NOTEleven years after their last live appearance, Melbourne satirical band TISM have announced their return, with the masked and anonymous collective playing a series of shows at the Good Things festival in early December.
TISM – an acronym for This Is Serious Mum – emerged from suburban Melbourne in the early 1980s, releasing their first full album Great Trucking Songs of the Renaissance in 1988. It was followed by a rare self-published book, The TISM Guide to Little Aesthetics, which was eventually released with heavily obscured sections on legal advice.
The group quickly became a cult following, with a reputation for wild shows, branded hoods and increasingly elaborate costumes. The first songs oscillated between the absurd, the obscene and the intellectual, covering everything from sexual perversions of adolf hitler to Index of all ordinaries. In 1995, their third album, Machiavelli and the four seasons – with the hits There will never be a river Ol’ Man and Greg! The stop sign!! – won an Aria Award for Best Independent Release.
TISM has also become famous for its interviews and press releases. The first exchanges were made by fax: long screeds filled with profanity, invariably defamatory, generally delivered after the deadline. Guardian Australia conducted this interview (sort of) with singers Humphrey B Flaubert and Ron Hitler-Barassi via Zoom – with the video link disabled.
Responses have been heavily edited for length, clarity, and risk of defamation.
Ron Hitler-Barassi: Andrew! Ron Hitler-Barassi from TISM here, and I’m just wondering, where is Lenore [Taylor, Guardian Australia editor] and [political editor] Katherine Murphy? Were they not available?
Sorry, I think they were busy.
Ron HB: Never mind. Anyway, listen – I loved your recent use of the word whispers. Where did you get that one from?
Ron HB: Now, Andrew, I know what you’re going to ask: after 19 years of absence, what are we going to play? We are going to base our new musical style on whispers. I don’t know anything about the Good Things festival except they’re paying me $4.7 million, but I think audiences could enjoy an hour of birdsong.
Your last album of new material consisted of almost two hours of silence, and it sold out. What does this tell us about TISM fans?
Ron HB: Look Andrew, we’re not talking to Bongo and the Monkey on the FM radio here, we’re talking to someone from the Guardian. We’re not talking about high end – we’re not talking about Katharine and we’re not talking about Lenore here – but we’re talking to a man about your acumen, and I think you’ll get that over the last 19 years of the silence was actually a work of art. It’s like a facility. It’s a reassessment of our aesthetic, and I think after 19 years we’ve made our point loud and clear.
Your shows were physically demanding affairs. Can you describe your fitness program leading up to this event?
Humphrey BF: Oh, you know, Andrew, how long is a piece of string? Honestly, every time someone answers a question with “how long does a piece of string last” I think they should be fucking hanged. This is the kind of question-by-question answer bullshit that people use in the business world. You know, the bits of string are actually fucking long. Come out and say how long that fucking piece of string lasts.
Ron HB: You see, Andrew – 19! People have been waiting for 19 years, and I think what Humphrey just said was worth the wait. And I think you’ll have noticed, being from the Guardian, that it was just after the last Liberal cabinet died that we re-emerged, and that’s because we noticed there was a void in the market for clowns grotesque. They went out ; were in.
We actually tried to get Angus Taylor – we offered him to play triangle – but it was a bit intellectual for him.
Tony Burke says the war on the arts has finished. What do you think of that?
Humphrey BF: Well, clearly he was unaware that we were coming back.
After the Good Things festival, will you represent Australia at Eurovision?
Ron HB: Nineteen, Andrew, 19. I know we didn’t give you much, but is that what you’re offering? Of the Guardian? God, we might as well be on Triple M, man. Fucking hell. And afterwards, are you going to ask us about the costumes, the balaclavas?
In fact, what do you think, Humphrey? Will Eurovision bring us as much money as Good Things?
Humphrey BF: Well, once the kitchen is done, I look at the bathroom area; I think the tiles are a bit rococo.
Ron HB: Like Midnight Oil and all the good leftist journalists at the Guardian, we want to send our children to private schools. I tell you what, Scotch [College] ain’t cheap, mate. Once they’re in senior year, it’s about $29,000 a year. For the Good Things festival, it’s about a song and a half.
You have entered the poet Sarah Holland-Batt on a Geniuses and assholes t-shirt. Which is she?
Ron HB: She certainly knows a lot about birds. She has a wonderful poem about the skull of a cockatoo she finds on the beach, where she simply reflects on mortality and the nature of corporeality. She’s obviously a genius, man, she’s a beauty.
There could be a war on the arts, but we’re counting on Holland-Batt. She is exempt from our war.
Who took the place of your late guitarist, Tokin’ Blackman?
Ron HB: We tried a few people, man. There are well-known guitarists in Melbourne.
Humphrey BF: Josh Frydenberg is one.
Ron HB: There are plenty of opportunities for old white men now that the government has fallen.
Do you expect to be canceled following this performance?
Humphrey BF: We hope before, in fact.
Ron HB: Well, we paid the money. Mate, we will be too [censored] as you wish, the money is in the bank. [Censored] Or was it just the deposit? Oh shit, I think it was just bail. Cancel that last bit, Andrew. We can trust you, you are a journalist.
The Good Things festival will be held on December 2 in Melbourne, December 3 in Sydney and December 4 in Brisbane, with TISM, Bring Me the Horizon, Deftones and NOFX. Presales are available on June 21, with the general release on June 23
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