TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY - Q&A with Jack Black and Kyle Gass
Movie interview by Siobhan Daly
The great pretenders to the throne of rock superstardom, Tenacious D, rolled into London appropriately on Halloween to promote their debut film, TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY. Comprising of Jack Black, doyen of Hollywood's comedy scene who came to the public's attention with memorable performances in HIGH FIDELITY, SCHOOL OF ROCK, KING KONG and more recently Jared Hess's NACHO LIBRE, and his friend Kyle Gass, the self-proclaimed Greatest Band on Earth are bringing their brand of high energy classic rock to the silver screen near you.
Gentlemen, I understand that a movie has been mooted...
JACK BLACK: Mooted? Is that what you said? The movie's been mooted?
Yes, mooted is a good word...
JACK BLACK: Mooted?
KYLE GASS: I don't know what that means....
A movie has been in the works...
JACK BLACK: Hmmm...it has been mooted...
So why has it taken so long to reach the point where a movie has been made?
JACK BLACK: Is that word like in the.....I'm sure it's in the Oxford dictionary...
KYLE GASS: Yeah
JACK BLACK: But probably not in the other one.....that we use....
KYLE GASS: Well, we will serve no-D-one before it's D time
JACK BLACK: Why did it take so long to be mooted out? Erm....yep....it just had to be perfect, the planets had to align, we didn't want to roll out a stinker, we didn't have a time limit and this was our masterworks so we took our sweet ass time about it
Did it go through many incarnations before you got at this story?
KYLE GASS: It did. We thought we could get away with not writing it. We tried.
JACK BLACK: We hired some top writers, some top thunder squad bringers but they squared up something that was not hot. It's not that. It was very good....
KYLE GASS: It was a pretty good movie for someone else.
JACK BLACK: Yeah, it was Tenacious D saves the city of Atlantis and the devil was there....
KYLE GASS:... and overlords and...
JACK BLACK:...and there was a hot Ninja girl we were fighting over...
KYLE GASS: Yeah, it sounds pretty good. Could be the sequel.
JACK BLACK: At the time we read it and said, "Oh God, this isn't really quite our sense of humour. We need to get our nose to the 'grindscone'."
KYLE GASS: Grindscone?
JACK BLACK: Yeah! Nose to the grindscone! And we sat down for five years and didn't do any writing and then in the last three weeks, we wrote it. Liam Lynch was the catalyst really, a friend that's a talented composer and filmmaker.
And the writing process itself, how is that? Do you bat ideas back and forward? Does one work on structure? Is it similar to the way in which you write your music?
JACK BLACK: Well, me and Kyle will fight a lot about the little details and sometimes I think he's fighting me just because he wants to win something.
KYLE GASS: Have you ever tried to have an orgasm without friction?
JACK BLACK: Yeah, yeah.
KYLE GASS: It won't work.
JACK BLACK: Exactly. In the great masterworks, if you look back, there's probably a lot of friction that led to it. You know all those Shakespeare plays, he probably had to fight his silent partner.
KYLE GASS: Larry? [Laughs]
JACK BLACK: Yeah, Larry [laughs]. But what's the process like? Well you know, we started with a sentence. This was a breakthrough. It took so long to think, "Wait a second, we just have to tell the true tale of The D. It's the origin episode. We'll start before there was The D, you'll see us form the band and then you'll see us go on our first epic quest to become the greatest band on earth", so that was first. Once we'd got that, everything else just fell into place.
KYLE GASS: We probably haven't been in an interview where someone hasn't asked us "How did you guys get together?" So we thought you know what - put it in the movie, answer the question forever.
JACK BLACK: I have the feeling that someone's going to ask that. I can feel it coming.
How would you describe the music of the band and would you own up about who you ripped off?
JACK BLACK: Ooooh, that's an incendiary question.
Ripped off means something different here.
KYLE GASS: Not so nice where we come from.
JACK BLACK: We have been called the Heavy Metal Simon and Garfunkel, but who do we rip off? I've ripped off a little Meat Loaf, his theatricality, probably some Zeppelin in there.
KYLE GASS: Probably most of the big dinosaurs of rock. I mean it's impossible....a lot of the chords I use have been used before, so you know, if you start playing an A and a D, you're just going to run into some songs.
