The self-proclaimed "greatest band on earth," Tenacious D has evolved from a pay-cable cult phenomenon into one of the most buzzed-about bands on the planet. Not bad for a pair of chubby, acoustic-guitar-playing thespians, even if their music does combine folk, rock, prog-rock, and comedy in unexpected ways. Pairing actor/singer/songwriter Jack Black with fellow actor/singer/songwriter Kyle Gass, The D—as it's affectionately known to its legion of fans—first stirred attention through its live performances in the mid-'90s, and quickly became a fixture of Los Angeles' alternative-comedy scene. The duo's growing buzz caught the attention of Mr. Show gurus David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, who co-executive-produced a series of short HBO films starring the duo. Though Tenacious D's HBO tenure was short-lived, Black and Gass parlayed their rapidly growing fan base into a self-titled, Dust Brothers-produced major-label debut, a high-profile gig opening for The Foo Fighters, a Spike Jonze-directed video (for its origin-of-the-D single "Wonderboy"), and a major headlining tour of its own. The Onion A.V. Club recently spoke with the pair about Tenacious D's incendiary politics, why it rocks so hard, and veteran hard-rock wizard Ronnie James Dio.
The Onion: In the album and on your TV show, you seem to have a pretty complicated relationship. How would you describe it?
Kyle Gass: I would describe it as "close as brothers." With all that comes with it.
Jack Black: With all the trimmings.
KG: Sometimes we compete.
JB: There's competish.
KG: It's like a marriage.
JB: Bickering old ladies, at times. Kyle searches for my buttons, then pushes them repeatedly.
KG: Jack actually believed that I'm nasty. But he's just projecting his own bitterness on me.
JB: No, and it's not just to me, Rage. I watch you operate out in the real world.
KG: It's interesting how you deflect. You're deflecting.
JB: I'm pretty sure that you receive direct pleasure from my pain.
KG: You're speaking, of course, of the learn-through-teasing program, which I'm trying to implement.
JB: But what about when it's a total stranger who gets a full blast of your mean side, for no reason?
KG: Even strangers can learn from my program.
O: I was listening to the album this weekend…
KG: Do I sound retarded on the album?
O: No, you don't. You sound very smart. And the person I was with kept asking, "Why is Jack so mean? He's being so mean to Kyle. He seems like such a nice guy on television and in his movies."
KG: It's true, it's true.
JB: Somebody's kid actually… Remember that, Kyle? Someone's daughter was playing the album, which she shouldn't be, by the way. I don't recommend this for kids under…
KG: I'd say 11.
JB: No, dude, come on.
KG: All right, they've got to be pubin'. They've got to be pube and above.
JB: But there was some little girl that was really rushing to your defense.
JB: She was like, I think she was almost crying because I was so mean to you.
KG: At first I was a little resistant, thinking that it was… And then I realized, the sympathy factor.
JB: They love it.
KG: They really feel for me.
O: Do you have a lot of young fans?
KG: We're doing a lot of all-ages shows, and they seem to be interested in the answers.
O: The last time you were interviewed by The Onion A.V. Club, you talked about HBO ordering more episodes of the show.
KG: They did order more episodes, but they wanted to strip us of our creative input. Therefore, we had to take a pass.
O: What did they want to do, exactly?
JB: They wanted to relegate us to songwriting only. Whereas before, we had full access to all…
KG: Executive producer. There was some glitch in the beginning where they thought, "That show's not going to make
it anyway, who cares, it's off the radar." Then it started to get a little popular, and they got frightened of our explosive, edgy talent.
JB: Maybe that's why. Probably not.
KG: It doesn't matter. They decided to take on a new show, The Sopranos.
JB: Well, you can't really say they made a blunder. The Sopranos or The D…
KG: Could be the D-pranos.
JB: Yeah, that could be the new show.
KG: We could have been the D-pranos. We could have been somebody. I'm pretty sure they would take us back now, if we went back. But they say Hollywood has a short memory.
JB: Tough titty, said the kitty, 'cause the milk tastes good.
KG: I'm pretty sure the next thing is either a second album or the movie.
O: What can you tell me about the Tenacious D movie?
JB: It's really just in kind of an abstract world right now. Friends of ours wrote a draft, some guys that wrote on Mr. Show, and it showed promise, but, no, it needs a lot of work.
KG: It exploded at the first reading. It wasn't necessarily a good explosion.
KG: It had a few funny things.
JB: It had a lot of funny things, but it's just not right. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: There will be no D wine until it's D time.
KG: But let me say this, though. We might just have a screenwriting contest for the fans. Submit their screenplay. We just might do this.
JB: That is really lame.
KG: That would be a lot of fun.
O: It seems like you already have a lot of obsessive fans. What do you think it is about The D that inspires such devotion in people?
KG: I know exactly what it is. Nathan, picture your typical rock star. What do you see?
O: I guess I see a guy in leather pants.
O: With long hair.
KG: Very good, very good.
O: Gold chains, open vest.
KG: Mm-hmm. He's not likely to be on the heavy side, is he?
KG: And yet most of our country has a little trouble with the poundage.
JB: That's the whole reason for…
KG: They don't have rock stars that they can relate to personally. So they see in us, "Maybe, just maybe, I could… nah."
O: Do you think you're opening doors for larger people in popular music?
KG: We are, the, ah, yes.
JB: Well, maybe that's an element of our psychotic, debased…
KG: Maybe they just like the music.
