Kyle Gass is no ordinary superstar. Forgoing the big hair, tight jeans and mustache, Gass commands attention as part of the comedy rock duo Tenacious D in his white socks and sandals, an old fashioned six-string hung loosely around his shoulders. Alongside fellow comedian/actor Jack Black, Tenacious D is a phenomenon on par with the Beatles or the Rolling Stones (or so it goes). But in between movies and gigs at Madison Square Garden, Gass and guitarist John Konesky work more intimately with their side project the Kyle Gass Band, an amalgamation of natural humor, serious rock and much-welcomed experimentation.
Accompanied by vocalist Mike Bray, bassist Jason Keene and drummer Nate Rothacker, Kyle Gass Band (KGB) was born of the need for simply rocking sans characters after the downfall of Gass and Konesky’s longtime side project Trainwreck.
“It was definitely a character-driven band with alter egos,” said Gass. “We were trying to present more of a high-concept thing, but with KGB it’s definitely kind of down and dirty. We’re all being ourselves. It’s all natural. With the D, I don’t know what that is. Do you think I’m playing a character?”
“I think it’s an exaggerated version of yourselves,” replied John Konesky, who has spent the better part of a decade working with Gass both on stage and in their webcast Guitarings, in which the two wax philosophical on their chosen instruments. When he’s not touring with the D, he’s writing and acting bit parts in Tenacious D movies and videos.
Billy O’s is no Santa Barbara Bowl — where Tenacious D will be performing on May 23 — but for Gass, the connection one makes with the audience at a small venue is pure nostalgia.
“It reminds me of when we first started out,” said Gass. “One of the big reasons for Trainwreck and the KGB was to play those small venues. There’s nothing like it.”
“The connection is incredible when they’re right there beside you,” added Konesky.
“We’ve had some really small crowds, but when we start to get on and they’re appreciating it, that’s special.”
Opening for KGB are the Kidneys, side project of Bad Religion’s drummer and man about town Brooks Wackerman, who has also spent time touring with Tenacious D, collaborating with Korn, being the former frontman for the punk band Hot Potty and drumming for experimental industrial rock super-group Fear and the Nervous System.
Being able to conform to different styles on the fly is part of the reason Wackerman has thrived between Bad Religion and Tenacious D.
“You can’t ask for a more opposite style,” said Wackerman. “To step into the D situation and then go back to Religion, I just have to wear different hats.”
With the Kidneys, Wackerman also takes on the role of vocalist, a transition from his usual low-profile drummer personality.
“I think on this record I found more of a comfort zone. I’ve heard that John Lennon felt the same way, so I guess I’m not alone there.”
After Tenacious D’s second album, The Pick of Destiny, the future of the band was uncertain – especially after the film Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny bombed at the box office. But like the Phoenix, Gass’ enthusiasm rises with the amount of pleasure he derives from being himself, exaggerated or not.
“As Jack always says, you may not always have fun but you can pretend to have fun. I think that’s key.”
As for what to expect from a side project of a musician known mostly for his stage and screen shenanigans, Gass and Konesky share the idea that with KGB, creativity is key, and relish the fact that the audience may not know their songs.
“We jam a little more in KGB. There’s a little bit more freedom to stretch out on the riffs and throw in little noodlies everywhere,” said Konesky. “With Tenacious D, you’re performing songs that people know.”
“I’m looking forward to the day when the fans know the songs,” said Gass. “I think we’ve got some great songs. I think if we present them well and get them out there, it could be a real viable entertainment entity.”
While only halfway through production of their debut album, Gass and Konesky believe that after their latest work on Tenacious D’s Rize of the Fenix tour, they’ll have more time to focus on the future of KGB and continue crafting their unique sound.
“You have to reinvent, you just have to reinvent as an artist and keep trying new things,” said Gass. “Everyone’s going to enjoy this.”
Kyle Gass Band and the Kidneys play Billy O’s on Thursday, April 5, 8 p.m. $5 at the door.