April 15, 2004
by BOB DORAN
IT DOESN'T TAKE A LOT, MOSTLY JUST A mullet wig, to transform Kyle Gass, half of the power folk duo Tenacious D (Jack Black being the other half) into Klip Calhoun, hard-driving guitarist for the hard-driving, almost off-the-tracks southern rock outfit, Trainwreck.[ photo below]
Thanks to a Web shrine maintained by a tenacious fan of "The D" I had learned that Gass and I share the same suburban hometown, Walnut Creek. I mentioned the fact when his publicist connected us, and Gass exclaimed, "No way! Did you go to Las Lomas?"
"I did," I replied with feigned enthusiasm and we shared fond and not-so-fond memories of our high school alma mater. No, I did not know his brother, Mitch. (I'm a bit older than Kyle.)
We both escaped from Creektown; while I headed north, he went south. "For some reason I had the show business bug," he told me. "I was a total drama geek in high school and I decided to go to UCLA to be close to the action."
He had the good fortune to attend the prestigious university at the same time as Tim Robbins, which gave him entrée to The Actor's Gang, Robbins' posse. "I dropped out of school; I couldn't hack it," he recalled. Instead he somehow found himself following a rock `n' roll lifestyle. "I really just wanted to be an actor, music was kind of a strange left turn, but it worked out good. Music helped with my acting career."
He actually had a music background. "I was in the marching band in high school. I played flute. It was pretty gay, but it was easy. My brother said I'd never get chicks with a flute, so I had to switch to guitar. It became kind of a private passion, but then I kind of used it in the theater; I backed shows in the Actor's Gang."
Somewhere along the line Jack Black joined the Gang. "He was a really good sing-gah, but very young. We hooked up. The thing was, together we make one good singer-songwriter. Standing up and singing by myself was too scary. I need some support, and Jack's a great front man, very funny."
For those who are not familiar with The D, it was/is a pseudo-serious metal-folk duo (with an emphasis on the pseudo) that emerged from the L.A. comedy underground to create a short HBO series, record a major label album and become cult heroes. (There's a major motion picture in the works: Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny.)
"It's kind of a postmodern thing," explained Gass (or Kage, as he is known in The D). "We're making fun of ourselves, but then actually we're good at what we're trying to be. It's a strange blurry thing." Self-referential? "Oh, yeah. Somehow that feels natural, perhaps because Jack and I are both so egocentric. It's fun to sing about yourselves. There's a never-ending well there."
The transition into Trainwreck? "Quite honestly Jack doesn't like to tour. He doesn't like playing live all that much. I do. I think every group has the touring faction and those who don't want to; ours was not different. But also he's working on a lot of movies; that keeps him busy, so it was like, `Dude, I can't wait a year between D gigs.'
"Also, JR [Reed], another gang member, is a great friend, and I always wanted to cook up something with him. Trainwreck was really designed for him. He's a good crazy frontman kind of character, a hillbilly redneck. And I like working with a whole band. I wanted it to be almost antithetical to The D. D was small -- this was a big band. While The D implied rockin' -- we're really rockin' -- country rockin'.
"It started two years ago and it's morphed and changed. It started with just me and JR with a gig at Largo, a great club where The D cut its teeth. Then we added a drummer, Kenny Boy, and we were kinda like White Stripes, a hillbilly White Stripes thing. Then we picked up these boys in Columbus, a guitar and bass who were really good musicians. At that point we had a whole band, and I added another friend on keyboards, Lance Branson, who it turns out had some Brian Wilson tendencies -- he's the most sensitive man I've ever known. He's a screenwriter, but he also comes up with some great tunes."
While Kage might be the closest thing to famous in Trainwreck, he's still humble. "L.A. is not really fair as far as who gets to make it. You come up with people who are your friends, you do plays together, then all of a sudden this guy's a movie star and this other guy's trying to get the Pizza Hut commercial. There can be quite a discrepancy." (Gass concedes he was "a crazy delivery boy" in a Pizza Hut commercial "quite a while ago.")
So far Trainwreck has produced a two-song single, "studio stuff," he calls it, and Choo Choo, "the bootleg," recorded in New Orleans with a few rockin' songs about train wrecks and a lovely, randy ballad, "Permanent Wood," addressed to a lovely woman. It ends with a lone cover, "Takin' Care of Business," played pretty much just like it was done 30 years ago by Canadian rockers Bachman-Turner Overdrive. (The boot will undoubtedly be available at the merch table.)
The future? "I've really just been trying to go with it. And I'm actually kind of surprised that it's this good. Now I'm thinking I'll just keep hammering away, `cause I really like it and it's really fun. We'll see where it goes. I try to let the coffee guide me."
Trainwreck: the Movie? "We're in discussion with HBO and that's possible, some short-term late-night series." And as you might say, he has a track record for that sort of thing. "That's right! So they should listen to me. It's gonna be great!" His exhilaration turns to seriousness. "But really it's all about bringing the music to the peeps. You gotta stay in the moment. For god sakes, stay in the moment."
Trainwreck plays its first-ever Humboldt County gig at Mazzotti's Friday, April 16, with Arcata's No. 1 Judas Priest cover band, Sad Wings of Destiny, opening the show at 10 p.m. Advance tix available at the usual outlets. Be there! See www.twreck.tk for more info on Trainwreck; also see www.tenaciousjoes.com "The Greatest Tenacious D Website on Earth!"
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