On the Beet: Jack Terricloth of the W/IFS details This Packed Funeral, Hallowmas

Last year, in the weeks leading up to Halloween, the Infernites were told of the passing of Grace Talicious, famed punk singer and member of the band Paranoid Style. The World / Inferno Friendship Society mourned the loss, raising her coffin up alongside a full choir at their annual Hallowmas show. Exactly one year later, the WIFS will be releasing a new album titled This Packed Funeral, which recounts the stories from her wake and of the members in attendance. Neat Beet had the chance to sit down and share not one but two bottles of wine with the one and only Jack Terricloth, lead singer of the The World / Inferno. Clad in black, with his signature hat, Jack joined us at Brooklyn’s Spuyten Duyvil for some good old fashioned storytelling. It went a little something like this:

NB: We’re excited for Hallowmas this year, which is at The Wick in Brooklyn. Will you miss having it at Warsaw?

JT: Yes, but after a couple years in a row, you want to switch things up. There’s only so many things you can do and the theatrical things have so much to do with the actual space. They love us at Warsaw, they’re very nice people. The perogi…

NB: My god, those perogi; We saw O’Death at the Wick recently, that was a great show.

JT: Oh yes, we’re friends with O’Death. We did a whole US tour with them. We have the same booking agent and they said they wanted a tour with The World / Inferno Friendship Society. We were kind of in a bluegrass stage at the time, and so we said, “Why the hell not?” They were the nicest guys, but complete nerds. Not in the least punk rock, beards, ponytails and whatnot, but we all got together and go along very well. One of the few contemporary bands I listen to.

NB: Any other notable bands you’re listening to these days?

JT: Nobody that really still exists. I mean there’s friends of mine in bands that I listen to. There’s a band called Secret History who are from Long Island. They pretty much want to be Morrissey and do a very good job of it. Who doesn’t want to be Morrissey?

NB: They have a record label maybe?

JT: *Laughs* I’m not even sure if they do. What else was I just listening to..?

We were just on tour in Quebec and it was the first time people came to see us in Canada. Last time we went there, there were only 30 people at each show. This time, there were closer to 2,000 people at each and we needed that.

NB: Where do you think all the Canadian and international popularity came from?

JT: I really don’t know. I guess they like the whole gypsy and Serge Gainsbourg thing we have going on.

We did get banned from Russia, though I have no idea why. We had a week booked in Russia about a year ago and they just wouldn’t let us in. It was during the whole Pussy Riot thing. We had a week off, so we went to Helsinki and did a couple shows there. Helsinki is very close to Russia, so a bunch of the Russian punks took the ferry over to see that, and that was very nice. We’re popular in Germany, so we also did a couple of gigs there as well.

NB: Do you think the WIFS would be well received if you made it to Russia?

JT: I’d like to think so. We were very well received in Poland and the Ukraine. It’s just a place I haven’t been to yet.

NB: You guys are playing Voodoo Fest in New Orleans right after Hallowmas right?

JT: Yes. We have to get offstage, changed, on to a plane, and play the very next day.

NB: Awesome!

JT: It is not going to be awesome. Everyone is going to be extremely cranky and I imagine someone is going to get a black eye. I hope it’s not me.

NB: It’s a huge festival right, who else is playing?

JT: Yes, it’s a couple of days. The Foo Fighters are headlining who I don’t know much about. Though they are my sister’s favorite band..

NB: That’s funny because this recorder was originally used to bootleg Foo Fighters concerts (true story…thanks Sara.)

JT: I have a very funny story about the Foo Fighters if you would like to hear it. My sister and I are not twins, but we’re born about ten months apart. We look almost exactly alike, except she is much more attractive and has much more hair. She has never asked me for anything, but there is this band, Against Me!, who we have toured with a couple of times; we’re very good friends with them.

My sister calls me out of the blue and says, “You’re friends with Against Me!, aren’t you?” And I replied, “Yeah, I’m surprised you’ve heard of them.” She said, “They’re opening for the Foo Fighters; can you get me backstage?” I thought, “This seems like a bad idea, but you know what? You never ask me for anything and you are a good sister, so yes; I will get you backstage with the Foo Fighters.” *Laughs* I did have to ask her to stop taking pictures of them with her cell phone. She had a wonderful time.

