At the inception of their final show, frontman of irreverent Melbourne country institution Root! and one-time TISM honcho gives his last interview as DC ROOT and his first as DAMIAN COWELL. ANDY HAZEL marks the occasion.
“This is a momentous interview!” prefaces DC Root, singer and songwriter of country and western-influenced, lyrically hilarious social commentary band Root! as he slides into a booth in an inner Melbourne cafe. “This will be like John Lennon’s interview with Molly Meldrum in 1969 when he said ‘the Beatles are dead,’ I mean, it’s clearly on that scale isn’t it?’ he says drily. “This is the end not only of Root! But of DC Root.” he continues. “I’ve adopted a new pseudonym, which is actually my real name, I am henceforth known as Damian Cowell; it’s the end of an era,” says Cowell with a smile. “No one is being fired, which sounds very Gillard-Abbot of me, but it’s true. It was the fact I couldn’t bring myself to fire anybody that was part of the ending of the personae. It’s not all me of course, it’s my fabulous canasta partner Henri. He’s a man who drives over the cliff like Thelma and Louise, he was kicked out of Balwyn Public Swimming Pool once, so he’s clearly a man of action,” says Cowell tucking into his minestrone.
Never one to celebrate his past, Cowell occupies a unique position both as social commentator and artistic terrorist so to find him ensconced in one of the most staid of genres had more than a few fans scratching their heads before buying the albums. Soon enough, Cowell reached a point where it was clear that no style could claim him. “Our new manager asked some hard questions when she took over a year ago,” he says seriously. “She asked ‘Why do you wear the [cowboy] hats?’ I fumbled around for two hours and bored everyone into a coma with my answer, but I didn’t have an answer at all. Pant-wetting fear that was the real reason, and as a result Henri said ‘Lose the hats and let’s not get pigeonholed as a Ryan Adams kind of thing’ - which, if you look at our photos, we could be – ‘let’s break it apart and take the bits you like.”
That the initial idea of Root! was a country punk band with lyrical barbs and songs like I Wish I Was Tex Perkins was no accident. “When you get on the twilight side of thirty and look at yourself in the mirror and say ‘who do you think you are getting up on stage with all these young people’ I figured, erroneously, that I needed a prop or crutch to lever me from the world of lawn-edging and tracksuit pants,’ he says sincerely. ‘I’m not afraid of what I’m doing, but it’s very difficult to disassociate being young and sexy with being intelligent in this incredibly superficial arse-end of showbiz that is rock, everyone loves to hear from an angry young man, but an angry old man is just bitter. I was overly conscious of the fact that I didn’t look right, that I needed a look.”
No such fears are allaying Cowell now as he pieces together his next move. Recent Root! songs Girls Girls Girls, Henry Wagons and Shut The Fuck Up are all likely to appear on his forthcoming solo album as are some of his more articulate works. Age is clearly not dulling the pen of Cowell who is still full of opinion (‘obviously Sting is a hateful individual who needs a Bic ballpoint pen through his eyeball’), and creativity. “I’ve always managed to not write songs about death, addiction and all those melodramatic things that only happen to people who go to private school,” says Cowell humbly. “I’m fully aware I live a double life because my parents programmed me that if you didn’t have a decent job you’re a loser, and I freely admit to living in a suburban box and it’s great. You can crap on like Pete Doherty but you catch that 7:15 stopping all stations every morning and then tell me about pain.”