TENACIOUS D: YOU CAN’T TOUCH SABBATH
Jack Black and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D brought the band back to life last year with a triumphantly phallic album cover, and ever since then, things have been looking up. Now they’ve created and curated the first-ever Festival Supreme, a Woodstock for the comedy-music-crossover set that will rattle the floorboards on the Santa Monica Pier this weekend. They speak now about Sabbath, the fetal experience, dying for Sony and maybe taking a meeting with Burger Records … in 2069. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
I know we only have a few minutes—can we do this lightning-round style?
Kyle Gass: Does that mean you take less than 20 minutes, or you ask more questions during the 20 minutes?
What is the Neil Hamburger band? Hours of songs about how Taco Bell makes people sick?
Jack Black: That sounds like a good guess. But your guess is as good as our guess. We just asked everyone to come down and do whatever they want cuz they’re geniuses, one and all.
That’s a touching level of trust.
J: That’s just the way we are.
K: It’d be lame if we were like, ‘Do that bit you did three years ago. That was funny.’
Will this be more like a comedy-music Woodstock, a comedy-music Us Festival or a comedy-music Altamont?
J: We like to think Woodstock cuz it’s the first one of it’s time—a comedy-music combo fest. And just like Woodstock, it’ll probably cause a revolution.
We all remember when that happened.
K: I do cuz I’m a grandpa.
J: But now we don’t have civil rights or anything to work through so I don’t know what we’re gonna do.
What’s left to even change now that weed is almost legal?
J: Yeah, Kyle—what’s next? Don’t say lining your pockets, Kyle. That’s not what we’re looking for.
K: Maybe our economic status. The rich are getting richer and it’s time for that to change. I don’t wanna part with any of mine, necessarily …
But maybe some other rich people will volunteer to bankrupt themselves for the good of society?
K: That’s why we have little to no VIP section.
Who’s gonna be the Festival Supreme version of Hendrix playing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at sunrise?
J: We’re closing it, aren’t we? Are we Hendrix? ARE WE HENDRIX?
K: Just by the scheduling.
J: Just by default. I hate to say it about ourselves, but yes, we are the Hendrix of Festival Supreme.
K: Our electric guitarist is pretty good. We can have him do crazy riffs.
Are you going to set anything on fire?
J: There’s a secret guest and we can’t say who it is—can’t let the cat out of the bag. But there’s a secret weapon that when we unleash them, the excitement level will probably go through the roof. Although there’s no roof there, so the floorboards of the pier will shake loose.
K: From their moorings.
So you can confirm that this is the kind of guest who must be unleashed? They don’t just walk out?
J: Yes—you have to to take them off the chain.
What’s the ‘One Man Tent’? Like two comics enter, one man leaves?
J: That’s the fourth stage. It’s a four-stage festival, though a lot of people think it’s only three. The one-man tent is the fourth and that is Neil Hamburger by himself. And only one audience member is allowed in at a time, and you have 30 seconds alone with Neil. I can’t guarantee he’s even gonna tell jokes. You might just stare at him drinking and drinking, and he might just stare at you sweatily. But it’s gonna be an experience to remember. It’s my favorite stage right now.
He would rule at staring, especially sweatily.
K: I think it’ll put him in a really grumpy mood. He has a tendency to be grumpy already but this might test his patience a bit.
I’ve interviewed a lot of musicians who secretly or not very secretly want to be comedians, and you guys have collected a ton of funny people who are going to play music. What’s with comedians wanting to play music and musicians wanting to be comics?
K: The grass is greener.
You’ve seen both lawns—which is greenest?
J: I never dipped my toe in stand-up.
K: I’ve fantasized but it looks pretty lonely up there.
J: Music is pretty fun. I wouldn’t trade it in. It always comes down to can you spin the plates and keep people interested for the duration of a career? There’s always that desperation, whether it’s stand-up or music.
You had a quote about how Tenacious D is you and Kyle screaming to the heavens that ‘we exist!’ Is that the same desperation coming out?
J: That’s what life is all about.
Proving you exist?
J: Sad but true.
You two have made a big mark already—some part of Tenacious D will live forever, probably.
K: That’s why everyone should buy a t-shirt.
They’ll last forever?
J: Is that why they should buy a t-shirt, Kyle? I can’t believe this shameless money grabber.
K: They’re made of a titanium blend that WILL last forever! That’s another revolution we’re starting.
A revolution in music, comedy and now fashion?
J: I just ate the best burger I ever had—Bill’s Burger. On Oxnard. They’re already too crowded. I don’t wanna tell you the address. They’ve been here for like 45 years, since the 60s. And he just whipped me up a burger … oh my God, Bill. That’s the secret to my stamina. A good cheeseburger goes a long way.
Ever think of connecting with Burger Records?
J: We’re locked up for seven albums at Sony.
K: And we only have three.
J: But if they ever kick us out, I will definitely take a meeting with Burger.
Did you ever consider making a contract-breaking album like when Van Morrison wrote 30 songs about danishes for Bang Records?