We only had two backstage passes and she brought her husband, David. I said I’d go back and see if I could get another but she said, “It’s OK just come back and get me; I don’t care if David stays here!” *Laughs* We did eventually get David in. Laura Grace, the singer of Against Me!, said, “Why don’t I just go walk him in?” I don’t know why I didn’t think of that, you are brilliant, Laura Grace. I imagine my sister and David had a fight after that. There are not many things I can do for my family and friends, but if when I can I might as well go all the way for them.

NB: How do you feel about Against Me!’s latest album?

JT: I like it very much actually. We toured with them for two months and that’s seeing someone everyday; living with them pretty much. They’re one of the best bands we’ve toured with, and we really clicked. We even backed each other up on fights with other bands. They are very dear to me.

NB: Regarding new material, what can you say about the follow up to 2011’s album, The Anarchy and the Ecstasy?

JT: It will be out on vinyl and digitally this Halloween. The CDs will take longer. It’s called This Packed Funeral. We released a couple of songs on our website and I can say this; it’s really very, very good. It’s a little more rock than what we’ve done before. It’s a little more Bowie, but you know I love Bowie. It’s a little less folk, and a little more anthemic. That actually doesn’t even sound that cool, does it? The songs are really good though. We’ve been playing them since last year and you will definitely hear them at Hallowmas.

NB: Everyone got really excited when you guys gave away the single This Packed Funeral for free.

JT: That was a very low budget, free thing. We’re signed to a new label now. Our next record will be on Alternative Tentacles. Which means I get to talk to Jello Biafara an awful lot.

NB: What’s that like? Do you guys get along?

JT: He’s really hard to get off the phone. He really likes to talk. Which is fine, I really don’t say much.

NB: What do you talk about with Jello Biafara?

JT: *In a spot-on Jello Biafara impression* Well you know Jaaaaack… another thing I wanna talk to you about iiiiissss… .if we’re gonna work on thiiiiiis. No, but we’re good friends. I was a 15-year-old punk rocker in 1985, and it’s been a lifelong dream to be on Alternative Tentacles.

NB: Would you say you have ever had a super bad experience being on a label?

JT: We’ve done DIY from the beginning, but super bad? No. It’s always complicated. DIY is easier; working with other people takes days to get back to each other. The best work we have done is when me, Scott Hollingsworth the piano player, Benjamin Kotch the drummer and Sandra Malak the bass player just get together in front of a Photoshop thing and get it done.

NB: How is the lineup looking for Hallowmas?

JT: Mostly the same lineup. We’ve gained a trumpet player. Our very good saxophone player is a stay at home dad now, which is perfectly fine. His wife has a better job, so he can’t tour, but does local shows. We replaced the saxophone with a trumpet player named Rafael Qualdion. He is the only actual person in the band from New York. Also, we may have two piano players. We usually have an organ player and a piano player. Sadly and bizarrely, the organ player had a fucking stroke.

He’s only 32. I mean I’m 45 and I’m still standing. He’s OK, I don’t think he’s going to be doing this tour so we’ll just be down to one piano player. A fucking stroke, imagine that.

NB: I had a friend pass away recently from CF. Right before he died, I gave him my copy of Turnstile Comix – the one about The World / Inferno getting into a fight onstage with Snapcase at the Skate and Surf festival. He was so happy to have it, and it brings me a lot of joy to know he read it before he passed away. So, I wanted to ask you this. What was working with Mitch Clem like?

JT: I have never met Mitch Clem. The deal was with the Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club, who I respect entirely. The deal was that we got no editorial control other than the music and there would be no changes as to what he did. Mitch followed us around for a while, never introduced himself, and watched a bunch of shows. I like to think this was part of his artistic integrity in some way. Its a very, very funny comic and strangely true. It was such a bizarre situation, but I liked it. I think it was part of his artistic integrity that he didn’t want to speak to me, in case he didn’t like me for some reason. Or, he just wanted the audiences view and not a personal one. I am very happy with that EP, the songs are great. In fact, one of them is going to be re-released on the new record.

