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.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”588877″ /]

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.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”579077″ /]

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.…’”

[related_posts post_id_1=”595820″ /]

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.


Celebrating a Year of Women in Music

“Stop talking about women’s involvement and creation of rock music as if it is brand new phenomena, or their appearance on Billboard rock charts as a new incursion and not one happening regularly in the 40ish years of Rock Chart history,” Jess Hopper, music critic and author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, tweeted just two weeks ago in response to a Billboard article implying that women are just entering the scene.

As anyone with ears, a decent record collection, or a passing familiarity with Sister Rosetta Tharpe already knows, that’s a pretty silly notion, as old-fashioned and blinkered as the equally predictable cycle of “Rock Is Dead” headlines that surface every few years. While male-fronted rock has indeed undergone a bit of an identity crisis in the last few decades, women have continued to turn out brilliant, emotional, entertaining-as-hell rock — and pop and hip-hop and rap and jazz and folk and country and on and on. This isn’t a new phenomenon. It isn’t a trend. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth celebrating.

Looking back over some of the female musicians that the Village Voice has profiled over the last twelve months offers a pretty good snapshot of the current state of women in music. Among them are the indomitable Princess Nokia, the effervescent Maggie Rogers, the fragile Julien Baker, and the insanely brilliant SZA. They are all talented, wildly creative artists who’ve produced music we put on repeat and songs we can’t forget. Oh, and they happen to be women.

Vagabon’s Laetitia Tamko

For Vagabon, Indie Rock Is About Creating a Voice and a Community

“Women of color exist in this scene. Just not many.”

Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff

Hurray for the Riff Raff‘s New York Story

“The more I learned about Puerto Rican history, the more I was like, ‘Oh, I make total sense.’”

Princess Nokia

Princess Nokia Is Ready to Reign

“At the end of the day, I’m still a ‘hood bitch, no matter how punk I am.”

Maggie Rogers

Maggie Rogers: The Making of a 21st-Century Pop Heroine

“My entire life I have felt this incredible sense of predestination.”

Amber Coffman

Amber Coffman’s “City of No Reply” Is More Than a Dirty Projectors Breakup Album

“Since I had a good decade of working with other people, I had a long time to marinate on what I wanted to do.”


SZA Sizzles on Her Triumphant Debut, CTRL

“I just started getting into optimism yesterday. Anything is possible. I’m optimistic as fuck.”

Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield

Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield: “I Can’t Believe People Are Going to Hear This”

Indie rock’s sharpest self-scrutinizer has made her most personal album yet.

Japanese Breakfast

On New Album, Japanese Breakfast Is Floating in Space

“I don’t want any moment to go by where I’m not creating something, sharing something, or interacting with people.”

EMA, also known as Erika M. Anderson

How the New Weird Suburbs Inspired EMA‘s Noise Folk

“I like the idea of multiple realities layered on top of each other.”

Downtown Boys

For Downtown Boys, the Political Is Personal

“When people need to hear something about someone being brown and smart, they can find us.”

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and the Secret Life of Synths

“Whatever I’m frightened of or I’m bad at, I love stepping closer to that to see what’s there.”

Julien Baker

How Julien Baker Learned to Embrace the Ugliness of Existence

“I am me, and that is inescapable, so maybe I should stop trying to escape that and learn to embrace it.”

Tegan and Sara

How The Con Raised Tegan and Sara to Indie Pop Royalty

“I still identify strongly with the helplessness and grief I was suffering with at that time in my life.”

Angel Olsen

Angel Olsen Isn’t Trying to Make You Cry. Really

“I just want to write something that’s honest and that people can really feel.”


L’Rain Weaves an Aural Tapestry Out of New York’s Chorus of Sound

“When I’m around people and I get nervous or excited, I like to record our conversations.”

Melanie Charles

How Jazz Outlaw Melanie Charles Found Voodoo in Brooklyn

“It’s answers to questions that I didn’t even realize I had before I started going to these ceremonies.”

