Talkin' About the Road

Tenacious D, better known as actors-musicians Jack Black and Kyle Gass, look like shit
Great mics of fire: Tenacious D will make you laugh your ass off before rocking your face off. 
Tenacious D, better known as actors-musicians Jack Black and Kyle Gass, look like shit. They’ve been giving interviews to promote their new movie Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny since early this morning and, since you’re not the one walking into the Four Seasons hotel to find them in this sorry state, maybe it would help if you knew it is now almost 7 o’clock at night.

“That’s the way it works now,” Black says, his voice laconic but prone to sudden inflective outbursts. “Somebody along the line decided you had to do five days of non-stop junkets or else your movie won’t do well.”

“And there’s no way to prove that it works,” Gass points out, opening a window before he lights a cigarette.

“But now we’re stuck in it, ’cause if you don’t do it and your movie doesn’t do well, that’s why,” Black adds.

Well, the chances for Pick of Destiny’s success more or less now resides in the hands of the studios and the ticket-buying free world, but, if success was determined solely by how hard an audience will laugh at your movie, then Black and Gass should be preparing for mega-stardom. That probably won’t happen, but, hey, that’s not to say they don’t deserve it.

“The story was probably the hardest part,” Gass explains, when asked why it took six years to bring this project to fruition. Tenacious D, the platinum-selling folk-metal band, made their debut on HBO’s Mr. Show in the ’90s and landed a handful of specials on the premium channel to help build their cult status, but the desire always remained to get it right, to make a movie without being hindered by network execs who didn’t know what funny was. “It was about capturing this passion,” says Gass. “We not only want to be rock, we want to be like the greatest.”

“We wanted to blow audiences minds,” Black says. “Not only make them laugh, but blow their minds. We wanted them to go home and feel like they’d been rocked.

“We knew we had to start before the beginning,” he continues. “We had to make it an origin episode: This is what happened to the D. It sounds simple, but it wasn’t at the time. It was a” — and here, one of those sudden bursts of inflection — “revelation. ‘Wait a minute, this is what we do. We tell the story of how it actually happened, but more kick-ass, to make it more entertaining.’”

The movie forced the duo to define who Tenacious D really was; what exactly was so funny about them? This from a pair who once wrote “the greatest and best song in the world” — before forgetting how it went. (They, of course, wrote a “Tribute” to it.)

“It’s funny to apply absolutes to music, like, ‘It’s the greatest song,’” Gass says.

“Or, ‘We are the greatest band,’ which is ridiculous because it’s a matter of opinion,” Black interrupts. “There’s also something funny about the machoness of rock. Like the bands that are the fucking hardest rocking are like, ‘We’ll fucking kick your ass, dude … with our rock.’”

Gass laughs. “That makes no sense.”

Still, Tenacious D probably rocks harder than most “serious” bands and, despite the humor that pervades every lyrics, probably embody the spirit of rock more than chumps like Collective Soul.

“I think the problem is most musicians take themselves so seriously,” Gass suggests. “I think the humor has almost allowed us to show off a little more. Like, ‘Oh, we’re just funny,’ but then we’re rocking very hard.”

“I remember early on, a couple of people saying, ‘You guys are so great,’” Black says. “‘Why don’t you sing for real and really mean what you’re singing about? Why are you always making fun of what you’re singing about? Why don’t you have the balls to be real, like Pearl Jam?’ I remember feeling like, maybe I am avoiding something. But that was just always our strength. We were court jesters. And I think that made us critic-proof.”

But there’s also the matter of being one of the few actor-led bands that get honest-to-goodness respect from real musicians, though neither seemed to have given much thought to it. (That’s probably an act.) Yet, it’s true: For all the actors mocked for trying to rock, Gass — and Black, especially — are instead praised for it. Maybe it’s the court-jester thing.

“I think the grass is always green`er` for the actor and musician; they always want to switch over,” Black says. “But I think more so for the actor. Because when you’re up there rocking, it’s a lot more fun. You don’t really need to go out and make movies if you’ve got that going.”

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