Tenacious D: The D Also Rises
The San Fernando Valley is one of those odd, sun-stroked places that can eat a man whole if he explores it in the wrong way. To uninformed observers, the further north you go, the more it seems like an expansive cavalcade of strip malls and occasionally industrial side-street seediness, but those observers aren’t seeing what’s behind the non-descript walls.
On a warm, clear day in North Hollywood, less than a mile from Circus Liquor—a dilapidated booze warehouse that a gargantuan clown presides over—two of the best known real-world clowns, who also happen to be the frontmen for the greatest band in the world (by their own approximation), are in a rehearsal studio behind one of those industrial facades, getting ready to re-take over the world and plotting a summer tour that’ll take them to some of the largest amphitheaters and festivals in the world, from the not-far-from-here Hollywood Bowl to headlining monstrous international festivals, including Download in Europe and Sasquatch in Washington state.
The two men in question are Kyle Gass and Jack Black, the frontpeeps of Tenacious D, who last were lavished with duo attention when their movie, Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, came out six years ago—and promptly flopped. The failure of Destiny, with the gigantically-produced tour to support its soundtrack album and the promotional muscle flexed to make it a success—seems, to a casual observer—to have sidelined the D a bit in the interim, with just a few shows at charity events and one-off festival appearances (including stepping in to headline Outside Lands in 2009, filling in for the Beastie Boys and a then-ailing Adam Yauch) biding their time.
Their new record, Rize of the Fenix, addresses this break directly: The anthemic title track opens with the lyrics, “when the Pick of Destiny was released it was a bomb/ All the critics said the D was done/ The sun had set and the chapter had closed/ But one thing no one had thought about/ Was that the D would rise again.”
Also of course, it’s all an in-joke—or is it? During the course of an hour-long conversation with Gass and Black, it’s unclear when they’re serious and when they’re joking—about the band’s history, about where they are musically and even about their own songs. Sitting with the two of them is like nerding out over music with your funniest friends: They end up riffing on The Boss (“I never really thought of Springsteen as political as Tom Morello, but I guess he kind of is,” says Black), Il Divo (“Opera is awful,” offers Gass), a hypothetical guitar battle versus Jack White (“I would send Kyle in—I’m not the axe lord,” admits Black), and their new foes Arcade Fire, who are surprisingly dissed on the record. (“Whoever is on top of Shitcake Mountain is the one we are going to zero in on,” says Black. “At the time we were recording that, it sounded like that is who we had to go after.”)
The notoriously hilarious Black constantly closes his eyes at various points during the interview, either focusing intently or getting just a bit of relaxation during his moments of downtime; Gass tries to answer questions directly and kindly. But the two of them are unsurprisingly at their best when they’re riffing off of each other, whether they’re talking about upping the ante on tour, what the best way to get a very famous friend of theirs to cross-dress is, and, especially, about whether they’re serious—or even have the ability to be—in the first place.
Talk a little bit about what actually was going on during your break.
Kyle Gass: What actually has been going on?
*Jack Black What actually has been going on.
Gass: Well, let’s see. You probably made a bunch of movies, didn’t you?
I’m talking more about the mythology behind this record, which seems to be about the story of what happened after The Pick Of Destiny .
Gass: Right. Well, the mythology is that we went down into a deep crevice and were left for dead.
Black But what actually happened, Kyle?
Gass: The real story? Well, that basically is what happened. We did The Pick of Destiny, and then we did the tour, which actually got a surprising turnout, despite…
Black Despite the movie’s failure, the tour was pretty magnificent. It was a fully realized, Broadway-ready production. We had multiple sets. We had a full character arc. We had a full story with a beginning, middle and end. We had a movie in the middle that showed us in hell, forming a band.
Gass: Because that is definitely part of our story: We’re two guys with acoustic guitars.
Black Yeah, so we couldn’t just show up with the band. We had to, like, tell the story of how we met and how we formed. We came back onstage after that movie and we’re in hell. The stage had been transformed from Kyle’s living room into hell. We were in hell with our new band, and we were rocking hell very hard, and then Satan came—and the living embodiment of The Metal came.
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