For those who are unfamiliar with TISM (an acronym for This Is Serious Mum), the Melbourne seven-piece was formed in 1982 and became something of a cult phenomenon. At least, that’s the Fairfax version of events. For those who are familiar with the band, you’ll know that a picture of TISM belongs in the dictionary next to ‘irreverent’.
The band dissolved in 2004. Now out on his own, Damian Cowell, who formerly went by the pseudonym Humphrey B. Flaubert, is gearing up to unveil his new solo album, Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine. A tome of admittedly cheesy ’70s disco, packed with guest stars – everyone from Shaun Micallef, to Kate Miller-Heidke.
In order to figure out just what the hell is going on this ridiculous, absurd, eclectic, and highly enjoyable collection of tracks, we tapped Cowell to give us a track-by-track rundown of the album, elaborating on the motivations and stories behind each wheel and cog in his Disco Machine.
I wanted to make a dance album with lots of special guests. Trouble is, even if I could afford his suits, I still wouldn’t look like Mark Ronson. I needed an excuse to make a dick of myself and dance like I’m on Eurovision. And then it came to me: disco!
When you say ‘disco’ people stop worrying about art. And start enjoying themselves. Perfect.
Jesus Barista Superstar
I’m not saying who the guest star is on this track, because I think she’s worried about what kind of disreputable garbage she’s let herself in for. But there’s no mistaking her inimitable voice, her distinctive couture – hers are the first words you hear on the album, and what follows is a rags to riches story: ‘From all points of the globe they flocked to his ghetto, just to see him turn water into ristretto.’
Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine Part 1 – Feat. Shaun Micallef
Shaun came to my house and did his part with that effortless urbanity of his, and although it was actually the first time we’d met, I found we were very similar – except that he’s famous and lots of women want to root him.
Don’t Hector The Safety Cat – Feat. Tony Martin
You don’t need to have lived in the 80s and seen the Hector the Safety Cat commercial to understand this song. It’s a wagging finger of admonition at people who live inner city and love to set themselves above the throng of stunted, unadventurous, job-chained suburban automatons – well, me, actually. Tony Martin is playing the role of one of the old guys up in the balcony on The Muppets Show. OK, that was from the 80s too. Smartarse.
Epistemophobia – Feat. Kate Miller-Heidke
The idea for this song came to me three years ago when a track called ‘Euphoria’ won Eurovision. Hmmm… there’s that Eurovision theme coming in again… Anyway, Kate Miller-Heidke is freakishly talented, smart, kind and arrestingly beautiful. I am the cookie monster.
4D Printer – Feat. Kathy Lette
With Puberty Blues, Kathy Lette was sticking it to dickhead Australian maleness long before I realised I was part of the problem. I recorded her from London via Skype, which gave her voice an otherworldly quality much suited to this song about the horrifying state of the world and me escaping it by printing an alternate world where (just coincidentally) I’m younger and look good in skinny pants. Come on technology Fuhrers – it must surely be just around the corner.
I’m Addicted To Moderation – Feat. Tim Rogers
Tim and I played out our roles when he came to my house – he in clothes you’d wear onstage, me in neatly pressed t-shirt and jeans. That was where the pigeonholing stopped. I got Tim to sing falsetto and extol the virtues of an early night in. He was brilliant, and I suspect that he’s quietly giggling at everyone who thinks he’s some cartoon John Belushi figure. Mind you, when he left he was off drinking with Tex Perkins. I went to clean the bathrooms.
I Hope You Get Laid For Christmas – Feat. Liz Stringer
Ever been given a vacuum cleaner for Christmas? A ceramic wombat from your mother, who bought one for all your brothers and sisters too? A jumper two sizes too small with a picture of a moose on it? This song is for you. Getting Liz Stringer to sing on it was like asking Cézanne to paint over some graffiti on Dandenong Station.
Damian Cowell’S Disco Machine Part 2 – Feat. Julia Zemiro and Sam Pang
I asked Julia and Sam to talk over the track, gently mocking me as if I were a contestant on Eurovision. Hang on… what a stupid idea: me being on Eurovision!
Folk Music Turns Me Into A Fascist – Feat. Emily Jarrett
This is not an anti-hipster song. God knows there’s enough people picking on hipsters at the moment, and most of them are hipsters. No, it was just an excuse for me to fill a song with all the most un-PC things I could think of. You should try it some time – it’s very cleansing. On it, Emily Jarrett sounds like Zelda D’Aprano, singing for all the suffragettes as she chains herself to the Commonwealth building for the cause of equal pay. And some hipster just stole her parking spot.
Things I’ve Said In Job Interviews – Feat. John Safran
Come on – are you really as good as your CV says? This fetchingly plastic calypso singalong is really a song of shameful admission. And when you want self-recrimination, like some kind of hair-shirt-wearing priest flaying himself with a cat ‘o nines before evening vespers, who you gonna call? John Saf-ran!
Groovy Toilet – Feat. Bek Chapman
My friends and I went to the Lui Bar, which is the high-rise uber-exclusive bar of the fabulously expensive Vue De Monde restaurant. In the men’s toilets, they arrange the individual pissoirs in a circle. So essentially you’re looking straight into the next guy’s eyes as you wee. Makes a change from his dick I suppose. Bek Chapman sounds like a beautiful siren’s call coming up from the s-bend.
I Wanna Be Loved (By Me) – Feat. The Bedroom Philosopher
One of these days I’ll finally write that song called Ennui Will Rock You (you gotta pronounce it like the French do). But in the meantime, this plaintive tale of self-loathing is driven beautifully into the corner pocket by the man who truly rocks ennui – The Beddy Phil himself.
Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine Part Three
This is the last happy conga line before you go back to your FKA Twigs album and pop your head in a medium oven.
Well, that’s it. A whole cavalcade of really amazing people, and me running around after them pissing on the ground like a dog marking its territory. I hope you like it. It’s the only stuff I’d ever play at Eurovision.