Jack Black and Kyle Gass initially met in Los Angeles in 1986, both members of The Actors' Gang theater troupe. Black admits due to animosity, he and Gass didn't initially see eye-to-eye, as Gass was the main musician for the Actor's Gang and "felt threatened by Black". The Actor's Gang travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1989. They were performing Tim Robbins' and Adam Simon's play Carnage. The two befriended during the trip and eventually became best friends. Black states he didn't learn guitar until he was "around twenty-three years old", so would regularly visit Gass' Cochran Avenue studio apartment, in the deal that Gass would teach Black to play guitar in return for food, mainly from fast-food chain Jack in the Box.
The two would work at The Actor's Gang together, and would collaborate in productions. Gass and Black wrote their first song after Black had been dumped by a girlfriend, a non-comedic song. The two have since admitted to feeling embarrassed about the song, though occasionally sing it during interviews when telling their story. Their second song came about when Black was listening to the Metallica song "One" and told Gass that it was "the best song in the world". Gass told Black that they couldn't write the best song in the world, but Black put a twist on it and said they could "write a tribute". Gass played an A-minor chord on his guitar at the apartment and the two spent three full days crafting the song, when it was done Gass mentioned "they knew they had something". The song made the duo realize their comedic potential.
At their first concert, at Al's Bar in the summer of 1994, the band performed the live debut of "Tribute", their only song at the time, and the duo also gave the audience the chance to vote for their name. Black and Gass gave them the choice between "Pets or Meat", "Balboa's Biblical Theater" and "The Axe Lords Featuring Gorgazon's Mischief" (Gass' personal favorite). "Tenacious D"—a basketball term used by commentators to describe robust defensive positioning in basketball — did not get the majority of votes, however, but according to Black "we forced it through". The venue had become a hotbed for upcoming bands due to the success of Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so much so that in attendance was David Cross who invited Black and Gass to attend productions of his. Black would later be cast in his sketch comedy television series on HBO, Mr. Show in 1995.
The band would continue to generate momentum on the Los Angeles music scene, notably performing headline shows at Al's Bar, Pedro's, Largo and The Actors' Gang studio. Maynard James Keenan, lead vocalist of the band Tool, had also met Cross on the Los Angeles scene, and therefore had also become involved in Mr. Show. Keenan would go on to invite Black and Gass to support three Californian Tool concerts in December 1995. Tool was the first large act that Tenacious D were a support act for. Black had previously attended UCLA with director Jason Bloom, therefore, when Bloom was made the director of 1996's Bio-Dome, Black and Gass were invited to perform a short song in the film. The two wrote the song "5 Needs", and this was their first on-screen appearance as Tenacious D.
In 1997, Tenacious D had become a popular act on the Los Angeles music scene, and would perform residencies at The Viper Room. Peter Stahl, the vocalist of the band Scream, worked at The Viper Room at the time and became a fan of Black and Gass. Stahl invited friend Dave Grohl to come and visit The Viper Room to see Tenacious D, though Grohl initially didn't want to go. Grohl changed his stance and went to see the band perform a couple of weeks later and thoroughly enjoyed it. This would start a relationship between Grohl, Black and Gass.
Tenacious D recorded their songs "Tribute", "Kyle Quit the Band", "Krishna" and "History" and released them in a demo tape called Tenacious Demo, in the late-1990s with Andrew Gross, distributing it to various record companies until HBO offered them a TV show based upon the tape and Black's work on Mr. Show.
Television series (1997–2000)
Cross, with Mr. Show writer Bob Odenkirk, continued his involvement with Tenacious D by producing three half-hour shows based on the band. The series, entitled Tenacious D, premiered on HBO in 1997, immediately following an episode of Mr. Show. While a total of three episodes consisting of two shorts each, ten to twelve minutes in length, were produced, only the first was aired that year; the final two episodes did not air until the summer of 2000. According to Gass, the series was cancelled after HBO requested ten episodes with the stipulation that he and Black would have to relinquish their role as executive producers, and only write songs. After the series aired, the band continued to perform live. At a show at the Viper Room in Los Angeles, they met Dave Grohl, who remarked that he was impressed with their performance; this led to their cameo in the Foo Fighters' "Learn to Fly" music video. The popularity of Tenacious D further increased as they began to open for high-profile acts, including Beck, Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters.