JB: You could say the same thing about Weezer, then. It's like, "Guys with glasses! That guy's a nerd!" And he rocks.
O: One of the striking songs on the album is "City Hall," where you talk about fucking things up
in City Hall for the man in the street. Have you gotten a lot of feedback about that?
JB: You mean has City Hall called us?
O: Yeah. Has City Hall struck back at your attacks?
JB: The thing about City Hall, they never do a public strike-out. They just keep tabs on you.
KG: Or they give you parking tickets.
JB: I'm sure they've got someone across the street watching us with the binocs, and making notes on our every move.
O: Is that something that you're going to pursue more on your second album? Is it going to be more political?
JB: I think it'd be cool if the second album was all one story, like a musical.
KG: Like Tommy.
JB: Yeah, like a Tommy.
KG: Rock opera.
JB: That'd be cool. Of course it won't be.
KG: We have a working title for it right now.
O: What is it?
KG: It's just one that you use until you have the real title. It could actually be the real title.
O: What would the working title be?
JB: Oh, it's Unicorns And Rainbows.
O: So it's going to be about unicorns and rainbows?
KG: It's just what might be inside the music. More of a feel-good thing.
O: This is a question that you're probably tired of answering, but why do you rock so hard?
KG: I think it's just sheer talent.
JB: The truth is, we only rock hard half of the time. The other half, we actually do rock extremely softly. I don't know if you can call it rocking when we get really soft.
KG: We're serenading, or soothing.
JB: But when we rock, extremely hard.
KG: That's what it is.
JB: The reason that we do it is, it feels good.
KG: Maybe we only appear to be rocking too hard because of the softer stuff. It's relative.
JB: Rocking. Why do we rock so hard?
KG: I think since we picked the rock genre, we almost felt obligated to rock. If we were doing jazz, we'd want to swing.
JB: You're not saying how do we do it; you're saying why do we do it?
O: Yes. Why do you rock so hard?
JB: Why. Oh, I'm sorry. It's just a weird question. Why do you rock so hard? See, "why" is always a more difficult question than "how" or "what." Why is like, you have to get to the reason: Why do we exist? Why do we rock so hard? Because we're raging against the dying of the light, as Dylan Thomas would say.
O: Who are your peers in rocking? Who rocks nearly as hard as you?
JB: I would say Mandela rocks really hard. Did it have to be music?
O: No, it could be anything or anyone.
JB: I think that Muhammad Ali rocks, or rocked, extremely hard. And he may still rock. I think he still does rock hard, in his mind.
KG: That's what they say.
JB: Pretty shaky right now.
O: If Tenacious D and Black Sabbath, any period Black Sabbath, were to have a rock-off, who do you think would win?
KG: We'd hang in there, I think, for a little bit. Then [Black Sabbath guitarist] Tony [Iommi] would just squash me like a bug.
JB: No, dude. It depends on what audience we're in front of, really.
KG: That's true.
JB: If you're putting us out opening for Sabbath in '79, we're fucking decimated. And that's not fair. You bring Sabbath out to one of our shows, I don't know, they'd probably still fucking destroy us. That's not fair.
KG: It's good that they're out there.
JB: They're not really out there anymore. Dude, yeah, if we go up against the current Sabbath, I think we'd… Ah, who cares? [Laughs.]
KG: I think if we put Sabbath on two acoustic guitars, which is not the right thing. If they were playing acoustic metal…
O: You're handicapping them by limiting them to acoustic guitars.
JB: You choose your weapon, and choose it wisely. We've chosen the acoustic mace. Sabbath chose the electric saber.
KG: Let's get it on.
JB: I'll tell you what, though, we'll go heads up against The Bacon Brothers any fucking day. We challenge them to a rock-off any fucking day.
KG: That'd be rad, though, if there was like a Star Search scenario. That's the only way you could do a good rock-off. And then if it was us and Sabbath…
JB: Black Sabbath, three and a half stars. Tenacious D…
KG: They would feel obligated to give Black Sabbath four stars.
JB: It depends on who the judges are. And then, who's gonna judge the judge?
KG: Whoa, dude, now you've set the world spinning on its axis.
JB: I can't help it. I always probe deeper, deeper.
O: Speaking of Black Sabbath, on the song "Dio" you take legendary heavy-metal vocalist Ronnie James Dio to task for being too old to rock. Do you think there is ever going to be a time when you two will be too old to rock?
KG: I guess we all have to face that.
JB: I don't know, dude. I think Dio may not be too old to rock. I was there. I heard Magica. Maybe his next album will come out, and we'll have to write another song. But for now, maybe it was wrong to say he was too old to rock.
KG: The thing is, it's couched in a deep respect for Dio and his accomplishments, and how much we've been influenced.
JB: But, dude, of course we'll be too old. I don't know. What is "to rock"?
KG: It's hard to define, really. You know it when you see it, like porno.
O: Have you heard any word from Dio's camp? Have you spoken to his people?
JB: No, but I live in fear of when I will. What's that weapon that he would use? Like a gun, but it's an arrow?
KG: A crossbow?
JB: A crossbow. That's how he'll go.
O: In a previous interview, Jack mentioned his solo project. How is The Jack Black Experience progressing?
KG: [Laughs.] I guess there's your answer. You'll be seeing Get In The Kage, my side project.
JB: You don't have any songs
stockpiled, do you?
JB: You son of a bitch.
KG: Just put that out there, Get In The Kage.
JB: Yeah, I put all my rocket sauce into the D pile.
KG: It's much appreciated.