NGV Friday Nights: Interview with Damian Cowell

We interviewed Damian Cowell, who will be headlining NGV Friday Night at NGV International with Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine (With Tony Martin) Presents: Disco Christmas on Friday 23 December 2016.

You’ve been creating music since the 1980’s, and have collaborated with a multitude of other musicians and performers over the years. Has your sound been influenced by working with other artists?

I’ve recently discovered that when people with awesome voices like Kate Miller-Heidke or Liz Stringer sing my nonsense it sounds like art, and all of a sudden I don’t want to give it all up and take up lawn bowls. This is good news for me. Bad for the general public.

What is your creative motivation to continue writing and performing music?

Coffee. I have one at 6.15 am and my brain floods with stupid ideas. What else am I meant to do with them?

How have your gigs changed in the last twenty years?

I’ve gone from wrecking hotel rooms to tidying them.

If your music was an artwork what would it look like?

A glo-mesh purse with a razor blade in it.

Do you have a favourite artist/artwork?

Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) by Elias Garcia Martinez – the Jesus painting in Zaragoza that was defaced by a cleaning lady. It reminds me of my own work – you suspect there’s some art buried in there, but all you get is an overriding smell of “Easy off – Bam!”

What’s your favourite gig you have played to date?

My first ever gig at the Springvale High School fete when I was 15. We were the only rock band on a bill full of juggling and jazz ballet. The audience went nuts – there were even screaming girls! It’s been all downhill since then.

What inspires/influences your music the most?

Too many artists, especially musical ones, achieve ‘cool’ness and go no further. Why aim so low? You’ll impress a bunch of kids – you might even impress millions of kids. But is that all you’ve got? You see some singer on TV singing in a haunting fragile voice waving her arm all ‘emotional’ like when she sings, and doing weird shit with the vowels, and you think: “Wow. She is so cool!” and so that’s what you want to be? THAT’s all you want to be? Shit, there’s even schools now where you can learn to be a rock star! So there’ll be all these impressionable adolescents learning to follow the rules, like they went to f**king Risk Management classes and learned to be a Risk Manager, and then go out into the workforce with their Risk Management Framework and Risk f**king Manage. And I’m not talking about ‘The Void’, or whatever that pop star show on TV is called, where Delta Goodrem has a good weekly blub over some over-singing conveyor belt wannabe – no! We all hang it on those programs, but at least they don’t pretend to be anything other than an insult to the viewer’s intelligence. No! It’s the ‘cool’ stuff I’m talking about – the ‘artists’ who go live in Berlin, the Archibald Prize painters who paint Nick Cave or some hobo from the Dirty Three, the writers who write about heroin addiction, the rappers who take us down the ‘mean streets’, the haunting folkies who explore the little insular melodrama of their own little insular emotional fragility – all as if these things haven’t been done over and over and over by every identical cocksmoker who came before them thinking that being ‘cool’ is some kind of full stop. You’re Cool? Great. Job done. Well no it f**king isn’t, you half-f**k, it’s just one stop on the journey to actually being good. In fact, I’d argue it’s an exit ramp off the ‘being good’ freeway. Good luck with that exit ramp, you pouting irrelevance, but just quietly, hurry up and f**k off, because you’re using up our carbon emission allowance with your gaseous belching, when there’s some kid sitting unknown in a bedroom with an original bone in their body who might actually contribute something NEW.

Me? Oh, I draw my inspiration from the brave, savage critiques of society’s f**kwitism by cutting edge performance artists like Donald Trump, or Richie from The Bachelor.

What song do you wish you wrote?

“Down Down Prices Are Down” by Status Quo. Those guys will never need to buy Glad Wrap again.

What part of making music excites you the most?

Making music is like buying a tatts ticket. The moment I make a song that nobody has heard yet, it has the possibility to change lives and put me in the great pantheon of human achievement and make every woman swoon when I walk down the street. Then I wake up next morning and check the paper. Did my numbers come up? Nope. Some ‘cool’ guy got ‘em.

What is your favourite part of being involved in Friday Nights at NGV?

I rather fancy the idea of a bunch of Tempranillo-sipping art lovers accidentally walking into the room where we’re playing and feeling strangely compelled to do the YMCA. But if, halfway through a song, I stop singing and gaze up at the beauty of the stained-glass ceiling in slobbering wonder, give me a poke, will you?

What can someone expect from your live show?

This show is called ‘Disco Christmas’. And despite all the smartarsery you’ve read in this blog, that’s an honest depiction of the subject matter. We understand that you may be copping pre-holiday overload at work, madness on the roads, a giant shopping list combined with festive agoraphobia, and a rising sense of panic about the world in general. So with Tony Martin joining us onstage, we’ll attempt to provide you a safe, non-judgemental atmosphere where you can wiggle your buttocks to your heart’s content and sing along to lines like: “Barry Gibb came 4th in a Barry Gibb lookalike contest!”

Tell us about the last song you created?

It’s a one-minute vignette about a crusading bunch of do-gooders waging war against selfie-addiction. They’re called the ‘Instagram Parsons’. Don’t worry – wait ‘till you hear it on the new album: it still won’t make any sense.

What are you working on now?

My new Disco Machine album is called ‘Get Yer Dag On!’ and it’ll be coming out this summer. Tony Martin’s on it, plus Shaun Micallef, Adalita, Liz Stringer, Judith Lucy, The Chaser’s Andrew Hansen, Pinky Beecroft – there’s about 20 guest stars on it and it’s the best vacuuming music you’ll ever hear.

Viktor&Rolf once said “At the start of our career, the art world showed a lot more interest in our work than the fashion world did…. in museums we were simply making what we imagined in our minds and the response came from the art world”. What is the most surprising response you’ve had to your work?

People keep inviting me back.

Buy tickets for NGV Friday Nights here.