Lucy Dacus

On HistorianLucy Dacus Has Something to Say

“At the core, my message has pretty much been the same since I was, like, thirteen.”

Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Allison

As Soccer Mommy, Sophie Allison Sings Herself Clean
“It’s strong to admit, ‘Yes, I have issues. I’ve suffered too.’”


Pazz & Jop Comments: Protests and Escapes

Jesse Mayshark
I discovered my number one single totally by accident late at night listening to a New Orleans radio station over the internet. Shazamed it to no avail, but the DJ said it was “Floods of Fire” by the Gary Wrong Group. It’s six minutes of muted apocalypse over a motorik beat, with repeating doomsday imagery — “gnashing, ripping,” “volcanic ooze,” “trample-crushed bodies” — from Gary Wrong and an unnamed female co-conspirator. Then the beat stops and the final two minutes are pulses of bass and rippling guitar, fading to nothing. Exhausted and doomed and a little removed from caring, it was a perfect echo of 2017.

Gabe Vodicka
In need of comfort in 2017, we turned to the past. The shoegaze revival brought us reunion albums from Ride, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and — the steadiest and most seductive of the bunch — Slowdive, each offering escape into a realm of warm if artificial light.

Jason Gross
Maybe it’s bizarre to get so excited about something so mellow, but it was a great year for ambient, including old faves (Robert Rich, Gas, the Caretaker) and all shades of moods, including floaty (Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society), dreamy (Chuck Johnson), meditative/minimal (Oliver Alary), unadorned beauty (Bing & Ruth, Poppy Ackroyd), cinematic (Alessandro Cortini), ethereal (Christopher Willits), light but sad (Bibio), dark ambient (Alphaxone, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement), and new age-y (Suso Sáiz, Justin Walter). Maybe in the age of Trump, we need to chill more than ever.

Laurence Station
Convenient timing that Laura Marling’s all-things-feminine album Semper Femina just happens to land in the Year of Retribution Against Men Behaving Badly. Regardless of topical intersection, a timeless work by a master of her craft. Semper Marlinga!

Carol Cooper
Such a strange, odd year. Topical pop and protest music proliferated around the world, with all kinds of singers staying alert if not completely woke. Rock, house, hip-hop, reggaeton, and tropical hip-pop all impressed me with levels of social awareness beyond the usual moody sass and slackness. Migos and Cardi B may be guilty pleasures, but their cynical observations are too full of American realness to ignore.

Jaime Paul-Falcon
Hurray for the Riff Raff. The fury behind The Navigator’s epic standout track “Pa’lante” is entirely justified. As a sample of Pedro Pietri’s “Puerto Rican Obituary” is heard, the striking piano that buffeted the laments of the song’s first half fade away, and Alynda Segarra’s angered, forceful voice is backed by a frenzied guitar as she lays bare exactly what it is Hispanic and Latinx people cling to in a country that’s determined to vilify them.

Ted Leibowitz
In the face of the unprecedented attacks on the pillars of democracy, there were some great protest songs in 2017 worth noting including: Last Quokka, “Nazi Scum”; Shane Michael Vidaurri, “Alt-Right Fuck Off”; Juliana Hatfield, “When You’re a Star”; American Anymen, “Flag Burner”; Downtown Boys, “Promissory Note”; Prefab Messiahs, “The Man Who Killed Reality.”

Jeremy Shatan
There were a couple of choices this year: to run into the fire — to protest the horror of Trump’s insurgent “presidency” — or to seek escape from the havoc he was causing. Alternating the two seemed to be the best way to survive, and when it comes to the latter, the gorgeous album by the Clientele was the perfect soundtrack. So unexpected after a six-year hiatus, Music for the Age of Miracles featured all of the band’s virtues: literate, poetic lyrics; indelible melodies; sparkling music.

Saul Austerlitz
The song I listened to most this year, from the Women’s March in January to the passage of the tax-scam bill in December, was Run the Jewels’ “2100.” I’ve come to think of one particular line of El-P’s — “They could barely even see the dog/They don’t see the size of the fight” — as the motto of the burgeoning resistance to Trump. I pray every day that he’s right.

