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TISM Talk Success, John ButlerAnd The White Albun

This Is Serious Mum are a tough band to write about without sinking in to terrible pits of journalistic cliché and run-of-the-mill rock ‘n’ roll wankery. After 20 odd years of writing and performing, the band’s reputation has been pretty much cemented, for good or for ill. Even the quickest glance at the thousands of words written on them will make it painfully clear how uninterested most journalists are in talking to TISM about their music. Indeed, the basic TISM-interviewing formula seems to involve asking ‘do your mum’s take you seriously yet?’ or ‘why do you still wear masks?’ or ‘what do you think of (insert current topic or celebrity)?’


There’s a reason for this history of interviewers avoiding discussing anything even vaguely musical: the two frontmen of TISM can riff on just about any topic. Hitler-Barassi and Flaubert combine a politician’s flair for soundbites and media-wrangling with the genuine wit of a good comedian and the intelligence of an academic. Their nigh-dramatic conversational chemistry is akin to top-notch theatresports. In an industry full of bored, underpaid writing geeks asking boring questions to bored, underpaid musos, it’s not surprising that most writers want to take advantage of TISM’s ability to deliver such blazingly vitriolic diatribes on any topics du jour.


But I’ve openly adored TISM’s music from a very young age. Hence, as I sit in the empty Metro bar waiting for the guys, my mind is focused solely on the tunes. However, when Hitler-Barassi and Flaubert come out to talk to me clad in their full-on white suits and masks, my desire to ‘get serious’ with them abates a little. And so, I ask how their gig the previous night was. ‘It was a very warm and celebratory evening,’ says Flaubert. Hitler-Barassi elaborates: ‘It was a good gig because we all got headjobs… from each other.’


I mention that I enjoyed the gig, especially the bogans mercilessly humping all those up the front. ‘Low-level sexual harassment has always been high on TISM’s list of ambitions, in a live performance context,’ says Flaubert, obviously all too aware of the amount of yobs who come along to a typical TISM concert.


This talk of bogan-sexuality, oddly enough, gets Flaubert elaborating on the kind of person who goes to a John Butler Trio gig. ‘You go along to John Butler and the girls are looking at you there thinking “he must be a fairly sensitive kind of guy,” [but] really all you wanna’ do is jerk off on to their backs.’ ‘Or,’ Hitler-Barassi says, ‘if you can’t cum you just spit on their backs and say “that was great.”’


Talk turns to the new album, The White Albun. One of TISM’s more esoteric efforts, the album is musically and thematically akin to Att: Shock Records, the little-heard bonus disc that came with 1997’s www.tism.wanker.com. Is Flaubert proud of the album? ‘I’m certainly always proud of everything we do. It’s sort of like when I’m proud of my poo. I look down on it and think ‘that’s well-formed, that means I’m healthy.’ His faeces-related modesty is belied a little by his obvious affection for the album.


Hitler-Barassi is also clearly passionate about the album. Unlike the past two albums, DeRigeur Mortis and www.tism.wanker.com, The White Albun exhibits a band clearly at ease with themselves. Hitler-Barassi says ‘I reckon we went a bit low-brow with the [two albums] made before [The White Albun]. We went against our instincts and went “alright then, we need to slag off Fred Durst.”’ He’s right of course – the White Albun deals far more with the universal themes seen in TISM’s early work than the minutiae of celebrity.  On Mortis and wanker.com ‘it sounded like TISM were trying too hard to sound like TISM. It was like we were a TISM covers band,’ says Hitler-Barassi.


Although it may not have been apparent, it seems TISM had problems dealing with the success that the gold-selling Machiavelli & The Four Seasons (1995) brought them. It was an album that produced ludicrous hits like Greg! The Stop Sign!! and (He’ll Never Be An) Ol’ Man River. Hitler-Barassi speaks of TISM’s commercial zenith: ’[We had] two songs on the Triple J Hottest 100, the gold record, the ARIA and all that shit. For all our slagging that off – and intellectually we definitely slag that off, it’s all codswallop – on some basic gut level it took us two albums to get over it.’ The White Albun represents an attitudal change in the TISM camp. ‘I think with this album we’re out of the shadow of that, and we’re back to genuinely not giving a toss.’


Hitler-Barassi and Flaubert both seem to have come to terms with their place in the music industry. ‘When we started, we were intensely afraid of going up our own arses,’ says Flaubert, ‘we’re actually able now to actually relax.’


Hitler-Barassi’s eyes light up from behind his white mask as he delivers an on-point soliloquy that confirms how seemingly comfortable these frontmen are with where TISM are at: ‘A TISM song’s a TISM song and there [aren’t] many songs like it… And of course the lyrics are like nothing else. We’ve never tried to copy anyone. But if you want a normal band with normal inspiration and normal rock ‘n’ roll, there’s always going to be a better band than us. The only thing you get from us that you don’t get from anyone else is TISM.’


Then the interview ends and TISM head back to the Metro stage to presumably set things up. As he gets up off his chair, Hitler-Barassi says to me ‘When you write this up, I’d like you to replace every mention of TISM with the John Butler Trio.’ I ask, ‘Do you really want me to do that?’ ‘No,’ says Hitler-Barassi. Which is just as well really – we wouldn’t want any of those humping bogans getting ideas about ejaculating at a TISM gig.


TISM will play the Great Northern Hotel in Byron Bay August 5th, the Troccadero in Surfers Paradise August 6th and The Arena in Brisbane August 7th. The White Albun – along with two DVDs of live material, a documentary, and video clips – is on sale now and is available through Madman Entertainment. For the full transcription of this interview, please head here. To save to your computer, right-click link and choose ‘Save Target As..’


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