“Fake it till you make it” is an oft-used phrase, but it was also an operating philosophy for Tenacious D. “We were presenting ourselves as the greatest band on earth, but we were also a total catastrophe,” Jack Black tells us, recounting how he and bandmate Kyle Gass didn’t know how to plug in their amps early in their careers. What a difference a few decades makes.
On a break in between legs of their latest tour, the hard rocking and hilarious folk metal duo best known for “Tribute,” “Fuck Her Gently,” and the film Pick Of Destiny is triumphant yet hungry for more, working on a new album and promoting a fiber bar capable of enabling the “perfect deuce,” according to Black. They’re also surfing nostalgia waves while talking up Tenacious D: The Road to Redunktion, an Audible Original Words + Music project, that takes fans through the band’s origins, peaks, and valleys with the help of archive audio from early in their run. The project, which you can download now, is the latest act of powerful and effective legend reinforcement by a band that has charmed, worked, and wished themselves into the hearts and minds of millions.
We spoke with Black and Gass about the project, moments of doubt, the impact of “Hollywood Jack’s” film success, the creative DNA they share with Kanye, and why you never rent a house in Joshua Tree without NBA League Pass.
When you guys talk about how you’d written an earnest song, one of your first songs, and then you realize that you should lean into the comedy and lean into your personality, is there a sadness over not being super serious?
Gass: I think it was kind of a relief. I think that was Jack’s kind of thrust at the time. It was like, oh, yeah. I feel much more comfortable in the comedy realm. Just made a lot of sense. And then going back to the Spinal Tap model too. It was like, no, those guys are playing, they’re writing some great songs. They’re just funny. And it seems like that’s because that’s who they are. [Adopts British accent] “To thine own self be true.” If we could all learn that lesson.
You’re introducing audio here that I guess no one’s heard before or that no one has heard in a long time. Is there some kind of vault, like the Prince vault that you guys have all this stuff in?
Gass: Oh, Jack had a lot of old cassette tapes and wisely kept them in a box, a shoebox I believe. And those were the historical archives. And then our producer, John Spiker, digitized all those, which was really great because those cassettes can go away and dissolve. I fantasized about listening to all of them and picking up the best parts. And then I don’t think I listened to any of them. No.
Black: We did a thing where we would jam and we would record. “Always record,” was our motto from the very beginning. Well, not from the very beginning, because at the very beginning we would jam and not record, and then go, “What was that jam we were doing? I can’t fucking remember. Why weren’t we recording?” Because we didn’t know it was going to be magic. And we quickly realized, okay, we have to record always because we won’t remember. We would play and we would jam and record and then we would go, stone-y playback. We would get stoned and listen back. And then we would record some more after the stone-y playback when we were stoned. Because we were like, now that we’re stoned, maybe the jams will be more stone-y. And sometimes it actually worked, but usually not. Usually, the good stuff came in the first half.
How has the process changed from then to now?
Gass: It hasn’t changed that much, really? I think probably a lot less weed.
Black: Now we have to pay for a very expensive Airbnb to have our writer’s retreats.
Joshua Tree, yeah?
Black: How did you know Joshua Tree? That is exactly where we went on our last writer’s retreat.
Research. This is my business.
Black: When we got out to Joshua Tree, we did have some good jams, but we got distracted because Kyle became obsessed with the fact that we couldn’t watch the NBA. It wasn’t even playoffs. It wasn’t even playoffs.
Every game matters.
Black: We can’t stay in Joshua Tree. All we get is Netflix on this TV. It took a few hours out of our jam set, but trust me, the next Airbnb we get, I’m going to make sure that we have the NBA.
Gass: Dude, no TV for me. We won’t have time for that.
Black: We did have some side trips, also. Aside from NBA, we had to watch all of the Kanye West documentary, Genius? Whatever that’s called. It was good. We were digging the Kanye behind the scenes. It’s kind of like the Tenacious D Words and Music where you get a little sneak peek behind the curtain. And his origin story, and how he started off as this kind of vulnerable and insecure, but super confident and super talented DJ. And a mix master and producer, that was his real strong suit. And it was interesting because, and this is going to sound real dumb, but we share some of that narcissism that he has in his soup. That’s been part of our comedic shtick, and it’s part of his secret ingredients too, is like thinking that you’re the best in the world. I don’t know that he could exist without having that kind of streak. And in a way that’s been central to our comedy, this whole time; saying that we’re the greatest band in the world. But truth be told there’s always a little tiny bit of us that does think we are the best. And I think John Lennon said it, didn’t he? That if you don’t think that you’re the best band in the world then there’s no point in doing it. I think there’s a truth to that. That whether or not you are, it doesn’t even matter if you’re any good. You need to think that you’re potentially the best ever, of all times, just to fucking get out bed in the morning. [Laughs]
Gass: Yeah. It’s too hard.
