On the eve of dates in Philly and Jersey City, Jack Terricloth of Brooklyn-based The World/Inferno Friendship Society talks about the band’s growth from a bunch of misfit pranksters in New Brunswick to a prime example of how to endure within the DIY scene.
For more than 20 years, Jack Terricloth has led the circus of anarchy known as The World/Inferno Friendship Society. Whether with punk, ska, klezmer, odes to Weimar Germany or poking fun at the power cesspool of fools, the Brooklyn-based Cloth and Company has done DIY right with a steady stream of six indie albums. Like the last one, 2014’s This Packed Funeral, the forthcoming one, a vicious stab at Trump’s devastating immigration policy, will be released by punk legend Jello Biafra on his San Francisco area-based Alternative Tentacles label.
But first, World Inferno have taken a sunny break from the studio to tour Florida, Texas, New Orleans, Birmingham, Ala., Atlanta, Chapel Hill, N.C., Richmond, Va., Baltimore, and on Feb. 9 at The First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia, with Teenage Halloween, and Feb. 10, White Eagle Hall, Jersey City, with Crazy & the Brains. Jack recently chatted about the history and longevity of the band, the next album, his longtime bandmates, keyboardist Scott Hollingsworth and bassist-vocalist Sandra Malak, his role within the New Brunswick music scene in such storied punk acts as Sticks And Stones and P.E.D., and more.
You had played in two influential New Brunswick punk bands, P.E.D. and Sticks And Stones, before forming The World/Inferno Friendship Society. What influenced you to approach music in that eclectic and theatrical way in Brooklyn rather than form another straight-ahead punk band in New Brunswick?
Ah, you know what they say, “When they expect high tech, go low. When they expect low tech, go high.” Low tech wasn’t working. Time to build a dirigible.
What does the name The World/Inferno Friendship Society mean and does the name relate in any way to your old New Brunswick stomping grounds?
As the Home News police blotter archives will attest The World/Inferno Friendship Society was a friendly mischief gang operating in New Brunswick in the very early ’90s. We just went around helping people by cutting cable wires during the Super Bowl and getting rid of the frat houses’ American flags for them. Good, clean fun. When three of the principals moved to New York, we took the name and started making musical mischief. Some of the Jersey contingent protested, but we’re all friends again now.
Did steampunk inspire you to form World Inferno or have you been more of an influence on steampunk that it has been on you?
Steampunk is a literary genre, not a musical one. That said, I did very much enjoy The Difference Engine, and still wear boots and suits.
How did Halloween influence the formation of the band and lead to the annual Hallowmas events?
Very Much! We decided to include music into our operation on Halloween at a Citizen Fish show at ABCNORIO! They were so on point and so much less obtuse than just stealing and breaking stuff. And I knew how to sing, you know . . .
How long have you been doing Hallowmas?
Twenty damn years!
Have you ever presented Hallowmas in Jersey and would it be possible to?
The first one was at Maxwell’s in Hoboken as a matter of fact, and we did Philly one year, but it belongs in Brooklyn.
You have led World Inferno for more than 20 years. Has that longevity surprised you or did you expect the group to last that long?
You know, Inferno still feels like my ‘new band.’ I’m the guy from Sticks And Stones deep down.
How and why have you been able to maintain interest in World Inferno so long, given how fickle music fans are today?
Because we’re cool as shit, Mr. Makin! I mean, really!
How is the relationship between you and your fans different from other artists? Do they play more of a role in the band than most other bands?
We don’t really think about it. I’ve sat in with other bands like Rasputina (whom I adore) and Dresden Dolls or Nina Hagen, who make a point of doing a meet-and-greet at the merch table after the show, but we really just convene to the bar until we get kicked out. They’re cool kids. I appreciate that they dress.
You have consistently released albums every three or four years for more than 20 years. What is the status of the next World Inferno album, and do you know when you would like to start recording it?
We’ve recorded, like, 30 songs for it and changed the name a dozen times. Alternative Tentacles is a little annoyed by that, not much though. Jello is a mellow fellow.
We’re moving into Sandanista territory at the moment. Just last week, we were holed up in the studio to concentrate on doing some fixes and mixing but ended up writing a new song instead. Good problem to have.
Will the new album address the Trump administration?
The new record is directly about immigration. “This cat in the hat is on the run from the Feds and wants to hide out in our house. What do you say?”
Out of all the World Inferno releases, which is your favorite and why?
First seven inch, first song! Play it every night.
You have worked with Bridgewater chum Scott Hollingsworth on and off for 30 years since your Sticks And Stones days. What does he bring to World Inferno that wouldn’t be there without him?
If Hollingsworth leaves me alone with these lunatics again, I am getting out at the next rest stop with whoever’s bass is in the van and joining one of those ‘Hardcore Kids Who’ve Discovered Goth’ bands. Swear to god.
You’ve also worked for a long time with Sandra Malak, who also hails from Central Jersey in Scotch Plains. How did you meet her, and what does she bring from the band?
Sandra is a fine musician and a talented singer who is wonderful to harmonize with as we have the same mid jersey accent. I met her carrying her up the stairs to a roof top party that she was too drunk to climb. She just had baby dreadlocks then.
What do you enjoy most about the current lineup of World Inferno, and what are you looking forward to most about touring with them?
Members are so spread out geographically now that it will just to be a pleasure to squeeze into the van with everybody. It’s fun when they get cagey about their love lives.
The tour winds down in Jersey City, a spot that has some great venues, along with Asbury Park, which you also play fairly regularly. When was the last time you played New Brunswick, and would you be interested in playing there again or nearby, such as at Roxy & Dukes in Dunellen?
Always great to play in the homeland, though truth be told, I’ve lived in Brooklyn longer at this point. You know the saying (again), “You can take the boy out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey out of the boy.” Not missing the accent though. It comes back right in the Holland Tunnel. People judge.
What is your most fond memory of being involved in the New Brunswick music scene?
The all-ages shows at Scott Hall on Rutgers campus. We really were spoiled by all the great bands they got to play there for, like, five bucks, and we were all too young to get into the Court Tavern. I don’t know how they did it, or who, really. Might’ve been Sam Shiffman from P.E.D. I’m sure he’d love to talk your ear off about it. I know he finagled Dag Nasty into playing there. Great show. The photo on the back of Sticks And Stones 1987 record is from that gig.
How did the New Brunswick music scene help put the Garden State on the musical map, and what did it mean for you to be involved in that?
The Hub City always has a great scene, such an influx of talent and people with ambition to actually leave the town. We used to talk about it like we were going to be the next Athens, Ga., or Seattle, Wash. Arguable. At any rate, I am still friends with all the people I played and lived with from those days. The tribute show for Dave Franklin of Vision in Asbury last year is a great example. Like a hundred of us donated our time and expenses to put on a show for the old lobster. I even NJT’d it into Raritan for rehearsals.
Are the Sticks And Stones shows you played in November the last you expect to do or is there a chance you may do more together?
That was a very enjoyable mini-tour, but you know, it was predicated on Osamu Kawahara, our bass player, announcing he was returning to Japan after 40 years of exile here among the big noses, and he wanted a last hurrah. Very hard to say no to, but I think we’ve run out of excuses to get together twice a week. I tried to start a weekly supper club for a while but . . . Maybe we’ll head over to Nippon. Love those guys.
Thank you, Mr. Makin. Your attention is appreciated. A flock of doves on my fire escape. I’ll take that as a good sign.
Bob Makin is the reporter for www.MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.