The Circle of Life: The World/InfernoFriendship SocietyIn the early 1994, New Brunswick, NJ band Sticks and Stones collapsed. Front man Pete Ventantonio moved to New York and transformed into the anarchy praising, noir styling, soliloquy spouting Jack Terricloth. Shortly thereafter, Terricloth created the World/Inferno Friendship Society. A punk band unlike any other, World/Inferno mixed the power chord with the horn line, combining punk with cabaret music, borrowing from equal parts Darby Crash and Tommy Dorsey. After their initial release, the thunderous "Tattoos Fade," World/Inferno became an elite touring unit whose shows regularly included odes to property theft, indictments of police activity, and segments for waltzing.
Now, World/Inferno is gearing up to release their newest album, The Anarchy and the Ecstasy, which shows the group paying respect to their rapscallion ways while incorporating a.. dare I say mature… element of reflection and forecast to their colorful sonic palette. What better time for Jack to look back at the group's past as well as give us a taste of what's 'round the bend…
In 1994, The World/Inferno Friendship Society released the "Tattoos Fade" seven inch in a one time pressing of 500, without first having actually formed a band or playing a single show.
What were you up to between the recording of "Tattoos fade" and the end of Sticks and Stones?
Well, I wrote "Tattoos Fade" for Sticks and Stones, but they didn't want to do it. They were like, "What are we, the Pogues?" We actually wrote another album after that. I went, "If you're not going to do it, then it's time to move on." I moved from New Jersey to New York and started a new band. I wrote the song and they didn't want to do it. I love those guys and some of those songs, but "Tattoos fade" meant so much to me that I had to move out.
Do you feel that the song defined the band, or did the band define the song?
I think the song defined World/Inferno. It was exactly the way that I wanted it.
Who was there during the recording of it?
It was me and Scott Hollingsworth. He did piano, and off we went. Recording… it was whoever showed up. Scott was in Sticks and Stones as well.
What was recording the single like?
We were forming it as we were recording it. We worked at Quad Sound in Time Square. Back then, I was working there, and when no one was using the studio, you could hang out and write stuff. We used the finest of mid-90s equipment and made so many mixes.
Why do you think that this version of "Tattoos Fade" has been so iconic?
We've tried it in different arrangements, but it just never really had the same punch. We did record it a bunch of times. Those versions are traded around, but the original one still sounds best. It sounds like a Louie Armstrong recording. It sounds like New Orleans 1925. We did it like that on purpose. People would come in and come out. Some guy that delivered Indian food [came in], we gave him a shout out on the record.
The B-side of "Tattoo's Fade," is something of a ballad called "Nothing You begin." That song has never been released anywhere else. Have you disowned it?
No, no. We did that just to be difficult, It's also a fine song. We will never perform it again and there is no point in redoing it, either.
"Tattoos Fade" has an iconic cover, featuring a Faun-like figure playing the pipes. What is the origin of this image?
It is actually from a book from which I learned to play music. It's called An introduction to music. That's how I learned to read all the dots and squiggles. I don't use that system much anymore. The only time that I write down the notes are with the sax players.
After you released the "Tattoos Fade" single, was the impact greater or less than what you expected?
We self released it, 500 copies, and it made more of an impact that we thought it would. We thought, "We made this music and releases it, so we had to put a band together." From that single we had to tour after offers came in.
The World/Inferno Friendship Society released their fifth album, The Anarchy and the Ecstasy on March 15, 2011, after a series of lineup changes that have seen long time members leave the group and older members return.
With this album, did you have a particular agenda, or did you just write songs and waited to see what happened?
I didn't have an agenda this time. Our last album [Addicted to Bad Ideas] was a theme record. [This time] we just thought we would write the hits and get to it. We did come into thinking it's going to be a quieter album. But, mellow for us is probably really hyper for other people.
Why The Anarchy and the Ecstasy?
The original quote is, "the agony and the ecstasy," which is from a Vincent Van Gogh biography. As for the title as it applies to us, we've been on tour for two years, so it seem to be the appropriate title, given our state of mind. There is even more anarchy than usual. It's also beautiful. The craziness of your life and the beauty in your life. Crazy-beauty.
The new album opens with the fantastic "Sick of people" where you declare, "I am sick of people being sick of my shit!" What's the story behind that song?
I wrote that with Scott. It's about being tired of people in the band not having fun. It's an anti-business song. There was a point when all the members were not getting paid that much, and I was like, "We are not in this for the checks! We are here to make music and break stuff! If you are into breaking things, then stay. There is no money in music. If you don't enjoy being on the road and making music, then there's the door."
Along those lines, the group has had quite the change in lineup between the previous record and this one. How has that affected the band?
Actually Franz Nicolay [Note: who left the band a few years ago] is back in the band. Franz is not on the new record. However, we got our original drummer, Ben Kotch, back. I'm so glad we got him back. The change up hasn't affected the sound of the band.
Everyone knows what they're here for. We don't really have a lineup. We have a bunch of people I call and see if they show up. Then everyone plays a hundred miles an hour and then we pass out. Me playing guitar was different- so no guitar solos. Since I'm more of an, "understated" guitar payer, the horns and the piano really went to town not his record.
Why do you think the band has had so many lineup changes?
I don't know, and I don't care. I'll give you a quote from our former guitar player, "Maybe it's because you're obnoxious." I don't know… I never shut up. I'm not shutting up now. We're going for that famous after death thing.
Sandra Malak, who has been in the band for some time, seems to have a increased presence on this LP. She really knocks it out of the park with her singing.
She wrote half the record. She was an opera singer. She won't like me telling [you] that.
How did recording this album compare to recording "Tattoos Fade?"
We had the core, Benji, Sandra, Myself, and Raja Azar, our piano player. He wrote one of the new songs. It was actually fun. We moved into a studio, slept on the floor and woke up and played.
The new LP has a song called "Canonize Philip K. Dick, OK." Why canonize this science fiction writer, instead of say, J.G Ballard or Robert Heinlein?
I think Philip K. Dick is the most punk rock. I don't like JG Ballad- he's too nihilistic. Philip K. Dick is so good. He gets in your head and you start thinking like him, and then you get paranoid. I can't read him anymore, I just get too paranoid.
The song is about panic, and I'm thinking like Philip K. Dick and that is not a good idea… Do you know the story about him and his therapist? He was convinced that he was being investigated by the government, and the therapist convinces them he is not, but then he was actually was being investigated by the government. It made him crazy… and when we're crazy, panic is what we do. Panic is good. Panic keeps you on the edge. It keeps your brain popping. It's not comfortable and that's the world in which we live. World/Inferno really only operates at absolute panic capacity. We're not a mellow band. With 13 people, we are sort of like the White House- everything happened now or yesterday and everyone is yelling at everyone else.
Any last comments?
Life is good. The future is unwritten. Live it up while you can.