by Steve Patrick
– Columnist —
It’s not every day that half of The Greatest Band in the World pays a visit to your hometown. That rare occurrence happened to this intrepid journalist recently when Kyle Gass of Tenacious D played a solo gig with his side project, the Kyle Gass Band, at Ace of Cups in Columbus, OH. The group recently released their eponymous debut album on June 28th and have just completed a Midwest tour.
Gass spoke in detail with Hardrock Haven about the KGB, what happened to his last side project Trainwreck, Tenacious D’s recent return with Rize of the Fenix, and just when exactly he lost his hair.
HRH: Hi Kyle, this is Steve Patrick with HardrockHaven.net, how’s it going?
HRH: First off welcome to Columbus, OH. That’s where I’m from.
KG: Oh cool, thanks.
HRH: Welcome back I should say since Tenacious D played here not too long ago.
KG: Yes. Yeah, we had a good time.
HRH: Well, bring me up to speed. I’m a fan of yours but obviously I missed something because last I heard you were in a different side-project called Trainwreck. What happened with Trainwreck?
KG: Trainwreck uh…crashed. Trainwreck imploded. So, uh yeah. We went as far down the tracks as we could and then we were derailed.
HRH: Well obviously not everyone in the organization derailed because the new Kyle Gass Band has the majority of the old Trainwreck band members still in it. So how did the Kyle Gass Band rise from the wreckage?
KG: We did rise from the ashes… from the Trainwreck. It was actually… what was it… Mike Campbell of Tom Petty’s band and he was doing a gig and he needed somebody to open. And after Trainwreck imploded, I was like, “Well, I think it’s time to start up a new side project.” I feel like there’s always a slot in my world for a side project because, you know, Tenacious D is uh…I always liken it to a slow-moving dinosaur and it sort of clomps along but there’s a lot of spaces in between and I like to gig and I like playing smaller places. It’s fun to play bars and clubs, and such. So yeah, the Kyle Gass Band was born. Plus it seemed like it was time to put my name on it because it was always kind of “Trainwreck: Featuring KG of Tenacious D”. Well we thought we’d just consolidate that and let people know that it’s my band and I will take a picture with you after the show. You know, just make it easier. So, yeah, we’ve been going for a couple years now and we just finished our debut album and it’s great. John Spiker (bass) produced it and we got a new vocalist/guitarist named Mike Bray from the Midwest of course and I’ve been friends with him for a while. We call him the young Paul Rodgers. He’s a great vocalist and a really great guitar player.
HRH: Well, that’s quite the compliment for a vocalist.
KG: Yeah, well if you come see him I think you’ll see. He’s got some incredible pipes.
HRH: Great, I’m looking forward to it. So when Trainwreck imploded, was there bad blood there or was it just time for a break?
KG: Oh it was spicy. It was definitely spicy. I wish I could tell you, but you know, I’m trying to avoid lawsuits. (laughs)
HRH: Hey, I totally understand. Maybe we can talk at the show. (laughs)
KG: But you know, it’s kind of a story as old as time. When a band is on the road for a long time and you get to know each other pretty well… and, yeah, there were some personality clashes. Plus, we’d been at it for a while and it wasn’t quite progressing. I think we took it as far as we could.
HRH: When you’re writing songs… say you start of writing something for Tenacious D and then you realize that’s not going to work for The D, do you then kind of put it in your pocket and save it for your solo work?
KG: Yeah, it does work that way sometimes. The D’s very specific in terms of writing because it has to be Jack and I in the room. We always write together. Very rarely will someone come in with a song for it. I think it’s happened a couple times. We were under a lot of pressure for the movie, so we kind of had to just write by ourselves sometimes. But most of the time it’s Jack and me in the room. And if there’s a riff that doesn’t quite work with The D, but I think is really good I’ll definitely bring it over to Mike and John and we’ll pound that out. But usually we just write specific for the group at hand.
HRH: Well congrats on your recent Grammy nomination for Rize of the Fenix. I bet that was exciting.
KG: Oh thanks, yeah, that was real exciting. We’ve never really been recognized that way. Kind of an official sort of thing. Yeah, I don’t think we’ve ever won anything… until last year and then actually we won this uh, “Comeback of the Year” from the Revolver Golden Gods awards.
HRH: Oh, well I was not aware of that.
KG: No, I’m not sure many people are. You know, the award show scam is you give out awards so you can get people there for free, but it was still fun. It’s always fun to win a prize, so we won that and got nominated for the Grammy and it was really nice. But then of course you go and once you’re nominated you want to win! ‘Cause I want the hardware. But we didn’t…but it was still pretty fun.