J: That’s amazing—did it work? We would pull a stunt like that except when we made this deal it was a different time. Once we’re done with this deal, it only goes down, you know? The industry is such that all the deals out there are pretty crappy. And we’re sitting pretty cuz we’re grandfathered in.
Think you’ll take the D independent when the contract is up?
K: I’ll be 75.
J: It’ll be a miracle if we outlive this contract.
That’s probably just what they wanted.
K: There was actually a lawsuit against big record companies cuz the deals were basically indentured servitude.
Are you prepared to die for or at least on Sony Records?
K: Yes, I’m prepared to die for Sony Records. We don’t even know what the delivery system for music would be like when we’re done with this contract. Probably telepathy.
J: I’d like to do something vinyl only.
Did you know that some of your old vinyl goes for like $200 online?
K: I knew I wanted a box of those, goddammit.
J: They wouldn’t give us any extras.
Jack, I saw you singing along to Roky Erickson’s ‘Cold Night For Alligators’ when he played, and I know you guys started out at L.A.’s Al’s Bar. What other crushingly legit roots do you have?
J: We were playing Al’s—that was our first real gig. That place doesn’t exist anymore. But it was a scene. A little underground indie fresh scene.
K: We did a play at Al’s Bar. That’s how crazy that was.
J: With the Actor’s Gang.
K: A full three-act play at a shithole bar that actually went pretty well! It was all about the downtrodden.
J: We never got in any scrapes there. It was pretty safe. It just smelled bad! But it was also glorious.
K: Kind of a CBGB’s sort of vibe.
J: We only had three songs but we were still gestating. Al’s Bar was our fetus stage.
It was really womblike—dark and damp and then you get thrown into the daylight and start crying.
J: And those hipsters cheering for us were like the umbilical cord nutrients going into our souls.
K: Hipster nutrients—there’s nothing better!
So if that was the fetal era, where is Tenacious D now? Through puberty? Adulthood?
J: I can’t say we’re in our prime.
Still going up?
J: We’re definitely on the back nine. I dunno exactly where.
K: The other side of the mountain. Still near the top, but the other side.
J: But that’s the thing on the other side. It’s pretty easy riding your bike downhill!
What’s the view like as you gaze into the twilight?
J: We got some tricks up our sleeves yet. Obviously we can’t tell you all our concepts.
Can you tell me any rejected concepts?
J: We had a couple. What were thinking would be cool?
K: We worked on a rap tune. A little bit. ‘Strawberry Shortcake,’ was it?
J: But Lonely Island covered that whole thing. We wanted to have a mega-show with Lonely Island and—
K: —Spinal Tap.
J: And Flight of the Conchords. But we bailed on that cuz they all said no.
That’s hard to get past.
J: And they started their own fest. Good for them!
Whose music has led you to more life-changing moments—Black Sabbath or Weird Al?
J: You know, I’ve enjoyed some Weird Al over the years, but you can’t touch Sabbath. Sabbath! Sabbath changed my life!
K: That’s apples and grapefruits.
Do you remember the exact second it changed your life?
J: The first fifteen seconds of ‘Iron Man.’ That’s when my whole path in life became clear.
I also would have accepted ‘ Sweet Leaf.’
J: Maybe ‘The Wizard’ if you wanna go deep cut.
In the Tenacious D movie, you famously save yourself by doing cock push-ups. In real life, what’s the tightest situation you ever fucked your way out of? Or into?
K: That might be some artistic license.
J: I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten out of a bad situation with my cock. If anything, it’s only ever gotten me in trouble.
K: It’s hard to fuck your way out of a bad situation.
What body part gets you out when your cock got you in?
K: Maybe a good headbutt at that point.
J: We can’t leave on that note!
I wanted to commend you on the spelling on your new album Rize of the Fenix. It’s well-known that bad spelling often indicates quality music.
K: I wasn’t aware of that!
Since you basically have a giant penis on the cover, how long do you think it will be til you’re just making Tenacious D sex aids?
J: We were talking about Tenacious D penis earplugs. But we bailed on that cuz the lawyer said it was a lawsuit waiting to happen.
K: And we fear litigation.
J: But I guarantee you no one else thought of that. There was one more thing I wanted to add. You know how Peter Jackson does the Lord of the Rings and does three movies at the same time? I think that’s what we’ll do with the next album. We’re gonna knock two out at the same time.
K: And you know what we’ll call that? San-D-nista. Oh no he didn’t!
J: Now that’s how you finish an interview!
TENACIOUS D ON SAT., OCT. 19, AT FESTIVAL SUPREME WITH TIM + ERIC, ADAM SANDLER, THE MR. SHOW EXPERIENCE, ZACH GALIFIANAKIS, GARFUNKEL AND OATES, HANNIBAL BURESS AND SO MANY MORE AT THE SANTA MONICA PIER, 200 W. OCEAN BLVD., SANTA MONICA. 3 PM / $99-$250 / ALL AGES. TICKETS AND MORE INFO AT FESTIVALSUPREME.COM.