If you're not a comedy aficionado you may have missed the whole Tenacious D phenomenon: The hefty rock duo, as un-heroin chic as you can get (two 30-somethings who look like they enjoy those road meals), have ingested every arena band cliché, every "we're gonna rock your socks off" pose you can think of, to transform themselves into "the best band in the world." A weighty claim indeed by two guys armed only with acoustic axes, Jack Black's "pipes of gold" and Kyle Gass' "fingers of silver."
Back in '94, Black and Gass, both members of Tim Robbins' Actors Gang group in Los Angeles, formed Tenacious D, an acoustic duo whose send-ups of all things classic rock--sexcapades with "backstage betties," prog-rock epics and battles of evermore, all dripping with bodily fluids, tongue-in-cheek allusions to his satanic majesty and bong-rific boasts of just how hard they (the D) rock--made them a hit on the Los Angeles alternative comedy circuit. After being spotted by actor-comedian David Cross, the duo appeared on HBO's Mr. Show, which led to their own 1999 HBO show, Tenacious D (they were replaced by The Sopranos).
The D moved boldly forward and did a sold-out tour just on the strength of their TV show. Black has also appeared recently in the films Saving Silverman and Hi Fidelity.
For their self-titled debut CD, the D leave no Spinal Tap-ish moment unexplored, boldly tapping into the universal cock-rock dude psyche to pay homage to classic rock. The disc has spawned the single "F*c* Her Gently," for which there's an animated video by Spumco, the Ren and Stimpy people, with our heroes tag-teaming Satan's mistress for some oral sex, cartoon-style. The video has already been pulled off Epic's official Tenacious D site and, at last check, was even off the band's rogue fan sites. There'll also be a Spike Jonze-directed video for their prog-rock anthem, "Wonderboy." The song opens with Nancy Wilson (Heart)-style acoustic guitar, Styx-ish vocals and bad synth lines, then swells to epic rockness--Black's vocal performance all rolling R's and metal-esque falsetto swooping into a gutsy rock yell as he roars: "There! At the crevasse; fill it with your mighty juice!"
Of course, now that the arena-spoofing acoustic duo have made an album employing the Dust Brothers (Beck, Beasties) as producers with the likes of Dave Grohl, Page McConnell (Phish), Steve McDonald (Redd Kross) and more as session guys, the "jokes" are starting to get blurry. But the album's production is so over-the-top, the riffs so chunky, that even though some D faves have been revamped ("The Greatest Song Ever Written" is now "The Tribute," for example) or left off altogether (no "Jesus Farm" or "Rocket Sauce"), hardcore fans should be satisfied. It is an attempt, after all, by the D and their "corporate paymasters" to take it to the next level--unconditional love by the masses (read: potty-humor-lovin' frat boys who know all the words).
I catch up with the supa'stars via telephone. Read on, oh Children of the Corn (the D's proposed name for their fan base--used in place of, say, "Deadhead").
The Independent: Hey. Angie here--am I going to talk to both you guys at once?
Kyle Gass: It's a tag team call, yeah! We're gonna "Double Team" [a tune on the disc] you.
Well, the uppermost thing in my mind is the ass fixation: Are you guys booty men? Are you backdoor men?
Jack Black: It's funny you should say that, because I'm not aware of us having a fixation on them, but as it happens I do enjoy the rump. I guess I'm a buttman (pronounced butt m'n).
KG: Yup, fannies are fun. How's yours?
Kind of a bubble butt.
JB: Really? Perfect. Where are you from?
The Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area.
JB: We just talked to a Raleigh paper. There's competing Raleigh papers, competing for our love.
KG: Have you been to Mt. Pilot?
Hell, yeah! Have you?
In unison: No!
I hear you guys are going to have "cum rags" for sale.
JB: You already heard that? That's the word on the street? It's real--I haven't seen the prototype yet.
Does it have any instructions or anything?
JB: No. It's just a sweet, soft place for you to put your junk.
JB: It says, y'know, "The official Tenacious D cum rag."
KG: --with a bull's-eye!
JB: There will be no bull's-eye. There'll be a unicorn; there'll be a flower ... there'll be a rainbow; there'll be a butterfly. And then on the bottom it'll say, "everything else is just a come rag." And it's a place to shoot your load in the sweetest, most delicate way.
