 23, 2018 | Marissa Lorusso — After Camp Cope’s second song at the Tiny Desk, singer Georgia “Maq” McDonald let out a tiny laugh. “We’ve never done this before — we’ve never been quiet,” she said. “Not once in our entire lives!” Bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich joked that it was perhaps a “good lesson” to “rock out in your mind.” (“Thinking,” Maq clarified.)
The Australian trio makes music that’s hard to tune out, both in terms of its typical punk-tinged rock volume and its general aversion to thoughtlessness. “The Face of God” — the track Maq, Hellmrich and drummer Sarah Thompson had just finished playing — is a stunning, delicate song about feeling lonely and distraught in the aftermath of sexual violence. It’s a standout from the band’s debut album, How to Socialise & Make Friends, and shows what Camp Cope does so well: using tiny moments of introspection to illuminate life’s bewildering, terrifying, isolating aspects — especially as they apply to women. You can hear equal parts conviction and desperation in Maq’s voice as she sings, “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.”
The band closed its set with “Keep Growing,” an older track about autonomy and heartache led by Hellmrich’s agile playing. Elsewhere, it might be too easy to tune into Camp Cope’s powerful message and overlook the strength of the band’s songcraft. But at the Tiny Desk, you can’t miss it: Maq’s gargantuan voice; Hellmrich’s clever, melodic basslines; Thompson’s stoic drumming.
Camp Cope’s Tiny Desk performance opened — fittingly — with “The Opener,” a song about overcoming the obnoxious, exhausting and all-too-common sexism endemic to the music industry. It’s a stunning and deeply gratifying performance; Maq lists off what exes, industry insiders and fellow musicians have said to undermine the band with a measured determination that sometimes tips into a full-throated, impassioned cry. Bands like Camp Cope get told they’re “just lucky,” that they “can’t fill up a room,” that they should “book a smaller venue.” But when Maq roars from behind the Tiny Desk, “See how far we’ve come not listening to you,” she makes it clear which voice deserves the attention.
“The Face of God”
Georgia “Maq” McDonald (vocals, guitar), Kelly-Dawn “Kelso” Hellmrich (bass), Sarah “Thomo” Thompson (drums)
Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Khun Minn Ohn; Production Assistants: Catherine Zhang, Téa Mottolese; Photo: Eslah Attar/NPR.