Tenacious D

pick of destiny

Tenacious D is an American rock band that was formed in Los Angeles in 1994. Composed of lead vocalist and guitarist Jack Black and lead guitarist and vocalist Kyle Gass, the band has released two albums – ‘Tenacious D’ (2001) and ‘The Pick of Destiny’ (2006). The band’s studio releases and live performances feature a full band lineup, including such musicians as guitarist John Konesky, bassist John Spiker and Bad Religion drummer Brooks Wackerman.

The band originally performed as an acoustic duo, which gained popularity in 1999 when they starred in their eponymous television series and began to support large rock acts. Tenacious D’s music showcases Black’s theatrical vocal delivery and Gass’s acoustic guitar playing abilities. Critics have described their fusion of vulgar absurdist comedy with rock music as ‘mock rock.’ Their songs discuss the duo’s purported musical and sexual prowess, as well as their friendship and cannabis usage in a style that music critics have compared with the storyteller-style lyrics of rock opera.

Black and Gass met in Scotland during the Edinburgh Fringe of 1989. Both were members of the Los Angeles-based theatre troupe, The Actors’ Gang, which was performing Tim Robbins’ and Adam Simon’s play ‘Carnage.’ Initially there was animosity between the two as Gass felt threatened by Black—who was the main musician for the Actor’s Gang—though they eventually worked out their differences, and agreed to form a band. Gass taught Black to play guitar, in exchange for Black helping Gass with his acting.

Initially when Black and Gass performed live they covered songs by Bobby McFerrin. Up until 1994 the duo did not have a name, so they gave the audience at their first concert, at the now defunct Al’s Bar, the chance to vote for one. Black and Gass gave them the choice between Pets or Meat,’ ‘Balboa’s Biblical Theatre,’ and ‘The Axe Lords Featuring Gorgazon’s Mischief'(Gass’ personal favorite). ‘Tenacious D’—a basketball term used by commentators to describe robust defensive positioning in basketball —did not get the majority of votes, however, according to Black ‘we forced it through.’ In attendance was David Cross who later cast Jack Black in his sketch comedy television series, ‘Mr. Show.’ Black and Gass also recorded a demo tape called ‘Tenacious Demo’ in 1992 and distributed it to various record companies until HBO offered them a TV show.

Cross, with ‘Mr. Show’ writer Bob Odenkirk, continued his involvement with Tenacious D by producing three half-hour shows based on the band. The series, entitled ‘Tenacious D,’ premiered on HBO in 1997, immediately following an episode of ‘Mr. Show.’ While a total of three episodes consisting of two shorts each, ten to twelve minutes in length, were produced, only the first was aired that year; the final two episodes did not air until the summer of 2000. According to Gass, the series was cancelled after HBO requested ten episodes, but in doing so, he and Black would have to relinquish their role as executive producers, and only write songs.

After the series aired, the band continued to perform live. At a show at the Viper Room in Los Angeles, they met Dave Grohl, who remarked that he was impressed with their performance; this led to their cameo in the Foo Fighters’ ‘Learn to Fly’ music video. The popularity of Tenacious D further increased as they began to open for high profile acts, including Beck, Pearl Jam, and Foo Fighters.

In 2000 Tenacious D signed to Epic Records. As Black’s profile increased due to his roles in films such as ‘High Fidelity’ the band worked on recording their first album with producers the Dust Brothers. In 2001 they released their debut ‘Tenacious D.’ While Tenacious D usually appears as a duo, the album was backed by a full band, consisting of Dave Grohl on drums and guitar, keyboardist Page McConnell of Phish, guitarist Warren Fitzgerald of The Vandals, and bassist Steven Shane McDonald of Redd Kross.

The first single from the album was ‘Tribute’—a tribute to the ‘greatest song in the world’ which, in the song, Tenacious D claimed they had performed in order to save their souls from a demon. A music video, directed by Liam Lynch, was shot for the song. This was followed by the second single, ‘Wonderboy,’ the music video of which was directed by Spike Jonze. A third video, an animation depicting Black and Gass as cherubs, was made for ‘Fuck Her Gently,’ directed by Ren and Stimpy-creator John Kricfalusi.

The album also included ‘Dio,’ a song written as a tribute to rock singer Ronnie James Dio, which mocked him somewhat for being too old. Dio liked the song enough to ask the band to appear in the music video for his song, ‘Push.’ An EP entitled ‘D Fun Pak’ was released in 2002. It featured a skit and acoustic versions of ‘Jesus Ranch’ and ‘Kyle Quit The Band,’ as well as a megamix by Mocean Worker.

Satire and comedy are a major aspect of Tenacious D’s lyrical content. Gass said of their approach: ‘I’d love to do the straight music thing, but that’s kind of against our mission, which is to rebel against the serious singer-songwriter mentality.’ Their songs evoke heavy metal clichés of bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Songs like ‘Friendship’ parody the lack of real friendship, as well as point out the [bromance] traits in rock groups with the lyric, ‘As long as there’s a record deal, we’ll always be friends.’ Tenacious D also employs the technique of deliberate backmasking on ‘Karate,’ a technique employed by other metal bands like Slayer, who recorded a message in ‘Hell Awaits.’

Black has said that the first song he enjoyed was ABBA’s ‘Take a Chance on Me.’ His style was distinctly shaped by ‘big dinosaurs of rock’ such as The Who and Led Zeppelin. In addition, Gass lists his influences as being Tom Waits and Tony Robbins. The band claimed that the inspiration for the song ‘Tribute’ came after Black played Metallica’s ‘One’ for Gass, describing it as ‘the best song in the world,’ leading to an attempt to themselves write an even better song.

Gass has described Tenacious D’s comic assertion that they are the best band as being ‘ridiculous because it’s a matter of opinion.’ Black characterizes Tenacious D’s comic nature as an antidote to ‘the masculinity of rock,’ adding ‘There’s also something funny about the macho-ness of rock. Like the bands that are the fucking hardest rocking are like, ‘We’ll fucking kick your ass, dude… with our rock.” Russell Brand, All Shall Perish, The Lonely Island, and Kanye West have in turn been influenced by the work of Tenacious D.

Black and Gass first performed together in ‘Bio-Dome’ (1996), followed by ‘The Cable Guy’ (1996), ‘Bongwater (1997),’ ‘Cradle Will Rock (1999),’ ‘Saving Silverman’ (2001), ‘Shallow Hal’ (2001)[93] and ‘School of Rock’ (2003).

Tenacious D are supporters of cannabis legalization. They have also performed at a NORML benefit concert. Black described his view that allowing drug use would remove the stigma of feeling ‘naughty’ attached to users, making the activity mundane and less attractive. Black was the executive producer for a documentary about Randy Credico entitled ‘Sixty Spins Around the Sun.’ It calls for the so-called Rockefeller drug laws to be repealed. Black said of it, ‘They’re populating our prisons with people, you know, first time drug offenders—single mothers that have a little bit of coke end up going to prison for 20 years or something. It’s just cruel and unusual punishment.’ In 2010, Tenacious D agreed to boycott Arizona due to laws passed there concerning immigration.

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