A decade ago, Tenacious D looked unstoppable: a movie star on the mic, a huge hit with a radio-friendly bit of rock opera called ‘Tribute’ and a stoner following bigger than Yo Gabba Gabba’s. So when their debut film Pick of Destiny flopped in 2006, the D’s Jack Black and Kyle Gass were floored. This month the boys prove you can’t keep a good comedy-rock-opera-duo down with new album Rize of the Fenix. Andrew P Street spoke to the boys about past failures, future successes and er, Kanye West.
Were you disappointed by the response to Pick of Destiny? Did people just not get it?
Kyle Gass: Well they didn’t go. They didn’t go to the movie.
Jack Black: We were disappointed in the box office results, certainly. We thought we created a masterpiece and while the reviews weren’t the worst, it was painful because we thought we had made a movie that was the best and no one came out and said, “Wow, this is the movie of the year.”
Did you feel the D were done ?
Jack Black: No, but we felt like the world has turned their back on the D, and that we had been written off as… yeah, has-beens.
Did that just make you stronger, or was there a long night of the soul for you guys?
Kyle Gass: There was – probably about two years. We worked really hard on the movie, you know, and the product turned out pretty good. It was disappointing.
You’ve taken about three years to record the new disc since writing the song ‘Deph Starr’ [which features on the new album]. Has it just been a matter of finding the time to do it? Obviously you both have other commitments…
Jack Black: Yeah, but it was more just taking time and gestating. It felt like we needed a break.
Did 'Deph Starr' open the floodgates or was it more you guys slowly accumulating stuff?
Jack Black: It was ‘Deph Starr’ that opened the floodgates, but that was done on assignment. There was an animator friend of mine who said, “Hey we’re gonna do a remake of the original Heavy Metal animated film, but with all new songs. Do you wanna do a song?” And we were like “Yeah!”, because we liked that movie. [The project] was abandoned, but we were left with this song, and it was a really kick-ass jam. We started thinking about the album: what’s the whole album gonna be?
Well one track, ‘To Be The Best’, sounds like it was written to accompany a training montage in a Rocky film.
Jack Black: [Laughs] It does! The concept of the album was a comeback album. It’s the ‘Fenix’ rising, and the music that you can work out to and be inspired by. And we didn’t really have a song that was purely just that on the album, so we wrote it to fit the concept.
It comes right before ‘39’: so you’re punching meat and running around the block and then suddenly you have a sexy, sexy ballad…
Jack Black: It seemed right to us at the time. What do you think Kyle?
Kyle Gass: What’s that?
Jack Black: Oh never mind. Are you watching American Idol? We were talking about how ‘To Be the Best’ comes right before ‘39’. And he thinks it’s odd that we go from punching Sylvester Stallone around the world to a really sweet, slow ballad.
Kyle Gass: We knew with ‘39’ we wanted to end the album, it’s just like the natural kind of ending.
It does seem a nice companion piece to ‘Fuck Her Gently’.
Jack Black: It’s a song you can drink a Mai Tai to, out on the beach in some South American villa.
It also seems different to the rest of Fenix, which has a lot of musical jokes. ‘39’ feels like your most straightforward, legit song.
Jack Black: A lot of our songs are not straight-up jokey songs, and yeah, we’re music first. On the same token, though, we don’t put in any songs that don’t have any comedic value. I’d say the song that’s the least funny – that’s sort of almost not funny – is ‘Throwdown’. That’s the anti-religion song, and I still think it’s kind of funny.
Does this mean there are other songs that are more legit that you don't use? Like, you’ve gone: “This is a great song, we should do a non-joke album.”
Jack Black: I’ve never gone, “God, we should go straight and compete with the serious bands out there.” That’s how we started off – we were writing serious songs before we had any albums at all or had any following, just when we were playing in Kyle’s living room, and it didn’t work, it just… none of it really clicked. It wasn’t until we realised we needed to do something with a comedic edge that we found our true voice.
Don’t get me wrong, I think I’d be much more fond of Nickelback if they’d just throw in some more songs about ass-fucking.
Jack Black: No doubt!
No Doubt I’d also like more if they had more ass-fucking songs.
Jack Black: Now you’re just making fun of me. But No Doubt has actually got a sense of humour. [There is an audible crunch]. Does it bother you that I’ve been eating these nachos?
No, I’ve been delighting in that, it humanises you.
Jack Black: I got nothing to wash these nachos down with right now. I'll probably blast 'em through with a big Metamucil at the end.
Enchanting. So, are you coming to Australia to tour the record?
Jack Black: We just played Australia and New Zealand for the Foo Fighters tour with them, and I’d like to space it out, but we’ll definitely be back. I was thinking we’d probably come back next time there’s a Big Day Out. How was Big Day Out this year?
It was actually a bit of a surprise. East coast was OK, but the other shows didn’t do so well.
Jack Black: Oh no. Do you think that was the last Big Day Out? They should probably pay us a shit-load of money and we can come and save it for them.
Will you bring as many dancers as Kanye did when he headlined?
Jack Black: Only if they’re local and they agree to do it for like, a new pair of shoes or something. We’re not hiring a big crew to travel. I think Kanye has his own jet – we don’t ride like that.
I’m assuming you just hung out in whatever space the Foos had in the back of their van the last time you toured.
Jack Black: We travelled separately, but we did like to party with them afterwards. Dave had an awesome tradition: fried chicken and champagne.
What's the D's standard post-gig meal and beverage of choice?
Kyle Gass: On the first tour we’d go to the local rib joint. I think we went through a pizza phase for a while but you know It seemed like by that point we were having like three dinners, it just got a little much.
Jack Black: I’m trying to keep it real with just, like, a light nacho dinner.
Rize of the Fenix is out May 11 through Sony.