So the term ‘musical’ sort of makes me get a rash, but concept albums, I love that idea of there being a bit more to think about. You can just kind of listen to it on a superficial level, and let’s face it, we’re talking about me here, so this is the most kind of superficial kind of music. If these songs don’t work in a superficial way, then I’m a fucking failure, because that’s my number one aim: to make people want to dance and sing something stupid.
New host Kate Kingsmill pulls out one of the more weird and wonderful live performances from the RRR vaults…TISM at The Laundry in Nov 2001!
The Melbourne legends had just released their 5th album De RigueurMortis at the time. Kate also catches up with Damian Cowell aka Humphrey B. Flaubert as he shares some reflections on the performance and the band’s long history with Triple R.
I was wondering where Damian Cowell was at. Was kind of hoping for some sort of concocted online offering he might have created to fill in the time or some sort of Song Exploder style expose of the mystery behind the masks. But this will do.
For Cowell, it is about giving the kids an anchovy. Although this often focuses on the lyrics, this can be said to apply just as much to the music. As Michael Dwyer captures in regards to Damien Cowell’s Disco Machine:
“If Damian wanted to be,” says Martin, “he could be a comedian. A few years ago he did a show at the comedy festival and it was as funny as any other show. But he takes the music very seriously.
Get Yer Dag On! is the second Disco Machine album, and Micallef and Martin are again present, alongside another stellar roll call of guests: Celia Pacquola, Judith Lucy and many more. There’s a certain irony in there being a sort of identikit anonymity about many of these pounding dancefloor grooves, but that doesn’t matter, because (a) irony is central to everything Cowell does, and (b) he can sing: his melodies and phrasing make many of these songs instantly memorable.
“That’s how I try to work,” he says. “I’ll take something that may be thought-provoking and totally trivialise it, shrink it down to the stupidest concept. I’m always writing about the facade of life and hopefully alluding to what’s beneath it all.”
His master’s voice
Cowell also reflects upon grunge music in general, which then ends up in a discussion of 70’s rock. He then discusses the way in which front men seem to swap bands like the AFL draft. He wonders why he didn’t front Savage Garden considering where that band might have gone if he had done so.
OK so I couldn’t resist using a TISM reference in my intro, despite the language being filthy, and now I’m caught somewhere in between “that’s a great dad joke” or “why did you swear like that, you buffoon?”. TISM was one of Australia’s most iconic and entertaining bands and when a song title such as “I might be a …” exists, the opportunity to use it contextually was too rare to resist.
Nevertheless. Former member Damian Cowell popped around to my place and we had a great yarn for a couple of hours. He’s now focused on Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine – a new album to be released February 20 and subsequent shows which seem basically unmissable. Just by reading the band name you can sense the sheer fun this project exudes.
It’s about “giving in to the simple joys of my own twisted version of fun dance music”. The album is titled Get Yer Dag On. The gist is: What a shit world we’re living in – let’s boogie!
So we discuss the musical influences of the project, the pleasures of choreography, how his career developed over the years and as it happens, plenty of life lessons pop up. He airs concern that we ventured in to “some sort of self-help” thing and if that element is there, I don’t mind too much. Hahaha this nugget of wisdom does spring from the chat so thanks Damian for the inspiration and comfort:
We can all garner some hope. DAILY DISAPPOINTMENT is beneficial and make you a richer, fuller person. Try things and fail. Feel emotionally vulnerable and experience suffering. It all helps in the long run, keeps us grounded, teaches us lessons, and as long as we keep recognising this we can stay on top and not let the disappointment defeat us.
Show Damian Cowell’s Podcast Machine, Ep Arseless Chaps Episode 1 – 23 Dec 2015
In the Q&A, Cowell says that ‘interesting ideas’ is not enough, that they only got there start as someone knew someone else who then linked them with somebody else. He also discusses the surreal aspects of it all, including the final gig at Earthcore.
TISM were one of the biggest Australian bands of the 90’s. They were the godfathers of musical comedy, captains of satire and frankly, a band that when I listen to today, I’m still gobsmacked by. They hailed from Melbourne but played all over; masked men who would put on insane shows full of bizarre concepts and songs like “Defecate On My Face” and “Saturday Night Palsy”. TISM were the ultimate shit stirrers, and we loved it. Humphrey B Flaubert AKA Damian Cowell reminded us of why the 90’s helped a band like that flourish, and share five songs from the zeitgeist himself. From pop princesses to Brissie bands that have never played by the rules, it’s not only one of the funniest Take 5’s you’ll hear but a capture of a unique and wonderful time in Australian music. This is seriously, one for the ages.
Caligula – ‘The Bluff’
Kylie Minogue – ‘Did It Again’
Regurgitator – ‘Black Bugs’
Custard – ‘Nice Bird’
Fauves – ‘Easy (Easy)’
Use your power wisely … Treat them to an anchovy.
It is funny thinking back to the nineties in Croydon. Although not one of those students asking Mr Cowell if he was on the drug that killed River Phoenix, I will not forget his last lesson before leaving teaching when he brought in a video recording of TISM on Rage. By the time he had wheeled in the TV, we managed to catch a lengthy rambling between he and Ron ‘Hitler’ Barassi about nothing much, before announcing three tracks from the Ted Mulry Gang. The mask was definitely off.
Damian Cowell. Writer. Musician. Singer. Charlatan.