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Cover Story: Tenacious D

| May 31, 2012

Following the undisputed success of their debut album and given the experience of a cult-favorite HBO series, letting Tenacious D make a movie seemed the logical thing to do. Few expected 2006’s Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny to win Oscars, though even fewer would have guessed that box-office and DVD sales combined would fail to recoup its relatively modest $22 million budget.

But as everyone knows, a particularly loud fart can be mitigated with some distracting humor. The run up to last month’s release of Rize Of The Fenix (Columbia) has been predicated on the dud status of the film, lampooned in the online video for “To Be The Best.” In it, Tenacious D disintegrates with Jack Black indulging his celebrity while Kyle Gass nurtures a Cape Fear-style obsession while institutionalized. One dead Val Kilmer later, the D complete their comeback unbowed. Symbolic of their renewed conviction, the phoenix on the album cover is essentially male genitalia with a beak.

The focus of their conversation with IE, however, was the summer tour that comes to Aragon Ballroom on July 7th.

Kyle Gass: “Illinois Entertainer.”

IE: That’s right.
: You’re rocking the whole state.

IE: Someone has to.
Jack Black:
But you’re in Chicago. Isn’t David Letterman from lower Illinois?

IE: He’s from Indiana, but Gene Hackman’s from downstate.
There we go.

IE: I’m happy to have both of you on the line.
You never forget your first three way.
JB: A lot of people want to break us up and go one-on-one.
KG: Mm-mm.

IE: Do you insist on tag-teaming everyone?
: We always tagteam, we always double team. And then while we’re giving you the best interview of your life, we have fun with each other.
KG: We come as a team.
JB: I get your face, and then Kage gets you from behind. Not the obvious orifices: we come to penetrate your soul. We’re coming for something altogether deeper than what you’re used to.

IE: As far as your new album goes, it seems like it’s been kicked around and bantered about for years. What makes it ready now?
: Why not years ago . . .

IE: . . . or years ahead?
: Oh, no. We couldn’t have waited any longer.
JB: It’s the age-old question of why does the fruit fall from the tree when it does? It’s just when nature decided. It just feels right. We’re not about deadlines. We’re about getting it right.
KG: We’re about live-lines.
JB: We only look to the live-lines. Good one, Kage.

IE: Are you perfectionists? Could [recording] have gone on forever?
: It could have – it really could have. We went right up to mastering. I guess you could say we’re perfectionists. That’s the reason you’re getting the album when you’re getting it.
JB: There were so many details; we could have changed more things.

IE: Unless I’m wrong, you guys have yet to cut a song where you name all the cities you’re going to rock. Like Huey Lewis’ “The Heart Of Rock & Roll,” or “Dancing In The Street.”
: You’re referring to the list song, a la Billy Joel.
JB: No, he’s talking about actually singing all the names of the songs that you’ve rocked. Billy Joel doesn’t do that list. Huey Lewis . . . did you say Rolling Stones?

IE: Mick Jagger and David Bowie did “Dancing In The Street” together, and danced really closely.
: And they called out all the towns that they had rocked. Another one you might have mentioned: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion [“Flavor”]. Urge Overkill [“The Kids Are Insane”] also did a fantastic shout-out. We do it live, but you’re right. We need to do it on the next album. How about that? On the next album, we’ll do a shout-out to all the towns that we’ve blistered.
KG: Really, really kicked in the nuts! Bum-bum-bum. Heart of rock and roll is still beating.
JB: Do you think Huey, when he plays it live, goes: “It really, really kicked him in the aaaaaassssss!”?
KG: I don’t know! And why wouldn’t he want to say “ass”?
JB: And when he gets drunk, he sings, “It really, really kicked him in the asshole, baby!

IE: I think there’s a certain decorum when you’re Huey Lewis.
: He’s the nicest guy in rock.
KG: He’s fun for the whole family.

IE: Have you found in touring that some cities are harder to rock than others?
: Yes. Miami’s very hard to rock. [Las] Vegas is very hard to rock.
KG: We rocked Vegas extremely hard.
JB: I think Vegas is a mixed bag. On any given day, Vegas is going to be populated by different parts of the country. All tourists. There’s places like New Orleans that are tough to rock because they’re tough to shock. Those guys are already fuckin’ wasted and have seen everything, in terms of every lewd and explicit act you could imagine. You just get that feeling from New Orleans that they’re like, yawwwwwn. Other places, like Oklahoma City and St. Louis – those places, they’re so happy that you came. The more straightlaced the town, the easier it is to blow their minds. Like Utah?
KG: Salt Lake City?
JB: They’re gonna be like, Bwa? Bwa?! Man!

IE: Is this tour with a full band?
: Yeah, we said “All right. We’ll take you one more time. Don’t make that much noise, back there.”

