Camp Cope Aren’t the Openers Anymore

On an early summer afternoon in Greenpoint, Georgia Maq and Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich of the Australian rock trio Camp Cope are talking about confidence, or, more specifically, the lack thereof that defined their coming-of-age in punk. “I was involved in music for such a long time, but there were so many things I believed I couldn’t do,” says Hellmrich, who plays bass in the band. “I’m still learning. I still have to remind myself, ‘You can do that.’ ”

“I’d always be the acoustic female opener on a bill of dudes,” deadpans Maq, the band’s guitarist and vocalist, who started playing solo at eighteen. “That was the norm. I thought, ‘This is just how shows are, I guess.’ And I was so much better than all of them.”

“She played with some pretty shit bands,” confirms drummer Sarah Thompson, who they all call Thomo.

The confidence gap is a plague on society — the cultural reality that makes women more likely to underestimate their abilities, while men overestimate, get more opportunities, and earn higher pay. In 2018, “carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man” is a line so commonly told to women that an Etsy search yields more than a dozen results, with cute items like tote bags and cross-stitch kits. In her Melbourne music community, Maq knew things were unfair. “I didn’t have a lot of confidence,” she says.

“People around you kind of make you feel like that’s what you deserve as well. They kind of put you in your place,” says Hellmrich, turning to Maq. “You played first, and had the biggest crowd.”

That kept happening. “I kept having the biggest crowds,” clarifies Maq, “and getting paid less than all of them.”

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Camp Cope’s latest record, How to Socialise and Make Friends, sounds like a revelation. Not because three women playing in a band in 2018 is novel, or because women are saving rock music. But because of its clarity and bravery and emotional scope. Over its 38-minute running time, you can hear a band that’s been through the ringer and come out stronger on the other side.

“The Opener” is its grand entrance, an epic, searing anthem that tells the story of the band’s year leading up to its genesis. Its verses detail what women in music still deal with on a regular basis: unsolicited advice, backhanded compliments, the near-constant mansplaining. In her lyrics, Maq takes some of these off-the-cuff comments verbatim and pieces together a constellation of reality.

“Almost everything in that song is a quote,” says Maq — things the band was told over the course of a year by specific people. “That’s why I was so impressed the first time I heard it,” says Thompson, laughing. “I was like, ‘Georgia literally rhymed all these things.’”

The song is the album’s opener, but it sounds like it should be playing as the credits roll. In some ways, for them, it is: if the entirety of the male-dominated music world that they came up in was actually just one long, bad movie of sexist cliches, mansplaining and constant one-upping — maybe this is point where it stops.

“You worked so hard but we were ‘just lucky’
To ride those coattails into infinity
And all my success has got nothing to do with me
Yeah, tell me again how there just aren’t that many girls in the music scene!”
— The Opener”

Lately, when I think about the hatred for women that seemed to hang in the air in the emo and pop-punk music spaces I came up in — similar to the scenes members of Camp Cope came up in, they tell me — I am consumed by thoughts about those women who were most failed by the deep-rooted sexism there: the women who just stopped, who endured enough, said “fuck it,” and never went to another show again, who ceased playing, booking, or writing about music at the whim of men who wanted to stomp them out. Who could blame them? That’s partially why, speaking to the women of Camp Cope, their existence feels like such a victory.

Hellmrich says she had all but given up playing music before Camp Cope. In high school, she played in metal and shoegaze bands, but was always the token woman, playing with men who belittled her and would rewrite her bass-lines. At seventeen, she moved into an apartment above the now-defunct all-ages Sydney venue Black Wire Records, where she helped run shows. “I knew that venue in and out,” she says, but still, men would regularly speak down to her, “as if they deserved the space more than me.” She eventually met women musicians there, and joined a band dubbed “suburban feminist screamo,” an experience she describes as “infinitely better” than those other bands. But when they broke up, she just stopped: “I moved to Melbourne and I was like, ‘I give up on music. I only liked that one band. I’m never playing in a band again.’ ” 

Thompson had also given up playing music for seven years before Camp Cope. A self-described Hole-loving ten-year-old in the mid-1990s, by age twelve she had found some other girls who liked Nirvana and started a band in her family’s garage. She played in bands for years despite the challenges (“It was either be one of the boys or just go away”), but ultimately decided to stop: “I always played in bands, but I also always worked in music.” (Thompson works at Australia’s Poison City Records, who have released Camp Cope records, as well as the likes of Cable Ties, Iron Chic, Pity Sex, and a long roster of others.) “I couldn’t do both,” Thompson says. “You get treated like shit in one and you get treated like shit in the other. I was like, ‘I’m gonna lose my fucking mind…it’s one or the other.’ So I quit playing music for seven years.”

