Jack Black’s school of rock to play here

Kung Fu Panda (2008). -- PHOTO: UIP
Kung Fu Panda (2008). -- PHOTO: UIP
Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny (2006). -- PHOTO: WARNER BROS
Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny (2006). -- PHOTO: WARNER BROS
School Of Rock (2003). -- PHOTO: UIP
School Of Rock (2003). -- PHOTO: UIP
High Fidelity (2000). -- PHOTO: BUENA VISTA INTERNATIONAL
High Fidelity (2000). -- PHOTO: BUENA VISTA INTERNATIONAL
Jack Black on his forthcoming concert here with Tenacious D partner, Kyle Gass (above). -- PHOTO: FOREFRONT ASIA
Jack Black on his forthcoming concert here with Tenacious D partner, Kyle Gass (above). -- PHOTO: FOREFRONT ASIA
Jack Black (above) on his forthcoming concert here with Tenacious D partner, Kyle Gass. -- PHOTO: FOREFRONT ASIA
Jack Black (above) on his forthcoming concert here with Tenacious D partner, Kyle Gass. -- PHOTO: FOREFRONT ASIA

Comedian and rocker Jack Black wants to blow the audience away with a full band during his Tenacious D concert here

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


TOP FIVE JACK BLACK CAREER MOMENTS

High Fidelity (2000)

In the film, which is Black's  breakout hit, based on Nick Hornby's acclaimed 1995 novel, he plays a record store worker who is also an elitist, know-it-all music nerd  who comes up with "top  five songs" lists for every conceivable occasion.

The role snagged him numerous award nominations, including Best Supporting Actor  at the Chicago Film Critics Association Award, Funniest Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture at the American Comedy Award and Breakthrough Male Performance and Best Music Moment at the MTV Movie Award; but only won one - a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Supporting Actor (Comedy/Romance).

Tenacious D (2001)

By the time Tenacious D worked on their 2001 eponymous debut album, Black and partner Kyle Gass had already built up enough clout to get acclaimed rockers to play for them, including Foo Fighters frontman  Dave Grohl to play drums and Page McConnell from psychedelic jam-masters Phish on keyboards.

The result was a step-up from the duo's former acoustic set-up to a full-on rock sound in epic, operatic rock tracks such as Tribute (an homage to "the best song in the world")  and a classical-influenced anthemic tune like Rock Your Socks.

School Of Rock (2003)

Black's definitive movie  moment sees him starring  as a failed musician-turned- substitute teacher who turns a class of stuffy, prep school students into  a bona fide rock band.

Obviously a part close to his heart, Black tackles the character with convincing passion.

A box-office hit, the film is also universally acclaimed and Black picked up the Best Comedic Performance prize at the MTV Movie Awards. He also received several nominations, including for Best Actor - Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes, Choice Movie Actor- Comedy and Choice Movie Liar  at the Teen Choice Award.

Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny (2006)

A fictional and fantasy- laden story of how Black and Gass formed Tenacious D and end up sparring in a "rock-off" against Satan (played by Dave Grohl), the comedy was drubbed by critics for its lowbrow humour and bombed at the box office. But bad press could not stop the film, which has cameos from rock icons such as the late Ronnie James Dio and Meat Loaf, from becoming a cult favourite.

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Black voices Po, a bumbling, rotund panda who, against all odds, ends up being a gongfu master.

The DreamWorks Animation film was a huge hit and became the highest-grossing  animated film of 2008.

A critics' favourite, it earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Animated Feature Film, while Black picked up  a Kids' Choice Award for Favorite Voice from an Animated Movie.

The movie also spawned a popular video game and Black returned to  reprise the role in an even more successful 2011 sequel.