Interview with Jack Black and Kyle Gass from Tenacious D: Rising Like The Ashes

As ever, The D are the first to tell their story. On their new album, the unfortunately-spelled Rize Of The Fenix, the mostly-acoustic mostly-duo of Jack Black and Kyle Gass recount tales of the former’s Hollywood glory and their collective rebound after the box office failure that was 2006’s The Pick Of Destiny, self-consciously positioning the record as their great comeback as they once positioned “Tribute” as the greatest song in the world. So be it.

If Tenacious D is risen, that rise comes only after a legit fall. The Pick Of Destiny was a flop, and with Black’s acting career taking precedent, it looked like the comedy duo that once upon a time (a time called the ‘90s) made 15-minute short episodes of their misadventures for HBO was long gone. A thing of the past. In hindsight, one can’t help but wonder if they engineered the whole thing.

Probably not.

I’ve been a fan of The D since that HBO show was on the air, and since Black made several appearances on the still-underrated Mr. Show With Bob And David, so it was with great pleasure that I finally got to speak to Black and Gass about their ongoing redemption—Rize Of The Fenix topped the Billboard Rock Albums chart—the victory lap of which is a U.S. tour that brings them to Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC on June 28 and 29. This being Issue #666, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate duo of devil worshippers to have on the cover, so please, enjoy:

You are in Glasgow?

JB: Yes we are.

How’s Glasgow?

JB: Glasgow is cold, gray, filled with indifference, but I have a good feeling about the show. They need a Fenix, and we’re here to bring it.

Tell me about working out the timing on this record. Obviously you’re a busy guy. Was there any trouble making the album happen where you were like, “No, we need to hold off on this comeback because I’m busy for the next year?”

JB: Was it hard to work out the schedules with Hollywood beckoning? Did we have to hold off because of my film career? No. It was not hard. Kyle has something to say on this venture.

KG: No it wasn’t hard at all. We felt it was time. The creativity was great. We had some time off, and we set the juice in motion.

Where did the phoenix idea come from?

KG: The phoenix idea came from the comeback. It was the perfect metaphor for the Tenacious D comeback. People wrote us off as dead. The critics panned us. Our movie was not as well received as it should’ve been—I think time is proving them wrong—but we rose as the ashes.

JB: [In background] From the ashes! We’re not rising like the ashes.

KG: (Laughs) From the ashes.

JB: [Takes phone] Okay, I’m back. That’s how we’re going to do this interview. One misstep and the phone goes back to the other guy.

Tell me about writing the songs. I know some of these tracks have been around for some time.

JB: We wrote the songs the way we always write the songs. We came up with a concept—a powerful concept—one that resonates, Kage jams on his acoustic, and I riff on the concept. And magic is created.

KG: [Laughs in background]

One thing that stood out to me immediately on the title-track was the Dio reference in the guitar.

JB: Here’s the thing for all the songwriters out there, reading this interview. Here’s what they need to know. It’s not about how you write the great song. It’s about how you slog through all the shitty songs. It’s patience. It’s years, and years of playing and writing shitty songs and just persevering until you have an album’s worth of great songs. It just takes many years. Patience is more important than talent. Kay? Next question.

Tell me about the skits. How much of those are planned out beforehand?

JB: I’m handing you over to Kyle. He’s got something to say.

KG: Well, it varies. “Flutes And Trombones” was a Bob Odenkirk idea. Our good friend, Bob Odenkirk, who helped us on HBO in our salad days, had the idea for us many years ago, and it just sort of sat around in the hopper and we just came back to it. We don’t really write the—we usually improve the ideas. We tried actually writing a couple, and they felt stilted and wrong, and they didn’t end up on the record.

Do you do multiple takes of those?

KG: Yeah, we’ll do multiple takes of those. We’ll sit there and we’ll talk for however long we can muster, and then hopefully some genius is in there. Most times it’s not, but if it does, like “Classical Teacher,” if it makes us all laugh, then we leave it in.

I think you can tell “Classical Teacher” is more improv, because at the end it just kind of stops.

KG: Yeah. It’s a little bit of luck at the end.

What are you guys doing after the U.S. tour that’s coming up?

KG: No plans after the U.S. tour. That’s all we’ve got to focus on. It took a lot of energy to make the record, to write it, to record and then to promote it and then to tour off it. I think we’ll probably take a break after that, but I’m pretty sure we don’t know. We might have a few more dates in the hopper. We know Germany has a love affair with The D. We’d like to come back to Germany.

How long were you actually in the studio making the album? Did you do it all at once or space it out?

KG: We figure around 100 days of actual recording. We took our time. Sometimes we had full days. A lot of times it would be half-days. We’d just go in and if it wasn’t happening—we’re not guys that camp out or live in the studio. We’ll go in and if it’s going, it’s going, and if not, that’s it. Call it a day.

Will you do more movies or TV?

JB: Well, in answer to your previous question, it’s important that you go to a garage, where you don’t have to pay any money for a studio, because you have to record for 100 days. If we’d recorded for 100 days at one of the higher-end studios, it would’ve cost more than Chinese Democracy. What’s the next question, please?

Will do you do more movies or TV, stuff like that?

JB: Unfortunately, Warner Bros. owns the rights to Tenacious D. We signed ourselves away to them when we did the Pick Of Destiny movie, and they have no interest in doing another Tenacious D movie as far as we know. But we are looking to spread our wings, and we found a loophole with the internet and animated shorts. That’s the world we’re looking to dive into, and not just for money, mainly for art.

Do you have someone you’d do that through, Funny Or Die maybe?

JB: It’s going to be one of the greatest things ever, yeah. We’re not going to say who we’re collaborating with at this point. It’s some pretty exciting shit. It’s pretty next level shit.

One more thing and I’ll let you go return to Glasgow.

JB: Talk to me.

This issue of The Aquarian that you’re going to be on the cover on is issue number 666.

JB: No fucking way. It’s 666 weeks. How many years is that? 50 times 10. Is it 12 years you’ve been around?

The paper’s been around for like 42 years.

JB: It was a monthly for a while probably. Something’s wrong with the math here, but cool.

Well, we started over at one point, but if there’s anything you’d like to say about the devil to mark the occasion…?

JB: Anything we’d like to say about the devil to mark the occasion? Here, I’m handing you over to Kyle, he’s got something to say about Satan.

KG: Satan. We hardly knew you. Looking forward to meeting you in New York. I’m pretty sure that’s where you live.

JB: [Mumbles in background]

KG: He lives in London. …Satanus.

JB: He does have a timeshare in New York.


Rize Of The Fenix is available now. Tenacious D hit Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan June 28-29 and will be at the Penn’s Landing Festival Pier in Philly on June 30.