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Then they each met Maq. Georgia Maq describes herself as a lifelong singer and feminist. As a child, growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne, her musician father (Hugh McDonald of the chart-topping political folk-rock group Redgum) would teach her Green Day covers on guitar. When she was about ten, she organized a wage-gap protest at school. She loved playing piano, too, but ultimately dropped out of music lessons (“I hated the bureaucracy of it”) and studied nursing in college. All the while, she began playing shows, just an acoustic guitar and her maximalist, folk punk–tinged songs on topics ranging from dumpster-diving to “white male propagandists on the outskirts of the truth.”

“I always wanted to start a band but nothing ever felt right,” Maq says. “I was too self-conscious to do anything with boys. They didn’t get me or what I wanted to do.”

In 2015, she formed Camp Cope, recruiting Thompson, whom she knew through the local punk scene, and Hellmrich, whom she met while getting a tattoo. Though the band is still relatively new, when the trio came together, they brought collective decades of experience playing and booking, working at labels and venues. They knew what they did and did not want to deal with as a group. By 2016, Camp Cope released a debut, self-titled record, and on the strength of those songs, they’d soon be opening up tours for the likes of Against Me!, Modern Baseball, the Hotelier, AJJ, and Waxahatchee.

How to Socialise and Make Friends is a louder and more collaborative record than their first record. It’s an album that contains multitudes: blunt criticism of sexism in music, but also slow burners on love and death and friendship, ripping pop songs on anxiety and empathy. Maq’s songs tell stories, and within them there are women who have agency, sleazy men who get left behind, images of herself out at night alone. “I can see myself living without you,” she shouts on the title track. “And being fine! For the rest of my life!”

Like their debut, How to Socialise… is an emotional roller coaster, where Maq’s bandmates’ dynamism makes her all-caps poetry all the more potent. Among its most devastating moments is “The Face of God,” in which Maq recounts a sexual assault by another musician, an encounter in which she had to say “no” too many times, where boundaries were crossed. “Could it be true? You don’t seem like that kind of guy,” she sings from the perspective of the subsequent skeptics, drawing out every word. “Not you, you’ve got that one song that I like…”

The album “just depicts the year we had,” says Hellmrich. “The anger is in that album.” Performing the songs now is cathartic, she adds: “Even the quiet songs have loud messages. It’s unforgiving.… Playing these songs, even though I’m not shouting, I can feel the same things as Georgia and I’m getting them out too. We always talk about how amazing playing ‘The Opener’ is. It’s this huge relief. Of all that shit we went through. And finally getting to let it out.”

It’s equally cathartic to listen to. Maq’s raw, booming voice makes each line feel visceral. “I’ve always been very loud and emotional. That’s my whole thing,” she says. “When I first started playing shows, I was very loud, very unapologetic. Then there was maybe like a year where the boys’ club slowly ate away at me, so I started writing songs that were quieter, where I didn’t yell as much. Then I started yelling more.”

“It’s another all-male tour preaching equality
It’s another straight cis man who knows more about this than me
It’s another man telling us we’re missing a frequency
Show ’em Kelly!”
— The Opener”

When we meet up in mid-June, the band is passing a few days before taking off on a six-week, full U.S. tour with fellow pop-punk-adjacent indie rock band Petal (a tour that wrapped up last weekend in NYC). While they wait for the tour to start, Camp Cope have been crashing in Brooklyn on the floor of their previous tourmate Jeff Rosenstock. Today they spent their day off getting manicures with Jeff’s wife, Christine, who is also their good friend; Maq and Hellmrich flash their newly painted nails for me to check out — baby blue, highlighter orange. Maq sips water from a bottle donned with a sticker reading MEN ARE TRASH.

“I remember when you sent it to me,” Kelly says, reflecting on the first time she heard “The Opener.” “I put it on in my kitchen. I was living with a bunch of people, and they were sitting at the table, and I was cooking. And we all had to just stop. Almost every sentence, we were like… OK! Yeah! OK! We’re gonna do this!”

“I had that too,” says Thompson. “I was at work. I sit at a desk with my boss, and he’s putting the record out. I put the phone down and I press played. And I’m like…,” she continues with a big smile and a sarcastic shrug. “Sorry, Andy!”

Although Camp Cope has only existed for three years, they seem like sisters — a tight-knit unit, the type of support system necessary when doing the sort of work Camp Cope has taken on. Together, the band has been unafraid to call out gender inequity in music at a time when on the surface level it seems that things have changed. Their approach seems to be: just uncovering the truth. Earlier this year, for example, they played Australia’s Falls Festival, and onstage they sang, “It’s another man telling us we can’t fill up a tent/It’s another fucking festival only booking nine women,” swapping some lyrics on “The Opener” to criticize their surroundings. Their commentary made headlines. “It was weird. People said it was a controversy when all it was was the truth,” Thompson said in an interview earlier this year.