IE: Do you prefer it that way, or do you wish you could call an audible and it would just be the two of you on a given night?
: Sometimes, I’ll forget peoples’ names.
KG: We should. We might. There’s something special when it’s just me and Jack playing, for sure. And you can hear what I’m playing. A lot of times, the band drowns me out and I feel like a prop and a costume.
JB: The plan is to have a little section at the end, where the band is not there at all. And me and Kyle will bust out a secret nugget from the olden days and it’ll be different every night. That way, the fans from across the nation can get together and say, “I saw them the night they played ‘Jesus Ranch.'” “Oh, yeah? I was there the night they played . . . ”
KG: “Explosivo.”
JB: Or whatever.

IE: Will the new album have video elements?
: We did five music videos. Have you seen our newest video?

IE: I’ve only seen the “To Be The Best” clip.
: O.K. Everybody calls that a “clip.” It’s actually our first music video. No one seems to have realized that it’s our first music video. It’s more like it’s a preview of things to come!

IE: That’s what it says on YouTube: “To Be The Best Clip.”
: O.K. I’ll take it. But it’s a powerful clip, you’ll have to agree!

IE: Yes. It’s got tears, laughs. Which of you keeps the other in line in the studio?
: Which one keeps the other in line?
KG: I don’t think we get out of line. You’re assuming.
JB: You’ve assumed a master-and-servant relationship.
KG: I think Jack keeps me in line.
JB: Does that mean I’m pitching, and you’re catching? Is that the inference?
KG: I get confused.
JB: Does that mean I’m up on top?

IE: You’re demanding of him right now.
: A subservient member.

IE: Or is there no whip-cracking, and you’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune?
: There’s an occasional electro-boost through the rectum. There’s no dog collars.

IE: What can the D do now they couldn’t before?
: What are our secret powers now? Well, we have a power called Go In Deep power. We go much deeper than we used to. And that comes from emotional bravery, so that’s not the most exciting power as far as superheros go, and that’s not a very good name for a power, but that is our superpower. We are Metro Man with the power to go deep! Deeper than a nuclear submarine. More powerful than a Rock Torpedo!

IE: Did you have to cultivate this power?
: I know what you’re going for. You’re looking for a snappy catch phrase. Unfortunately I don’t have one.
KG: I thought maybe he was trying to steal the power.
JB: O.K., Kage: you give him the recipe.
KG: To go deep, you gotta sit quietly, meditate, and just go within.
JB: Release your secrets to the universe. It’s not easy: you want to keep those well-hid. But when you let them go, when you really just stand naked before your god, that’s when the masterpiece reveals itself.

IE: How scripted are the shows? If you start to adlib, does it throw anyone off?
: Sometimes I just want to throw away the setlist. Just play whatever feels right. But you can’t.
JB: Some people can. Like The White Stripes used to do that. Supposedly.
KG: I believe them.
JB: I just feel that we’re so old and senile now, we’d just end up playing the same song a couple times. And people would be like, “Oh, no! They’ve played ‘Fuck Her Gently’ a third time! They’ve lost the plot!”
KG: That’s like that Steve Martin interview, where he makes the same joke later, and the audience was like . . . it was horrible.
JB: We’re big on showmanship. I like to craft the most powerful set possible. And that requires planning. If you go free-flow, I think there’s lots of long pauses between, when you’re just like, [in English accent] “What should we do now? Where are we? Did we forget anything?” I don’t like to see that kind of shit happening. I like to see fuckin’ wall-to-wall entertainment, with a rising action and a big finish.

IE: Why did you choose Urge Overkill to open?
: Why? They are our number-one inspiration. Yeah. Without a doubt. They are the influencing force behind the D. Early on, we loved Urge Overkill, and we’re just very excited to share the stage with them. You know, we opened for them a few years back at the Double Door. So, we’re happy to return the favor.
KG: I wonder if they’re happy to be opening for us.
JB: Why wouldn’t they? They agreed. Do you think they begrudgingly agreed? “O.K.: we’ll do it. But we’re not happy about it!”
KG: No. But if they headlined at one time, you know . . .

IE: And now they’re opening.
JB: Really a very interesting point, Kyle’s making. We should really Go Deep on this. Let’s think about this. Let’s really examine this.
KG: Let’s say that at some point we headlined, and now we’re opening for a group that opened for us. How would we feel?
JB: We used to open for Metallica at festivals, and now we’re opening for Biffy Clyro who’s opening for Metallica at festivals. It’s the natural ebbs and flows of the industry and the profession that we’ve chosen. Their Fenix will surely rise again!

— Steve Forstneger

For the full feature – including Tenacious D’s link to Chicago’s Urge Overkill – grab the June issue of Illinois Entertainer, available free throughout Chicagoland.

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