By Carl Begai
During this interview, guitarist / vocalist / recorder god Kyle Gass – best known for the moment as actor/musician Jack Black’s other half in Tenacious D – remarks that the only reason the Kyle Gass Band bears his name is because he’s “famous.” He’s neither arrogant nor self-deprecating about the claim; Kyle is merely making the point that it makes sense because he had an established career before the band came together. Even a third of the way through their show Kyle’s point is made, as he spends as much time making room for guitarist / vocalist Mike Bray as he does front and center. In fact, all five gents in the Kyle Gass Band sing, play, dance (seriously) and get their own moments in the spotlight.
“I daresay I wouldn’t be here without Tenacious D,” Kyle begins. “It’s an established brand, for lack of a better term, and people give KGB a look-see as a result. John (Konesky / guitars) and I worked for many years when we were in Train Wreck. We put this band together and Mike came into our lives about five years ago. He’s a really talented singer and multi-instrumentalist so we just said ‘You’re in the band.’ Jason (Keene / bass, harmonica) is an old fried from way back who plays mostly jazz. And we’ve had the exploding drummer problem which so many bands do (laughs). Spinal Tap nailed it, they do explode. A year ago Tim (Spier) came along and he’s a super drummer, a perfect personality for this band, and he really completed things for us. We’ve got some really good chemistry now. We’re having a lot of fun out here. All I know is that I’m not as good as the rest of the guys in this band (laughs).”
Which is ultimately a load of crap, as Kyle displays a truckload of musical talent on stage. As a unit the Kyle Gass Band is capable of pulling off seemingly anything live, from straight up rock n’ roll, ballads, ’80s shred, and ’70s flavoured prog to Thin Lizzy and Motown covers. Categorizing the KGB as anything other than “rock” isn’t going to happen.
“It seems like people want to categorize music or think that it has to be slotted somewhere. That means we supposedly can’t do this or that, but the reality is we’re all huge rock fans and we love playing it. In fact, I think the playing live part is more important to the Kyle Gass Band and Tenacious D than the humorous lyrics. That stuff comes in because that’s who we are.”
And the Kyle Gass Band’s self-titled album has loads of said “stuff.” Given they were on an extensive European tour – playing consistently to 200 – 300 people a night – you’ve got to wonder how audiences responded to material that English speaking countries take for granted as being varying degrees of tongue-in-cheek funny to downright hilarious.
“It seems like, especially when you get outside of the major cities, it’s like ‘English? What?’ because people don’t really need to use it. But, they’re aware of a lot more English than your average American or Canadian is of German or Dutch. I think music and playing live is one of the best ways to export ideas. People listen to the songs over and over, and they want to know what’s being said in the songs. Some of those people will study the language and get into the real everyday thing.”
So, have there been required aftershow explanations of songs like ‘Bro Ho’ or ‘Manchild’?
“Not a one (laughs). But, I do see a lot of people in the audience mouthing the lyrics, which is very gratifying. It’s always great to see that.”
Folks that haven’t seen the Kyle Gass Band live yet should be aware of one very important fact before spending any leftover beer money on a ticket…
“We don’t play any Tenacious D in the set,” Kyle points out. “Way back when, I’d throw in ‘Fuck Her Gently’ at the end of the show but the band felt it didn’t fit with what the Kyle Gass Band does. We were one song away from not doing it at all, so why bother? I kind of hated to say that they were right, but they did call it. Once in a while, like for Mike’s birthday, we’d throw it in and it was fun to do, but I think it’s good that we keep Tenacious D separate from this. And, I wouldn’t want Jack to be doing the stuff without me, so I really shouldn’t be doing any Tenacious D without Jack.”
A few hours before this interview went down, the shot-for-shot remake of Extreme’s classic ‘More Than Words’ concocted by Jack Black and Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon – a musician in his own right – hit the internet. Kyle had yet to see it, admitting he’d had no idea the video had been brewing in his partner’s head.
“Jimmy is great,” he says of Fallon. “Back in 2002 he opened up for Tenacious D and it didn’t go very well for him. We knew him from Saturday Night Live but he had some downtime, trying to get into movies, and it was like ‘Poor Jimmy; he’s a talented guy but I don’t think this is gonna work…’ He came out with a guitar and a Marshall, he did amazing impressions, but it was like… no (laughs). But, that’s showbiz, and look at him now.”
Once off the road Kyle’s plan is to start working on new music, although he’s the first to admit it’s not really a “plan” at all.
“We’ve been a little lackadaisical with the songwriting, so both bands need to be fed. The problem is a lot of times I’m not that motivated. I’m not Bob Dylan, who can crank out a song a day (laughs). In fact, most of the time the writing of the songs is so we have something to play live. Once we have enough songs for a full set, that’s the album (laughs). As for what we’re going to work on first, I’m not that organized.”
While music is Kyle’s focus for the moment, he says there may be more acting roles in his future assuming the right part comes along. Either that or when he and Jack create another silver screen gem like The Pick Of Destiny.
“I originally wanted to act and music was a really enjoyable Plan B, something to do creatively,” Kyle reveals. “Music became my main thing for lack of having a major acting career. Yeah, the travelling can be a pain but once you get there it’s great; doing the show, meeting the fans, talking to the media. Acting is showing up on set at 7:00am, hair and make-up, then waiting five hours to do your scene, two minutes of terror, and then back to the trailer. It’s great work if you can get it (laughs).
Check out the Kyle Gass Band’s acoustic performance of ‘Bro Ho’ here and a full-on live version of ‘The Gypsy Scroll’ done up as a ’70s prog epic here.