Camp Cope recognizes that visibility doesn’t always equate to support — that although this is indeed a moment where more women artists are being given wider platforms, there is still a great disparity in terms of the scope of opportunities provided to underrepresented artists, not to mention the persistence of day-to-day sexism. And sometimes shallow industry “support” can actually be a means of exploitation that serves to benefit the appearances of the festivals and the publications more than it helps the artists. “It may appear that there’s all of this diversity in music, but so many of our friends are in the industry and we can see the people who are suffering,” says Hellmrich. “The ones that aren’t getting by, the ones that are getting exhausted, the ones that are burning out the most are women and queer people. It gets incredibly personal and frustrating. They may be getting a spot on a bill because people are trying to champion diversity, but they still can’t afford to live. It’s not working.”

After her seven years away from playing music, Thompson feels like not much has changed — not enough to celebrate, at least. “Coming back to the music scene, it was literally the same,” she says. “There’d been no progression in seven fucking years. Men are still being pieces of shit, sound guys are still fucked, other bands are still fucked. It’s all still fucking the same. I got so mad. I was like, ‘No, fuck it, I’m going to just do it, and I’m going to rip all of your heads off if you’re being cunts.’”

“It’s another man telling us we can’t fill up the room
It’s another man telling us to book a smaller venue
‘Nah, hey, c’mon girls we’re only thinking about you’
Well, see how far we’ve come not listening to you!
“‘Yeah, just get a female opener, that’ll fill the quota.'”
— The Opener”

Thompson is a bit like the tough mom of the group. (Her bandmates sing her praises and also say lots of people are “scared of her.”) About a decade older than Maq, who just turned 24, Thompson is a long-time employee of their label, which puts them in the empowering position of not needing a manager or agent. Instead, Thompson is the manager. On tour, she does everything: playing, managing the band, advancing shows. “And people will still come in and be like, ‘you should do this, you need someone to do this, you need someone to do that,’” says Hellmrich.

With Thompson’s expertise, they’ve stayed staunchly independent even as they gain mainstream attention in Australia: from airplay on major radio stations to attention at national award ceremonies — winning Best Emerging Act at the Age Music Victoria Awards and the Heatseeker Award at the NLMAs, and nominations for the J Awards and the Australian Music Prize.

“We’re in a super lucky position,” Thompson says. “We’re a fully independent band. We’ve never had a cent of debt. We’re in a much better position than most people we know. They appear to be doing so well, but they probably owe fucking $50,000 to somebody. In ten years time, when they’re still paying off their debt, I’ll be like, ‘Oh, well, I’m glad that you tried to tell me what to do.…’”

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The band is critical of music business in general. “The way the industry works is backwards,” says Hellmrich. “Art isn’t valued, artists aren’t making money.” But mostly they want to exemplify that artists have choice — that quickly signing away 20 percent of your income to a manager “doesn’t have to be the only way.” 

“It was super important for me to see people like me playing music in order to make me feel like I could do it,” says Hellmrich, who last year was inspired to release some solo music of her own, under her nickname, Kelso. It’s a collection of dreamy guitar-pop, self-described “cute weird songs for cute weird people.”

We carved our own path of what we wanted and what we wouldn’t accept from people,” says Maq, who these days also fronts a more aggressive five-piece rock band called Würst Nürse, harkening back to her nursing school days. (First single: “Dedication Doesn’t Pay the Rent”.)

“I feel like this is meant to happen in our lives. We were put on this Earth for each other,” Maq says, looking at her bandmates. “We’re soulmates. We were meant to start this band. We were meant to change this little bit of the music scene.”

January of this year, Camp Cope filmed a session playing “The Opener” at the Sydney Opera House. As Maq belts out her lines about not listening to shitty music industry men, the ones who worked so hard while her band was just “lucky,” her expression says it all: she scrunches her face, rolls her eyes and screams it all out. This week, the band returned to the Opera House to play its iconic, 2679-capacity venue. And they weren’t the openers — they were headlining.


On New Album, Courtney Barnett Takes a Load Off

If you’ll bear with a shaky hypothesis for a second, there are really only two types of art. On one side is the art that’s inward-looking, the kind that reads at worst as a maudlin confessional about that time you had a bad date and, at best, as a diary of how the world has interacted with you and all the damage and good it’s done. The other is reflective, more about how you see the world than how the world sees you. Good artists are typically masters of one or the other, either better at holding up or looking in the mirror.

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Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett’s follow-up to 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, shows an artist adept at both. Where Sometimes told George Saunders–like stories about suicidal young men and the doldrums of gentrification, Tell Me has Barnett looking you right in the eye and confessing her anxieties and angers. “I feel like it’s kind of a cliché, but a lot of stuff was going on from ages 27 to thirty for me,” says Barnett, who turned thirty in November 2017. “It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and maybe it was through writing this album.”

Barnett is introspective with a desert-dry sense of humor, but calling her shy unfairly discounts her native Australian warmth. She grew up in Sydney before moving to Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, where the attended art school. Next came several years on the garage rock circuit in Melbourne, but it wasn’t until Barnett released the track “Avant Gardener” in 2013 that she started making waves across the Pacific. Sometimes, Barnett’s critically acclaimed 2015 album, was her formal introduction as a bonafide indie rock doyenne.

