Balaclava Road Warriors - Interview by Jeff Jenkins, In Press, 8/7/98


Shirley, they can't be serious. TISM are back with a new album,, claiming they want to be taken seriously. Are they serious? You be the judge...

1995's Machiavelli and the Four Seasons gave TISM a top ten and gold album. At the time, Ron Hitler Barassi tipped: "Personally, I think it is the end of TISM." Humphrey B. Flaubert said: "We're looking forward to the backlash when all our alternative fans hate us and all the teenies have dropped us."

Ron is now philosophic as he reflects on fame: "You know, popular culture is a devourish beast. You can flirt with popular culture, but it'll eat you alive. The whole thing about popular culture is it wants more, doesn't it? And it don't go deep, it only goes shallow. When you're part of popular culture, what you need is another shallow product."

We're at the Novotel in the city. No idea why. When Ron Hitler Barassi is asked if the hotel is a usual hang out for the band, he says: "Normally it's the Oakleigh Motel for us, mate. I don't know if you know this, but that was the first motel ever in Australia. In fact, there were a lot of firsts in Oakleigh. It was the birthplace of suburbia, and that's our speed. Billy Joel said he grew up in the first suburb in the world. And he's paying for it now, isn't he? He's the ultimate suburban rock star, no cred at all, nothing. The only person with less cred than Lenny Kravitz is Billy Joel."

TISM sample TMG's Jump In My Car on the new album. That was first released in 1975. Is it a pointer to the fact that beneath the masks are some old bastards? "Showing our age? We wanted to sample something that wasn't Smack My Bitch Up. Samples are so groovy. Every sample has to be a groovy, Islamic four-stringed instruments, Tricky's latest album and all that. Fuck that. Why not sample Jump In My Car? "

TISM contine to write about Melbourne on King Street features in Dumb'n'Bass ("If you happen on King St by mischance/you're in the home of compulsory health insurance"), and the MCG pops up in The Parable of Glenn McGrath's Haircut. "We find it hard to write things for the common man without being trite," Ron confesses. "We put in references to our city and the suburbs and our experiences, but it's fucking hard. It's just as hard as putting in swearing. It annoys me in interviews, you know The Mavis's will say things like 'People can take from our lyrics what they like...' We've got exactly the opposite point of view. With our lyrics, we're busting our balls to say: 'Here's the message hand-delivered to you and we want you to understand every freaking word.' And when you read our lyrics, start at word A and go to word Z and they actually make sense. Fucking REM, what is all that stuff? I could write an REM lyric right now: 'And then the Washington Dome came down/Like horses galloping along the beach/It was not me, it was not me/The star of E News is Donna Kebab'. Sorry, I put a TISM thing at the end."

Humphrey said a couple of years back: "We're just a moral vacuum, we're giving nothing to the youth of today." But Ron says the new album has a message for all the young kids. "I reckon the most poignant warning to the youth of today is in The Parable of Glenn McGrath's Haircut." The track concludes: "It's the cunts with the bad haircuts that you've got to watch out for. There's never been a popular teenager yet who's done rats with their life. It's the fucking dorks that give it a real. Glenn McGrath got 5 for 50 that day." Ron explains: "It's something we all know - good looking teenagers have shite lives. Our message to our teenage listeners is don't get sucked in because you can pash the good looking guy/girl at school, don't get deluded by the fact that you look like a soapie star. Bad looking teenagers, like the people in TISM, understand it all. That's our message to teenagers - If you're good looking, you're fucked. If you're ugly, you're fucked, but at least you know you're fucked."

Is there a sad irony in the fact that TISM have risen above the ugly teen syndrome and had success, but no-one can recognise them because they're hiding behind those masks? "I celebrate the fact that our position in relation to the audience and the industry is the position of the loser, the mediocre, the unglamourous, the unarty, the uncreative. Our stance is all of you people locked out by the rarefied sensibility of rock stars. People always want the 'What if...' life of others. What if I had a better life? What if I was better looking? What if I didn't have to do this accounting assignment? TISM are telling people the 'What if' life is still shit, go back to your office."

TISM prove themselves to be prophets on with a track called Been Caught Wankin'. "George Michael is an example of what we're talking about," Ron says. "He was an ugly guy, the fat Greek guy, but he transmogrified himself into the 'What if' - good looking, talented, successful. And he ended up jerkin' off in a public toilet. What a powerful image that is. Ninety-five percent of teenagers would have pushed the George Michael button to transform themselves into him. Yet there'd be another button that no-one would tell you about and it's caught doing a lewd act in a public place. Forget the 'What if' life, the problem is your life now."

What are the most asked TISM questions?

" 'When are you gonna take off your masks?' And the answer is the masks are crap. Forget the masks, there's never been a red herring more powerful than the fucking masks. It's drama, theatre. We could take the masks off, but there's no point. I could give you my real name, but so what? No one would know it. The masks are there to position ourselves unlike any other band. But we don't want you to see underneath the mask, we want you to see beyond the mask.

The other most-asked questions. Do your mothers think you're serious? Are you a one-joke band? Who do you hate? Slag off Kylie Minogue, slag off Derryn Hinch, slag off Ray Martin..."

Journalists continue to be fascinated by rumours surrounding the true identities of TISM. Talk that the band contains a nephew of Christopher Skase is currently popular. What are Ron's favourite rumours? "We always get 'You're the Painters and Dockers' and that's a touch drab. There's also this rumour that we've all got normal jobs. And the answer is, of course we fucking have. It's not a rumour pal, it's real."

Will Ron Hitler Barassi do a solo album? "Yeah, I think so. It would be Wayne Carey reading Helen Garner's The First Stone - Ron Hitler Barassi Presents Wayne Carey Reading Helen Garner's The First Stone. And I'd just be mumbling in the background, 'Grow a bigger set of tits'... I don't think it will sell."

Did TISM like getting a gold record? "I look at the gold record and it shows me that when we're talkin' at least somebody's listening. There's nothing wrong with having an audience."


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