NB: Nice! Which song?

JT: “The Faster You Go The Better You Think.” The best part of that story is that there used to be a punk bar called Sweetwater over on North 6th where Lucky Strano, our guitar player at the time, used to be a bartender. By the time we went there after the show, people had already heard the story. Not our proudest moment, but you don’t just go up and unplug people’s amps. There was some homophobia and, “you’re a bunch of fag girls with saxophones” blah blah blah. Against Me! actually came on stage and stood with us during the fight. Like I said, not our proudest moment, but definitely how we became good friends with Against Me!. I wouldn’t recognize Snapcase if I walked into them.

NB: You never saw them again?

JT: No, but there was one show that we played in Poughkeepsie where they told everyone to boycott the show and the show was very under attended. You know what? Shows are often under attended. It was a long time ago, even they must think this is a funny story. And if they don’t, that’s that.

Mitch is brilliant, and the Silver Sprockets are really wonderful people. They really reached out to us when they had really no reason to. They are associated with the band The Phenomenauts who we also toured with. I wish they would get to the East Coast more often because we have had such a great time with them. They are fucking spectacular and their songs are just great. They have one about the guy who’s doing Cosmos now.

NB: Neil deGrasse Tyson?

JT: Yes, they have a song about him which they sent to him and he wrote back! Which you’ve just got to love. He said, “This made me kind of uncomfortable. Thank you for appreciating my work.” Just that he would listen to it and acknowledge it, that guy is cool as shit. He cannot do wrong.

NB: Do a lot of people reach out to you? How has social media worked out for the WIFS?

JT: I am not that hip on it.

NB: That’s a lie! You were writing the whole story of Grace Talicious last year before Hallowmas and posting it online.

JT: Yes, I wrote the stories but I needed a lot of help to get it out. Also, how do I say this? I’m a lead singer but I’m kinda reticent and almost modest. So, I don’t want to say, “Hey look how great I am all the time.” But, thank you for recognizing that, that was an awful lot of work doing that last year. There were nights where I was doing it, would type in where I was and then people would start coming into the bar where I was.

NB: Was that very weird for you?

JT: It was kind of weird, but they were being nice and they paid for my drinks. I really enjoyed that. I had hoped to do that again this year, but since we need to put the record out before Halloween and we need to plan the theatrics, I don’t think I’ll do it again this year. Maybe next year.

NB: Are you writing anything right now?

JT: I do write, but not as much as I’d like. All the records, like the new record This Packed Funeral, are a story. So there are a lot of texts that are not in the lyrics. This is the record that we should have put out last year, but we toured too much. I don’t get much work done on tour because I’m always exhausted.

NB: What about the Cabaret influences? I was going to ask you if you caught Cabaret on Broadway this year.

JT: Not this year, but I’ve seen it several times. I saw it for the first time in gosh, ’93 or something with Molly Ringwald. I was always into the three-penny opera and Kurt Vile. There’s some real rock songs on the new album, but there’s some songs with no guitar and songs with no bass, just full orchestra. And, there’s a fugue. I’m SO excited about the fugue. It’s on the first song and it’s really nice. It’s in Italian and it’s called “Dolce Fa Niente” which means “a life of simple pleasures.”

NB: Do you think the fans will like it?

JT: Yes. Our fans have always been excited about the next directions we take and it helps them to find new music for themselves to listen to. We’re almost like a master class.

NB: There’s not much of a barrier between you and the fans, is there?

JT: There is no difference between World Inferno and the people who like us other than that we’re 20 years older than they are. We’re all very comfortable with each other and we really appreciate that they show up. I was in a band a long time ago called Sticks and Stones who were very good but weren’t popular in the least. It makes me so happy that people actually come out to see us, like in Quebec or Helsinki. I’m an old punk rocker, but I am a punk rocker and I think they get that. I think the fans learn something. That sounds a little pretentious, but they gain something. Someone may have never heard of Paul Robeson before. We do a song about him, they look into that, and it gives them something.

NB: What do you think about the crowd surfers?

