Extended interview: Jack Black and Kyle Gass tell EW's Dan Snierson why ''Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny'' is better than ''Star Wars,'' influenced by ''The Graduate,'' and what (besides hummus) it will lead to on Kyle's list of backstage demands
In the desolate, acid-washed year of 1988, two struggling souls crossed paths in the City of Angels. Sharing a passion for avant-garde theatrical arts and Queen-size rock & roll histrionics, Jack Black and Kyle Gass forged a friendship, dedicated themselves to the arcane craft of acoustic heavy metal, and formed a band/comedy act the likes of which had never been seen. Jack sang lead. Kyle led the guitar charge. They called themselves Tenacious D, and they crafted anthems about shiny demons, killing yaks with mind bullets, and their lone fan, Lee. Tenacious D chronicled their journey to the crested peak of rock goddery (at least in their own weed-muddled noggins) in a series of beloved HBO shorts in 1999. Soon after, they were rewarded with sold-out concert halls and later a platinum album. Yet the two-headed cult sensation realized that there was still one thing left to conquer: Movie Mountain. So they toiled on ideas for the next half decade — with liberal breaks for naps and burrito runs. Under the stewardship of writer-director Liam Lynch (Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic), they begat Nov. 22’s Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, which documents the duo’s epic quest for a satanically powered guitar plectrum that would help them become, as self-prophesied, the greatest band of all time. (The film also features an appearance by Sasquatch.) Herewith, a colloquy with Black, 37, and Gass, 46, who sometimes are in character, sometimes not, but are always game to hold court.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Earlier this month, you attended the world premiere of your movie in London. What was that experience like?
JACK BLACK: We had to walk the red carpet in our king’s robes, crowns, and scepters. We wanted to make a special splash for old London town. The peeps were excited to see the D and then we were whisked off directly to Jonathan Ross, who’s England’s Letterman. I guess he’s England’s Letterman-Leno because I don’t think he’s got any competish.
KYLE GASS: We’re actually more popular per capital in England. Why? I don’t know. Australia too. Australia has, like, 100 people living in it. And 60 of them [are D fans]. If we had that here, we’d have 170 million fans… I’m kind of into math.
How does it feel to finally give birth to a D movie?
JB: We didn’t put in half as much work as Star Wars — yet it’s better than Star Wars.
KG: We’re entertaining the notion of winning the Nobel Prize for comedy.
JB: There’s such a dropkick and power punch that you’re going to wake up after the movie’s over — not because you fell asleep out of boredom, but because you are physically knocked out, drooling, eye blood, nose booger. But in a good way.
KG: You’ll probably have minor diarrhea.
Did the greatest band of all time set out to make the greatest movie of all time?
JB: Look at the other greatest things of all time, like ”Stairway to Heaven.” Was Jimmy Page trying to write the greatest song ever written when he wrote the greatest song ever written?
KG: He actually was.
JB: He was? Tell ’em, Kage.
KG: He set out to make the greatest rock and roll song ever. He had the music, and then Robert Plant wrote out his dumbass lyrics in like a half hour, and it worked.
JB: Dude, the Robert Plant lyrics were good on that song!
KG: You like them?
JB: I don’t know what he means all the time, but they’re evocative of poetic things. [To see Black’s list of the top 5 music movies of all time, click here.]
Didn’t the talk about a film start soon after the HBO show?
KG: These two women executives said, ”We will give you one million dollars.” And at the time we didn’t have a lot of money and it seemed like insanity. Then we came back to earth — like, we would split that, and that would be for everything and also you’d sell the rights to your first child.
JB: [To Kyle] Didn’t they also give us each a $100 advance?
KG: I talked them into that.
JB: We tried to write it with a friend of ours, and there was no inspiration there. We said, ”Forget it, we’re not writers. Let’s just take pitches.” [In one version of the script, the duo would embark on a ”lost city of Atlantis”-type adventure. ”It was very funny but not our sense of humor,” recalls Black]. So then we were working with Liam on some short films for the concerts. He was like, ”Dude, we’ll write [the script] together, it’ll be your vision,” and we were like, ”Yeah, let’s try it. We’ll have fun with Liam.” And we realized that it should just be, plain and simple, the story of Tenacious D, like a biopic, from the beginning to the end of our first adventure to become the greatest band on Earth. And we came up with the concept of the guitar pick of destiny, put a Da Vinci Code conspiracy spin on it, and wrote the script pretty fast. It was only like a month and a half… Then we took it around town, and New Line was really the only one that believed in us. And they were into Liam, even though he had not directed any features before. Then I did King Kong, and two years later we made it.
What were your influences for Pick of Destiny?
KG: There’s a little Karate Kid in there.
JB: There’s a lot of Spinal Tap, because that is the benchmark. What’s a really funny rock movie since then? I’m gonna say zero. There’s some Cheech & Chong, Beavis and Butt-head. A big influence was Indiana Jones — part 2, the bad one, with the devil guy with the pumping heart. There’s a bit of Jaws.
JB: I just like Jaws, so I wanted to say anything I like.
KG: I like The Graduate. That’s one of my favorites.
JB: [To Kyle] Don’t say, ”I like it.” Say, ”There’s some Graduate in there.”
KG: Rosemary’s Baby is one of my faves.
JB: Stop saying it’s your favorite!
What was the toughest thing about making the movie?
KG: Coming up with the story. Once we had a story that we liked, it just took on its own momentum.
JB: And writing the music.
KG: Writing the music was hard.
JB: It’s the same as writing a song. What’s the hardest part: subject matter and music? What’s the hardest part of making a burrito? Getting the ingredients. What’s the secret to making a good burrito? I don’t care how good of a burrito maker you are, what are you using — five-day-old lettuce or fresh?
JB: Exactly. You must bring the fresh lettuce.
So how do you guys manage the songwriting duties? Do you really stare at each other until ”inspirado” hits?
KG: For this movie, we had to write them to order. The script came first and we’d go, ”All right, we need a sensitive ballad here, we need a rockin’ opening there.” But the classic Tenacious D songwriting is Jack or myself will have an idea — I might have a riff — and we’ll improv. And once Jack’s feeling it, we turn on the tape recorder and start jamming, improv on that riff, improv on those lyrics, and then go back and see if there’s anything good in there.
JB: For me, it’s all about the funny subject matter. Kyle wrote a great riff for the album that’s in the closing credits. But it sat there for a long time. Then I came up with a subject matter for it called ”The Metal.” I’m like the Devil and I’m singing about how other forms of music have tried to win, but the metal always wins because it’s stronger. And that could sustain a song because it’s funny, and it also points out the ridiculousness of music being macho. There’s something weird about saying, [in deep, evil voice] ”This is the music of the warlords! And after I finish playing, I will use my ax to chop thee in half!”
NEXT PAGE: Black and Gass talk about cameos from Tim Robbins and Dave Grohl, why Black stuck with the D, and his advice to Gass on handling superstardom