JACK BLACK: Yeah.
How do you see your music?
JACK BLACK: Well it's not parody, like we don't rip off other bands' exact songs and put new funny lyrics to them. We have our own music.
KYLE GASS: We try to write like the best songs ever and then they come out kinda funny. We do a lot of improv, we'll turn on the tape and I'll kinda riff around and Jack improvs.
JACK BLACK: I don't turn on the tape actually until I have the subject matter and then I press record.
KYLE GASS: But sometimes you miss something and then you're upset about it....
JACK BLACK: [sarcastically] Really, really....
For all of those rock gods who inspired you clearly, they obviously appreciate the gesture because many have given approvals for the film and some are actually in the film.
JACK BLACK: Yeah, we've got three rock gods. That's not too bad. We've got Satan, Sasquatch and Meat Loaf. What else we got? Dave Grohl and Ronnie James Dio. Dave Grohl played Satan. I don't think he wanted us to say though, he wanted it to be a secret. Too late. I leaked it. I leaked it to the press.
Kyle, obviously you were a kind and gentle teacher when you taught Jack how to play guitar. How kind was Jack when giving camera tips?
KYLE GASS: Hmm...yeah, actually Jack's really good. He's good about acting stuff. Often I'd say, "Jack, how can I be funny right here?"
JACK BLACK: No, he doesn't like taking tips. It's like older brother taking tips from the younger brother. He bristles and the rooster tail goes up.
KYLE GASS: Jack's pretty generous though with help.
Did either of you have any hissy fits about who got the biggest trailer?
KYLE GASS: About 10 minutes ago we each investigated each other's suite to make sure one didn't get a larger one, but I've had to accept kind of a secondary role.
JACK BLACK: It's always been straight down the line, 50-50.
KYLE GASS: I've got it pretty good. I've got a good cut. It's not too bad.
This movie exists in a permanent level of excitement. How do you cope with being so awesome on a daily basis?
KYLE GASS & JACK BLACK: How do we cope with being so awesome?
KYLE GASS: A fine question indeed. Well usually I feel kinda normal and lame, and I'll go to like the coffee shop and someone will say, "You rock!" and then I remember how awesome I am, and then I'm just back to normal.
JACK BLACK: I mostly stay in my bubble, in my golden bubble cage.
KYLE GASS: Mmhmm
JACK BLACK: I just had a child. I took the kid in a couple of days ago to the paediatrician and she was measuring him in all different places and then she gave a percentage and apparently his head in the 86th percentage of heads, meaning that only 14 percent of the population has a bigger head than him and that's it. So he's got a huge head. And then she said do you mind if I measure yours, and I said go ahead, and she was shocked cos I was in the 100th percent. Less than 1 per cent of the world's population has a bigger head than mine so....
KYLE GASS: I think that leaves just Elephant Man and myself.
JACK BLACK: But anyway, I guess that means I'm pretty full of myself or something. Or that I have some huge brain.
Notions of parenthood occurred to me when I was listening to your CD, which I brought with my own money and enjoyed very much...
KYLE GASS: Wow! I guess we should thank you [laughs] that you didn't rip it off the Internet.
I just need to remember not to play it near my kids! I just wonder if being a dad is going to change some of the excesses?
KYLE GASS: We recorded a clean version of this one, for the children.
JACK BLACK: The clean version we did...
KYLE GASS:...is more for Wal-Mart...
JACK BLACK:...is for the adults who want to listen to it but they've got their kid in the car, but there's a version with some ridiculous words. Sometimes it's funnier.
'F**k her Gently' - has that changed much?
JACK BLACK: Oh no, we don't have a clean version of the first album.
Who's in your fantasy band, alive or dead?
KYLE GASS: Good question.
JACK BLACK: Mozart on bass
KYLE GASS: I go Beethoven on keys.
JACK BLACK: I go Bach on the Klavier.
KYLE GASS: On drums, I'm gonna pick the first caveman. and say "Dude you're on it!". I don't know. There's a lot of great musicians. Who'd you want? [Turns to Jack]
JACK BLACK: You've gotta go Hendrix on the electrix
KYLE GASS: That's good. I think I'd like Jaco Pastores on bass.