JT: Back when I was a kid when I was 15 going to CBGB, stage diving was all you did. You didn’t even care what band was playing, you would just go. The first show I went to was Suicidal Tendencies oddly enough, and you would just jump on stage and jump off. It is communion. I still stage dive and I love it.

NB: Have you ever had to tell someone to back off or break up a fight from stage?

JT: Only bouncers. I’ve only stopped shows when they have been punching people. I’ve said to bouncers, “If you don’t stop, you now have 2,000 people here who are probably going to riot. What you should do is stop hitting kids who are getting on stage.” It’s OK on stage, we always say that stage diving is allowed. Venues always have those tiger barriers, and we always don’t use them even when the club wants to. “I am not in danger, I am not afraid of these people, these are my friends.”

If they want to be on stage they are welcome to be on stage. There have been a couple of bad times when stage divers have kicked out peoples cords. That happens, everyone in the band understands that. We’ve gone out of our way almost every night to speak to the bouncers beforehand and say it’s OK that the kids are on stage, it does not bother us and you don’t need to protect us. The kids are not going to hurt me at all.

NB: You seem very comfortable when people come up and touch you or hug you.

JT: Well I’m Italian, so I’m OK with being touched. There have been some times when women or men have gone too far, but I’ve been able to deal with it. Of my many problems, body issues are not one of them. It’s not OK to kiss me on stage or grab my jewels, but I can kick them off stage and I know that they don’t have any malice. They’re just happy.

NB: Do you have any advice for how to stay happy?

JT: Just love it. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. I’m gonna quote Johnny Rotten. I don’t like Nirvana and never cared about them, but when Mr. Cobain killed himself, Johnny Rotten said, “If you don’t want to be a pop star, then just don’t be a pop star.”

NB: I caught the WIFS playing with Subhumans at the Bowery Ballroom, what’s it like to play shows with such an iconic band?

JT: I love the Subs. I had to push that through so hard. We toured with the Subs through UK and Europe and they’re not as popular in New York or on the East Coast. So, they weren’t going to give them the show at the Bowery. Dick called me and I said, “We’ll open for you and this show will happen.” I love those guys, they are one of the coolest punk bands. We were touring in Sacramento and there was some band that had t-shirts on them that had women with big tits on it and Dick said, and I’m not gonna do the accent or maybe I will? *does the accent* “Yeah yeah you can’t sell that yeah. That’s not going next to my t-shirts. It’s totally fucking disrespectful to all women and we have a band with mostly women in it so you’re gonna take those t-shirts off the table.” I respect those guys so much. Trotsky filled in on drums for us for a couple of shows.

World Inferno Fans

Jack Terricloth in Concert

—– I stopped the tape here so NB’s editor, John, could get us another bottle of wine (thanks again!) The tape picks back up and I’m mentioning my first time seeing the WIFS, and how new and exciting it was for me to feel safe in the mosh pit as a young woman. Here, no one was going to target me to prove I was weak and did not belong. To this day, this experience is unique and one of my favorite parts about attending a live show —–

JT: Women pretty much run my life. I think we’re about equal between men and women right now, in my band at least. I never know who’s going to show up for rehearsal.

I just did an opera. Do you know a band called Rasputina? I just did an opera with them. Malora, who runs Rasputina, wrote it and was the director. It’s about Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford who many people think wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays. They needed someone to play a man, and happily or unhappily I am a man. So they hired me to be the Earl of Oxford.

NB: What was that like?

JT: *Sings* It was very Shakespeariiiiian. Very non-tonallll and then I would act a little biiiiiit. We did that for three months; it was a good job and I got paid. I did have to live in Albany, which was awful. I like Shakespeare; I quote him a lot because you have to quote somebody. You can’t really play Shakespeare because you don’t know who he is. The current thinking is that he was a guy that ran a playhouse and hired people to write the plays, then wrote his name on them. Since Edward De Vere was a nobleman, it was improper for him to do art, so he would just write these things and then give them to William Shakespeare or whatever his real name was.

Melora is brilliant, and I love Rasputina. Usually I’m kind of in-charge, but it was pretty much sing-this-do-that. I don’t read music that well, and it was written in bass clef. I know how to read treble clef because I’m a tenor, so I had to do math while singing. I don’t know if it’s ever coming out, but we performed it twice.