HRH: You know, I know you guys were nominated, but I don’t even know who actually won.
KG: Yeah, that’s true. Nobody cares. It was Jimmy Fallon. I’m almost positive that nobody listens to them. But it’s like, “Oh Jimmy Fallon! I watch him. He’s funny. I’ll vote for him. Now let’s see, Best Eastern Ethnic Rock Band?” Whatever categories, there’s so many categories.
HRH: Well that’s stiff competition because didn’t he have McCartney on his album?
KG: Yeah, he stacked the deck. He had Neil Young, and Springsteen, and like “Well, okay…can’t have all those icons on one album.”
HRH: Well you mentioned that Tenacious D is kind of a slow-moving dinosaur at times, but you did make a comeback last year. Why was 2012 the right time?
KG: Well, we needed some time off after the movie. It was just such a huge project and then it was kind of a huge disappointment that it really didn’t fare well at the box office, even though we were really proud of it and people seem to like it and stuff. But we wanted it to do well enough to make another one. That’s kind of the game in Hollywood. You want it to be successful enough so, you know, you have a little franchise going and they’re fun. It’s a lot of work, but they’re super fun to make. But it was disappointing, so we took a pretty extended break after that to kind of lick our wounds and then ultimately we wrote a song for a movie that didn’t happen. It was a remake of Heavy Metal. It was an animated movie back in the, uh, I think it was the 70s, like an anthology, animated piece. And we wrote a song for it. Movie didn’t happen, but we liked the song “Deth Starr” and that sort of broke the ice. Then we just continued working on it, slowly but surely, and it just came out when we were done. Took, probably, a couple years.
HRH: That’s nice that you had the time to just get it right.
KG: It really is. Yeah, I mean, we always say, “We’ll serve no D wine before it’s D time.” And yeah, we did take our time because they’re kind of a rare bird, so you wanna make sure it’s just right. We’re really proud of it. I’m really proud of how it came out.
HRH: Is there any truth to the content in the song “The Ballad of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Kage”? It sounds semi-autobiographical.
KG: It’s all true. It’s all true.
HRH: (laughs) Something about your onstage dynamic has always cracked me up. Jack is always so explosively angry at you, but you also seem have this bottled-up, restrained anger in you. The “Rage Kage”.
KG: Yes, yes. But I get all the sympathy, so it’s good.
HRH: True, you do get the “Awwww” from the crowd.
KG: (laughs) Yeah, “poor guy.”
HRH: I know you’ve done the “Kyle quits the band” gag a million times. Does that ever get tired for you?
KG: You know, it’s interesting you say that because Jack’s a really, really good actor and sometimes he uses real-life stuff to get… you know, kind of that method kind of thing. So, there’s tension in the relationship. It’s very kind of competitive. We’re good pals and it’s kind of an ongoing marriage of sorts, but he will get so mad and I’m like, “Dude, are you really mad at me? What was happening up there?” He’ll put himself totally into it and then say, “Oh dude, that was just part of the show.” And I’m like, “Phew, okay.” But he’s a can of worms and he’s kind of everything that he is on stage. Sort of very controlling and kind of steamroller, but it’s sort of what you get with really talented folks, you know? That’s how they are.
HRH: Absolutely. Well, do you think that The D will make another movie or a television project?
KG: Well, yeah, I think we’re gonna try to do… you know it’s all about online now, so I think we’re gonna do maybe an animated series online. And then we have a comedy music festival coming up in October 19th at the Santa Monica Pier called Festival Supreme. Check out the website, we’ve got a crazy lineup. We’ve got Tim & Eric, and the Mr. Show Experience, and we got The Mighty Boosh, and Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis, Adam Sandler, and a host of others. Yeah, it’s gonna be pretty epic. I think it’s going to be good.
HRH: Tim & Eric… those guys are just off the wall.
KG: Yeah, they are just insane. We’re big fans.
HRH: Were you guys ever on their show?
KG: Yeah, we did awhile back. We did just some bits on it. Pretty fun.
HRH: I think you have to be on something to fully appreciate their humor. (laughs)
KG: Oh yeah man, very stoney. Very stoney for sure. We loved the movie. Did you ever see the (Tim & Eric’s) Billion Dollar Movie? It’s just so insane, but really, really funny.
HRH: Oh definitely, I mean Will Ferrell… that’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen him do.
KG: Oh man, yeah. Yeah.
HRH: Anyway, how did you first get into playing music?