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Save for the casually excellent collaborative album Lotta Sea Lice she recorded with former War on Drugs frontman Kurt Vile, Barnett has been quiet, releasing only a few singles (“How to Boil an Egg,” the infectiously catchy “Three Packs a Day”) and touring with her wife, Jen Cloher, herself a fixture in Australia’s DIY scene. Follow-up albums — especially when you’re coming off something as beloved as Sometimes — can be overwrought affairs, with artists looking to bottle whatever intangibles made for a great album in the first place.

Overthinking is not one of Tell Me’s flaws. There are moments on the album when it seems like Barnett is writing more for catharsis than composition, something she admits freely when asked about her headspace in constructing such a direct record. “I sat down and kind of wrote without a strong idea or narrative in mind. I just kind of flailed around, really,” Barnett says. “I kind of have to get that out of the way to get to the good stuff.”

But Tell Me is the rare record that gets the blend of personal and accessible just right. The stories and advice that stud the entire album feel like they’re coming directly from Barnett. When she sings “Friends treat you like a stranger and/Strangers treat you like their best friend, oh well” on “City Looks Pretty,” you can feel the weight of fame alongside her. It’s heavy. It drags. This isn’t a third-person diagnosis of some stand-in character, this is Courtney Barnett laid bare and telling you this is what her world looks like.

She continues to mine catholic issues like misogyny, impostor syndrome, and loneliness throughout the rest of the record, sometimes with startling directness. “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Self-Confidence” is about, well, crippling self-doubt and a general lack of self-confidence, something that Barnett dealt with after the success of Sometimes. “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” begins with Barnett deadpanning those exact words over a thicket of feedback before it crashes into a swampy grunge rock.

As much as those tracks provide personal expository details on Barnett’s post-fame journey, it’s on “Nameless, Faceless” that she makes a universal statement of contemporary issues. The song’s backstory is well-known by now: After Sometimes dropped in 2015, a petulant commenter said of Barnett’s songwriting that he “could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and spit out better words than you.” She responded by writing a withering comeback set to a buoyant guitar riff, a cheery song that belies its weariness of a world dominated by petulant twerps squawking anonymously. “You sit alone at home in the darkness/With all the pent-up rage that you harness/I’m real sorry/’Bout whatever happened to you.”

Barnett decided to set her view of the world to music, and much of Tell Me sounds as if she meant this to be a personal cleansing ritual. But she doesn’t want its personal narrative to refract its impact on others. “If the album is completely for yourself you would keep it to yourself, you know?” she says. “I want it to have benefits for someone else to listen, or to share in the stories, or the misery, or the happiness.” 

Courtney Barnett plays the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday, May 19


The Janoskians

Do you ever listen to a new boy band and think, man, I really wish these kids would ditch the fake Disney good guy attitude and just drop a bunch of F bombs and talk about wanting to sleep with women because that’s actually the reality of what most 17-year-old idiot boys want to do? Well, lucky for you, there is a group of Aussies named The Janoskians who do just that. In Australia, these guys have a following that’s Bieber-esque, and their banger from last year, “Best Friends” is lowkey one of the greatest pop songs ever created. Here’s the refrain: “Best friends, you are my fucking best friends / yo honestly, this is the best night ever / and this song, I’m really feeling this song / yo honestly, this is the best night ever.” Yo, honestly? How doesn’t that make you want to turn up?

Sat., Oct. 11, 6 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 12, 6 p.m., 2014


Tribeca: World’s Worst Soccer Team Scores Big in Moving Doc Next Goal Wins

Here’s how low the underdogs have sunk at the start of the rousing Next Goal Wins, the latest sports doc to follow a losing team’s quest not for a championship but for dignity: The American Samoan national soccer team suffers a 31-0 loss to Australia in the opening credits. Naturally, that results in some rebuilding years, during which the Samoan players — all of whom have jobs or school or urgent business elsewhere — gather to listen to a motivational speaker flown in by the team to put them “in the zone.” He opens with the story of a blind man who, one step at a time, manages to climb Mount Everest, “at one point the tallest mountain in North America.”

They’re not even expected to climb on the right continent.

Sometime after that, the team gets rung up by New Caledonia in the South Pacific Games, prompting these encouraging words from their coach: “They needed nine goals today. You gave them only eight. It’s a step in the right direction!”

The team, ranked the lowest in the world by FIFA for 17 years, faces two obstacles that seem insurmountable: They represent a teensy territory with little budget to develop talent; worse, they’re still technically American, which means world-class football just isn’t something the kids are dreaming of. The players are, though. We meet Nicky Salapu the wise-eyed goaltender who gave up those 31 points — he says he regrets nothing — and the younger players who lionize him as “the best.” Salapu’s impressive as both an athlete and a model of willfulness; the brain spins considering what Australia’s score might have been if he hadn’t been the tender.

