It’s a Gass
Tenacious D and KGB guitarist Kyle Gass has the last laugh
Comedy in rock music has a long history, from Frank Zappa and Spinal Tap to “Weird Al” Yankovic and Flight of the Conchords. Of course, with that comes the potential of burying the actual music beneath all the fart jokes and zaniness; it takes a special set of ears to get down with Zappa.
Kyle Gass knows the deal. For the past two-plus decades, he and actor/madman Jack Black have carried the torch with their comedy duo Tenacious D, a band that has written classics like “Kielbasa” and “Fuck Her Gently.” But enough listens will reveal that—in the imagined words of The D itself—their shit actually fucking rocks fucking hard.
But Tenacious D is only good for a new record every five or six years, which means Gass must keep rocking. In 2002, the guitarist took a detour with his project Trainwreck, which put out a handful of albums and EPs that were dripping in satire and yanked riffs and licks from some of the great classic rock bands of the past three decades. That project dissolved in 2011, and Gass and guitarist John Konesky formed the Kyle Gass Band that same year.
KGB released its second album, Thundering Herd, earlier this year. It’s another collection of rockers filled with smirking inside jokes. Gass says his non-D projects are more group-driven, taking some of the pressure off of him as the main guitarist.
“In this band we all bring stuff in,” said Gass, who’d just woken up before our 9 a.m. interview. “With The D, it’s really gotta be just me and Jack in the room. Jack’s a fountain; he’s always spitting stuff out. We always have to be recording.”
Black and Gass met doing theater—it was comedy and acting more than music that forged their friendship. Gass says it became more about hanging out and making the other laugh than any pen-to-paper jokes. The D got their own HBO show in 1997, following the David Cross and Bob Odenkirk cult classic Mr. Show, and a self-titled debut album came four years later. The band still draws a cult following, but its minimal activity in recent years gives Gass a chance to keep his comedic and musical chops sharp with the KGB.
And he’s made a pretty good living doing it over the years, keeping up the tradition of some of comedy’s best rock practitioners.
“I’ve always loved comedy, and always thought I was more of a humorous person,” said Gass. “When I saw This Is Spinal Tap, it was a bombshell in my brain. It’s so good—it’s intimidating, but also inspirational.”
Making people laugh is the driving force behind Gass’ projects, but he’s been playing guitar since he was a kid growing up in the Bay Area and reared on ’70s FM rock. The pomp of classic rock creeps into his music, too, and in some cases, is the butt of the joke. And Gass says he’s never been worried about scaring rock fans off with humor.
“I think lyrics are a way to get people to listen to the music,” he said. “I don’t think comedy and music are mutually exclusive—you can have chocolate and peanut butter.”
In other words, come for the jokes, stay for the rock.