Told Ya This Was Serious, Mum, Lauren McMenamy, The Adelaide Advertiser


It's a long way to the bottom in rock and TISM (This Is Serious Mum) members don't feel they've reached it yet. Lauren McMenamy goes beneath Ron Hitler-Barassi's balaclava. [Ooh-er - Ms .45 who really fucking needs to grow up]

"So how's the work experience going there at the Advertiser? Because it's got to be the work experience chick that gets the interview with TISM. We'er not talking interviewing the Premier, are we?"

In one sentence, Ron Hitler-Barassi has summed up 15 years of service to the Australian music industry. TISM, the "joke band" in balaclavas that never should have lasted beyond as an album, has lasted long enough to put out a retrospective compilation.

tism.bestoff, Retrospective works 86/02 is a journey through alternative Australian culture. If you believe the band. Few other Australian bands have provoked such a passionate response aas TISM - you either love 'em or run screaming when you hear such classics as (He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River, Greg! The Stop Sign, and Whatareya. And it's probably fair to say Australian music would ahve been very different had TISM not surfaced in the mid-1980s.

At least, that's what they reckon.

It's true that if TISM didn't exist, there would never have been a music interview conducted on a footbal field using two megaphones and a 50m piece of string. Or one in a freezer. Or one of countless other "myths" about them.

"One thing about having no real popular success, not enough money to give up our day jobs, no real critical acclaim, at least whatever we're doing it for we're not doing it for those things," Hitler-Barassi says. "There's a certain weird comfort in that.

"It's very easy to be in a band that everybody thinks is groovy, or that's selling a lot of records, but if you've got neither of that then you really want to be in the band. And it does look like we really want to be in TISM. God knows why, but at least we're sure of that."

As they say in bestoff's liner notes, TISM's sour grapes have turned into a great whine. The band has made a long career out of lampooning popular culture - everything from sexual deviates to Fred Durst - starting as a cult act and gaining mainstream attention with Machiavelli and the Four Season in 1995. And the band's not likely to change any time soon.

"Change is a greatly overrated quality," Hitler-Barassi says. "TISM are what TISM are. TISM have never changed. What we did 15 years ago was write little pop tunes, and what we're doing 15 years later is writing little pop tunes and TISM like it. Nothing wrong with it. I actually think that's quite an honourable way to go.

"Change these days - change means you've bought a new t-shirt. Change means you've downloaded another sample from the internet and so your keyboard line sounds a little bit different. For me, it's what chord goes after what chord. It's always been that. There's a whole superstructure, a whole iceberg frozen around the core. Someone's just got to sit down and work out the chords.

"Moby can sit down and listen to 500 hours of other people's music and sample the ones he likes best, but I personally think it's harder to sit down with a guitar and work out which chords go where. I think that's a harder thing and just as worthy a thing as Moby scouring old blues records, listening to them for hours and boasting about it."

But what is it about TISM that sparks such passionate responses?

"I think that despire the masks and the anonymity, TISM are an extremely knowable band," Hitler-Barassi says. "I'm in a band and I think: what's it really like to be in a band? None of the members of TISM ever goes out with starlets. None of us being reported about the offers from a groovy New York producer. We don't record our albums overseas. We don't even go overseas. We're not even full time.

And I think despite the stage names, and despite the personas, people who have crusted onto TISM know for whatever else you can say about TISM, we know that they're just as mediocre and jsut as pained and just as normal as us."

And it is the fans that keep TISM going. Describing live TISM shows as the debating team facing the footy club, Hitler-Barassi says fear is the greatest of motivators.

"If Elvis Costello played poorly, would his crowd tell him? I'm not so sure they would - his crowd is so reverential, and fair enough too, of course, the man is fantastic - but if he played poorly, I'm not sure whether people would say the king has no clothes. But the nanosecond TISM aren't up to it, we're going to know about it. The nanosecond after we get on stage and those hundred people at the front row expecting the intensity and aggro and comedy that is a TISM show, the nanosecond they think that this band has lost it, we'll know about it via beer cans and bloodthirsty revenge before the first song finishes."


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