TISM talk nostalgia, their beef with NME and the reunion: “There’s every chance that one of us will die horrifically onstage”

It’s been 19 years since Ron Hitler-Barassi and Humphrey B. Flaubert last terrorised Australian pop culture. Now that they’ve returned, nobody – not even The Kid LAROI – is safe. Words: Ellie Robinson

TISM have beef with NME. Or at least they did in the ’90s, on the cusp of their first jaunt over to the UK.

“Our manager at the time foolishly suggested we should make what was known then as an ‘electronic press kit’ for the journalists in England,” explains Humphrey B. Flaubert, the drummer of the seminal shock-pop group and four-time recipient of a lifetime ban from the St. Kilda Football Club.

“So we recorded a video where we basically spent the entire time slagging off Liam Gallagher and the NME. And it was amazing because the NME journalist who had been invited to one of our shows, they refused to turn up, and it all ended in complete disaster. But that was fine, really, because that’s exactly what we thought would happen.”

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Of course, we’ve all come a long way from the sepia-toned static cling of the ‘90s. “I know this NME is not really what the NME used to be,” Flaubert acknowledges. “It’s a bit like the British car industry, in that it’s totally fucked now and it’s made in a hovel in Myanmar.” And TISM, too, have evolved: in the 19 years since they initially disbanded, the pioneers of shitposting – who announced their reunion in June for this year’s Good Things festival – have grown wiser, calmer and more fiscally responsible.

“We are living, breathing examples of what was wrong with the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. We’re heading along to the Good Things festival to say, ‘Hey, remember the old days? They were fucking terrible. Here’s a blast of it!’”

Their current form is a lot more refined, having trimmed down from seven members to just two – Flaubert and singer/deadbeat father Ron Hitler-Barassi. It’s a business thing, the latter says bluntly: “If you want a friend, you buy a dog. When you sign on to play the Good Things festival and you receive a cheque for $4.7million, you block your old bandmates on Facebook and enrol your kids into the same private school Midnight Oil sent theirs to. We’d have to split that shit seven ways, Ellie, and there’s no way we can afford to do that in 2022.”

So how do TISM plan to fill the dead air in their Good Things set? “I’m putting on 30 minutes of liturgical dance,” Hitler-Barassi divulges, “and Humph is going to perform a ritualistic symphony on a set of steel metal drums. And look: the crowd’s not going to like it, but we both need to refresh our kitchens. I know it sounds selfish, but we’re still using gas-powered hot-tops over here, and it’s about time we started thinking about the environment. The crowd will hate us, and the reviews will be relentless, but the Earth will feel better. And that’s the spirit of art, Ellie: to electrify the kitchen. I think Orwell might have written that.”

TISM
Credit: Press

Flaubert has higher hopes for the way their set will be received. “I think it will be a rather emotive experience for the audience,” he says, noting that their old age and poor joint health, compounded with the intense energy required to deliver their performance, could make for quite the spectacle. “There’s every chance that one of us will die horrifically onstage,” he declares. “It’ll be an explosion of bile and rectal examination fluid, which will splatter across the audience in a traumatising manner, hopefully making them realise that humankind is but dust in the end.”

“We’re a bit worried, though,” Hitler-Barassi interjects, “because they’ll all point to the stage and go, ‘That’s Regurgitator.’ But no, Ellie, it’ll be us. It’ll be TISM.” We try to dig deeper into TISM’s recent “rivalry” with said alt-rockers, but Hitler-Barassi immediately shoots us down, swearing that “Regurgitator are some of our favorite people”. After all, “the very act of regurgitation is a deeply respectable art form.”

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Admittedly, this year’s Good Things line-up does seem to lean a little heavy on nostalgia. In addition to TISM and the ‘Gurge, punters will see NOFX play through their classic ’94 album ‘Punk In Drublic’, and Myspace pop-punkers Kisschasy will also reunite exclusively at the festival. It’s a trend that’s become increasingly prominent in the last decade as festivals become more and more desperate to stand out from the pack. But TISM tell us they’re trying to fight back against it.

“It’s our attempt to reset the dial on nostalgia,” Hitler-Barassi explains. “I think nostalgia is a terrible disease – it’s a canker – and I can understand that in these difficult times, people have been reaching out for the warm, fuzzy dressing gown and room shoes of nostalgia. But we are living, breathing examples of what was wrong with the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. We’re heading along to the Good Things festival to say, ‘Hey, remember the old days? They were fucking terrible. Here’s a blast of it!’”