NB: Can you talk a little bit about how you got your name?

JT: Jack Terricloth was a joke; it’s not even my joke. My grandfathers’ name was James Van Antonio Bartholomew and when he died very sadly, I inherited all his dress shirts. They all had a stitching on them that said JVB, and I said, “Alright, let’s call me John Bartholomew Velvet.” Now I’ve got like 40 shirts with insignia on them and Scott said, “Your voice is not velvety at all, your voice is big and fluffy; it’s like terrycloth.” I objected that it didn’t really match with my shirts, but then they all started called me Terricloth, because my voice is fluffy and fun. Like any good nickname, you can’t pick your own. It pissed me off for a while, but you gotta admit it’s funny so it stuck. I still have some of the shirts.

NB: Is there a lot of music in your family?

JT: My mother played the harp. My great aunt, Anastasia, played piano. My father played guitar. That’s it really.

NB: What about kletzmer music, did anyone play that?

JT: I’m not Jewish, but we had what we call tarantella, it’s pretty much Italian kletzmer music.

NB: Would you ever write an autobiography or about your experiences as a performer?

JT: I did write a book, which was a fake autobiography. I am definitely writing more books, but about being a performer? I don’t think anyone would care. I write at least six hours every day, so hopefully I’ll die soon and someone will edit all of it. I’m definitely the famous after death type of performer.

NB: Why do you think so many of the funniest people have the darkest secrets? Like Robin Williams?

JT: This is a very good question and I’m not sure that I can answer it. When you find life so absurd, you need to make make sense of it somehow and it just doesn’t make any. It just means that you’re too smart, you realize how bad things are and instead of ignoring it you try to make sense of it. You make jokes about it, and they’re very funny, but they don’t help.

NB: Do you know or like a lot of comedians?

JT: I do, most of them are extremely happy. I like Peter Sellers, who was obviously out of his goddamn mind. Mitch Hedberg, I love him because it’s all about ‘the delivery’, even if some of the jokes aren’t so funny. At least he died in New Jersey. I just got to see Eddie Izzard, which was great. That was while I was doing that opera over in Albany.

NB: Would you ever have a comedian open for the WIFS?

JT: We actually asked Mitch Hedberg to open for us. We didn’t realize that he was famous or anything, I had just thought he was ‘some guy’ and he said no. He actually said, “Uh…No.” Which is unfortunate, but he actually answered! I didn’t know he was on That ’70s Show!

NB: Are there any deceased characters, fictional or non fictional, who you would like to meet?

JT: Peter Lorre of course. *does the accent * since I’ve been Peter Lorre for so long, I had to learn his accent. I was dating a woman at the time; I would practice my accent and she would say, “Please leave the room, I can’t have you sleep with me while you’re doing this.” Orson Wells, who I can’t do. Humphrey Bogart was cool as shit, really. Who else? No one contemporary.

NB: Any famous lawyers?

JT: Atticus Finch.

NB: What about My Cousin Vinny?

JT: You know, I’ve never seen that movie.

NB: What? How are you Italian?

JT: I know, but really it’s fine. There was a very long period during the 90s where I was culturally, not inept, but absent. I’d just been broken up with by a very beautiful, fabulously rich woman. I had to stop being rich and find myself a tiny little apartment; I sat there and wrote an awful lot. She left me for a circus dwarf. I know it sounds funny now, but it wasn’t at the time. I lived in a basement in Greenpoint, wept and wrote an awful lot. In fact, that is where I wrote The True Story of the Bridgewater Astral League. At least something good came out of that.

NB: What keeps you in New York?

JT: New York ruins every other city anywhere. Plus, I can’t move back to New Jersey.

The wine ran out pretty soon after that, and we called it a night. Huge thanks to Jack, The World / Inferno Friendship Society, and to the Infernites who sent some questions to ask. Pre-order This Packed Funeral here and catch the WIFS in Brooklyn @ The Wick for Hallowmas on October 31st.

World Inferno

Wine makes the world go ’round.