Fortunately, someone’s got a dream, which leads to the arrival of Dutch football coach Thomas Rongen, a wiry, shouty type brought in to train this amateur squad to prepare for the qualifying rounds of the 2014 World Cup.

You can anticipate the kind of culture clashes and training montages to come. More arresting are the portraits of the players and the American Samoan way of life. “I’m not a male or a female: I’m a soccer player,” says Jaiyah Saelua, who identifies as Fa’afafine, Samoa’s third gender. In Hawaii, where she goes to college, Saelua lives as a woman; on the soccer field, she’s one of the best of the boys, warmly accepted by her team — and, eventually, something of a star player.

Eventually, Rongen and his players come to understand each other, and the qualifying matches for this year’s cup turn out to be tense, exciting games, with the scrappy Samoan squad playing their hearts out and still struggling to get through 90 minutes of intense play without cramping. (As Rongen explains, with some admiration, training is tough when you have five jobs.) Directors Mike Brett and Steve Jamison juice the climactic footage somewhat, with slo-mo suspense and pump-you-up funk music, but by that point, some traditional sports-movie magic feels appropriate: These players have fought so hard they deserve to be honored with the clichŽs of the genre. If you’re a person, and you find other people worth your time and attention, Next Goal Wins will stir you, especially when Salapu comes back to tend goal again, ready as ever, 10 years after that 31-0 loss. It doesn’t matter where Everest is — this guy’s climbing it.


Transport Turns a Real Life Tragedy Into The Love Boat

A musical about Irish women getting shipped off to Australian penal colonies? With a wedding and a happy ending? Behold Transport, a seafaring drama with music and lyrics by Larry Kirwan that seeks to uplift downtrodden souls with tales of hope.

The subject is ostensibly serious: In the 1830s and ’40s, British colonialists forcibly removed 4,000 female “undesirables” from Ireland. Some were expelled for stealing food to survive; others were chosen on the basis of moral suspicions or mental illness. In passage they endured intolerable conditions in the lower passenger holds; many died. Upon arriving in southern Australia, the survivors were sent to penal colonies to correct gender imbalances and bear children to other prisoners. Back home, famine and emigration began depleting Ireland’s populace.

You could imagine a rigorous play responding to the weight of this pain-infused history. But Transport chooses a trite form at odds with this gravity. Every character on this supposedly wretched vessel turns and pours out their vexed heart to us in I-will-go-on ballads. True, Thomas Keneally’s script gives brief hints of darkness: a storm, a quick rebellion, a death — not to mention a Cassandra-like character (Terry Donnelly) who keeps making the same prophesy of the blights soon to befall Ireland.

Overall, however, this one-dimensional crew and their passengers are so well-intentioned and morally upstanding that Transport feels more like a Sunday school pageant than theater for thinking adults. Two of the three-man crew fall ruefully into innocent love with lovely prisoners, winning affections and redeeming futures; bland romantic ballads are sung, and the deportation ship starts to look more and more like the Love Boat. Only the stern, judgmental Captain Winton (Mark Coffin) remains an obstinate baddie, though we can spot his inevitable conversion to goodness from far off, the way a watchman scans the horizon for landfall.

Unfortunately, the overweening awkwardness radiating from the stage is not simply a new musical’s birth pangs. The clunky dialogue and relentlessly sentimental songs prove too much for the cast to surmount in the Irish Rep’s tight quarters. (Tony Walton directs.) The convicts wish they were bound for America rather than undeveloped Australia; if only Transport, too, had set sail for fresher shores.


Chris Lilley Transforms Himself into Australia’s Worst Import for Ja’mie: Private School Girl

Few men wear a dress as meaningfully as comedian Chris Lilley. Since 2005, he has sported the pinstriped schoolgirl uniforms of his native Australia to play Ja’mie King, a perfect little monster created by an ungodly mix of wealth, vapidity, and cheerful cruelty. Ja’mie returns to HBO on November 24 in her latest mockumentary, the six-part half-hour show Ja’mie: Private School Girl, to explain what’s “quiche” (“a step above hot”) and what’s “povo” (“poverty-stricken”).

This latest addition to the premium cable network’s foreign comedy lineup will be 39-year-old Lilley’s third show on HBO, following Summer Heights High and Angry Boys. (Ja’mie’s debut, the mockumentary special We Can Be Heroes: Finding the Australian of the Year, is available on HBO Go.) In Summer Heights High, her best-known appearance to date, Ja’mie landed in public school for a semester-long academic exchange and did little to ingratiate herself. At a school meeting, she introduced herself to her peers: “I come from one of the most expensive private girls’ schools in the state, but I’m actually really cool. Please don’t be intimidated by me. … Studies have shown that students from private schools are more likely to get into uni and end up making a lot more money, while wife-beaters and rapists are nearly all public-school educated. Sorry, no offense, but it’s true.” (No surprise: Lilley attended public school.)