That's so considerate!
JB: Yeah, everyone needs one.
KG: So often I have to use a used sock, and that's such a bummer.
JB: That is a bummer.
KG: Then my mom would pick them up ... "Mom, I blew my nose in them. That's why there's some ... moisture."
Why did it take you guys so long to get an album out?
KG: Just quality--wanted to make sure it was done absolutely right. And we didn't care how long it took.
JB: There will be no "D" wine, until it's "D" time. Guess what time it is? It's Tenacious D time--Go, muthafucka, Go!
How'd you assemble this cast of heavies--were they all just fans, like Dave Grohl and everybody?
JB: I guess we did it by way of the phone. We called them. And then they said, "Yes."
JB: Dude, I'm sorry to call you dude ... honey. Dudette. The way it went down: We didn't want to pull any arms; we didn't want to twist any arms, rather. We only wanted to work with people who were already down with The D, so we made a list, we checked it twice, we figured out who's naughty and who's nice, and then we called the most talented of our list ... and then they kissed ... our fannies good. That didn't rhyme at the end, but ...
KG: Less than two people turned us down.
Who were these losers?
JB: Who turned us down?
KG: Mike Watt.
JB: No, he was busy; he's on tour with a band. That's not the same as turning it down. He said, "Yes, but can you do it later 'cause I'm on tour?" I don't think Mike Watt even knew who we were; he heard that Dave Grohl was doing it, and he loves Dave Grohl.
KG: We also called up Hendrix ... but he was decomposed.
JB: That doesn't count either.
Any other live ones?
KG: No, when they heard the word, they all rushed.
So it is your dream album?
KG: It was. Until Epic pulled it.
JB: No, it's, uh, perfect. I wouldn't change a note.
KG: Except for the artwork.
I only got a promo--what's the artwork like?
JB: The artwork, if you get the CD at--what is the name of some of the independent record stores there in Raleigh--the little guys? The Record Exchange will probably have the "D" album with its original artwork, so I recommend you go there instead of Virgin or Tower or whatever chains you have. I recommend you get that because there's not going to be very many of them. The record company has pulled all the records from the major chains and is changing the artwork on the back because--whatever--it's too evil or something stupid like that.
Did you guys invoke Satan?
JB: Yeah--I mean, he's on the cover, so I don't know why it's so bad on the back cover. Worse in some way, I guess; I don't know. It makes no sense; no one knows what's going on.
That decision came down from above?
So, the new back cover will have the flower and the unicorn, maybe?
JB: That's not a bad idea, but there's no time for that. I think the back cover will be black.
JB: But, um, it doesn't really matter. Don't judge a rock by its cover, 'cause it's a rock, even if it's got a black cover.
It's weird: You guys started out as a joke L.A. club band, met David Cross [Mr. Show], and ended up playing all over and having a TV show. You're still sending up arena bands, but now you are that band.
KG: It has created some crazy situations.
JB: We're not really in arenas. We're in a major situation; we're on the threshold of the big leagues.
Did you think it would go that far? Did you have to change your approach to reach the masses? Become a little less sophisticated?
KG: Angie, someone once said to me, "Don't change." I said, "You're right. We're just going to keep it real."
KG: You're saying, can we go from a cult band to middle-of-the-road status? Well, the goal is to become the next Matchbox 20, I think. And turn out some mid-tempo pop cheese and make it on the radio. So the answer is ... what's the question?
JB: Do we have to change now that we're in the big leagues? No. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If we played a big arena, we'd probably have to have a full band going to fill it up. We're not touring with a band right now, we're still playing the same size houses we used to.
KG: I play a little bit bigger guitar though, now. Just slightly bigger. Really puts out. I went and saw the Radiohead shows at Hollywood Bowl. Their last song was one voice, one acoustic guitar. I think it was my favorite number of the night.
Are you going to do any "inward singing," as demonstrated on the album?
JB: (Inhales and faintly hums.)
KG: Jack demonstrates his inward singing practically every show. And it brings the house down.
JB: I won't be doing it in Raleigh, 'cause you just jinxed me.
Local boys Bandway are opening. What do you think of those dudes?
