There’s room in Kyle Gass’ heart to skewer more than one musical genre. He and Jack Black might’ve been the quintessential mock-it-because-they-love-it metal duo as Tenacious D, but sideman Gass is stepping forward and again to the side in Trainwreck—a similarly goofy celebration of all things Southern rock. The Los Angeles quintet has gigged around since 2002 (Gass even wore a Trainwreck shirt through much of 2006’s Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny), but with the recent release of its debut, The Wreckoning, the group is hitting the road for a string of shows across the country. Before Trainwreck plays the Larimer Lounge tomorrow night, The A.V. Club talked to Gass about where he draws the line on gimmicky bands, why he wears a wig in Trainwreck, and liking Slipknot for no discernable reason.
The A.V. Club: You’re in two shticky but successful bands. What are some common mistakes you see among other gimmicky bands that fail to connect?
Kyle Gass: Well, here’s my feeling about shtick. I think sometimes if you don’t have it going on too much, you’re probably feeling insecure and then you want to add on the shtick. I would say, oh, like Kiss. You try to stand out from the crowd, you’re going for a bold statement, you’re going for a high concept. Does it work? Obviously it worked for popularity. I don’t know. Artistically, hmm… But you know, I think that music can get a little sensitivo, it can get a little personal. So I think sometimes bands might miss the boat not making it really more fun. You’ve got a band like Tenacious D, whose shtick is grounded in reality. So the truth is, we do want to be awesome. So we’ll just act like we’re awesome, and it probably seems funny because we don’t really appear to be that awesome. But then we’re kinda awesome, so it works. And then you’ve got Flight Of The Conchords; they’re just really funny.
AVC: What about on the other end of the spectrum? Bands that have attempted shticks but they don’t work?
KG: Sugar Ray. I think they tried to start going punk but then they started to go kinda radio-friendly pop, and then it might have got a little muddled. But the songs are really good. They’re catchy. I don’t know. I don’t keep up with music. Who knows? But what is shtick, really? It’s like an artificial kind of layer on it. Maybe something kind of high-concept? Probably every band—you get back to like, The Stones are kind of the tough guys, Beatles are kind of psychedelic, Led Zeppelin was kinda mystical, The Who are kind of mods. You know, you just go right through. Everyone’s kind of adopted their so-called persona or flavor if you will. So I think that’s kind of the fun of rock and pop.
AVC: Kind of like when you were in high school and you say, “Oh, I don’t belong to any group,” even though you actually do.
KG: [Laughs.] That’s right. I agree, you’re sort of adopting your own kind of eclectic aesthetic, you know, you’re saying, “I love it all.” But I think people nowadays, with the availability of music—and music is just kinda everywhere—it’s a true hodgepodge now. Although the hip-hop—they’ve been able to dominate, I think. The rock definitely seems more like a niche. It seems like more of a boutique genre now.
AVC: Perhaps. But bands like Gwar have been at it for decades—it’s still going strong in some groups.
KG: I would say it’s working. I would say it’s working for them. Don’t you think? Why, you think it’s too much?
AVC: Well, they’re certainly unique. They have a whole mythology, backstory, and plot going on at all times.
KG: I think that’s it. I think the backstory is a good idea, we need to get more into that. You know, I come from an acting background. There’s really no excuse for me not to have a better character defined. You know what? Maybe I’ll find it. Maybe we’ll find it on this tour. [Laughs.]
AVC: How about the Genitorturers? Are they too far off the shtick deep end?
AVC: They’re the self-proclaimed “world’s sexiest rock band” and the lead singer is a real-life dominatrix. Their live shows include whippings and spankings and other S&M acts. They have songs like “Cum Junkie,” “Razor Cuts,” and “Touch Myself.”
KG: I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate them.
AVC: Too far?
KG: A little bit too much, yeah. They sound more like a cabaret-type show. You gotta be backing that up with the tunes. The music has just gotta factor in pretty heavy. And then if you’re going concept, it’s okay.
AVC: Why do you think it is so many bands with gimmicks tend to be hard rock or metal groups? Obviously, with Tenacious D, that’s your inspiration, but this goes all the way from Spinal Tap to Dethklok. There’s a long history.
KG: I think there’s a grandiosity that lends itself to probably cliché at first and then just a seriousness which really is fun to poke fun at. And also there’s so many, you gotta stand out. Seems like it just draws driven beings. So you’re gonna have to be louder, sexier, more evil, more badass than your competitors. That’s why I think it works good for The D to go acoustic, mostly. Because then you’re going in a completely different direction, but retaining the spirit, which tends to highlight what it is about metal and its commitment to the grand statement. It highlights that, as opposed to when you can hear the lyrics and stuff it helps with the stories of the songs. I think that’s a lot of times where you lose the live performance with the metal: You lose a lot of the lyrics.
AVC: Absolutely. And with a lot of non-humorous metal bands—well, have you ever seen a Slayer lyric sheet?
KG: No, is it good study?
AVC: If you want to study rotting corpses or necrophilia over and over. But even if you want to hear it, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to.
KG: Maybe not a lot of substance. They’re kind of playing maybe for the younger, comic book crowd who wants it kind of obvious for them.
AVC: Same goes with Gwar: They’re gonna scare the shit out of your mom.
KG: Yeah, that’s a great tradition, definitely. It’ll probably always re-invent itself. So with that music, it really—it’s used for identification purposes. So you’re gonna wanna define yourself by having your mom hate the music.
AVC: It’s a start.
KG: Now my mom, she hated the D up front, just 'cause of language and stuff. She thought it was kind of obscene. We didn’t have to do that. But I was like, I think it just rings truer if we’re kinda dropping some F-bombs and talking about sex and stuff.
AVC: Did you ever win her over?
KG: She was just happy that there was some career path for me. Thank God for something. I was kicking around, a couple commercials here and there wasn’t really cutting it.
AVC: Any other gimmicky bands come to mind?
KG: Well, you gotta go with the masked band, what’s the masked band?
AVC: There’s Slipknot, for starters.
KG: That’s it. We did a photo shoot with Corey [Taylor], the lead guy. And he was a nice guy. So I’m gonna say thumbs up on Slipknot. And they got masks, and you gotta love that. Gotta love that they updated the masks. It was for some rock magazine. We might’ve been trying to sell something, I don’t remember. But it was cool.
Band Of Bigfoot plays all in their Sasquatch outfits. And it looks really hot and miserable. You know what? It could be unzipped. Try to make it livable. That’s why in Trainwreck [all we need are] the tight wranglers and vests. I do wear a wig, but I just look really good in a wig.