Ja’mie fans will be pleased to know she hasn’t changed a bit. In the pilot of Private School Girl, she shows the camera crew around the Hillford Girls’ Grammar campus. “I’m nice to pretty much everyone in school,” she declares, while pointing out the groups she’d rather die than say a kind word to: the Asians, the overweight girls, the ones who grew up on farms, and the students she suspects of being lesbians. When one of the supposedly gay girls responds to Ja’mie’s bullying by asking her why she has such tiny breasts – Lilley seems to have on a pair of A-cups under the school uniform – our villainess finally reveals a vulnerability: “The reason they’re small is because I had an eating disorder, so it’s not exactly a laughing matter, OK? So go fucking fist yourself.”

Lilley is rare among comic actors in that he’s earned his fame and adoration almost exclusively from writing and starring in his own shows. He has utilized his creative control to showcase his talent for mimicry: On Summer Heights High, he played the series’ three main characters, and in Angry Boys the core sextet. That he can play the central character in every scene of every episode is a remarkable testament to his impersonation skills. But it can also be a tiring gimmick that highlights the fact that he writes every single one of his jokes for himself while using his co-stars, played by nonprofessional actors, as props. The effect is not unlike watching a version of The Office where Steve Carell goes to work at a real paper company as Michael Scott. (Controversially, Lilley has appeared in brown- and blackface on his shows.)

Though known as a media recluse in Australia, Lilley spoke to the Village Voice about what makes Ja’mie such a singular character, where she is today, and whether he still finds her physically attractive.

Why did you decide to give Ja’mie her own show?

I’ve done a lot of shows where I play multiple characters, so I had the idea of doing a show about one character. And I was thinking about doing a show about Ja’mie, what she was up to and where she was at. [Private School Girl] expands her world. I added to the cast her dad and her younger sister, and she gets a boyfriend and a love triangle with an African boy she’s spending time with. And I wanted her to have a new bunch of friends because I liked the idea that she dumped her old friends and found some other ones.

What was the casting process for the new show like?

We never got agencies. We went around schools and found the real thing, found girls that were kind of like that, but were able to act alongside me and deliver their lines and make it seem like it was really happening. It makes the casting process twice as hard as the normal way. Like, the first person who came on [the show] quit six weeks before they even finished. And we overshoot the scenes. Often people will laugh, and I allow for that. They’re not like professional actors who turn up and know their lines. It comes with its challenges, but it’s worth it.

What’s the difference between professional and nonprofessional actors?

I find actors a little bit too self-conscious. They come a bit too prepared. They’ve overthought it. Their reactions aren’t real. The trained actors, the experienced actors, would just give away the game. I’m just trying really to make it seem real. To me, it’s really funny that my character is in a real environment and you think it’s a real documentary.

Ja’mie might be the only openly homophobic and racist protagonist on American TV. Why did you decide to make her prejudices such an integral part of her character?

It’s just funny to me that she’s such a horrible person. That’s the whole joke with her. You can’t believe you’re watching this girl, that this is really happening. And, probably, she’s not that far from the truth.

She builds herself up as so powerful: “I’m the school captain and really hot. Everyone worships me.” And the series is about watching her downfall. She makes you want to really take her down. As things start to fall apart, it has the audience really cheering that on.

I read in an interview that you were sometimes scared by how attractive you found Ja’mie to be. Is that still the case?

I don’t know whether that was taken out of context. Yeah, she’s all right. It’s funny; she just claims to be so hot, and she tells you how hot she is all the time. She really puts herself out there. I did a photo shoot for Zoo – you guys have Maxim, but it’s more trashy than that. This is cheap men’s bikini models, and Ja’mie is on the cover of that. She’s in a wet school uniform, and she sort of passes. I think she looks very good.

I don’t disagree!

It’s all about your attitude. She just sells it.

How do you nail the teen-girl mannerisms?

I don’t really think too much about it. It’s quite instinctive. Maybe it’s being around other girls while I’m shooting. I definitely don’t study it or anything. I just make it up. Being in the costume and wig helps.

What inspired the change in Ja’mie’s hairdo?

No, it’s the same wig. It’s probably the lighting. I wanted her hair to appear fake. If I were starting the show now, I’d probably want her hair to be a little bit longer. When I first started Ja’mie, that was the style. The style now, in Australia at least, is much longer and the style straighter and with a center part. But I wanted her to have the same look so people weren’t confused.

Where had the wig been for the five years since Summer Heights High?

Just at my house. I used to have them all on head blocks, but that seemed creepy. So I just had them wrapped up in a box.

Were you afraid of returning to play Ja’mie and appearing not as attractive in the role five years later?

Um, no? I don’t know. I’ve never been a 16-year-old girl. I play mostly characters that are younger than me and of different races and different ages, and I’m always transforming into something very far removed from myself. It’s never been a concern; it’s all just part of the joke. I don’t really look like any of the characters in real life. I played an African-American. I didn’t really look like one. You just get into the illusion of it.


