Tenacious D: Double trouble

By Scott Kara

Scott Kara submits to Jack Black and Kyle Gass's good cop-bad cop routine. Who won is anyone's guess.

Tenacious D, the 'Simon and Garfunkel of comedy metal', return to New Zealand in May. Photo / Supplied
Tenacious D, the 'Simon and Garfunkel of comedy metal', return to New Zealand in May. Photo / Supplied

Jack Black is issuing a challenge to TimeOut to come backstage when his band Tenacious D are in town in May to settle some unfinished business.

"Are you coming to the show? Okay, you come backstage, we'll look each other in the eyeballs, and we'll settle this like men. We've got some unfinished business here, Scott," he says in that trademark breathless and uptight bark of his.

The comedian, film star and frontman for the D is referring to a question TimeOut asked about how they manage to get away with singing a song like F*** Her Gently, off their self-titled debut album from 2001.

It's a fair enough question because, let's face it, not everyone could do it. His musical sidekick, Kyle Gass, knows what we're on about.

"I think it's a good question because, why can we get away with being so brazen? From that perspective it's interesting," he says in his softly spoken, almost tranquil lilt. It sure is a stark contrast to Black's abrasive, loud, look-at-me-type tone.

But Black wants to know: "Why do we get away with what? What are you talking about? I don't think it's a clear question. I think you're giving this guy too much credit, Kyle. What do you mean? Get away with what?"

If I went ...

Black: What are you suggesting that's wrong with that song that we're getting away with something?

There's nothing wrong with that song. It's a great song.

Gass: You know it's our most popular song, Scott.
Black: Hey Kyle, I'm trying to turn the tables on this guy. Scott, what's wrong with it?

Not many normal people could get away with singing it. But why do you guys manage to pull it off?

Black: I don't know what you mean. Everyone is looking at you, Scott. They want to know what you're talking about.

And so it went on. And to be fair to Black, he's just kidding. Kind of.

"Scott, I love you like a brother. [But] Scott ... to be continued," he says before signing off.

There's also a hint of Jack Black niggle that comes with being the sort of person who wants to get the last word in - all the time. It's something Gass is used to, and it's a big part of Tenacious D's schtick and what they have made their name with over the last 12 years with their often filthy, always hilarious lyrics backed by cracking good tunes like Tribute and, most recently, Rize of the Fenix, the title track off last year's third album.

The last time the D - who are kind of like the Simon and Garfunkel of comedy metal - were here they warmed up the crowd for celebrity mates the Foo Fighters at Western Springs with a full band behind them. This time round they play an intimate show at Auckland Town Hall (and shows in Wellington and Christchurch) as a duo.

Before the interview got, well, a little tenacious, it started out nice and relaxed with just Gass on the line, and we were told Black would join us in a minute. So we made a start without him ...

Hi there, Kyle. This time when you play in New Zealand will be very different from the last time. So, apart from the extra money you obviously both get, what is it like going back to your roots as a duo?

Gass: It's a lot more work for me. When you have the band blasting behind you, really, people can't even hear what I'm doing. So when you remove them, now I've got to play every song and every chord. So it was a little overwhelming at first and then it's fun because that's how it was for many, many years and it's the spirit of the group, kind of minimalist, rocking out.

(At this point Jack Black joins the conference call.)

Black: Hello. Start the interview again. What did we cover while I was gone and why?
Gass: I waited and then Scott started and so what was I supposed to do?
Black: The proper thing to do would have been to wait in awkward silence.
Gass: That's so uncomfortable though.

Jack, we were just talking about going back to your roots as a duo, and apart from the extra money you get, what is it like for you?

Black: Are you kidding me? We're losing money hand over fist by doing this. We should be playing the Megadome - or wherever the All Blacks play. That's where we would normally play. But we have decided, "Hey, f*** money". We're going to go old school. We're going to give the hardcore a little taste of what they want most. Next question.

You guys admit that on Rize of the Fenix you went from being the "greatest band in the world" to an okay band with a movie [The Pick of Destiny] that bombed. So how did you get back on the Fenix and ride it?

Black: We dug deep. We looked inside. We took a page from the Michael Jackson notebook. That's right, Michael Jackson, our main influence. And said, "I'm looking at the man in the mirror. I'm looking at him to change his ways." No message could have been any clearer ... you know the rest. Take a look at yourself and make the change.
Gass: It was not easy. But I think you have to descend into the deepest valley before you can enjoy the highest peak.
Black: Is it painful to look at your shortcomings? Is it easy to get back up off the mat once you've been left for dead? Is it easy to come back? But all the great artists agree it's the hard times that are the best source of creativity. Next question.
You did get some cracking good tunes out of it though, like To Be the Best.
Black: You should hear the live version of it.

How do you do that song as a duo then, because there's lots of synthesizer on it?

Black: The way we do all the songs; they start with me and Kyle in a room with guitars and vocals. No bells and whistles. That's the songs at their most purest essence. The rest makes it cooler, but it's not necessary.
Gass: You know someone once said, "less can be so much more".
Black: Why did you have to add "can be"? You added more. Next question.

The perception of Tenacious D is that Kyle is the under-appreciated, long-suffering sidekick in the shadow of you, Jack. Is that really what it's like?

Gass: Thank you. Thank you. Oh God, someone feels my pain. Finally. No. No. I feel very appreciated. Really. When I see those smiling faces and talk to the folks, my cup runneth over, sir.

But do you feel appreciated by your music-making mate?

Black: What are you asking? What's your question? Who are you asking?
Gass: Do I feel under-appreciated? I say, "No". I feel appreciated.
Black: Do I feel as though Kyle is under-appreciated? Is that the question? Please ask the question again and to whom you are directing the question.

I was just asking Kyle if he felt under-appreciated because that's what it comes across like most of the time?

Black: Answer that question, Kyle.
Gass: Never. Jack makes me feel special and important and maybe more so than I should be. Sure, he gets mad sometimes, but he's got a fiery personality.
Black: Let me just say I have a disorder. I'm a bit of a control freak. And a lot of what Tenacious D is, is a battle for control. I want total control and Kyle does not want to let me have it and that's what makes the beautiful friction.

Who: Tenacious D, made up of Jack Black and Kyle Gass
Where and when: Auckland Town Hall, May 20; Wellington Opera House, May 21; The Bedford, Christchurch, May 22
Listen to: Tenacious D (2001), The Pick of Destiny (2006), Rize of the Fenix (2012)

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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