Dev Sherlock
From Eno’s Reflection, to Kendrick’s DAMN, to SZA’s CTRL, music this year was addressing a world very much in flux.

Sasha Geffen
Love exists and is real, hope is not the conviction that everything will be OK but the allowing of space for everything to be OK, everything is possible, music was good in 2017.


Pazz & Jop: Outsiders, Punks, and Poets Raise Their Voices

This past year — the year of mainstream reckoning with toxic masculinity; the year a racist with a history of sexual assault took office — demanded we pay closer attention to the outsiders, punks, and poets who’ve long been holding a microscope to all sorts of societally empowered men: cops, politicians, bosses, bandmates. In some of the best independent songs of 2017, outside of the pop machine, we heard voices raised against the imbalances of power that define our world, ones that decide whose histories are remembered, whose humanities are denied, who survives and why. Emerging from the ground up, these are songs that offered perspective through another year defined by walls and binaries; class war and state violence; gender inequity and more.

When I reflect on the past year in music, there are three songs that feel like a 2017 time capsule, a trifecta of opposition to capitalism, complicity, and authority: “Pink White House” by Priests, “A Wall” by Downtown Boys, and “Meet Me in the Street” by Sheer Mag. These are three bands with roots in interconnected punk scenes that have since attracted higher profiles; at their live shows last year, it felt meaningful to watch their messages resonate more widely and with new audiences. On Nothing Feels Natural, Priests expanded their palette of influences to draw on funk, pop, and jazz, and single “Pink White House” tore at our culture of instant gratification and hollow “puppet shows” that make Americans feel like they’re participating in political processes: “Consider the options of a binary,” repeats singer Katie Alice Greer, fervent and rhythmic. Lodged in my head are two particular 2017 performances of this song: on inauguration night in D.C., and when the band played Brooklyn on the same night as the protests against the Muslim Ban at JFK.

Tina Halladay and Sheer Mag

On “A Wall,” Downtown Boys offered a refrain that was passionately shouted back by crowds all year: “A wall is a wall/A wall is just a wall/A wall is a wall/And nothing more at all.” Equally important, the song reminded us of those whose actions or indifference led us to our current fucked reality: “And when you see him now/I hope you see yourself/I hope you see yourself.” Sheer Mag’s “Meet Me in the Street” was written while the band reflected on last year’s J20 protests, channeling its 1970s hard rock into an anthem about “battling on and on and on,” “throwing rocks at the boys in blue,” and the articulate truth that “no friend is the hand/that points and commands.”


Camae Ayewa performs with Irreversible Entanglements

The prolific artist and collaborator Camae Ayewa, who spent much of the year touring the world as Moor Mother, remained a most singular voice and vision in 2017. She released two records: One was Crime Waves, a collaboration with fellow Philadelphia producer Mental Jewelry. The second was with the improv free-jazz quintet Irreversible Entanglements, on whose self-titled album her spoken-work poetry on systemic racism, Black trauma, survival, and power grew emboldened by horns, drums, and basslines from Luke Stewart, Keir Neuringer, Aquiles Navarro, and Tcheser Holmes. The nine-minute “Fireworks” is one of the year’s most searing songs: “You see them fireworks last night? We was up on a hill, I found myself thinking about war and outta nowhere we was dead, like ten bullets traveling throughout the city killing nothing but Black people.… We are post–World War III and everyone is dead or at home deleting the human parts of themselves. Control, alt, delete, backspace, escape, escape, escape…” It’s a recording that demands attention. There was nothing else like this in 2017.

