I have New York producer Don Fury to thank for introducing me to The World/Inferno Friendship Society. After I interviewed him (NY Record Producer Don Fury: “I still have an ethic that reminds me of the streets of New York, back in the day…We will always make true records with lots of heart and energy.”) he sent me some tracks he had worked on with TW/IFS that he loved and thought I might dig too—he was right, I totally did! TW/IFS’s music is a whole lot of punk and soul meshed with klezmer and jazz; they’ve been called circus punk, cabaret punk and even anarcho-punk. Their live shows are a spectacle, exciting and a total riot. Over the years the band has had 40+ members!
Charismatic frontman Jack Terricloth kindly answered some questions and informed me about a TW/IFS comic book, an upcoming US east coast tour, work on a new record and more. I hope someone brings them to tour Australia soon (hint hint promoter friends!).
What was that story I heard about you and Screaming Jay Hawkins? You were friends?
JACK TERRICLOTH: No, no. I just followed him around for a time. I doubt he ever even remembered my name but he got me backstage once or twice which I think is probably the story you’re referring to as I’ve seen it floating around in various forms. I’d tell it again but thinking about that evening it’s not the salacious details that spring to mind. What I remember most about that evening so many years later (and indeed, I find it hard to recall the second woman’s name, Amy maybe?) is one of Jay’s encores he played alone on the piano. I’d never heard the song before or since and it was really just a slow blues vamp, describing heart ache and unfaithfulness. It was New Year’s Eve and Jay had been playing with breaks for over 4 hours. He was clearly tired and the tempo faltered. The older black ladies dressed in Sunday best on the side of the stage, who I assumed were wives or girlfriends of the band members, looked concerned and held their hands to their face or breast. Jay hit one last chord on the piano closed his eyes, sighed and sang “you can go straight to hell” so sadly. The lights went out and he went backstage. It was 3 in the morning of a brand new year.
When did you first start performing?
JT: Me? Oh, as a neophyte little punk rocker in 1985. Outdoor festival in Highland Park, NJ. We listed ourselves as “the fastest band in the world”. There was moshing on the village green.
What was growing up like for you?
JT: Growing up was awful, never want to do it again.
Did you have much encouragement from your family in the early days?
JT: Oh yeah, if my sister and I didn’t busk at least 10 dollars every day after school our parents would beat us black and blue with my sister’s drumsticks (beating us with guitars was too expensive).
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten lately?
JT: It was in Barcelona from a friend of a friend named Colinda who seemed to know way too much about me. I glanced disapprovingly at the girls in my band, who talk. “Jack,” Colinda said to me, the sun was coming up. “You should give it up Jack. You should conquer this urge of yours to control. It can only lead to damage and destruction. It can lead only to decay.” Everyone moved away to fight over sleeping arrangements. I stared at the sea and we held hands for a while.
I understand that as well as being a musician and performer you’re a writer.
JT: I am! I have a novella and a collection of short stories out which have been compendiumed (is that a word? fuck it I’m a writer) into a hardcover entitled “The Collected Cloth”.
I read in a previous interview with you that you wrote a vampire science-fiction mystery novel!
JT: That’s only been serialized so far; I’ll have to go back over the whole thing before it ends up under one cover.
Are you currently working on anything?
JT: Going over things so they can go under one cover isn’t the most rewarding work so I’ve been kind of dragging my heels on writing until that is done.
When you’re writing do you ever find your work being influenced by what you may be reading at the time? Read anything amazing lately?
JT: Having an individual voice is probably the most important thing for a writer so that is a danger. Maybe that’s why I’ve been reading biographies lately. I just got through the new Leonard Cohen one “I’m Your Man” by Sylvie Simmons and the last Frank Sinatra book “The Voice” by James Kaplan. Ate ’em up. I also like reading pulp fiction to relax, enjoying Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels. Easy reads but still with words you have to look up so you can convince yourself that you are bettering the intellect.
I first found out about TW/IFS via producer Don Fury. How did you guys come to work together?
JT: I knew Don back from the Agnostic Front days and then from bar tending on the Lower East Side. It was obvious that Red Eyed Soul was going to be an important record for us and that we would need a lot more discipline than doing it ourselves with our damaged democratic methods. We tried working with some very mainstream pop producers but there was no vibe and actually a lot of animosity. So I ran into Don one night at a benefit we did for ABCNORIO at Bowery Ballroom and proposed the idea, feeling here was a man that had produced hits but had cred no one could argue with. I phrased it to him as “NY Hardcore meets God Is My Co-Pilot” who he had also produced (and actually played that night too – that must have been why he was there). He seemed kind of interested and said yeah send some demos. I did. It turned out later he did not remember who I was at all but dug the material! In his defence I have changed my name several times and meeting someone at a CB[GB]’s matinee in the 80s as a stage diver then at a rock dive as a bar tender in the 90s then at a big show as a crazed looking singer at a theatre show in the Aughts doesn’t give a lot of context to place a face. We got along great and recorded two records with him in like a year and a half. On those records we were in Coney Island every day 12 hours a day for months. His new studio up in Troy, New York is great but moving the whole circus up there for several months would severely change the local flora and fauna and I’m not sure they could afford it!