Aussie Wine Got Good! Here’s Where to Drink it in New York

If your last memory of Australian wine was an overripe Shiraz, erase it! The new breed of Aussie wine is leaner, more structured, and food-friendlier than before, and heading to New York thanks to a wave of young, dynamic winemakers and importers.

Gordon Little and his fiancee Lauren Peacock of Little Peacock Imports are courageous importers of small-batch Australian wines, working together to deliver the country’s wine renaissance to New York. Calling them courageous may sound melodramatic, but given our slow-to-fade hangover from the first Australian wine experiment, staking their livelihood on championing these wines really is a form of bravery.

In 2004, Australia overtook France as the second largest supplier of wine to the U.S. market. But like many trends not based on quality and integrity, oversaturation led to busted demand (like cupcakes). One sad outcome of all this was the death of boutique importers bringing handpicked, unique wines from talented winemakers to the U.S., because suddenly “Aussie wine” meant something dirty.

Now the country has come together through the government-supported Wine Australia to promote wine regions individually. Although every region holds gifted vintners worthy of our attention, wines piquing the interest of writers, importers, and consumers right now are coming from cool-climate regions (which tend to produce grapes that lead to wines of greater finesse, delicacy, balance, and acidity, and often lower alcohol).

Gordon Little pours
Gordon Little pours

At a recent wine conference, Mr. Little’s advice for tasting Australia’s most promising wines was to look for smaller producers from these cooler-climate zones. He also recommended regions to look out for, including ones with ample Pinot Noir.

Margaret River: On the furthest shores of southwest Australia lies this maritime region known for profound Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, as well as surfing off some particularly gorgeous beaches. Fine wines are the foundation of the region’s reputation, and these gems are finally receiving the international acclaim they deserve. Bordeaux blends, especially whites, are also praised. Pioneers and premium producers include Leeuwin, Moss Wood, Vasse Felix, and Stella Bella.

Yarra Valley: Known for its stunning beauty, the vineyards in this cool-climate region in Victoria may date back to 1838, but it’s also the stage for many young winemakers spearheading the new wave of Aussie wines. Their philosophy: lower alcohol, reduced use of oak, hand-harvesting, and food-friendliness. These winemakers refer to themselves as the “South Pack.” The region’s principal grapes are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz close behind. Looking for Côte Rôtie-style wines? Some exceptional bottlings of Syrah blended with a small percentage of Viognier are produced in Yarra. Try wines from Luke Lambert, Jamsheed, Ben Haines, Innocent Bystander, and Punt Road.

Mornington Peninsula: Terroir, terroir, terroir. This could be written of most places, but is especially significant in this crescent-shaped region where soil, aspect, altitude and wind change by the meter. Pinot Noir dominates red wine production, Chardonnay for white, with exceptionally made (and often priced) single-vineyard bottlings showing off the potential of this playground of the nearby affluent Melbourne locals. Moorooduc Estate and Dexter Wines are both available in New York and produce delicious, competitively priced wines.

Adelaide Hills: Twenty-five minutes east of Adelaide, altitude is the key to this region’s cool climate; in that short time, temperature can drop by as much as 30 degrees. Vineyards are tucked into dips and peaks of valleys, and in between cherry and apple orchards — driving through this landscape could satisfy a rollercoaster enthusiast. Planted predominantly with white grapes, many claim the Hills as the home of Aussie Sauvignon Blanc, and increasingly, sparkling wines from Pinot and Chard. Reds are driven by Pinot, with a growing appreciation for spicy Shiraz and Italian varieties such as Nebbiolo and Barbera. Look for Shaw and Smith, Henschke, and d’Arenberg, with more producers coming soon.

Eden Valley: Sitting within but high above the Barossa Valley is this cool, windswept region that produces a high percentage of Shiraz but is prized for its Riesling. Eden Riesling develops unlike any other place in the world besides the Clare Valley (also in Australia), into bright, stony, lime-juice-y concentrated wines that are not only a great value but have the capacity to age up to ten years (if not longer). In fact, shop for older vintages, as the high acid in young wines can brighten teeth like Crest Whitening Strips. Pewsey Vale, the oldest winery dating to 1847, sets the benchmark for the region, and is relatively easy to find in NYC stores.

For a taste, visit Public and Eleven Madison Park, two big supporters of Aussie wines in New York. Both places often get rare and small parcels pre-sold to them first.

To shop for Aussie wine, visit Mister Wright Fine Wines (1593 Third Ave.), Vintry Fine Wines (230 Murray St.), or Terry’s West Village Wine, (35 Greenwich Ave.)

Finally, if you want to dig deeper into the subject, I suggest James Halliday’s Wine Atlas of Australia.