EMA, also known as Erika M. Anderson

Erika M. Anderson, also known as EMA, released Exile in the Outer Ring, on which the native Midwesterner confronts the people and places she came from: the hopelessness and poverty that pervades Middle America. Exile portrays a specific strain of the margins, the areas on the edges of cities where folks of varying ideologies might end up as a result of crushing inequality; along the way, she sings about isolation and destruction, of “kids from the void” and the dark parking lots, casinos and big-box stores. Anderson’s world of sound and poetry is filled with criticisms — “Aryan Nation” contains one of its most immediate lyrics: “Tell me stories of famous men/I can’t see myself in them” — but there is also empathy, a type of music where soaring hooks always find a way out from aggressive industrial noise and blown-out guitars. On “Down and Out,” one of the album’s highlights, she speaks directly to some of the systemic inequities suggested elsewhere: “Everyone thinks you’re worthless when you’re down and out…Think that maybe you deserve it/If you’re poor.”

Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield

On the personal-political side of the spectrum, there were ballads against male ego and fragility, about finding and trusting your own voice. In a culture where women artists are still interviewed about what it’s like to navigate the male-dominated music world, a quicker way to find answers might be to just listen to these songs. Take Waxahatchee’s Out in the Storm opener, “Never Been Wrong,” a razor-sharp goodbye channeling that constant walking-on-eggshells feeling one gets around an entitled man. Or Vagabon’s “The Embers,” an enormous song about being made to feel small, about a person trying to delegitimize your art and self-worth, about pushing back against that.

Vagabon’s Lætitia Tamko

One of the year’s most moving songs came from Hurray for the Riff Raff, the songwriting moniker of Bronx-born Puerto Rican folk singer Alynda Lee Segarra. “Pa’lante” is a three-act epic piano ballad that reflects on Nuyorican identity and fights cultural erasure; it looks back to understand the history from where it came, and yet the title quite literally means “onwards, forwards.” The song comes from Segarra’s sixth full-length, The Navigator, a semi-autobiographical concept record starring a street kid named Navita; through her story, Segarra reconciles her own childhood and identity, sense of home, and the gentrifying city. The title “Pa’lante” is an allusion to a newspaper by the same name, published by 1970s Puerto Rican activist group the Young Lords. And the song includes a sample from “Puerto Rican Obituary,” Pedro Pietri’s 1973 poem: “Dead Puerto Ricans who never knew they were Puerto Ricans…Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Olga, Manuel.” Next, Segarra sings to these names: “From El Barrio to Arecibo, ¡Pa’lante! From Marble Hill to the ghost of Emmett Till, ¡Pa’lante! To Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Manuel, ¡Pa’lante! To all who came before, we say, ¡Pa’lante!” Released in March, it’s a song that only grew more necessary as the year progressed.

In Segarra’s songs, there is a crucial passing along of personal lived experience in historical context, the type of reclaiming and culture-shaping that reminds us one of music’s great purposes, that it can be a site where history itself begins to be rewritten.


Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield: ‘I Can’t Believe People Are Going To Hear This’

Katie Crutchfield is nervous. It’s a few weeks before the release of her new album, Out in the Storm, and the 28-year-old singer-songwriter — known for her deeply personal, candid work — is only beginning to come to terms with the fact that she’ll soon be sharing with the world the most unflinching and detailed record she’s ever made. As she puts it in the lead track, “Never Been Wrong,” “Everyone will hear me complain/Everyone will pity my pain.”

Over the past decade or so Crutchfield has played in a variety of upstart DIY bands that blend folkie intimacy with cascading electric guitars, often sharing the stage with her twin sister, Allison. Out in the Storm is her fourth release as Waxahatchee, and her second for the indie mainstay Merge Records. She’s long been celebrated for the emotional directness of her songwriting, which places a magnifying glass on her own flawed tendencies and relatable shortcomings. But Crutchfield has never put out a record quite so raw as her latest, which chronicles the dissolution of her long-term relationship in painful detail.