How could you weather any kind of adversity if you don’t think that you’ve got something in you that people have to hear?
Black: You have to go out there in front of a big crowd of people. That’s terrifying stuff. You have to have a kind of insane confidence.
[Jack steps away from the Zoom for a moment leaving Kyle and I.]
I thought it was really interesting when you both spoke about sort of the birth of Hollywood Jack and Jack starts getting all these movie roles. Kyle, take me through sort of what that feels like. Is there jealousy?
Gass: Well it’s a double-edged sword. Because one, he’s my best mate. And then we’re both trying to make it in Hollywood. And then also he’s almost 10 years younger than me, but we’re still kind of fighting in the same soup. And then he just busts out. It’s just amazing to watch and real exciting. You go, how high can he go? And then he just keeps going. And then, there’s the other part where it’s like, “God dammit, [it’s] taking so much time away from the D. You know, movies take a long time. That’s been a challenge for sure. Kind of frustrating. And then also, you’re not supposed to compare. Compare to despair, I believe, is what they say. But it’s just hard not to.
Difficult to have blinders on.
Gass: I’ve gotten some fun parts. I really enjoy acting and stuff, but yeah, it’s definitely a double-edged sword. It’s frustrating at times, but it’s kind of magic too. And you know, Jack is a great star. But also early on, it was definitely like, “No, I think he’s that talented.” You just got to step aside and let the man go by.
[Jack has returned.]
Jack, I’m curious, when the birth of Hollywood Jack happens and you start booking all these roles and you’re a juggernaut. What’s your fear as far as holding onto the band, holding onto the friendship? Do you worry about stuff like that? Are you just drowning in money?
Gass: All the way to the bank.
Black: I remember when I got the offer to be in High Fidelity, we had Tenacious D rolling. We were on HBO and we were cooking with gas. And that’s why I got the offer for High Fidelity; I think how it went down is John Cusack liked Tenacious D. He liked what I did on that and was like, “We want you to play Barry.” And it was a juicy role, but I remember thinking, it’s kind of about music and rock and roll. And it’s about some of the themes that we got going in Tenacious D and now I kind of feel like we’re a real band now. Tenacious D is a real thing. And I don’t know if I want to do a movie about that world, because then it might eat its own tail a little bit, or it might step on Tenacious D’s heat. And also I was just scared because I didn’t know if I would be good in a movie with a big role like that. So I was kind of finding ways to sabotage that whole thing and say no. And then I finally realized, wait a second, this is fucking John Cusack with Stephen Frears, who is one of my favorite directors. What am I doing? I’ve got to fucking do it. So anyway, yeah, I did have misgivings. Because I was like, what if this fucks up Tenacious D? But in the end I said, “Fuck Tenacious D. I got to make this movie!” [Laughs]
Gass: Duh. You got to do that.
Black: And in the end I felt like it actually was a blessing because it helped both things.
Gass: Good for the goose, good for the gander.
In the same breath though, do you think that your career has led to maybe less production from you guys as far as less albums, things like that? Has that been a trade-off that you guys have both had to deal with?
Black: I don’t know. I don’t think so. We do things pretty slowly, regardless. I think we’re on a six year-cycle. Every six years we put out a record. Maybe it would go faster if we weren’t doing other things, but I don’t think so.
Gass: If it were the only game in town for you, there’d probably be. But you know, that’s just not the way [it is].
Black: Maybe. Maybe we would’ve exploded and stopped being a band years ago. It’s an alternate reality that we can never know.
Gass: It’s an unknown.
What’s next for you guys? You just put out The Who medley which is great. You’re on a tour right now or about to be?
Black: We are in between legs. We had a great, greatest hits first leg in June. And we got another leg coming up in September. Looking forward to that. As always, looking forward to the live shows. We got this record that we’ve been working on for a few years and yeah, we can’t really tell you anything about that. Because it’s kind of like a Marvel movie. It’s so grand in scope. And if we let out any spoilers, then you know, Flight of the Conchords or one of the other bands would steal it for sure.
I’ll let Andy Samburg know if you tell me.
Black: Oh my God.
Gass: He’s watching our every move.
‘Tenacious D: The Road to Redunktion’ is available for download now.