Tenacious D: Fenix Rising

Tenacious D’s new album Rize Of The Fenix is stuffed to the gills with hard-rocking harmonies and bust-a-nut rhymes. We talked to Jack Black and Kyle Glass about the Tao of the D, writing funny music, and their appreciation for Spinal Tap and Flight of the Conchords.

Jack: Call it a comeback. We’ve been gone for years.

As the theme of the album would indicate.

Jack: That’s right. Very astute.

So how do you approach writing a song with a sense of humor? Do you always approach the song with a humorous concept or does the music sometimes come first?

Jack: Well, yeah, it’s a simple test. Does it bring a chortle? Does it bring a grin? But more importantly, is it interesting? Or does it make you angry? Those things lead to comedy, for us.

For instance, the whole concept of a comeback album comes from this fiery burning anger that we weren’t received properly on our last effort. The critics all took a shit on us, and that anger led to comedy. You gotta follow the passion.

Kyle: It’s always been important to us to be musically interesting. Otherwise, you sort of run into guitar comics. One of those who’s more interesting, but the songs aren’t good. I think we’re both pretty big fans of rock and we like to throw our hats in the ring and see how awesome the song can be.

Would there be a Tenacious D album without it being semi-autobiographical?

Jack: Most people think from their own perspective. I mean there’s a lot of songs out there from another person’s perspective, like “A Boy Named Sue.” But those songs are the exception to the rule. Most of Johnny Cash’s songs are about his own struggles and feelings and then once in a while he’ll throw in another perspective. We say our names in our songs more than most people, but I would argue that everyone is singing about themselves, they’re just being less self-absorbed, or more subtle about it.

Do some of the funnier songs come out of more serious thoughts or ideas?

Jack: It’s really just what are we interested in. We like to write songs on subjects that interest us and then we run it through our jackass comedic filter, and there will be a Tenacious D song at the end of the day.

Kyle: Yeah, if it doesn’t have a comedic interest angle, it really lost interest for us.

Jack: If I’m not into the subject matter in some way, it’s gonna be hard to keep singing the song night after night on the tour. You wanna tap into a reservoir of emotion while you’re out there performing.

Is it harder to keep the material fresh night after night when you’re on tour?

Kyle: We’re not going on like two-year tours, so I don’t think it’s too hard to keep it fresh. Plus, we’re always worried about not entertaining the audience, and it’s a challenge to do it again and again.

Jack: It has not been a problem so far, though. Once in a while, Kyle will say, “I don’t wanna sing that fuckin’ song anymore. Let’s not do that,” so maybe it has on a song or two. We rotate them out. If we feel like this one is not fresh we’ll take it out and then bring it back later on when it’s awesome again. We dusted off “City Hall” recently. We hadn’t played it in years. It was electric and people’s minds were blown all over again. It’s nice to have enough material that you don’t have to play it all every night. You can bring nuggets back. We’re planning on this tour to do a unique song in each show that’s only played at that one show. I don’t know if we have enough songs to do that …

What were some of your first funny musical influences?

Kyle: I don’t remember necessarily being attracted to funny music as a kid.

Jack: The first one I remember was the spoof on “My Sharona,” it was “Ayatollah.” It was making fun of Iran I guess. Now, when I think of it, it’s pretty xenophobic, pretty racist, but I remember performing it live in like 2nd or 3rd grade at my grade school talent show. Me and two other boys wore turbans and sunglasses and lip-synced to “Ayatollah.” Horrible, making fun of virgins, I don’t know how that could have been accepted in my little southern California town.

Kyle: Well I guess the biggest one is kind of obvious. I saw Spinal Tap …

Jack: That’s later dude. That’s not the first one. Come on.

Kyle: No, but that was kind of the big one in terms of the rock thing. They tap into it so well.

Jack: What’s amazing is that The Monkees never had one funny song and their whole thing was built around “We’re a comedy group that does songs.”

Kyle: They did do that one song, “I will buy you a dog…” and they chatted their way through it sort of a la The Beatles.

Jack: Was it funny though?

Kyle: No, it wasn’t very funny. It was kind of forced merriment going on.

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