“I can’t believe people are going to hear this,” says Crutchfield, calling from her home in Philadelphia. “Every day I wake up, as we get closer and closer to putting the record out, and I’m like, ‘This is the best thing I’ve done.’ And then the next day, I’m like, ‘I can’t put this record out.’ ”

Waxahatchee’s music organizes conflicting emotions into something resembling clear-minded self-awareness. The first Waxahatchee album, 2012’s American Weekend, was a stark collection of acoustic songs that Crutchfield recorded in her family’s home in Alabama. “I don’t care if I’m too young to be unhappy,” she sang on “Grass Stain,” after promising to drink her way to happiness. She explored the self-destructive tendencies of twentysomethings stuck in slow-motion memories, establishing herself as indie rock’s sharpest self-scrutinizer in the process.

That self-scrutiny makes Out in the Storm all the more complicated. To help preserve some sanity, and privacy, while unveiling a piece of art as intensely detailed and single-mindedly focused as Out in the Storm, Crutchfield has set up some boundaries. She will talk about her new record at length, but the moment the real-world relationship that inspired her latest work comes up in conversation, she politely draws the line. “I have made it a very specific point not to get into any of that,” she says.

The pain of Out in the Storm feels as fresh as a newly skinned knee, but it took some time for Crutchfield to write songs she felt comfortable sharing with others. “I really tried to not write when I was in the middle of all this craziness at the end of that relationship, because when I did try to write while stuff was still going on, I was in such a state. I hadn’t fully processed a lot of things,” she says. The first songs Crutchfield came up with sounded like they were written by an “angsty fifteen-year-old girl.” They were “too earnest,” she says, “to the point where I felt uncomfortable putting them out in the world.”

In fact, there are still moments on the finished album (“Brass Beam,” parts of “No Question”) that give Crutchfield pause. “It’s just like, oof, there it is,” she says. That unadulterated openness is what resonates profoundly with an internet-raised generation eager to admit to “feeling all the feels,” and a growing fanbase that includes admirers like Sleater-Kinney, Lena Dunham, and Kurt Vile.

For Out in the Storm, her first full-length recorded with an outsider producer, Crutchfield reached out to John Agnello, who’s worked with artists like Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth. “There’s a real backstory to these lyrics, and that might be why this record has such an edge to it,” says Agnello. “Katie was really motivated to go in a certain direction, and the talent and energy from her and her band was just incredible.”

The resulting record brims with heavy, fuzzed-out guitars and a bouncing Nineties melodicism interspersed with small moments of reflection. “Katie’s got a real knack at writing songs that are incredibly immediate but also have a scale to them that can be expansive,” says Katie Harkin, who played guitar and piano on the record. “She was so keyed into the meaning and identity of these songs.”

Out in the Storm renders an emotional palette with space for wisdom, peace, and clarity alongside more typical breakup-album ingredients like anger, hurt, and resentment. In several songs, Crutchfield finds solace in moments of escape: train rides to Berlin and road trips to Brooklyn provide precious space to reflect and collect. Throughout the record, each confession becomes a revelation, a way of making sense of herself as she leaves behind a dark stage of her life and enters a brighter future. Many of the songs conclude with Crutchfield literally moving on and walking away.

“All the things I learned from the American Weekend era have been thoroughly applied to my life now,” she says. “This record’s more about gracefully ending a relationship.” On “Sparks Fly,” Crutchfield needs only three words to sum up both the premise and the promise of her new LP: “A disaster, dignified.”

As a songwriter who faithfully documents different periods of her life in her art, Crutchfield says it’s comforting to have older music to look back on. She can track her progress — as an artist, as a songwriter, as an adult — by seeing how she’s dealt with various difficulties in her life in song. “The things I used to sing about now obviously feel so trivial. I feel like I’ve come so far and learned so much that what felt like such a big deal at the time now feels so small.”

And as nerve-racking as it may feel, at the moment, for Crutchfield to release such a personal statement, she’s confident that she’s faithfully documented this recent period. “I want to make a lot of records in my life,” she says. “So, hopefully, ten years from now I’ll look back on this record and feel like I don’t really know that person anymore, but I’ll be glad it’s there.”

An earlier version of this article speculated as to the relationship chronicled on Out in the Storm. Crutchfield, who does not confirm such speculation, objected, and declines to comment further.