JACK BLACK: Isn't he the Jazz guy?
KYLE GASS: Yeah. It's kinda a fusion band.
JACK BLACK: That sounds horrible.
KYLE GASS: I think we've got the best drummer going. We've got this guy Brooks Wackerman from Bad Religion. The weird thing is I wouldn't be in my own band. I'd be just like watching.
Would you put yourself in the fantasy band Jack?
JACK BLACK: Of course! You've got to put yourself in the fantasy band or else it's someone else's fantasy.
What can fans expect from your UK tour?
JACK BLACK: Well in the past we've gone on tour with just me and Kyle with no production whatsoever just to hoard in all the money possible, so we'd just plug into a toaster oven, but on this tour we're going all out. We're actually losing money on the tour because we wanna give it back to the fans. It's gonna be better than Pink Floyd's The Wall.
KYLE GASS: We're gonna build our own instruments.
JACK BLACK: It starts off in Kyle's apartment and then ends up in hell. We've recreated the entire landscape of hell and then we pick up a band in hell. We have our choice of any musicians. So it's kinda theatrical, there'll be a movie. Liam's gonna direct the movie that happens.
KYLE GASS: We were able to get Colonel Sanders on drums.
JACK BLACK: Dude, I don't know if we should say who the whole band are...
KYLR GASS: He killed a billion chickens, people!
JACK BLACK: Yeah that's enough, you've gotta stop telling people that stuff! So, that's a taste of who's in the band....
Do you think children's musical education is lacking in an introduction to the classics of rock?
JACK BLACK: I'm not that up on children's musical education. I bet there's probably more attention to the classics here in England. When you live in California, people always say "Oh, you can't have your kids go to school in LA, you've gotta take them to New York", and then when you're in New York, they'll say "Oh, you can't have your kids learn anything in New York, you've gotta send them to London".
Do you find there are many children who like you anyway despite the parental advisory on your album, that have discovered you through other mediums, like the Internet?
JACK BLACK: Yes.
And they'll be going to watch the film I imagine.
KYLE GASS: Well in our country, they'll have to be accompanied by a parent if they're under 18. In our movie there's no sex or violence, it's just Jack swearing all the time.
Jack sends up Catherine Zeta Jones's famous scene in ENTRAPMENT.
KYLE GASS: Yeah that's true.
JACK BLACK: Yeah the laser deactivation scene...I know there's been a lot of them, a lot of laser deactivation scenes in the history of cinema, but in this one, I think you'll agree, we took it to the next level.
KYLE GASS: That's probably the one scene that got us the R rating.
JACK BLACK: They have a rule in the States about erect penises - you can't see an erect penis. A flaccid penis, you can show them all day, no problem, but once you go erect, it's a taboo, but we solved it by covering it with tight-y white-ys.
KYLE GASS: It's amazing how tight it fits around.
It was a totally functional scene and relevant to the movie.
JACK BLACK: And it was not sexual.
KYLE GASS: Except maybe when you were thinking, you had to really concentrate.
In America, I was wondering how the League of Human Decency or whatever these organisations are called these days, how they had reacted to the album's lyrics.
JACK BLACK: Yeah, we haven't heard from the League yet.
KYLE GASS: It can only help though.
Have people protested against the fact that the songs of Tenacious D are of a certain Anglo-Saxon bent?
KYLE GASS: I remember when we were here at Brixton Academy, we actually hired a priest to go out and complain.
JACK BLACK: We want the protests!
KYLE GASS: [mimicking the priest] "Stay out! Stay out!"
JACK BLACK: He got attacked. Someone threw something at his head.
A Tenacious D fan?
JACK BLACK: Unfortunately we've got some rowdy fans.
KYLE GASS: You can't pick your fans.
JACK BLACK: We don't condone that kind of violence but we've stopped hiring pretend priests.
KYLE GASS: I ran over a paparazzi guy this morning. If he sues me, I'm a little frightened....
JACK BLACK: He did! He did! As soon as we came off the plane, there was this guy taking pictures and Kyle went into security mode.
KYLE GASS: Well, it was security mode but I was really just trying to get into the picture....