First album Tenacious D (2001–2003)
In May 2000, Tenacious D signed to Epic Records. As Black's profile increased due to his roles in films such as High Fidelity the band worked on recording their first album with producers the Dust Brothers. In 2001, they released their debut Tenacious D. It peaked at #33 on the Billboard 200 on October 13, 2001. While Tenacious D usually appears as a duo, the album was backed by a full band, consisting of Dave Grohl on drums and guitar, keyboardist Page McConnell of Phish, guitarist Warren Fitzgerald of The Vandals, and bassist Steven Shane McDonald of Redd Kross. According to Black, they chose to use a band because "no one's ever heard us with a band". The majority of songs on the album were performed previously on their short-lived television series.
Although the critical reaction varied, by November 2005, the album had achieved platinum status in the US. Entertainment Weekly described the release as "hilarious", and "no mere comedy record". AllMusic wrote that the album "rocks so damn hard", but lamented the absence of some of the songs from the television show. Flak Magazine criticised the band's use of skits between songs, describing them as "distracting" and a "nuisance". In addition, The Independent remarked that the album was full of "swearing and scatology" and was "bereft of even the slightest skidmark of humour".
The first single from the album was "Tribute": a tribute to the "greatest song in the world" which, in the song, Tenacious D claimed they had performed in order to save their souls from a demon. A music video, directed by Liam Lynch, was shot for the song. The video achieved success and was voted the fifth best music video ever by Kerrang! readers. This was followed by the second single, "Wonderboy", the music video of which was directed by Spike Jonze. A third video, an animation depicting Black and Gass as cherubs, was made for "Fuck Her Gently", directed by Ren and Stimpy-creator John Kricfalusi.
The album also included "Dio", a song written as a tribute to rock singer Ronnie James Dio, which mocked him somewhat for being too old. Dio liked the song enough to ask the band to appear in the music video for his song, "Push". An EP entitled D Fun Pak was released in 2002. It featured a skit and acoustic versions of "Jesus Ranch" and "Kyle Quit The Band", as well as a megamix by Mocean Worker. The Complete Masterworks, a music DVD featuring the entire run of their TV series, music videos, and a live performance from London's Brixton Academy recorded in 2002, was released on November 9, 2003.
The Pick of Destiny (2003–2008)
On November 7, 2000, Tenacious D had just finished writing the rough first script for a movie. This script was later scrapped for a plot line about the two searching for a sacred guitar pick.
In October 2003 Black announced that the screenplay for The Pick of Destiny—a fictional portrayal of the band's formation—had been completed. Again working with director Liam Lynch, the film was initially to be written and developed by Working Title Films, but Black and Gass decided to assume creative control when they were not satisfied with the writers' ideas. Filming had been expected to take place by the end of 2003; however, it was delayed by almost a year due to Black being cast in Peter Jackson's big budget remake of King Kong. The band started recording songs for the soundtrack of the film, their second studio album, The Pick of Destiny. This album's recording featured John Konesky on electric guitar and John Spiker on bass—two musicians Gass had met in Ohio when forming his side-project band, Trainwreck. Dave Grohl again played drums, and further lent vocals to "Beelzeboss (The Final Showdown)" as well as acting in the film, as Satan.
"A lot of enthusiastic stoners were like, 'Yeah, du-u-u-de! Just saw it!' I was like, 'Where were you when the movie came out?' 'Sorry, dude, I was hi-i-i-gh!'"
— Jack Black on The Pick of Destiny's disappointing box-office performance.