KG: Well, early I started playing flute pretty young. I just played in band and then my brother actually kinda tipped me off like, “Uh, you know you’re not going to get any dates playing the flute. You might want to switch instruments.” So, there was a guitar laying around the house and I just kind of picked that up around 11 or 12 and really enjoyed it. So I just kept at it and I just thought…my main focus was acting, but I just kind of kept working on the music just as kind of a plan B. I thought, “Well, if I can get good enough on the guitar I could maybe make a living.” I just really wanted to…the biggest thing…was to avoid real work. That was my career plan. I could just never imagine myself…well first off, I can’t do anything else, so it kind of made it easy. There wasn’t any real backup plan. I just really took to the guitar and just kept studying and playing and then I met Jack…a kindred spirit and we just started knocking out really silly, ridiculous songs that for some reason people liked.
HRH: Well, let me just say that I was in college when The D really broke big with the first record and I remember hearing songs like “Wonderboy” and “Fuck Her Gently” all the time at parties. I really think that you kind of belong to my generation comedy-wise.
KG: Yeah, it’s pretty gratifying that it reached that level. I remember the HBO shows, that was pre-DVD and stuff, but people circulated the old VHS tapes and we ended up on every rock bus… they’d have an old VHS tape of us and yeah, that was really gratifying.
HRH: Well, the band was always taper-friendly as well, so I’m sure that helped spread the band’s music.
KG: Oh yeah, well now nobody even watches the show anymore. They’re recording it on their iPhones.
HRH: Do you listen to any new music?
KG: I uh…no, I don’t. I don’t really keep in touch with what’s happening out there. I’m kind of a random dude. I sorta just flip on the radio or have other people play music for me that they think is cool. And I’m like, “Oh, that’s good.”
HRH: Any interesting acting gigs that you’ve worked on recently?
KG: Let’s see, I did…I shouldn’t even talk about it because I’m pretty sure it’s going to be awful, but there’s this horror movie called Book of Fire that I did earlier in the year. And then I did a guest spot on 2 Broke Girls which was a lot of fun. But I’ve been pretty busy with the music stuff so I haven’t… I like acting, but I haven’t been doing too much as of late.
HRH: Something I’ve always found funny about your career is I’ll be watching a movie and then all of the sudden out pops KG.
KG: Yeah, I’ll pop up when you least expect it. It’s kind of been fun that way.
HRH: Do you have a favorite acting project you were a part of? I know your cameo in Saving Silverman is one of my favorites.
KG: Yeah, Saving Silverman was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed working on Elf. That was really… I always wanted, it was actually some crazy dream, to be in an annual kind of classic movie and I think that one has really turned into it. You never know when you’re making it, you know, you’re just having fun doing the best you can…and then now every Christmas it’s playing around fifty times. And then you’re kind of trapped in celluloid forever.
HRH: Plus I’m sure it was a great group of guys to work with…Andy Richter, Will Ferrell…
KG: Yeah, I really liked that one. I really enjoyed it…there’s a good vibe on that.
HRH: I kind of liken you to Steve Martin in that you’ve looked the same for decades now. When exactly did you lose your hair?
KG: Oh (laughs) that happened early on. Kind of runs in the family as I guess these things do, so I was losing my hair like by 20, or 21. It was very early. In fact, I have a distinct memory of…you know, you just sort of keep combing it a certain way, kind of in denial at first…and then I remember looking at a security cam in a 7-Eleven. It was sort of an overhead view and I go, “Oh my God! The hair is gone!” And it was just shocking. I mean, I sort of knew it was coming, but I didn’t know it was so obvious. And then, you know, I think that maybe because it happened so early it never really bugged me. It just was…I don’t know, I just accepted it.
HRH: Well, you definitely use it to your advantage. I know I saw a lot of “Dawn of the D” shirts at the last Tenacious D show with the upper half of your head highlighted. And also on the album cover for the new Kyle Gass Band record.
KG: (laughs) That’s right! It really lends itself to a good t-shirt. And it does make it really fun to wear wigs occasionally ‘cause it’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s great. Look at that long, flowing hair.” Yeah, it just kind of becomes your moniker. That’s it. Way too late for the transplant now. Cannot do it.
HRH: Any recommendations on quality road food since you’ve been touring for so long?
KG: Well it can be dicey out there. The trick is to try to keep it kind of healthy…and it’s hard. Because if you start going to like Cracker Barrels then your goose is cooked. So, avoid the heavy sauces and the carbohydrates, and fruit is your friend. Really. You can’t go wrong.
HRH: Well Kyle, is there anything you’d like to say to KGB or Tenacious D fans out there who might be reading this right now?
KG: Run! Don’t walk…to see the Kyle Gass Band. Your mind will explode. Watch for the next D album in 2015 and make sure you plan a trip to Festival Supreme. October 19th. Santa Monica Pier. It’s gonna be legendary.