What do you feel (if anything) Don has brought to TW/IFS sound?
JT: The ability to tackle the guitar player for not listening without any recrimination in the tour van afterwards! Wish there was a video of that somewhere. He also really paid attention to the lyrics, poured over them every day and got me to enunciate which sometimes I have a problem with (just have too much to say). We did have an argument about radio friendly words which of course ended up being a waste of time.
You’ve been getting a lot of press lately, mostly good but some negative. I don’t know if you read your reviews but if you do what would you say is the most legitimate bad review you’ve gotten?
JT: Oh, who can resist reading about themselves? I thought Mark Leyner had a point when he wrote in The Jersey Journal about a month ago “. . . although World/Inferno claim to abide by a stern idealistic protocol, this gang when viewed from a certain perspective can seem like harebrained cartoon characters lurching haphazardly from one debacle to another motivated as much by mischievousness and perversity as anything resembling intent or design.” Like he should talk. Oh well.
Before forming TW/IFS you were in a band called Sticks And Stones which you wrote Tattoos Fade for, which would become TW/IFS’s first release after SAS didn’t want to do it. When you moved on to start TW/IFS, was it an easy decision for you to make?
JT: No, it wasn’t. That breakup took forever and I still miss those guys. Oddly enough two members of Sticks And Stones are working with Inferno at the moment, three if you count me. Still I wish SAS had been more successful, we worked very hard.
How much thought-out effort went into the evolvement of TW/IFS distinctive style?
JT: Like most punk rockers we first concentrated on what we didn’t want to be and then worked with what was left. It was kind of a pro/con situation. For example: 1) we don’t want to play rock music but we want to play very fast. OK, so let’s downplay the guitar and play the piano really fast. 2) We want our lyrics to be political but we don’t want sing about the way we feel emotionally about it. OK let’s write about historical figures and how they felt about it. 3) We don’t want to be a bunch of sullen looking boys in a cargo van taking themselves very seriously. Ok, let’s invite everyone in this bar to rehearsal, try to enjoy ourselves then make up silly names for each other to remind us not to give a fuck. Kind of like that.
You were once asked: how do you become a member of the World/Inferno Friendship Society? To which you replied, “You just have to be at the right place at the right time, you have to have a broken heart and ambition to be more then you think you can be.” Please elaborate on this, what does having a broken heart have to do with things?
JT: When you have a broken heart you have nothing to lose. That is kind of an important requirement in my line of work.
I’ve read that last year TW/IFS were kicked off a tour with The Adicts. In an interview you commented on what happened saying: He was fucked up, I was fucked up, whatever. He says “You’re a fucking drug addict!” is that what happened?
JT: Pretty much, I replied that his band spells their name wrong, he took a swing, I ducked. Neither of us wanted to apologize and they were headlining that night (we’d been alternating on the East Coast) so we set up some alternate gigs. I don’t think anybody is proud of the incident. I like those guys. Sometimes I have to remind myself that the tour came to a bad end when I see their logo on some teenager’s t-shirt.
In your life have you experienced drug use?
JT: Sure, who doesn’t like drugs? It’s not a lifestyle choice or a significant expense but partying happens, of course it does.
Does it have an influence on your creativity? Positive or negative?
JT: Hm, sometimes there is an advantage to having a certain fluidity to your thoughts but then you have to clean it up afterwards so it might be more work. No, I don’t think it has an influence on my creativity other than occasionally putting me in ridiculous situations I write about later.
Could you please share with us a life changing experience that you’ve had?
JT: I met a guy in bar one late night who said his name was ‘Justice’ and I thought, oh man this is not going to end well. I was talking to a girl who was trying to convince herself that having an affair was ok and I thought, man this is not going to end well. The bartender offered to buy us all shots and I thought, oh what the hell. Justice stared at us and shook his head. I didn’t get his point at the time but eventually Justice got me. It took a couple years anyway.
For you, what is the most fulfilling thing about what you do?
JT: People getting in fights, people falling in love.
Why is TW/IFS important to you?
JT: Because it frequently leads to kissing and kissing is our most effective weapon against Fascism!
What’s next for TW/IFS?
JT: Believe it or not there is a comic book based on our exploits with an EP of brand new songs put out by Oakland California’s Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club in February and we touring the East Coast of the United States for that in March and then begin working on another album. Forward ever forward!
Thanks Jack! One last question: what are your favorite two song titles when put together also form a sentence?
JT: Bankrobber, fly me to the moon.
In anarchy & ecstasy,
*Photos courtesy of TW/IFS facebook. 1) Jack photo by Rose Callahan. Other photos by Konstantin Sergeyev. If I’ve used a photo you took get in contact so I can credit you, or alternatively take it down.