The film had its premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles on November 9, 2006. Many of the actors who had cameos in the film were in attendance; including Ronnie James Dio, Dave Grohl, and Ben Stiller. The film was released worldwide on November 22. The soundtrack had been released just over a week earlier, on November 14. Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny grossed US$8,334,575 in the US and Canada and a total of US$13,426,450 worldwide, falling well short of its US$20 million production budget and US$40 million in estimated marketing costs. Financially, it is regarded as a box office bomb. The soundtrack reached #8 on the Billboard 200 in the US as well as topping the iTunes chart, and #10 in the UK. The film was released globally on DVD on February 27, 2007. In an interview on the Daily Show on November 30, 2006, Black admitted the film had "bombed", but said that DVD sales had shown that the film picked up a cult audience.
Kevin Crust of the Los Angeles Times said that the film "might best be enjoyed in an enhanced state of consciousness, a herbal supplement, and we aren't talking ginkgo biloba." Stephen Rae of The Philadelphia Inquirer said that the frequent drug-use in the film gives "the term potty humor a new meaning." Michael Phillips criticized the frequency of the drug-use by saying: "This may be the problem. Pot rarely helped anybody's comic timing." Stephen Holden of The New York Times suggested that the film could be viewed as a "jolly rock 'n' roll comedy", but he also described the progression of the film as being a "garish mess."
The soundtrack was produced by John King of the Dust Brothers, but the reviews were less favourable than for the band's first album. Rolling Stone comments that the soundtrack "never quite takes off". It criticises the reliance the album makes on a knowledge of the film, and some songs' existence only to "advance the plot". It summarizes by saying the album is inferior to the band's previous effort. Allmusic also describes the follow-up as less "satisfying" than Tenacious D, noting that the songs feel like "narrative filler". Blender continues the criticism of the songs being plot devices calling them "plot-nudging song-sketches". The Guardian views the album more positively, describing the album as a meeting of "old school riffology" and "schoolboy humour".
Black, Gass, Konesky, Spiker, and Wackerman
To coincide with the release of their new film and album, Tenacious D embarked on their 2006–07 tour of the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. This tour included the band's first appearance at New York City's Madison Square Garden. Unlike other tours, this one featured a full backing band. Konesky and Spiker resumed their roles from the album, and Brooks Wackerman was added as drummer. Each member used a pseudonym; Konesky as the Antichrist, Spiker as Charlie Chaplin, and Wackerman as Colonel Sanders. JR Reed also toured as Satan, as well as reprising is role as "Lee". Black has said that the band lost money on the tour due to the cost of touring with a full band for the first time.
Rize of the Fenix (2008–2015)
Tenacious D performing at the Leeds festival
In November 2006, Black expressed wishes to take a year-long break from acting, though Gass hinted a desire for Tenacious D to end at their current highpoint. However, Black confirmed that a third album would be recorded by announcing that a new song has been written for it entitled "Deth Star". He said that the album would likely be released in 2010, but on other occasions had mentioned the year 2012. In early 2008, Black announced that the band was working on a new album, and a DVD titled The Complete Masterworks Part 2. The DVD was released later that year, and included a documentary of their world tour entitled D Tour: A Tenacious Documentary. The film focuses on the tour Tenacious D made in support of the film and soundtrack and the consequences of their film's poor showing at the box office. Kyle has commented that the new album only has "one to one and a half" songs written for it, and would like to write between twelve and fifteen.
The band played the main stage at the 2008 Reading and Leeds Festivals in the UK, playing Leeds on Friday, August 22 and Reading on Sunday, August 24. In addition to this, the band provided support for Metallica at Marlay Park, Dublin in Ireland on August 20. They headlined the last night of the 2009 Outside Lands Festival in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, on Sunday August 30, 2009. Music magazine Billboard quoted Black as revealing that "We just laid down a hot [...] we're calling it the bomb track. It's a very powerful recording called "Deth Starr" [...] so it has nothing to do with the Star Wars [Death Star]," adding that "It's kind of sci-fi, doomsday rock." Jack Black also stated on the Late Show with David Letterman that he had an idea for a song called "Rize of the Fenix", which he described as a "rise from the ashes" workout song similar to "Eye of the Tiger". He performed a vocal sample of the song along to keyboards. Tenacious D played the main stage at Bonnaroo music festival in 2010, which featured the band playing the song "Dio" as a tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio.
