This Is Serious, Mum, Herald Sun Hit Supplement, 28/5/98


Few Australian bands have lasted as long, but the "joke band" tag still plagues the otherwise unflappable TISM, writes Cameron Adams.

As far as the entertainment industry is concerned, not even the makers of Hey Dad! managed to stretch the one joke as long as TISM have.

Since 1985 the musical terrorists (aka This Is Serious Mum) have amused and abused their audiences with live shows that are anything from life-affirming to life-threatening.

Their record sales have grown steadily, culminating in a surprise top 10 chart position (and gold disc) for 1995's Machiavelli and the Four Seasons.

TISM have not only kept the interest of a nation for more than a decade, they've managed to keep their identities a secret in an industry not known for tight lips.

Rumours of who are under the trademark balaclavas have evolved into the kind of urban myth the band have made a career of documenting.

The most common theories suggest the members of TISM are everything from suburban school teachers to employees of commercial radio stations, all frustrated with their mainstream vocations and enjoying their anonymous part-time rebellion.

One rumour insists that a nephew of disgraced tycoon Christopher Skase lurks in the TISM ranks, while another popular belief is the omnipresent "they're another band in disguise" claim.

Whatever the truth, TISM are far too clever as businessmen and musicians to slay the golden goose now.

Few Australian bands have lasted as long as TISM, and rarely with the support they enjoy.

In a year that has seen the demise of bands of a similar vintage (Hoodoo Gurus, Hunters and Collectors), TISM continue to appeal to the audience who grew up with their incendiary live shows as well as subverting and converting new fans to their dubious cause.

The latest TISM album,, comes with the usual high expectations and low morals. As the title suggests, it sees TISM drag their electronic punk sound into the 90s, this time aided by producer Magoo, best known for his work on Regurgitor's 80s friendly album Unit.

"Hopefully this 80s revival continues," says TISM's in-house agitator Ron Hitler-Barassi. "We've been waiting 18 years for it."

Pop culture junkie Humphrey B. Flaubert adds: "We're stuck in the 80s ourselves because we're not good enough to break out of it. There's an 80s feel to this album by mistake."

The Regurgitator/TISM connection continues even further. As well as borrowing their producer ("Magoo had to wash thoroughly after he'd been in the studio with us to remove the smell of desperation," claims Flaubert), the two bands are about to embark on a national tour in July and form a mutual admiration society.

"They play their instruments. We're fascinated by that," says Flaubert, referring to Regurgitator.

"What have they got that we haven't?" asks Barassi. "Besides youth, talent and success. I'd like to challenge them to a fist fight on stage when we tour with them. There's three of them and there's seven of us. I think we could beat them up. I'd like to have direct physical combat with them. I think they're girls."

"We never got a chance to have a fight with Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who was famously reported as saying he wanted to punch us," Flaubert recalls happily.

"We've heard he's only three foot tall as all rock stars are." [Especially Humphrey - Ms .45]

The world of rock is one TISM are thrilled to exist in; obsessed by the scandal of celebrity porn (they posted the Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson video on their Web site), fluctuating careers (their press releases were even made into a book) and the mixture of pop and politics. Their ideas for a marriage of sport and music see them transform into a kind of evil Roy and H.G.

"I think it'd be good if there was World Series Rock, like World Series Cricket," says Barassi. "I think Kerry Packer should move in and make a rebel rock scene.

You'd bring in costumes - we'd be a shoo-in there. You could put the lead singer of Cordrazine together with the Mark of Cain. That'd be a nice grouping. Who would be Richie Benaud, Humphrey?"

Flaubert: "Donnie Sutherland, the old host of Sounds Unlimited, or Angry Anderson. He could fill the spot left in Cordrazine after the departure of the lead singer."

Barassi: "Then there's your Mavis's, who take the brightly garish, one-day cricket approach to rock."

Flaubert: "While someone like Radiohead are your full five-day match of rock."

Barassi: "Then there's the ARIAs. They're like the Brownlow Medal of rock. They should get Wayne Jackson to host it. Change the telecast to a week-by-week, gig-by-gig countdown."

Flaubert: "D. Ah Naid, Lismore. One vote. Mavis's, Ballarat. Three votes."

Barassi: "Then they could give ARIAs on countback to suspended artists like Kids in the Kitchen and Geisha." continues the TISM trend of boasting song titles almost better than the songs themselves: A Hard Earned Thirst Needs A Big Cold Beer, But I Drink To Get Pissed, Dumb'n'Base, The Parable of Glenn McGrath's Haircut and Been Caught Wanking. The latter is an almost prophetic documentary of celebrities and masturbation.

"It's shocking we could actually be relevant," says Flaubert. "It was through no fault of ours - we wrote it before the George Michael incident."

Barassi: "I'm with George here, I'm pro-George. What's the problem?"

Flaubert: "This is a much stronger stand than all that stuff he went through with Sony's lawyers. He was just a fat Greek guy in school. He transformed himself."

Barassi: "Caught masturbating in a toilet - he showed them all."

Then there's I Might Be A Cunt, But I'm Not A Fucking Cunt, one of their most radio-friendly singles in years with a title that spells radio poison. TV stations are not forgotten: the clip recreates a famous local celebrity porn video and includes samples from the Anderson/Lee video.

"It was too lukewarm for TV," says Flaubert of the universally-banned I Might Be A... video. "It's going to go down in the history of rock as one of the sillier moves, up there with the formation of Black Sabbath."

"E! News pulled it," says Barassi. "The people who run New Idea pulled the high moral ground on us. That's when you know you're the lowest of the low."

While their music remains both relevant and humourous (no easy task), the "joke band" tag still riles the otherwise unflappable TISM. But they have a scapegoat: former Def FX frontwoman, author and white witch Fiona Horne.

"She plotted to make sure TISM remain a joke band," Flaubert says. "We'd like to be treated like Jeff Buckley, but because of the power of the white witch we're the Weird Al Yankovics of Melbourne. But I'm not considering popping into the Dandenong Creek with my guitar and never being seen again."

Barassi: "Lead singer of TISM Humphrey B. Flaubert was going for a quick dip in the Dandenong Creek after being disappointed with his latest album."

Flaubert: "...and then his mum went and released it."

The game continues. The insults may fly, but while the masks remain, it's a one-way street.

"Anonymity is important," Flaubert muses. "Especially when you're ugly. The good thing about being ugly is that you can't get any worse. The beautiful people have one or other choice, either go the Buckley way or you end up being the Angels."


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