TISM makes long-awaited comeback: ‘After the elections there is a gap in the market for grotesque clowns’

NThirteen years after their last live performance, Melbourne-based satirical band TISM have announced their comeback, 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 the Melbourne suburbs in the early 1980s and released their first full-length album, Great Trucking Songs of the Renaissance, in 1988. This was followed by a rare, self-published book, The TISM Guide to Little Aesthetics, which was eventually released with sections heavily obscured on legal advice.

The band quickly gained cult status, with a reputation for wild live shows, signature balaclavas and increasingly elaborate costumes. Early songs fluctuated between the absurd, the obscene and the intellectual, covering everything from the… sexual perversions of Adolf Hitler to the All common index† In 1995 their third album, Machiavelli and the Four Seasons – containing the hits He will never be an Ol’ Man River and Greg! The stop sign!! – won an Aria award for best independent release.

TISM also became infamous for their interviews and press releases. Early exchanges were made by fax: long, expletives-filled, always defamatory screeds, usually delivered after the deadline. Guardian Australia conducted this interview (of some sort) with singers Humphrey B Flaubert and Ron Hitler-Barassi via Zoom – with the video link disabled.

The answers have been heavily edited for length, clarity, and risk of slander.

Ron Hitler Barassi: Andrew! Ron Hitler-Barassi from TISM here, and I wonder where is Lenore [Taylor, Guardian Australia editor] and [political editor] Katharine Murphy? Were they not available?

Sorry, I think they were busy.

Ron HB: Oh well. Anyway, look – I loved your recent use of the word mumble† Where did you get that?

A dictionary.

Ron HB: Andrew, I know what you’re going to ask: what are we going to play after 19 years of absence? We are going to base our new music style on murmurings. I don’t know anything about the Good Things festival, other than that they pay me $4.7 million, but I think the audience could enjoy an hour of bird-like muttering.

Your last album of new material consisted of almost two hours of silence, and it was 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 excellence – we’re not talking Katharine and we’re not talking Lenore here – but we’re talking to a man of your acuity, and I think you that the last 19 years of silence has actually been a work of art. It’s like an installation. 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 business. Can you describe your fitness regime leading up to this event?

Humphrey B.F.: Oh, you know, Andrew, how long is a piece of string? Honestly, every time someone answers a question with “how long is a piece of string”, I think they should be fucking hung. That’s the kind of answer-a-question-with-a-question bullshit that people in the business world use. You know, pieces of rope are really fucking length. Just come out and tell me how long that damned piece of rope is.

TISM member plays guitar
TISM plays live at the Hi-Fi Bar in 2001. Photo: Mary Boukouvalas

Ron HB: Look, Andrew – 19 years old! People have been waiting for 19 years, and I think what Humphrey just said made the wait worth it. And I think you’ll have noticed, since you’re from The Guardian, that we resurfaced right after the demise of the last Liberal cabinet, and that’s because we noticed there was a gap in the market for grotesque clowns. They’re out; were in.

We tried to get Angus Taylor – we offered him the task of playing triangle – but it was a bit intellectual for him.

Tony Burke says that the war against the arts has ended. What do you think of that?

Humphrey B.F.: He clearly didn’t know we were coming back.

Are you going to represent Australia at Eurovision after the Good Things festival?

Ron HB: Nineteen years, Andrew, 19 years. I know we haven’t given you much, but that’s what you’re thinking? From the Guardian? God, we might as well be on Triple M, mate. Damned hell. Now what, are you going to ask us about the suits, the balaclavas?

What do you think, Humphrey? Will Eurovision Pay Us As Much Money As Good Things?

Humphrey B.F.: Well, when the kitchen is ready, I look at the bathroom; I think the tiles are a bit rococo.

Ron HB: Like Midnight Oil and all good left-wing Guardian journalists, we want to send our kids to private schools. I’m telling you what, Scotch [College] ain’t cheap, mate. Once they’re senior, that’s about $29,000 a year. For the Good Things festival, that’s about one and a half songs.

You mentioned the poet Sarah Holland-Batt on a T-shirt of geniuses and jerks† Which is she?

Ron HB: She certainly knows a lot about birds. She has a beautiful poem about the skull of a cockatoo that she finds on the beach, in which she reflects on mortality and the nature of physicality. She’s clearly a genius, mate, she’s a beauty.

There may be a war on the arts, but we’re counting down Holland-Batt. She is exempt from our war.

Who has stepped forward to fill the shoes of your late guitarist, Tokin’ Blackman?

Ron HB: We tried a few people, mate. There are some well known guitarists in Melbourne.

Humphrey B.F.: Josh Frydenberg is one.

Ron HB: There are many opportunities for old white men now that the government has fallen.

Do you expect to be canceled after this performance?

Humphrey B.F.: In fact, we hope sooner.

Ron HB: Well, we paid the money. Mate, we’ll be soon [censored] as you wish, the money is in the bank. [Censored] Or was that just the deposit? Oh shit, I think it was just the deposit. Cancel that last bit, Andrew. We can trust you, you are a journalist.

  • Good Things festival will be held on December 2 in Melbourne, December 3 in Sydney and December 4 in Brisbane, featuring TISM, Bring Me the Horizon, Deftones and NOFX. Presale is available on June 21, with general release on June 23

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