Gass hinted that the band's third album might be called Tenacious D 3-D, reasoning that "It's the third record, so it should probably be 'Tenacious 3-D.' There's going to be a '3' and a 'D,' so you have to connect them." Dave Grohl has confirmed that he will appear as the drummer on the album, after performing on both Tenacious D and The Pick of Destiny. In an interview with Spinner.com in December 2010, Black revealed that the band was "about halfway through the writing process" for its new album, telling fans to expect the release of new material "at the end of 2011". In terms of lyrical themes for the new songs, Black noted that "We're gonna be talking about love, there are gonna be some songs about sex and there's gonna be songs about food".
In a May 2011 interview at Attack of the Show, Black announced that three songs on their upcoming album would be named "Rize of the Fenix", distinguishable by either letter or number. Also in the same interview, he named another song called "Señorita". In February 2012 it was revealed that the title of the album would in fact be spelled Rize of the Fenix and will be released on May 15, 2012.
On March 26, 2012 a 6-minute film was uploaded to the Tenacious D channel on YouTube. The mockumentary, titled 'Tenacious D - To Be the Best', documents the uncertain future Tenacious D faced after the box-office failure of The Pick of Destiny, KG's subsequent breakdown and incarceration in "an institution", and Jack's embracing of an indulgent Hollywood lifestyle. The film shows a deranged Kyle escaping the facility and attempting to kill Jack and then himself, before they each realize their importance to each other and revive the band. They produce a new album in 75 minutes in the studio, described as "awful", but try again and emerge with another new album, described at the end of the film as "the greatest album recorded by anyone, ever". The film features numerous cameo appearances, including Maria Menounos, Val Kilmer, Dave Grohl, Yoshiki Hayashi, Josh Groban, Richard Ghagan, Mike White, Tim Robbins and Jimmy Kimmel.
The band released the album on April 28, 2012 in its entirety on their Soundcloud account. Rize of the Fenix was officially released on May 15, 2012 with mostly positive reviews from music critics.
On the Rize of the Fenix album commentary on Spotify, Black stated, "We'll be coming out with another album probably in 2017".
In 2014, Tenacious D provided a cover of "The Last in Line" on the Dio tribute album This Is Your Life. The recording won a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance.
Post-Apocalypto and touring (2012–present)
In 2012, when asked on the WTF with Marc Maron podcast about another movie, Black stated that they had no plans, however he stated that Tenacious D had been thinking about releasing a project on the Internet, an animated series or online episodes in some form. He would also mention this project in other interviews throughout 2012 and 2013.
On February 5, 2016, Black was a guest on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Breakfast Show. When asked about the status of the band, Black confirmed that they were working on a new album. Stating that they were "very slow," Black suggested that it would likely be completed in 2018. Black also mentioned that so far they just had a few song titles.
In 2017, while on promotion for the film, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Black stated on the British radio station, Kerrang Radio, that Tenacious D had created an animated series, and that the fourth album would be called Post-Apocalypto.
In 2018, before performing at Hell & Heaven Metal Fest in Mexico City, the band entered the stage to a short studio snippet of their new song "Post-Apocalypto Theme". The night after this, Black asked the audience at Shaky Knees Music Festival in Atlanta, Georgia whether they had seen The Pick of Destiny and that "part 2 is coming out in October". He went to state that "I don't know where you will be able to see it, but we have decided it's happening and it's coming out. Rocktober".
Tenacious D in Post-Apocalypto was released as six individual episodes on YouTube. These would be uploaded from September 28 to November 2. Columbia Records would release the album Post-Apocalypto on the 2nd of November.
At a live screening of the series at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in New York, Black stated that the two would attempt to speed up their album cycle, jokingly commenting about the duo's age if the current speed continues and their record obligation with Sony. Black stated that the fifth album will take time, and "most likely be released [at sometime] after 2020".