Jock Cheese interview, Elizabeth McCarthy, Beat, 19/03/03

tism member jock cheese tells elizabeth mccarthy about the biggest mistake of his life

Tour bus tantrums, studio spats, fisticuffs over who guzzled the rider. Lead singers who claim artistic claustrophobia, guitarists who feel 'overshadowed', and drummers who dream of setting self-penned poetry to their closet multi-instrumentations. This is the perennial flipside of rock n roll fame and fortune. Fans wince and A&R folk wish they'd never bankrolled the frequently under-cooked, overwrought, artistically bereft wasteland known as the Solo Album.

Jock Cheese, TISM bassist for the past 20 years, is alarmed by this seemingly unrepentant trend. "I formed ASAP (Anti Solo Album Project) to warn other musicians about the terribly introspective time I've had to go through with producing my own solo album, Jock Cheese Platter. Let's just say I never want to get that close to myself ever again." He immediately quashes any suggestions of euphemistic 'creative differences' within TISM that brought him to this dark, damaged point of his career. "I started writing material for TISM but in the end the band turned to me and said, 'this music is not TISM, this is Jock Cheese'."

Cheese has made a mellow album that has been described as 'TISM on valium'. "I don't mind valium as a drug. It's not my drug of choice but if I was to be stuck on valium constantly, I wouldn't be very worried," says Cheese. "If the album was exactly the same as TISM that would probably be the worst thing I could have done. TISM has always been a bunch of mellow guys punctuated by these huge spikes of aggression. But people forget about the more quiet, touching songs. The down-time has always been there."

Cheese was joined by Ron Hitler-Barassi and Humphrey B. Flaubert for lyric writing duties. "I've written most of the choruses," he says. "I've taken their lyrics and pushed, changed, added, and taken away. With lyrics, I'm third in line but first at the bucket. First pig at the swill trough."

At this point Cheese commences grunting, much like a pig. Is something wrong? "I'm just going through my personal assault course whilst on the phone to you. I like to feel under pressure when I do interviews." I offer to intensify my line of questioning. "That'll be difficult. I quite enjoy interviews. But slap away." I tell him my angle for this article is that as a result of his designs for solo megastardom, a rift has blown the TISM camp asunder. "Well I have to write songs with them next week. So if I turn up to the rehearsal space, and there's nobody there, well...there's your answer." Cheese becomes strangely quiet. Perhaps he has just relinquished a particularly large piece of assault apparatus.

Cheese does vocals on the album, and plays most of the gear. The last seven tracks are straight instrumentals. "To quote ten million people from the year 1960 onwards, it's all about the music, man. I wanted to give the raw product a decent showing." It seems, though, that quite a few of those last seven tracks are in fact previous tracks, sans lyrics. Cheese sounds annoyed. "A few? They all are! How many times have you listened to this record?" I explain that I like the songs with lyrics, so when I get to track twelve, I skip the instrumentals and go back to the beginning of the album. This seems to placate him. "Well, I hope you do that continuously. And again and again and again. Most other people go, 'We really like your singing voice, but wow I like the songs without the words.' I felt well rounded with the twelve tracks, but I wanted to produce a CD that was also value for money."

Cheese declares himself from "Middle-class, middle minded, middle Australia. The lyrics are reflective of my life but not autobiographical." La Traviata concerns an inability to connect with a woman beyond the primal, whilst Friday Night Shakespeare is about wife and child going AWOL. I wonder if he considered making some extra cash by offering Totally Addicted To Skase to the makers of the Skase movie? "If I'd written music that sounded like the Benny Hill theme, then that would have been appropriate for that film".

The Salinger inspired, Don't Burn 'Em All J.D. provides the highlight of the album. We both agree Catcher In The Rye is a masterpiece. "I quote Robert Browning in that song. What Browning is saying is that you may have the talent, but you don't have the drive. You may have the drive, but you don't have the smarts. Few people have both. Salinger had the talent and the smarts for that book. But since then he has never published another full length novel." Has Salinger misplaced his enchanted quill? Cheese starts shrieking. "He's burning all his manuscripts! He just can't get back up to the mark of Catcher In The Rye! I have a huge, wonderful clip planned for that song. I play Salinger's personal secretary. I sit there and say, 'J.D., here's that coffee you wanted. Oh J.D. the board called and said they like it.' I'm helping him, saying, 'Don't burn 'em all J.D., kick a few on to me.' This song is the undiscovered song of the decade 2000-2010."

Cheese wanted an explanatory video to accompany each CD. He believes guidance through the album would have cleared up any lyrical ambiguities and black spots. For instance, the song "Why Don't You Get A Bigger Set Of Tits" is entitled with unattributed quotation marks. Is he quoting himself? "No. I can't name who I'm quoting, I'll be sued blind. This person is very incorrect and has been for a long time." A more obvious number is O Great Rabbit In The Sky. "There are alot of strains of herpes out there, and religion is very much the same," he laments. "When you get a bit run down, up pops the old cold sore. Or some dickhead that says 'Come and give us all your money and think like us'. I'm having a stab at the ideology that religion can make your life better than you can make it yourself. They act like corporations. They cause wars." He pauses for a rare breath. "I'm agnostic, by the way."

But can we expect a live show of gospel type fervor? "I've assembled a bunch of crack Melbourne musicians. I'll be the only masked man in the room. Every track on the album will be played, including the slow, mellow, boring ones. If the people at the Evelyn signal to me that everyone is not drinking enough, we'll launch into a 20 minute instrumental version of Don't Burn Em All J.D."

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