“Away From Love” sounds roughly like what you’d expect from a Georgia Maq solo record. The album opener begins with a gorgeous, slow acoustic guitar riff, then expands into something a bit poppier, adding electronic drums and a catchy refrain: “Walking away from love / I’m walking away from love.” The Camp Cope frontwoman invokes both pastoral acoustic folk and electronic experimentation, never straying too far in either direction. Effectively, “Away From Love” is par for the course for a release like this one: It’s obviously different from anything she’s released before, but it’s still vaguely reminiscent of the heart-on-her-sleeves indie rock she became known for in her native Australia and beyond.
Consider this Maq’s “Dance Yrself Clean” moment. She doesn’t pull a fast one like James Murphy and co. did when LCD Soundsystem purposefully began their legendary 2010 record This is Happening with three minutes of a poorly-recorded, downtempo pseudo-demo only to blow out everyone’s speakers. But Maq did intentionally open her surprise-released solo project, Pleaser, out now on Run For Cover, with her own shocker: It’s the only time you’ll hear guitar on the album. Over the next seven songs and 27 or so minutes, the Melbourne-based rocker achieves pop nirvana without sounding at all like band that made her famous. It’s more Lorde or Robyn than Hop Along.
“I wanted to try to trick people to think it’s going to be acoustic Camp Cope songs,” Maq (née Georgia McDonald) tells Paste. “No motherfucker, here’s some 808s and dance beats!”
Listening to the rest of her back catalog, you wouldn’t expect this sort of full-on pop embrace, but Maq insists this was the kind of record she’s always wanted to make—ever since she was a little kid, in fact.
“I always wanted to make pop music,” she says. “I wanted to jump around with a fucking Madonna headset in a fucking leotard or something. I love pop music and I love female pop stars. The world is so sexist and pop music is often seen as being weak or not as powerful, but I think that’s such a misogynistic take because pop music is dominated by women. And it’s fucking incredible: It’s so strong and it’s so strong to be jumping around wearing a leotard and singing about your broken heart and showing who you are. There’s so much more power in that than in any rock music that a man could make.”
Her love of pop music is still rooted in the activism that made her band the perfect late-2010s act, but Pleaser purposely doesn’t address those same social issues. Instead, its lyrics are personal and earnest, focusing exclusively on unrequited love and rejection. Camp Cope are one of those few bands that actually stand for something. Headlines like “Camp Cope Make Raw, Feminist Rock for the #MeToo Era,” “Camp Cope on Fighting Industry Sexism, Embracing Activism, And Letting Your Audience Change” and “‘’You expect us not to call you out?’ – Camp Cope and the Austrlian musicians fighting industry sexism” dominated last year’s press blitz surrounding the release of the band’s sophomore album, How to Socialise and Make Friends. But throughout her career, Maq has rarely had the chance to talk about herself and her art, something she says is a privilege only given to men. Pleaser finally gives Maq that chance, showcasing a more personal side that isn’t necessarily on the front lines of the most important protests of our day. It turns out the twentysomething is just like the rest of us, chasing after a healthy relationship with a warm and caring partner.
“Subconsciously, this is me being like Camp Cope is not all that I am,” she says. “People are so complicated and multifaceted. Not that records are a massive reflection of who you are as a person, but I think this is a reflection of an equally small but important part of myself that Camp Cope also is. I feel like I want to see people more of myself.”
Even so, Maq doesn’t see Pleaser’s lyrical content as being radically dissimilar from that of her main project. This record features more first-person perspective than ever before, but it’s not like Camp Cope never wrote about relationships.
“Lyrically, they could be Camp Cope lyrics; they could be Pleaser lyrics,” she says. “It’s still just me. It’s me, but it sounds a bit different.”
And those lyrics frequently channeled the raw vulnerability of the best of Frightened Rabbit, a band Maq cites as a huge inspiration.
“I feel like it’s keeping him alive,” she says. “In my head, I’m like, ‘If I keep getting more tattoos, I’ll bring him back. He’ll come back.’”
That sound wasn’t even intentional at first. Pleaser only began in earnest in June, when Maq went to her high school friend and producer Darcy Baylis’ house on a Saturday morning. The two have been close for years, but had never made a song together. “He was just like, ‘Come over and bring a guitar and let’s just see what happens,’” Maq remembers.
Baylis told Maq to mess around with just three chords and some loops and write lyrics, which she did on the spot. When Baylis handed her the headphones to hear his version, Maq couldn’t believe it.
“‘What the fuck is this?’” she exclaimed after hearing what would become “Away From Love.” “Then I wrote a chorus and he was like, ‘OK what next?’ I did another verse and a chorus and that was the song. Oh my god, I want to keep doing this. I want to keep making this kind of sound.”
After Baylis became busy with his own album, Maq reached out to her former roommate Katie Dey for help. The two quickly wrote synthy pop banger “Driving Blind,” and Maq decided to pursue this legitimate bedroom pop album (it was all written in three separate bedrooms: Baylis’, Dey’s and Maq’s) as a full solo project. She contacted Andrew Hayden of Poison City Records, the Aussie punk label that released both Camp Cope albums, to see what it’d take to release a solo project by the end of 2019. He gave her an October deadline, but the record was done by September, finished in the four months between the American and U.K. Camp Cope tours.
“It was a bit unintentional and it just kind of happened,” she says. “I was thinking it would be more Soundcloud-y with a Lil Peep kind of vibe. It just became this big, very femme pop. It just happened. None of it was really that intentional.”
The rushed working conditions, accompanied by a new desire to experiment and an old yearning to make a pop album, led to one of the more fun indie-pop records of the year. Maq’s voice soars as she sings choruses about heartbreak and attraction. Bouncy keyboards and heavy electronic drums power “Like I Do,” while steady currents of synth propel “Easy to Love.” Maq has written anthemic, fist-in-the-air songs before—just listen to her scream on “The Opener,” Paste’s #65 song of the 2010s—but never before has she written a dancefloor-filler quite like “You’ll Be Singing My Name,” a track that channels the best of pop catharsis. When the keys hit, it’s not too hard to imagine Maq spinning around onstage like Maggie Rogers.
On “Away From Love,” Maq accepts loneliness and confidently walks away from love. But she couldn’t stave off that primal need for companionship: By the end of “Big Embarrassing Heart,” Pleaser’s finale, she’s repeatedly pleading to a new love interest, crooning, “Arms open, I said / ‘If you ever wanna come back.”
That also line holds true for those who fully delve into Pleaser. Maq will likely return to Camp Cope for another record, but we’ll all be here—with arms wide open—if she ever decides to return to her solo project, as well.