JB: I love 'em. Especially "Millennium." I hope they play "Millennium." I'm totally down with "Millennium." Hope they show up.
Have you guys been working out for the ladies, since you're on the road now?
KG: Yes, we've actually been ...
JB: You have to be referring to the "Cock Pushups" [a song on the album].
I am curious about the cock pushups. I mean, all you would really need is one.
JB: That's true. You can do more than one. But it takes a long time--you have to relax it, and then you have to get it going again. It's pretty difficult. It's kind of like ballet when you have to go on point. In fact, you have to put on a cock shoe to really do it properly; I mean, if you want to do the spinning and stuff.
You can spin?
JB: Well, that's the whole point. You actually are supposed to get up there--get your cock hard--and then, like, lift yourself up, just by the weight of your boner, and then ... someone's supposed to spin you like a top. But that's an advanced move; I don't recommend it to people who are trying it for the first time.
Is there really a "F*c* Her Gently" [the single] animated video?
JB: Yeah, but I don't know where you can see it now, though. They took it off the site (Epic's official Tenacious D site).
KG: That would be available, but our corporate paymasters removed it.
Where can you see it now?
JB: Fugitivealien.com: a rogue fan site.
And you guys also have a video coming out for the song "Wonderboy?"
KG: It might be deemed too controversial by our corporate paymasters.
JB: Well, we're talking about it. They want to change the ending. And it's a sticking point.
KG: We're trying to substitute it probably with tap--a light soft shoe. We have to go to "fantasy" now.
What other projects are coming up?
KG: A Tenacious D tribute band.
JB: Featuring one member of Tenacious D.
Are you guys going to fight over who can be called Tenacious D?
KG: No. But I'm also working on IMAX pornography.
JB: (laughing it up) I heard IMAX is goin' under. This might be just the shot in the arm they need!
What's the title of your IMAX porn extravaganza?
JB: You Thought It Was Big? It's shot on 170 mm.
KG: There's one sort-of flying sequence, where you fly over the woman, and "Ohhh!" Everyone screams!
What are you guys listening to right now?
JB: We were just listening to Slipknot--pretty good. Let's give her a taste ...
(Jack sings a verse and chorus of "515"). That track is really hot. And so is the second track, but the rest of it is, uh, I'm not sure if I like any of it.
Your song "The Road," musically it's kind of like Skynyrd with a Led Zeppelin middle part. Is that your "Southern rock" anthem?
JB: It kind of has a roadhouse feel at the beginning--it's just a little ditty that Kyle worked up.
KG: I think--at the end--it reminds me a lot of Bad Company. Sort of a power-chordy kind of thing. So the answer is yes, we were thinking of all those things. We like all those bands.
What's cool is that the songs are jokes, but then they're actually good; they have choruses and stuff. What if you had an "insincere" hit? Like, some people didn't get it. Do you have people in your audiences that kind of think it's real?
KG: We don't really think it's a joke. I'm sorry that you do.
I'm sorry guys.
KG: That's all right.
JB: There seems to be some confusion out there that people think we're a comedy band. The truth is, we're just the best band, and people don't know how to deal with it. So they laugh. But we understand that that's an escape valve, and we don't begrudge them that. You know how when someone's going crazy, they start laughing? That's the effect we have on people.
You sing a lot about weed.
KG: We don't recommend weed for the kids,
JB: No. Be careful, really. Be sure to exercise first; then smoke some, 'cause then you get a little head rush.
Is "City Hall" a modern anthem to get kids to overthrow The Man?
KG: It's really about trying to get them to see more musical theater.
So, there'll be dancing? Magic tricks? Are you a full entertainment show?
KG: Yes. I'll be doing some card tricks at intermission.
JB: We have a short film that we project at some of the venues--see how we feel.
We design each set list special for each place. They're all the same songs, but we shuffle up the cards. We'll probably bust out a fresh one for y'all.
Are you doing any covers--Queen, for example?
KG: Whatever floats our boat at the time. We're working on a song right now called, "Angie, You Rock My World."
KG: I'm gonna try and bust that one out.
Will my booty be in it?
KG: I hope--backstage
JB: If it's bubble-icious, as we've been told.