Black's school of rock to play here

Black's school of rock to play here
Kyle Gass (left) and Jack Black.

Jack Black, the bug-eyed, frenzied funnyman in movies Shallow Hal (2001), School Of Rock (2003) and Nacho Libre (2006), is just as playfully off-the-cuff, zany and hilarious in interviews, too.

Whether a journalist appreciates his wacky antics during an interview depends on the kind of article he has been tasked to write. If it is a lengthy feature profile that permits colourful detours into stand-up comedy territory, Black is a dream interviewee. He would give you all that and more.

But if the story requires lucid, straightforward answers to questions, a reporter would be wringing his hands in anxiety as the 45-year-old performs a song he is making up on the spot, while the clock ticks away the allocated time for the interview.

Ad-libbed songs - and there seems to be always one on his lips - are indicative of his love of music. Before he became an A-list comic actor in Hollywood, he was one-half of comedy-rock music duo Tenacious D, which still remains his passion today.

Speaking in a telephone interview ahead of the duo's debut gig here at The Coliseum on Dec 2, he explains how he juggles his acting and music careers. "I've got the TV and film jobs to pay the bills but Tenacious D is my passion. In terms of time, there is always time for passion, you got to make time."

His Tenacious D partner, 54-year-old Kyle Gass, a guitarist, singer and actor, chuckles and says: "That sounds like a song title, Time For Passion."

Black retorts: "Kyle, you want to start to play something, something passionate? You got a guitar there?"

Indeed, Gass does and starts to strum a few chords as Black ad-libs and sings in a low, dramatic voice: "The passion flows from within, the belly of my guts, the passion grows, the diamond forms in my blackened, darkened guts... the hole in my guts, the passion is flames, you do it all and then the diamond emerges."

He then admits that the spontaneous jam was terrible, but it only underscores his point that the pair write a lot of songs and it is only the good ones that end up on their official releases, which include three albums and two EPs.

"When we go, 'Okay, let's write a song about global warming', Kyle will write a riff that feels global warming-ish and then I'll just put words on it. That's usually what we do and, usually, it's really bad," he says, sounding like School Of Rock's failed- rocker-turned-teacher Dewey Finn.

"But when you do enough of those, every once in a while a masterpiece comes up. It's really a game of persistence and patience, and tenacity."

Black is doing the interview from his backyard at his Los Angeles house, "sitting on the steps, looking at the gorgeous moon, which is about three-quarters full". He is married to Tanya Haden, a cellist and singer and they have two sons, aged six and eight.

Earlier, when his agent connected the telephone call, he politely declined to start the interview until Gass was also patched into the telephone call from another location.

Nominally, it is a Tenacious D interview. In reality, Black does most of the talking with Gass, the silent one, occasionally muttering in agreement - which is exactly like the Tenacious D's public persona.

They have had a long time to settle comfortably into their respective roles. The two go way back, before Hollywood came calling and Black became associated with the late 1990s posse of successful movie comedians dubbed "the frat pack", who include Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller and Steve Carell.

Black and Gass met in 1985 when they were both part of The Actors' Gang, a Los Angeles theatre group started by veteran actor Tim Robbins. In 1994, they formed Tenacious D (the moniker was inspired by a term used in basketball, which means a strong defence) and played in dive bars around the city, eventually landing their own TV show with HBO, which premiered in 1997.

By the late 1990s, the duo's mix of low-brow satire and rock music picked up a lot of high-profile fans, including Foo Fighters' frontman Dave Grohl, and they opened shows for rock heavyweights Pearl Jam, Beck and Grohl's band.

At the same time, Black's acting career skyrocketed with roles in record-store comedy drama High Fidelity (2000) and box-office comedy Shallow Hal.

The duo released their debut eponymous album in 2001, featuring a backing band made up of Grohl and other reputable rock names. Critics were divided over the mix of music and humour - Entertainment Weekly gave the album a perfect score, hailing Black and Gass as a duo who "deliver more laughs than anyone since Richard Pryor", while The Independent trashed it as being "bereft of even the slightest skidmark of humour". It did fairly well commercially, peaking at No. 33 on Billboard charts.

Regardless of the naysayers, the band became big enough to star in their own film, Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny (2006). A musical comedy based on an exaggerated and fictionalised account of the duo's formation and fantastical adventures, the film was a box-office bomb that became a cult favourite.

Reportedly, Black's rise to stardom and Gass' less-than-sterling acting career caused friction between them. This is detailed in two songs on their last album, 2012's Rize Of The Fenix: The Ballad Of Hollywood Jack And The Rage Kage and the title track.

When Life! brings up the songs, which describe how Gass' alter ego Rage Kage "was left far behind in the dust of his dreams", while "Hollywood Jack hit the big-time and went to make movies", Gass asks: "You want to know if they are really autobiographical?" Black replies: "Yes they are, it's all true."

Gass affirms: "Every word of it."

Black continues: "It was easy to write because you just write the truth of what happened, but it was difficult to write emotionally because we had to face the truth."

But like in the ending of the songs, they even- tually reconcile and sing "Hollywood Jack and Rage Kage will ride once again".

The duo have certainly been busy. They organised the second edition of music and comedy event, Festival Supreme, in Los Angeles last month and at the end of this month, will embark on a world tour, which includes several debut Asian shows.

Despite the duo's trademark bluster - they call themselves "the greatest band in the world", after all - Black uncharacteristically says they are not sure if the band have any fans in this part of the world.

"We've always wanted to come to Singapore but we don't want to play to empty houses so we wanted to make sure there were people who enjoy our music.

"And we received reports that there was a small group of kids who enjoy Tenacious D's music, so we said 'Okay, we will bring them the rock'."

He says, mock seriously, that they will still play even if only 13 people turn up. "In fact, the fewer the people, the better. Because if there is only one person in the audience, they get so much more eye contact, we can scare them all the time. It's a little uncomfortable for them but we love it."

While Black and Gass play acoustic guitars, the show will be anything but an unplugged set as they will be bolstered by a full band. Black says: "We are bringing the whole band, the full rock experience, it's important to me that we blow you away. We don't want to just impress you, we want to change your lives."

While the agent frantically tries to end this call so the duo can move on to the next interview, Black comes up with another potential, nonsensical song title out of the blue: Be Strong, Be Wrong.

He asks: "Can I hear you say 'be strong, be wrong' in Malay?"

When Life! offers him a Malay translation, he pauses before replying: "I don't think that translates very well. But I think the meaning is still powerful. Be strong, be wrong."

dinohadi@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on November 20, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

More about

Purchase this article for republication.

BRANDINSIDER

SPONSORED

Most Read

Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.