TISM always did have their fingers on the pulse. In the world-renounced, award-losing 2004 motion picture TISM: The Docunentary, the band graciously described themselves as “the ergonomically designed shovel collecting the dog shit of rock”. When the schlocky, synth-driven craze of new-wave landed Down Under in the mid-’80s, for instance, TISM were there to channel it into a song about Nazi poop fetishes (1986’s ‘Defecate On My Face’). And when high-octane dance-punk captured the masses a decade later, TISM tied it in to the rise of drug-related deaths in Hollywood for 1995’s ‘(He’ll Never Be An) Ol’ Man River’.

Times have changed, though, and the landscape of Australian rock has shifted exponentially in time that TISM spent in their CPAP-assisted hibernation. Playlists and algorithms reign supreme, with the current trends in genre being pop-punk revival (Yours Truly, Teenage Joans), the collision of rock stylings with hip-hop production (Daine, BLESSED) and jaunty, sun-kissed indie-rock (Spacey Jane, Hockey Dad). It’s a whole new world of rockin’ and rollin’ out there – and TISM have, quite proudly, kept up to date with absolutely none of it.

“We have no interest in modern music whatsoever,” Hitler-Barassi asserts, immediately squashing the notion that TISM could once again break the mainstream as a TikTok sensation (which would be branded, naturally, as ‘TISM-Tok’). He does however express a paternal affinity for The Kid LAROI – who, he claims, is the illegitimate son of his and Flaubert’s. “We named him Roi Th’kidlie,” he says, “but we do quite appreciate his new name – it’s a clever little anagram. Humph and I love him dearly, even if he did abandon us at home to pursue the glamorous pop-star lifestyle.

“Regurgitator are some of our favorite people… the very act of regurgitation is a deeply respectable art form”

“He finds our harping on about the old days quite boring, which I think is a little narrow-minded of him. Because the ’70s and ’80s, they were good times – I mean, not if you were gay, or transgender, or Indigenous, or a woman, or a migrant, or poor, or disabled, or non-Christian – but they were good times for white, middle-class blokes like us, and Roi never understood that. That’s why he’s off doing his little emo-rap schtick, complaining about the perfectly good – albeit racist, homophobic and self-centred – household that we brought him up in.”

Flaubert chimes in to claim that much of TISM’s peak-era royalties were spent on Th’kidlie’s extensive dental work – “he had a set of choppers that would make Keith Richards’ look like the keyboard on a piano,” he recalls – which spins off into a tangent about how Richards should take advantage of his own teeth to shred on the guitar á la Stevie Ray Vaughan. This then mutates into a conspiracy theory on Vaughan’s death in 1990 – that while he did indeed meet his fate in a helicopter crash, it was actually the force of Vaughan’s teeth impacting with his skull that caused his demise – and spirals into a lecture about the importance of good dental hygiene and the radical innovation of Invisalign braces.

TISM
Credit: Press

Bringing his unhinged rambling full circle into the topic of Australia’s modern rock scene, Flaubert muses: “I think Tash Sultana might be the sort of artist that could play with their teeth if they wanted to. But their teeth are so perfect and beautiful that it just wouldn’t have that same gritty kind of flair as the original blues music that inspired them. Tash Sultana’s teeth… They’re like a brutalist high-rise, the angles are magnificent. I believe Tash is actually going to be on next week’s episode of Grand Designs Australia – Peter Maddison is going to be staring into their mouth, gesticulating about how they got those teeth to look like such an architectural masterpiece.”

Though collaborations with The Kid LAROI and Tash Sultana are almost certainly off the cards, TISM have a bright future ahead of them. This Friday, they’ll release their fifth greatest hits compilation, ‘Collected Versus’, a two-disc aggregation of their A-side singles spanning 1986-2004. And after Good Things – should they survive the festival run, of course – the duo’s sights are set firmly on Eurovision 2023.

“We’re already booked in,” Flaubert reveals nonchalantly, with Hitler-Barassi following up with a bombshell: “TISM will be representing Russia – a much, much misunderstood nation.”

TISM’s ‘Collected Versus’ is out this Friday. They will perform (an actual set of live music, not liturgical dance) at Good Things festival in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane this December – more info here

Editor’s Note: The Kid LAROI has no factual relation to any members of TISM, nor will TISM actually be representing Russia at Eurovision 2023 (the country was banned from the song contest earlier this year). And finally, NME has an office in Singapore, not Myanmar.

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