“Is it real?” Georgia Maq is standing patiently in the front bar of Melbourne’s Tramway Hotel while I gape in awe at the Louis Vuitton handbag that sits under her arm. It’s a beautiful object that feels especially glamorous considering its owner — the lead singer and guitarist of Camp Cope, one of the most popular and prominent punk bands to come out of the Melbourne DIY scene in a long while.
Maq’s caustic vocals and frank, powerful lyrics have made her an indie rock celebrity of sorts, and while she often flaunts a compelling and idiosyncratic sense of style on her prolific Instagram account — a lot of leopard print, a lot of Calvin Klein — the pristine LV piece still throws me. “It’s real,” she tells me gleefully in her now-familiar drawl, “I got it on Facebook Marketplace. You should definitely buy one.”
Maq and I are meeting at the Tramway — the home of her favorite vegan chipotle mac ‘n’ cheese — to discuss Pleaser, Maq’s debut record under her own name. The eight-track record is a sharp left-turn from a musician who many have assumed to be punk through and through; produced by Maq alongside Melbourne-based experimental luminary Katie Dey and Melbourne-born, Berlin-based producer Darcy Baylis, it's a sleek, wounded pop record that crackles and pulsates like an exposed tesla coil. Released today through Boston indie label Run For Cover, Pleaser is perhaps best thought of like that secondhand baby LV under her arm: a pop record with all the glamour of the real thing and little of the unsettling capitalist intent.
Written and produced over the better part of 2019, Pleaser is shockingly and wonderfully unfamiliar territory for a musician familiar to scores of die-hard fans. These are songs that soar and swoop, fitted with repeated phrases and expansive choruses — elements that have never really been present in Maq’s past work. Camp Cope's music is typified by Maq’s narrative-based storytelling and her distinctive sing-speaking, while Pleaser finds her flexing a newly-trained voice and a knack for writing sticky, surprising melodies.
The product of a period in which Maq found herself pining after someone who didn’t love her back, Pleaser offered the chance to, in her words, “repetitively scream about how I feel” — in other words, perfect conditions to write a pop album. The finished product doesn’t squander Maq’s first step into this shinier, more surreal corner of the music world; as evidenced by songs like the record’s title track — the chorus of which finds Maq sighing “I am dooooomed to be in love with yoooou,” elongating her words like the best stadium divas — Maq sounds as powerful as she’s ever been on Pleaser.
You've undergone vocal coaching between albums. How has that changed the way you make music?
I feel like I used to try to sound like somebody else, or try to sound the way that I thought I should sound, instead of just singing. This is the first thing I've done where I'm just actually singing rather than being like [imitates a punkish speak-sing]. I spent a lot of time with vocal therapists learning how to know my voice — when to stop and not push it, how to warm up. It took a really long time, but I'm glad that I'm here now and I feel really good about where I am with my voice currently. I still have bad days. Everyone does, if you're a singer. But I know exactly what to do now, which is reassuring.
“I want to create beautiful music, rather than rock music.”
What do you think you were meant to sound like before?
Like a punk band. Everyone [in Melbourne has] got that cool scratchy sound, and I wanted to be able to scream. But I don't think that was meant for me. I think I'm just a la la la kind of singer.
Has the coaching changed your songwriting?
It's definitely made me think about melodies more, and what I can do with my voice. Instead of just yelling, I'm trying to actually make something that sounds beautiful to me. There's no angry screaming about anything anymore.
Do you think it coincides with a change in your personal temperament?
There's definitely still horrible things happening all the time. But maybe I've just lost the energy — maybe I'm just burnt out, and maybe that's reflected in how I've become gentler in my writing. I can't control what comes out — it just does, and it lets me know what's going on. I don't sit down and write something like, "This is what I'm feeling." I just write down little things in my phone and try to turn that into something. I want to create beautiful music, rather than rock music.
Why do you think you've been experiencing burnout?
You go on the internet and you read about the bushfires, Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump, and another black kid was just shot and killed and nothing was done about it. You're just hearing all this bad news all the time. I guess some people are really resilient towards it, and some people are less resilient towards it, and I think I'm on the less resilient side. I unfollowed a lot of Instagram accounts. I was like, "This is making me feel really bad." It's good to know stuff and to be passionate about something to raise awareness, but you also gotta take care of yourself sometimes.
“I wanted it to sound like Paul Westerberg wrote a pop album with Robyn.”
Do you think that's why you want to make beautiful music?
It comes into it. The world just makes me so upset, and having to sing about things that make me upset — like, I hate playing [the Camp Cope song] "The Face of God," because it's reliving that trauma every single time. It's my problem, I'm the one that wrote it, but I don't want to be doing that, and I don't want to be talking about those things all the time. Everyone deserves to feel happy, and sometimes...I dunno.
Does this album make you happy?
I think it does. It was fun and I had a lot of control, and Katie was amazing to work with. I'd jbe like, "Can you make that sound a bit more scratchy?" and she'd be like, "I have no idea what you're talking about," and then she'd some up with something amazing. It was very easy. A lot of the songs are a bit upbeat. They're just pop songs! And pop songs are so fun. I get really excited when I think about performing them. I'm gonna be like June Jones and do karaoke.
Have you produced your own material before this?
Not really — maybe with my first acoustic recordings, but that's still just voice and guitar. The last song on the album was made entirely on GarageBand, and then Katie just put better sounding drums and my friend played bass on it. But all the synths are from GarageBand. GarageBand has really really good synth sounds. It's sick. "Easy To Love" and "Big Embarrassing Heart" were both made on GarageBand with just me messing with pulsating synths. I wrote it on a QWERTY keyboard. "Big Embarrassing Heart" is my favorite song on the album.
I like being able to control what's going on — how you want the drums to sound, what you want the melody to be. You can just keep adding stuff, whereas the band is a bit limiting with what you can do, especially when you're going for something that's electronic. There was a lot of freedom. I could fuck around with lots of different melodies and synths, and just keep trying to come up with something. The experience was really good, because I could record something and then listen to it on my phone or at the gym and think about all the things that I hated about it. The Camp Cope stuff was so rushed, so I don't really listen to our records all that much.
“I’m so fucking brokenhearted, and I’m gonna sing a fucking pop song with a repetitive chorus about it.”
When you started making this album, what did you want it to sound like?
I really love Charli XCX — the drum sound in "Pleaser" is very Charli. It sounds like a ball being thrown against a wall. I love that. I wanted it to sound like Paul Westerberg wrote a pop album with Robyn. Me and Katie would be listening to lots of Carly Rae Jepsen and Robyn as reference points. She showed me a lot about how you can make something sound powerful. She's so smart, she just knows what she's doing.
Could you have made this album before you made the Camp Cope albums?
No. The more you do something, the better you get at it. My writing has definitely improved. And I feel like this is going to affect future Camp Cope songs.
Do you feel like you're expected to be powerful and invulnerable all the time?
Absolutely. There's a nice dichotomy between Camp Cope and Pleaser, because Camp Cope's so ‘Powerful woman’, and this is me being like, "Well, I'm so fucking brokenhearted, and I'm gonna sing a fucking pop song with a repetitive chorus about it." It's a completely different direction, and it's coming out as a surprise. When in doubt, freak 'em out, you know? People know what they're going to get with Camp Cope. People don't know what they're gonna get with Pleaser. The album starts with an acoustic guitar because I want people to think it's just Georgia Maq creating some acoustic songs. Then it's like, ‘BAM’ — I hit you with some 808s.
Georgia Maq's debut solo album Pleaser is out now via Run For Cover (ROW) and Poison City (Australia).