October 31, 2006

The World/Inferno Friendship Society

Transcriptions can't quite capture the sound of a person's voice, but I have to say that my conversation with Jack Terricloth, lead singer of the fabulous World/Inferno Friendship Society, sounds exactly like you'd expect. Talking with him was a real pleasure, and I wish I could capture the essence of his voice--soft, smooth, satirical, yet very, very sly, and with a little bit of cynicism thrown in--which, of course, is an accurate description of his band's music. I've loved their music for many moons now; their singles, if you can find them (check out the compilation disc only as a last resort) are near-perfect little pop confections, and all on sexy colored vinyl, too! It was a real pleasure to sit down and talk with Mr. Terricloth, and what better day to present this than on Halloween, his favorite holiday, and the day of his annual Hallowmas celebration?

I'm amazed that it's been ten years since you appeared on the scene.

Yeah, it really has flown by, hasn't it? (Laughs)

Has it sunk in that you've been doing this for almost a decade?

That's one of those things I try not to think about! Really, it's been so much fun and it's happened so quickly that I guess the short answer would be, "no!" (Laughs)

"Wow, ten years have passed…"

Yeah, and gee, we're all still pretty!

And people are still coming to see you!

More and more, actually! I guess a slow build is the secret to a long success.

It's been a good bit of time between Red-Eyed Soul and your last record.

We did a bunch of EP's in between, which is usually how we work.

Do you prefer to take it the slow and easy way, letting songs build up, write them when they come to you, work them live, and then take them into the studio?

We really have no plans. We tend to write slowly, because we're so big and we all write at the same time. We play and tour so often, too. I like working in the EP format more than the LP format, which tends to confound and frustrate music critics! (Laughs)

(Laughs) Actually, I can understand why you'd want to do it that way.

It's the conciseness of it, and you can make each song relate to each other, and you can make a neat concept with three or so songs. I like holding records in my hands rather than a CD, but we've always done that, from the beginning. We'd write two or three songs, record them, and then couple them together.

Speaking of writing concepts, tell me a little bit about Fiend in Wien, your new project.

That's the opposite of what I just said! (Laughs) While we were writing Me vs Angry Mob, we decided to write twelve songs in six weeks. It premiered two weeks ago, the run ended Sunday, and it was great! It was a really great challenge for us to write, but it was fun!

Was it well received?

It was really well-received. It was great to have one foot in the circus world and one foot in the punk-rock world. We played in a traveling circus tent from Belgium that was set up by the water on the Hudson. It's run with a mind for theatrical and cabaret productions.

So it's more Cirque du Soleil than CBGB's.

(Laughs) Yeah, exactly. Of course, we brought CBGB's there!

I guess that's one thing people quickly pick up on, that European carnival/gypsy element, and especially Brecht/Weill, which I'm sure you've heard before! (Laughs)

Yeah, they're feature characters in Fiend in Wien. We're going to record it in January, once we get back from this endless tour, which starts in two weeks. The studio's waiting for us when we get back; we've already booked the time.

Are you excited about it?

I am very excited about it! It was really good for us. We didn't make it too complicated; it's more impressionistic, a little bit more like our first record.

Was it an intensive to create and get it completed?

Yeah, we rehearsed every day for three months. They were cranky, of course! (Laughs) But we really buckled down, and it gave us a feeling of unity.

Did it revitalize the band?

Yeah, totally. Especially after a long project like Red-Eyed Soul, it was like, "Well, this could be the period at the end of our sentence."

You're known for being a live band. So do you prefer to perform all of your songs live before you enter the studio?

No, not necessarily. We often write at the very last minute. I think on Red-Eyed Soul, we actually finished that in the studio, and added to it some older songs we had written.

You also write about a lot of different historical subjects, for instance, Paul Robeson. When you do, do you often like to do research on the subject?

Well, I already knew a bit about Paul Robeson, because he was from the same part of New Jersey as I'm from.

Well, speaking in general...

Well, we try to get the facts right. For instance, it turns out that on the Peter Lorre musical, I got some of the facts wrong. He died of a stroke, not a heart attack, but the song was already written, so we kept it as a heart attack. With us, we're all very...we're almost more a book club more than a punk rock band! (Laughs) We're always passing books around in the van, and we're in the van so often, and we all have similar interests.

