LIVING ON HOPE “We are not in this for the checks!” says Jack Terricloth. “We are here to make music and break stuff!”
If Ann Orrin had done some crafty editing on her 2008 documentary about the World/Inferno Friendship Society, it would have been easy to confuse the band with some fringe religion. Heaven's Gate–ish name aside, what makes World/Inferno seem particularly cult-like in the 10-minute film are the hyperbolic and wholly earnest testimonials of their "Infernites." One acolyte was told that seeing World/Inferno would change his life; after a few shows, the prophecy came true. A second fan discusses canceling family activities because of the band and not regretting it, because "these people are my friends and my family." A couple who bonded via the group claim the "first Inferno-spawned baby"; a veteran of punk shows speaks of being won over by frontman Jack Terricloth's magnetic personality and "the gestalt that is Inferno."
It's not a bad thing that World/Inferno are the source of this fanaticism. Following a band is typically a far more casual activity than joining a cult — no one gets harmed. But it's worth investigating what makes the group worthy of worship in the first place. So consider how Terricloth responds to a question about what message they stand for: "I know I sound like the Obama campaign, but . . . hope. You can make your own way in the world." The singer informs me over the phone that he's speaking from a bar in the band's home town of Brooklyn, where he's sipping a dry Bombay Sapphire martini.
Terricloth's appeal is the easiest part to understand. One of the founders of the long-running, shapeshifting group (now a nine-piece), he's dapper, quick-witted, and fearless — the sort who seems a born entertainer. Elaborating on World/Inferno's message, he says, "It's not the easiest way [to live], but having a 9-to-5 job is not easy either. There are alternatives to the drudgery they teach you about in high school."
The band's idea of an alternative is rich and distinctive. First, there's their music, an ebullient mix of piano pop, cabaret, klezmer, and folk, all turned punk by their DIY approach and the company they keep. That ramshackle quality is strengthened by the sweet naïveté of their "play and live like you're dying." Terricloth has reiterated that World/Inferno don't make much money and that members have left because of that. Now 40, he shows no signs of wavering. "We are not in this for the checks! We are here to make music and break stuff!"
Another aspect of their appeal — the one that really makes them worship-worthy — is their sense of spectacle and ambition. Their varied palette of instruments — guitar, sax, drums, violin, and piano, among others — turns their shows into cacophonous events. The audience often responds in kind, with attendees dressing as if they were at a twisted bar mitzvah. World/Inferno are fond of other eccentric ideas too, like crafting 2007's Addicted to Bad Ideas as a concept album about the bedeviled life of film actor Peter Lorre. The title of their latest, The Anarchy and the Ecstasy (Chunksaah), takes off from the title of Irving Stone's Michelangelo biography; it refers to the "crazy beauty" of the bandmembers' lives.
"When we first started, we wanted to make fast, political piano music in the form of Kurt Weill without being rock," says Terricloth. "We wanted to be mostly abstract and obscure and arty. We backslid into punk rock because it's so goddamn fun."
THE WORLD/INFERNO FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY + H.R. | Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston | May 20 @ 8 pm | 18+ | $15 | 617.562.8800