Tenacious D formed in 1994 when the members performed as an acoustic duo. The band first gained popularity in 1999 when they starred in their eponymous television series and began to support large rock acts. In 2001, they released Tenacious D, their debut album featuring a full band. The first single, "Tribute", was the band's most successful achieving their only Top 10 in any chart, until they released "The Metal" , which was first shown at Saturday Night Live. In 2006, they starred in, and recorded the soundtrack for, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny. In support of the film, the band went on a world tour, appearing for the first time with a full band.
Tenacious D's music showcases Black's theatrical vocal delivery and Gass' acoustic guitar playing abilities. Critics have described their fusion of vulgar absurdist comedy with rock music as "mock rock". Their songs discuss the duo's purported musical and sexual prowess, as well as their friendship and cannabis usage in a style that music critics have compared with the storyteller-style lyrics of rock opera.
Black and Gass met in Edinburgh, Scotland during the Edinburgh Fringe of 1989. Both were members of the Los Angeles-based theatre troupe, The Actors' Gang which was performing Tim Robbins' and Adam Simon's play Carnage. Initially there was animosity between the two as Gass felt threatened by Black—who was the main musician for the Actor's Gang—though they eventually worked out their differences, and agreed to form a band. Gass taught Black to play guitar, in exchange for Black helping Gass with his acting.
Initially when Black and Kyle performed live they covered songs by Bobby McFerrin. Up until 1994 the duo did not have a name, so they gave the audience at their first concert, at the now defunct Al's Bar, the chance to vote for one. Black and Gass gave them the choice between "Pets or Meat", "Balboa’s Biblical Theatre" and "The Axe Lords Featuring Gorgazon’s Mischief" (Gass' personal favorite). "Tenacious D"—the name used by sports commentator Marv Albert to describe robust defensive positioning in basketball—did not get the majority of votes, however, but according to Black "we forced it through". In attendance was David Cross who later cast Tenacious D in his sketch comedy television series, Mr. Show.
The six shorts were titled "The Search for Inspirado", "Angel in Disguise", "Death of a Dream", "The Greatest Song in the World", "The Fan", and "Road Gig". 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.
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 number thirty-three 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 United States. 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 bands 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 (the music video for the song features an appearance by Grohl as said 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 John Kricfalusi the creator of Ren and Stimpy.
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 in November 9, 2003.
In October 2003 Black announced that the screenplay for The Pick of Destiny—a fictional portrayal of the band's formation—had been completed. 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 movie, their second studio album, The Pick of Destiny. The album had John Konesky and John Spiker from Trainwreck on electric guitar and bass respectively. 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!'The film had its premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre 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. It 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 $8,334,575 in the US and Canada and a total of $13,426,450 worldwide, falling well short of its $20 million production budget and $40 million in estimated marketing costs. Financially, it is regarded as a box office bomb. The soundtrack reached number eight on the Billboard 200 in the US as well as topping the iTunes chart,and number ten in the United Kingdom. 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 has recently said that DVD sales have shown that the film has picked up a cult audience.
— Jack Black on The Pick of Destiny's disappointing box-office performance.
Kevin Crust of the Los Angeles Times said that the movie " might best be enjoyed in an enhanced state of consciousness, a herbal supplement, and we aren't talking ginko 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 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 summarises 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 "old school riffology" and "schoolboy humour".
To coincide with the release of their new movie 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. Jason Reed also toured as Satan. 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.
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 commented on a third album by announcing that a new song has been written for it entitled Death Star after the fictional planet-destroying space station from the Star Wars movies. He said that the album would likely be released in 2010, but on other occasions he has mentioned the year 2012. Black has announced that the band is currently working on a new album, and that a new video, titled The Complete Masterworks: Part 2 will be released. 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 12 and 15. 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. The band has filmed a documentary of their world tour entitled D Tour: A Tenacious Documentary which has yet to be released. The film focuses on the tour Tenacious D made in support of the film and soundtrack and the consequences of their films poor showing at the box office.
Satire and comedy are a major aspect of Tenacious D's lyrical content. Gass said of their approach: "I'd love to do the straight music thing, but that's kind of against our mission, which is to rebel against the serious singer-songwriter mentality. Their songs evoke heavy metal clichés of bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. In particular, the song "Dio" pokes fun at the idea of a torch being passed "Now it's time for him to pass the torch Songs like "Friendship" parody the lack of real friendship in rock groups with the lyric "As long as there's a record deal, we'll always be friends". . Tenacious D also employs the technique of deliberate backmasking on "Karate", a technique employed by other metal bands like Slayer, who recorded a message in Hell Awaits.
