The last time we heard from Jack Black and Kyle Gass, they were starring in a movie that was considered a massive flop (Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny). Clean the resin out of your pipe and get ready to grill some kielbasa because the D is officially back with a new album called Rize of the Fenix. We caught up with them on the phone recently to discuss the new album, find out where the hell they’ve been… and if they’ve ever wanted to hump each other.
VICE: I’m really liking the new album, but I have to ask, Jack, on some of these tracks are you intentionally trying to sound like Tom Waits? If Tom Waits wrote songs about stimulating his own anus, I could totally hear “39” being on one of his albums.
Jack Black: Yeah, y’know, I wasn’t thinking Tom Waits at the time, but I was thinking that I wanted that kind of gravel in my voice. With “39” it was way more of a—what’s his name, Kage?
Kyle Gass: Bob Seger.
Jack Black: Yeah, way more of a Bob Seger vibe. It’s an obvious Bob Seger ripoff with the melody near the end there, but there’s also that old and grizzled man-with-a-tale-to-tell feeling. That’s the album we’re making. We’re reflecting the place where the D is at. I’m not gonna say we’re in the sunset years but we’re definitely entering a golden section of our career. I think what you said (about sounding similar to Tom Waits) is an incredible fucking compliment. Did you hear his new album?
Oh, hell yeah.
Jack Black: It’s so fucking good. Did you notice that he dropped (the phrase) “Heaven’s to Murgatroyd” on that album?
Yeah, he did, didn’t he? Well, that brings me to the question everyone’s been wondering—where the hell have you guys been? We haven’t heard from the D since 2006.
Jack Black: We’ve been percolating. We could have stayed on the scene and cranked out an album every year, but that’s just not the way we do it. We don’t do it until it’s the best. I don’t want—and I know Kyle feels the same—we don’t want to put out a “good” album. We want to put out an album that’s head and shoulders above the rest of our albums. I want to blow minds. I don’t want people to smile—I want them to cry. We took five years. That’s our usual incubation. But basically, to answer your question, we’ve been in a very small shack down in Mexico just working. Nose to the grindstone. I would occasionally come out and make a major motion picture but then right back into the shack.
Kyle Gass: I have to stay in the shack.
Jack Black: You have to hold down the fort.
You open the new album by acknowledging that The Pick of Destiny was considered a flop. Did the perceived failure of that film set you back career-wise?
Jack Black: No. It didn’t. We can’t be stopped. A lot of bands would just pretend like their last album didn’t happen if it wasn’t considered a smash hit, but we prefer to face things head-on. Expose the elephant in the room. Wait a second, maybe that’s a little presumptuous. Kage, did that delay our album a little bit?
Kyle Gass: I think we might have needed a little time. Yeah.
Jack Black: Yeah, OK. I’m changing my answer. I think I did delay it a little bit.
Kyle Gass: You put so much of yourself into the motion picture. And we didn’t even crack the top 10. It was almost like it didn’t even come out.
Jack Black: Yeah, there was an astonishing lack of enthusiasm for what we considered to be a masterpiece. It took some time for us to lick our wounds, so to speak and to get back on the horse, but at any point, Kyle—if you don’t mind, I’m gonna take over the interview—Kyle, was there ever a point where you thought the D was done? Was there ever a point you thought “The band is dead. We’re never making any more music?”
Kyle Gass: Never. Our core belief was that we would survive this absolutely and it was only a matter of time before our triumphant return to the top of Mount Rockmore.
Jack Black: And could you put a little trademark symbol next to Mount Rockmore™, please? Because I own that.
Consider it done. Are you working with Liam Lynch on this new project at all?
Jack Black: We are indeed. We did two music videos with Liam that are pretty mind-blowing. We did a video for “Rock Is Dead” in which we are the Grim Reapers of Rock that are coming and delivering the bad news to rock and we had him direct a video for “Low Hanging Fruit,” which has got to be one of the most sexy and disturbing music videos ever shot. What music video, Kyle—sorry, I’m taking over again—Kyle, what music video have you ever seen that has that combination of sexuality and nausea?
Kyle Gass: Uh, “Like A Virgin?”
Jack Black: Well, at what point during “Like A Virgin” did you feel that?
Kyle Gass: When she was writhing on the—
Jack Black: That didn’t turn you on? When she was writhing on the floor?
Kyle Gass: No, it was disturbing.
Jack Black: Yeah, it’s a combination of love, sexy, and ewww—yikes! So I guess the answer is “never before.”
One thing I’ve noticed about the new album is how much homoeroticism is present, like on the “Classical Teacher” track. Have you guys ever gotten sexually curious about each other?
Jack Black: Have we ever been bicurious? Hmmmm (four-second pause). Well, at one point I was really jealous that Kyle was not focusing as much on Tenacious D as he was with his girlfriend at the time. And I told him “Dude, I never see you anymore. You’re always with your girlfriend. What’s up? Do you just not care about the D?” And he said “Dude, I love the D. If you were a girl, I would fuck you.” And I just took that as the sweetest compliment. I had never heard anything that nice—before or since. I mean, we’ve never acted on it, but I’m sure somewhere in there—look at the Kinsey test—we’re gay for each other on some scale. There’s a level of intimacy there. It’s not a physical thing, but emotionally we fuck each other all the time.
The song “The Ballad of Hollywood Jack and Rage Kage” is interesting because it deals honestly with the fact that Jack’s acting career has been more successful than Kyle’s. Has that ever caused friction between you guys?
Jack Black: I guess only Kyle can answer that question.
Kyle Gass: Yeah, there’s probably been times when I’m watching cable and seeing there’s like three movies that Jack’s in and I’m sitting hogging a bag of Cheetos in my underwear and I think “God, what happened to ME? Why can’t I be something special like Jack?” But you know what? I think I’ve come to terms with it. Jack is a special performer, the kind that comes along once in a generation.
Have you guys ever felt any competition from Flight of the Conchords? There’s definitely a few similarities—acoustic duo, HBO series.
Jack Black: Of course. Yeah. They’re an acoustic duo on HBO that plays to empty houses. Of course there’re some similarities that make us go “Fuck, they are the T-1000 version of Tenacious D.” They’re winning Oscars and Grammys and stuff. And I love them—I actually really think they’re great. I think they’re doing something a lot different than we do, they’re coming from a different comedic place. But they also inspire us to take our shit to another level. We’ve rocked harder than we ever have before in an effort to one-up them. Our goal, really, is to meet the Conchords up at the top of Mount Rockmore™ and present to the world a comedy rock festival—the likes of which have never been seen—and to join forces with them. But to do that we must first dominate them.
Have either of you ever actually attempted a cock pushup?
Kyle Gass: Without injury?
Jack Black: The answer is (three-second pause)…yes.
How successful were you?
Jack Black: I mean, was I able to actually achieve…
Jack Black: Then yes.
Rize of the Fenix will be released on May 15th.
Photos by Michael Elins