JACK BLACK: And he steamrolled the guy and then he immediately claimed he had like whiplash [in English accent] "Oh my lower lumbar! It hurts, it really hurts. Did anyone see that?"
You mentioned you've got Brooks Wackerman in your band, but who would win in a drum off between John Bonham and Keith Moon?
JACK BLACK: I'm gonna be controversial. Everyone's gonna say John Bonham but I'm gonna say Keith Moon. Why? Because he's out of control. He's right on the edge of barely being sane. I like that. I like the crazies in all arts.
KYLE GASS: Crazy people are right on.
Jack, you're a father now. I'm wondering if you will be keen to pass on the gift of rock to your children?
KYLE GASS :Is it a gift?
JACK BLACK: Can you wrap it up?
It is a gift.
JACK BLACK: The thing is the kids always seem like they rebel about what the parents push on them, so I'm going to pretend like I don't want him to like the rock. I'm going to listen to it but only like in my private chambers and he'll hear echoes coming and say "What was that you were listening to, Papa?" and I'll say "Nothing my son. You're not ready, you're not ready", and then that'll be how he gets it. Reverse.
You're part of the Frat Pack. How did that start and are you going to keep appearing in each other's films?
JACK BLACK: [turns to Kyle] Are you in the Frat Pack? How did you get in?
KYLE GASS: No.
Kyle, you're in the 'Anchorman' commentary, you just appeared...
KYLE GASS: Yes, yes. They said "We need a Frat Packer to come in for some comedy".
JACK BLACK: It originated when Ben Stiller called all the top comedians of the time over to his headquarters that he has inside the Hollywood sign. People don't know but he spent a billion dollars to hollow out this huge thing. Tim Robbins works the door and we all have these huge Frat Pack helicopters that come out of the 'O'. The 'O' lifts up and out come the helicopters. We talk about what our plan is to dominate the world of comedy. "Will, you take the new Christmas movie. Jack, you go rock. Ben go do a romantic lead, a Jew with anxiety"
I was just wondering about the hallucinogenic references and how important to the film they are.
KYLE GASS: Drugs are important [pause] in the film...not in real life.
JACK BLACK: We've always planned on some day going into the forest and finding a cabin and renting a cabin and locking all the doors and taking a pill to just write a song, but we've never actually done it. I haven't actually taken a hallucinogen since I was in my twenties. The last time I took it I felt like I was about to lose my mind. When you get older it gets a little dicey.
Who do you rely on to give you comments and feedback on your performance? Do you have very good friends advising you?
KYLE GASS: It's pretty collaborative, with Liam directing and producer Stuart Cornfeld. Stuart was a real good bouncing board. This movie seemed really collaborative. It seemed really open.
JACK BLACK: It's helpful to watch it with an audience, like the first rough cut and watch it with a random group of people and see how stuff played in the room. We made a lot of adjustments.
Is it equally important to appeal to existing fans or those who are coming to Tenacious D fresh?
KYLE GASS: It was actually a pretty big deal. We were like hell, should we just start in the middle of this thing and then only fans will know what's going on? I think if just the fans came, we make about $10,000 which is why we had a broaden it out.
JACK BLACK: That's not true dude. We would make like over a million dollars. But that's not enough. That's a big flop.
Jack, in SCHOOL OF ROCK, you famously make the kids pledge an allegiance to the band. Did you make Kyle do the same and what did you have to say?
KYLE GASS: Did Jack make me swear allegiance to his band? I think you have that reversed!
JACK BLACK: Oh man, you've crossed the line now.
KYLE GASS: We kicked around the idea of band tats [laughs] but then we got scared of the needles.
A lot of your inspirational bands are old classics. Are there any more good bands coming through?
JACK BLACK: There are a lot of good bands. It's not really as exciting a scene like it was in the olden times or even in the early 90s. There's no real movement now is there, or am I out of touch?
KASS GASS: Movement?
JACK BLACK: I like some bands [laughs]. There are still some good bands coming out Detroit, Michigan, Perth Australia - I just wanted to say an obscure one and didn't want to say Sydney...and there was a great band that comes out of Perth Scotland, strangely enough.