You guys, you were big before big was big!

I think I know what you mean...

Well, bands like the Polyphonic Spree and Arcade Fire, who make very big, theatrical music. Does it give you a sense of satisfaction to see them and think, "hey, we were before the trend, we were before all of you?"

I've never really thought about it, to tell you the truth. We have friends in the Polyphonic Spree, so we know their intent. You might know a fellow named Corn Mo, he's from down there [Texas].

Oh, Corn Mo! How could anyone not know Corn Mo? He's a beautiful soul.

(Laughs) He's great. He lived up here for a while, he hooked up with them, and he introduced us to them and we hung out. But yeah, I've never really listened for myself in other groups. I've got too much to do and to say here. There will be time for patting myself on the back when I'm dead! (Laughs)

Dead, or fabulously wealthy!

Yeah, whichever comes first!

I know that you guys are political, but do you find a political climate like now to be inspiring?

I wouldn't say we're political; I think it's just who we are. Finding it inspiring when bad things are going on? No, it makes me have to ramp up my sense of humor about things, otherwise I get outraged. A good example of that is the song "The Expatriate Act," from Rock Against Bush, which doesn't sound like us at all, which was because I was angry when I wrote it.

Well, I'm thinking about the last time we had such a volatile political era, the Eighties…well, you were there! (Laughs) But at the same time, there was this wonderful undercurrent of artistic growth and experimentation that stemmed from the political climate.

Oh yeah, definitely. You know, I don't know. I know that my friends do, but then again, that's what we do. I think maybe if we lived in the middle of the country, where people don’t really think about it all that much, and in fact get annoyed if you bring it up, because you are giving them something more to think about.

I personally don't mind political commentary. I just think you have to be real careful when you mix it with your art. Some art transcends politics, but politics doesn't transcend art. You listen to some political music, and it just doesn't stand the test of time.

For example, Reagan Youth is no longer relevant. (Laughs)

Were they ever? (Laughs)

Maybe at one time! (Laughs)

They were a year or two ahead of my time. I'm old, but I'm not that old! (Laughs)

(Laughs) It's gonna get worse...

Well, I think life is what you make it. And, going back to Brecht/Weill, one thing they did rather well was that in a dire political environment, they made social commentary, but they also made it entertaining. They were trying to convey a message to you, but not preach at you.

Right, which is exactly why they were our primary influence when we started World/Inferno. I've said this in interviews before, but the primary goal for forming Inferno was to rewrite The Threepenny Opera for a punk audience. But we never quite got it right, which is why we're still around! (Laughs) I think the day we get it right, it will be the end of us! (Laughs)

When did you discover Brecht/Weill?

Hmm...when did I discover them? That's an interesting question. Hmm…I think after I had been out of the punk scene for a while. I was in a punk band, and we tried to get popular, but nothing happened, and it was frustrating. I stopped playing for a while, and I started bartending. I was meeting a lot of people…hmmm…I think it was from some older people that came into the bar, they had their own little scene, and I think I became their mascot, because I was a lot younger than them. At some point, I decided I wanted to make music again, but I didn't want it to be punk rock. I wanted something that was quick but was still political. Someone introduced me to their work, and it became something I really wanted to do with Inferno.

So it all just sort of fell into place?

Yeah, I think blending it with punk rock, it seemed natural. It's the darndest thing, this music. I wanted to do something new and fresh, but I'm still carrying on as a punk rocker! What am I to do? (Laughs)

I find that when I talk to people who are about our age, it seems like they go through a phase where they thing, "why am I still making art?" Have you hit that stage yet?

No, because I think I did before I started World/Inferno. There was a point where I thought I'd make music again. But then all of those seventeen years of music making have flown by, and I've had no time to doubt myself! (laughs)

I guess right now the big thing for you is touring.

We're going out on tour for three months. Three months! Then, in January, we'll be in the studio for three weeks, and then, in February, I'll just crash! Maybe they'll let me breathe!

World/Inferno Friendship Society's latest album, Red-Eyed Soul, is now available on Chunksaah, and is fabulous!

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