McDonald’s Australia Has App to Show Diners Where Food Comes From

It’s no secret that McNuggets only slightly resemble chicken (pink slime, anyone?). McDonald’s down under launched an app that will allow customers to see where each ingredient of their meal came from. TrackMyMacca — Macca is apparently what Aussies call the fast food chain — will pinpoint which farm the meat came from, which bakery the bread came from, and the origins of just about every food item on their menu.

The International Business Times explained that the app will scan the image of your McMuffin or Big Mac and will use GPS and McDonald’s free wi-fi to access the McDonalds’ supply chain.

Apparently it will even tell you if your burger’s made from horse meat. How comforting. Maybe this app will come to America, but until then, we can only assume the worst.


High Highs Talk Elton John, the Price of Beer in New York, and the Isolation of Australia

By Kai Flanders

Last January, Brooklyn-by-way-of-Australia indie-pop songsters High Highs released a self-titled EP. NPR called its underwatery layers “immediately endearing,” and NME listed them as one their 50 best new bands of 2011. Their phone rang. Elton John’s people were on the line. They were signed to his management company, and Captain Fantastic himself gave them a nod during a speech at his annual London Christmas party. That year showed how a band can rise without having a proper album — High Highs’ as of yet untitled full-length is due out early next year.

We caught up with lead singer Jack Milas and multi-instrumentalist Oli Chang over shrimp dumplings, stuffed eggplant, and Tiger beer at Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Chinatown. (The street was once a deadly place: The Tong Gangs of the 1930s shot each other to pieces in this alley that became known as “the Bloody Angel.”) Chang has Kramer-like hair and is more soft spoken than Milas, but both retain their homeland’s accent. It’s a melodic, almost sing-songy sort of speech; the gruffness of New York’s lexicon has yet to filter it’s way into their mouths.

See Also:

Elton John Calls Madonna A C**t
American Idol Elton John Week
Dive Bars Across America


How different is New York from Australia, not just living but in terms a being a band?
Chang: Australia is so geographically removed from the rest of the world, it’s hard to get any real success because the population [size] doesn’t support it. That’s why people come here, there is a lot of opportunity, but there’s also a lot of competition. But in saying that I also think that people in Australia try a lot harder because they feel so isolated, so per capita, you get lots of good music.
Milas: What I like about Australian music is that is that it can be so fun, it just sort of exists, in my mind, in this sort of Australian fun zone. It doesn’t need to conform to anything.
Chang: That goes all the way back to AC/DC. It’s fun party rock.

Like Cut Copy. Where do you guys fit into that?
Chang: When everyone parties really hard, they also have to come down, so we’re like the other extreme of internal music, going into the inside mind. It’s not body movement. It’s mind niceness.
Milas: [Before High Highs] Oli was writing this crazy dance music, and I was writing these really quiet songs, and then we just started making music together. It’s sort of a meeting of those two forces.

Well what’s the new album about?

Milas: There’s a lot of things. Part of it was moving halfway around the world and not being around friends and family. It’s about love; it’s about losing love. But I think at the same time, the emotions are about many experiences, and they exist so that people can take what they want from them. . . . Even though they are kind of sad songs, they are always positive in some way.
Chang: It’s never self-pitying or anything like that.

You’re signed to Elton John’s management company. Have you ever met him?

Milas: We met him last Christmas, which was totally insane.
Chang: We were invited to Elton John’s Christmas party in London. It’s a whole thing. It’s a grand-ball-like sort of thing. We were sitting down having desert or wine or something . . . and he came over and sat down and was just like: “Hey, guys. How’s it going?”
Milas: I just looked around and suddenly, he was there. Every year he makes a speech and talks about the artists they manage. He’s not just floating around. He knows intimately every artist. He’s listened to everything a lot.

What was he wearing?
Milas: A pink collared shirt with a black jacket with glitter all over it. And some really cool earrings.
Chang: It was very bedazzled but very tasteful.

Has anything shocked you about New York?
Milas: Going down to the corner store, or the bodega which is a new term for me, and get a six pack of beer for eight dollars or less. In Australia it’s 15 to 20 dollars for a six pack of beer.

Must be hard on bands.

Milas: Yeah [laughs] but we drink VB [Victoria Bitter]. I have a soft spot for VB. We’re going back in January. I’m going to have some VB.



Who are you related to? Four years ago, photographer Taryn Simon went on a mission to find the links between people, places, and things by researching and documenting their bloodlines and related stories. The result is a massive exploration into the connections that bind us literally or arbitrarily in the exhibition A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters. Simon’s project is broken down into 18 chapters, nine of which will be will be on display at MOMA. One features a large portrait series that depicts the bloodline members, the second features text, and a third contains photographic evidence. The subjects Simon documents include victims of genocide in Bosnia, test rabbits infected with a lethal disease in Australia, the first woman to hijack an aircraft, and the living dead in India.

Mondays, Wednesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m. Starts: May 9. Continues through Sept. 3, 2012