Black has said that the first song he enjoyed was ABBA's "Take a Chance on Me". He attributes influences from Dio, Black Sabbath, Meat Loaf and Bobby McFerrin. Gass describes their influences as being derived from "big dinosaurs of rock" such as Led Zeppelin. In addition, Gass lists his influences as being Tom Waits, Tony Hawk and Tony Robbins. The band claimed that the inspiration for the song "Tribute" came after Black played Metallica's "One" for Gass, describing it as "the best song in the world", leading to a failed attempt to themselves write an even better song.
We try to write the best songs ever, and they come out kind of funny…Gass has described Tenacious D's comic assertion that they are the best band as being "ridiculous because it's a matter of opinion". Black characterizes Tenacious D's comic nature as an antidote to "the masculinity of rock", adding "There's also something funny about the macho-ness of rock. Like the bands that are the fucking hardest rocking are like, 'We'll fucking kick your ass, dude… with our rock.'"
— Kyle Gass on the band's humorous lyrics.
Black and Gass have made several television appearances performing songs from their first album. In June 16, 2001, Tenacious D were featured as puppets performing "Friendship" on an episode of Crank Yankers. In 2002 they guest starred on MADtv playing the song "Tribute" with Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl on drums. Later, Tenacious D made an appearance in the first episode of Tom Goes to the Mayor televised on Adult Swim.
In the run up to the release of the film The Pick of Destiny, Tenacious D performed the "Pick of Destiny" at the 2006 American Music Awards and on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. On December 2, 2006, Tenacious D was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live for the first time,, although Tenacious D had previously appeared as an uncredited musical guest on 2 May 1998. They also opened the 2006 Spike TV Video Game Awards with a performance of "The Metal", and played "Friendship" at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards. The band's first television appearance of 2008 was in support of the Who at the VH1 Rock Honors.
It's a roaring crowd, and they may be roaring your approval, but it's still a scary, roaring crowd. They can turn on you, conceivably. It's still a beast that you must ride. And once it's been ridden, in the midst of the ride, it feels fantastic.In 2001, Tenacious D started their second nationwide concert tour, performing at larger venues, many of which sold out. Until 2006, Tenacious D usually performed only with acoustic guitars, rarely with a full backing band. The band has also staged two international concert tours as well as numerous domestic tours, though they have rarely played in non-English speaking countries. Black says this is because foreign concerts are "a little funky" because "the subtleties do get lost in translation". In addition, he comments on the angst they experience before concerts saying: "We're always looking for a loophole. Pretty much every concert we've ever done, we're trying to find a way to cancel the show at the last minute." The band permits live recording during concerts. Many of these recordings have been recorded and released through Live Music Archive and are available for free digital download.
— Jack Black on performing live.
The band uses an electronic musical toy saxophone called a Sax-a-boom on-stage. Each of its keys plays a clip of music that sounds almost like a saxophone.
Tenacious D are supporters of cannabis legalization, and state this view in the song "City Hall". Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny features them intoxicated on cannabis during the last scene. They have also performed at a NORML benefit concert. Black described his view that allowing drug use would remove the stigma of feeling "naughty" attached to users, making the activity mundane and less attractive. Black was the executive producer for a documentary about Randy Credico entitled Sixty Spins Around the Sun. It calls for the so-called Rockefeller drug laws to be repealed. Black said of it, "They're populating our prisons with people, you know, first time drug offenders—single mothers that have a little bit of coke end up going to prison for 20 years or something. It's just cruel and unusual punishment."
In 2004, Tenacious D supported John Kerry's US presidential election campaign by playing a benefit concert for him. Black and Gass have also been critical of George Bush's presidency. The band are to perform a benefit concert for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
Tenacious D have appeared in numerous music videos by other bands, including "Push" by Dio and "Learn to Fly" by the Foo Fighters. Black has appeared on his own in many music videos, including a cameo alongside Dave Grohl in the music video for the Eagles of Death Metal song "I Want You So Hard (Boy's Bad News)", alongside Grohl again in the music video for the Foo Fighters' "Low", and a cameo in the music video for the song "Sexx Laws" by Beck.
In addition to appearing in videos, Black and Gass sang backup vocals on the 2002 Styx album Cyclorama, on the song "Kiss Your Ass Goodbye". Tenacious D lent backing vocals to The Vandals album Look What I Almost Stepped In..., on the song "Fourteen". Tenacious D appeared on KROQ's twelfth full-length Christmas compilation, Swallow My Eggnog, with Sum 41, on a song entitled "Things I Want".
Gass appeared in the Good Charlotte music video for the song "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous". Gass also performs lead acoustic guitar and vocals for the band Trainwreck, under the pseudonym "Klip Calhoun". The band also features Jason "JR" Reed under the pseudonym "Darryl Donald", as well as John Konesky and John Spiker, who played lead guitar and bass, respectively, on The Pick of Destiny album. They have released a live album, Trainwreck Live, and are currently working on recording a studio album with producer John King. Black occasionally appears with the band under the name "Tuffy McFuckelby".