Twenty years after forming, Tenacious D’s combination of Dio melodies and dick jokes is still funny. So funny, in fact, that the self-proclaimed “Greatest Band on Earth” just nabbed a Best Comedy Album Grammy nod for their 2012 comeback effort, Rize of the Fenix.
With their trademark facetiousness, the D’s Jack Black and Kyle Gass talked to Rolling Stone about their recent accolades (including Black’s Golden Globe nomination for his performance in the dark comedy Bernie), their return as modern rock’s court jesters, the veiled earnestness in their music, getting back to basics with an upcoming two-man acoustic tour, beefing with Hugh Jackman and hanging out in Hawaii with Neil Young.
The duo also announced Festival Supreme, a star-studded comedy-rock Coachella they plan to host on the Santa Monica Pier this fall.
First of all, Jack, congrats on the Golden Globe, and sorry about Les Miz. Can you out-sing Hugh Jackman?
Jack Black: If it’s a contest of who can sing better Dio covers, I think I would smoke him. If it’s who’s gonna be better at Sunday in the Park With George, then he’s gonna take the cake.
Well, Tenacious D has a Grammy nomination and Hugh Jackman doesn‘t, right?
Black: That’s true. Kyle, I forgot to tell you – we’ve been nominated for a Grammy.
Kyle Gass: Ohhhhh! That’s fantastic.
Rize of the Fenix is in part a concept album about surviving the sophomore slump. Do you feel validated by the nomination?
Black: Do I feel validated, after the burn of a supposed sophomore slump? So I guess the question is, did it work? Did our comeback [work] – did we indeed actually come back? [The Grammys] feels like, wow, maybe we won’t [end up] like Vincent Van Gogh – we won’t have to chop off our ear and only be recognized as geniuses long after we’re dead.
Is Rize of the Fenix the first album with giant flaming cocks on the cover to get a Grammy nomination?
Gass: I think it’s one of at least the top five flaming-cock Grammys.
Black: There are lots of hidden flaming cocks in lots of albums. This was the first one . . . well, no, wait, this one was also hidden.
I understand you‘re going back to the acoustic stage show, the stripped-down, unplugged format for your next tour. Why now?
Black: As good as our band is, there is a magic to just me and Kage. When me and Kage melt your faces off without any electric guitars and no drums, it’s almost, like, more impressive?
Did you ever expect the band to last this long, and to be able to keep the act fresh and funny for so long?
Black: Of course we did. The question itself is insulting. Would you ask that of Bruce Springsteen? Of course you wouldn’t. It would be a fireable offense!
Have either of you guys ever been tempted to make music that doesn‘t have any kind of comedic component to it?
Black: Um, no. We realized long ago that our strong suit was the mixture of passion and – what’s a good word for comedy, Kyle? Don’t say comedy.
Kyle Gass: Mirth?
Black: Passion and mirth! That was our Famous Amos cookie dough recipe.
What is the most earnest Tenacious D song?
Black: I’m gonna say “Throw Down.” It’s our comment on organized religion, the evils of organized religion.
Gass: There’s a dearth of mirth in “Throw Down.”
To what extent were the post-Pick of Destiny trials and tribulations you sang about on “The Ballad of Hollywood Jack and Rage Kage“ true to life?
Black: It’s all true. Maybe that’s the most earnest [song].
Gass: You know what? That is.
Black: That one is actually just “The Story of Tenacious D: The Later Years.”
Gass: I think that really could be our most courageous song.
Well, Jack, now that you‘ve received a Golden Globe nomination, have any of those tensions come back to the surface?
Black: Is Kyle jealous that I’m getting Golden Globe nominations and hanging out with Neil Young in Hawaii? Noooo. Why would he be?
So is Neil Young joining the band now?
Black: No. That was just a strange coincidence that we were both in Hawaii, and we knew each other because he asked us many years ago to play at his benefit he does once a year, Bridge School. And so, when he heard that me and my kids and wife were there, he invited us over for a little din-din. It was very cool. But no, there was no talk of him joining Tenacious D.
What is that like, when Neil Young wants you to come over? Is he the one who calls, or does he have someone call?
Black: No. I got a call through his people. But what’s it like? It’s very exciting, because I’ve gotta say, as paradisiacal as Hawaii can be, we were lookin’ for a way off that fuckin’ island. We were starting to go crazy out there, goin’ a little stir crazy at the resort, and I got the call that Neil Young lives there on the island and wants to know if we wanna come over for din-din, and we were all over that like white on rice.
So what‘s next for the D after the tour?
Black: We’ve got the next fuckin’ four albums planned out.
Are these four albums individual parts of a greater whole?
Black: I would say no. You mean like Green Day just did with Uno, Dos, Tres? No. It’s more like a five-year plan. It was a fever dream. We woke up, we looked at each other and we knew what the future was gonna be . . . We kinda wanted to call our next album Tenacious D: Led Zeppelin IV, which would suggest that it’s in fact our best album. We’re not gonna call it that, I don’t think, but I think this will be our Led Zeppelin IV. There’s gonna be some mind expansion – it’s gonna be changing some lives.
Have you ever considered a sort of Blur/Oasis-style rivalry with Flight of the Conchords?
Black: We actually have been talking about joining forces, because we’ve always wanted to do a double bill. We’re working on a festival, called Festival Supreme. It’ll be a meeting of the minds. It’s gonna be like Mount Rockmore, where you’ve got your Flight of the Conchords, your Lonely Island, your Tenacious D, your Zach Galifianakis, your Spinal Tap, your Eric Idle.
Really? Spinal Tap?
Black: Well, of course! I mean, we have to call them! Doesn’t mean they’re gonna say yes. Who else do you get, Kage?
Gass: Tim Minchin?
Black: You get your Tim Minchins. You get your Neil Hamburgers. You get your Tim and Erics. You take your Mr. Shows – they’ve got incredible songs. Get your dudes from South Park, Matt and Trey.
Gass: It’s just a fuckin’ Super Bowl of comedy-rock.
Have you considered venues yet?
Black: We’re talkin’ about Santa Monica Pier. In October.
Is that date nailed down?
Black: Yeah, it is.
And . . .
Black: October 19th. Circle that in your calendar. Now there’s no guarantee who’s gonna be on the bill – it might just be Tenacious D and Weird Al. But that’s a long ways off. And the D is coming to a town near you, and you don’t wanna miss the old-schoolness of me and KG, because it’s boner-riffic.
You know, you guys really rival a lot of hip-hop artists when it comes to sheer bravado.
Black: It’s true.
Gass: People used to think, because of our name, that we were a hip-hop group.
Black: But you know, that’s just a lot more in our interviews. We don’t actually sing about how much better we are than other bands.
Doesn‘t being better than all other bands come with the territory of being The Greatest Band On Earth?
Black: The only song like that is “Tribute.” We looked at each other and we played the best song in the world. Maybe it’s time for one of those songs, Kyle, where we really just fuckin’ spell it out.
If you guys were going to start a song beef, who would you call out? Who would you want a beef with?
Black: Now you’re trying to get us to fuckin’ start a war. I don’t want to. Did you just hear what I said? I’m trying to make a festival, and you want me to call out all the guys we’re gonna ask to be in the festival? It’s not good business!
Well, I mean, you didn‘t mention, like, Coldplay being in the festival?
Black: Let’s just stick with Hugh Jackman, all right?