Kyle Gass, aka KG or Kage, is an American musician, singer-songwriter and actor. He made his name as one half of the Grammy award winning comedy-rock duo Tenacious D, where he serves as the dutiful comic foil to Jack Black. In 2011, Gass assembled his own group aptly titled The Kyle Gass Band and they’ve been building their own fanbase ever since. We caught up with the recently anointed frontman ahead of the band’s first-ever UK headline tour to find out how Gass has taken to life in the limelight after so many years in the shadows.
“Ha ha. Well those are your words”, Gass points out. “But of course The Kyle Gass Band does have my name on it, so sometimes I do stare at it and touch myself. But that’s just me.”
Gass and Black first met back in the ‘80s, when actor Tim Robbins recruited the two performers into the Actor’s Gang; a non-profit experimental theatre group founded by Robbins in California in 1981. And rumour has it that when they first met the two did not exactly see eye-to-eye. “We did not”, Gass confirms. “Jack’s much younger than me, so he was the new kid on the block. But he was confident, and very talented musically. I was both threatened and intrigued.”
Once Gass got over the initial sense of rivalry however, he and Black became good friends. They also discovered they had a mutual love of music, and the more accomplished Gass agreed to teach his younger protégé how to play guitar in exchange for food from Jack In The Box. By 1994, the seeds of Tenacious D were sown.
“I have to say, it really happened right out of the gate”, Gass recalls. “We knew we were good. We took it out there and right off the bat David Cross (Mr Show, Arrested Development) gave us our first gig, then invited us to another one and we were off and rolling. Then we got the HBO show (eponymously titled Tenacious D) and that accelerated things pretty rapidly, but we were already doing well in Los Angeles. We had a nice local following, so it was growing the whole time. There was definitely something people liked about us, I’m still not sure what it is, but I’m glad they do because it pays my mortgage.”
Throughout the ‘90s Tenacious D began appearing everywhere, from cult comedies like Bio-Dome and Cable Guy to music videos such as the Foo Fighters’ Learn To Fly, and by the end of the decade the band was offered a record deal. Their self-titled debut album came out via Sony subsidiary Epic Records in 2001 and was met with critical acclaim. It also contained three hit-singles (Tribute, Wonderboy and Fuck Her Gently), the music videos to which helped establish the duo as household names.
“You can certainly never predict or expect these things”, Gass ponders. “But on the other hand we were actors trying to make it in Hollywood, so we were ambitious and we certainly dreamed about being successful. In fact, that was our whole shtick back in the early days. It doesn’t cost anything to stick your chest out and act like you’re the best, and that’s exactly what we did. We were talented enough to do that in the beginning.”
Whilst the following two studio releases (The Pick of Destiny and Rize Of The Fenix) weren’t as critically or commercially successful, Tenacious D still draw a bloody big crowd wherever they play. And the two seem to savour every moment on stage together. So what inspired Gass to go it alone…
“It’s actually a lot of fun because I get to do different things”, he explains. “I get to sing lead on some songs – although Mike Bray handles most of the lead vocals, I still sing about a third. And I play my recorder throughout the set too, so that’s something that I wouldn’t do as much in The D. And sometimes I don’t have to do anything at all, which is very relaxing. The band is so good they just do their little diddly-doos while I dance around in front of the people out there in the audience.”
“It is a different experience though”, he adds. “In some ways it’s an easier gig because less of the musical chores – burdens if you will – are on my shoulders. And of course we’re not nearly as popular so we’re playing much smaller venues, but that’s kind of fun in its own way. There’s something special about club gigs; fans love them, and they’re just a lot of fun to do.”
For Gass, The Kyle Bass Band is as a proper band rather than just a solo project. “John Konesky (lead electric guitar, backing vocals), Mike Bray (lead vocals, guitar) and myself write the original songs together”, he explains. “The bass player (Jason Keene) tried to write one once but that was troubling, so we had to abandon on that. But the three of us write in various combinations, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups. But always in good spirit.”
And it’s been stipulated that marijuana, or ‘sweet Mary Jane’, plays as vital a role in the creative process of all his musical endeavours, but Gass refutes these claims profusely. “There are no drugs involved whatsoever”, he claims. “Say no to cannabis kids! It’s a gateway drug. If you do it, there’s a good chance you’ll be on heroin the next day. I’m drug-free. Always have been. Always will be. Except for coffee. And nicotine – the legal ones.”
Gass swears blindly that music is his sole source of inspiration. “I listen to a song I like and then change it a little bit. And then I make it my own. Isn’t that what everybody does?”
“Growing up as a child, and still to this day, I’m a crazy Beatles aficionado”, Gass states proudly. “And I’ve always liked Crosby, Stills & Nash. Neil Young has had a huge influence on me. I like a lot of classic rock – everything from the early ‘70s has a real fun vibe to it, that’s what I enjoy. Basically really good songs, and good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. When it comes to writing my own music I really don’t overthink it, they come out how they come out. Most of the time they don’t come out as much as you’d like – I’m not actually that prolific, so I’m just happy when I do poop one out.”
And if The KGB becomes as successful as Tenacious D, and you had to choose between the two, which one would you pick?
“Have you seen Sophie’s Choice? Then you know what happened. She had to choose one of her children, to die. You want me to make that choice? I won’t do it. You’re trying to force me to be divisive – I won’t fool for your tricks. I’ve been around too long, but if you do want your scoop, then I will say there’s a new Tenacious D baby on the way. And a lot of great bands have titled their albums eponymously with the number ‘4’ afterwards. I’m talking about Led Zeppelin. Toto. The Fantastic Four. No, wait. Journey? I don’t know. But we will not be calling the next Tenacious D album Tenacious D 4. So there you have it.”
The Kyle Gass Band play Camden Underworld on Friday 1st May. Get tickets here.