Kyle Gass & John Konesky Secrets of the KGB

By: Justin Beckner

When Tenacious D struck it big in the 1990s, it was an affirmation of sorts to any regular Joe who has ever had a dream of playing on a big stage in front of thousands of adoring fans. A duo of two regular guys – best friends armed with only a big dream, a couple acoustic guitars, and an indubitable sense of originality. They were the underdogs, indie heroes and their charm propelled them to legend status. The band started when Kyle Gass taught Jack Black how to play the guitar. Tenacious D shows no signs of stopping with a new album possibly beginning production next year. In the meantime, Kyle has started another band with several members of The D’s touring musical accompaniment simply called the Kyle Gass Band (KGB). The KGB’s first album came out in the summer of 2013 and proves that the band is serious about bringing their own special brand of rock and roll to the masses. The following interview with Kyle and John Konesky of the KGB sheds some light on the future plans for The D, the demise of Trainwreck, the formation of the Kyle Gass Band, and the current happenings in Kyle Gass’ acting career.

How did The Kyle Gass Band come together?

KG: I believe that Mike Campbell, guitarist for Tom Petty asked us to open for him. Is that correct John?

John: Well the Duesenberg Guitar Company, when we played the aftershow party for NAMM, they asked us to open for Mike Campbell. Slightly less cool then Mike himself asking us but it was still great.

KG: You know how these things get fuzzy after a while. Recently my former side project Trainwreck actually had a train wreck on the road. We imploded and from the ashes rose the Kyle Gass Band.

You’ve been soft on the details on what exactly went down. I won’t beg, but I will give an opportunity for you to set the record straight on just what went wrong there.

KG: No one needs to know. It happened in Chicago. An event happened and it was so explosive and so traumatic that we could not go any further. That’s all I can say.

Ok, so the train wrecked, and then what happened?

KG: What happened then, John?

John: Some time passed because I think we all needed a bit of a break because it was so psychologically traumatic. So we took about a year and then we all kind of wanted to do something again.

KG: And at that time, our good friend Mike Bray from Champagne, Illinois came into our circle. He is an extremely talented singer, guitarist, drummer, multi-instrumentalist. I actually moved him into my guest house and I think that precipitated the rally to start another band.

John: We were pretty excited to work with Mike because he was the new blood, the new talent, and we were all really excited to work with him. He was the new spark.

KG: He’s brought an injection of rock to our group. So he was a big part of the reason. The other reason is that it just seemed like it would be fun. I love starting bands; it’s a great thing to do. It doesn’t cost anything, it’s new, it’s challenging. Bands are great. So that’s why we started the KGB (Kyle Gass Band). A lot of times with Trainwreck it would be “Trainwreck: Featuring Kyle Gass of Tenacious D” and that was a little weird. So I thought, why not just put my name in the title; The Kyle Gass Band. Then it’s right there – you don’t need to add any extra stuff on the posters. We did do one gig as Falcon and I think we were at one time going to be Bro Jam. Anyways, back to the Mike Campbell gig, the Kyle Gass Band was formed but it was a strange lineup. Basically I just asked all of my talented friends to play that gig. So we had like a seven member crew down there. Brooks Wackerman (Bad Religion) actually played drums for that gig. That was the only gig he played for us – he’s out of our price range. We’ve continued on from there.

John: It’s a collection of affordable friends.

KG: That’s true. We don’t skip on the rock though.

The album has a couple songs like “Dying Day” which I could see being played on the radio. Is that something you were trying to do?

KG: No, I don’t think we were trying for that at all. It was pretty organic. I love that you say that though and I wish that the radio stations would believe that too.

John: I think radio is pretty political and unless you’ve got someone with some pull in your corner, you’re not going to get on it.

KG: Radio is kind of a mystery to me. For example, with my other band, I don’t think we ever really had a radio hit in this country although I think we gained some pretty decent popularity. It seemed like radio eluded us. Once in a while local markets will play a “Tribute” or a “Wonderboy” but I’m not sure how that works. There are certain stations that are taste makers like KROCK out here in LA and if they don’t pick you up then other stations follow suit and assume that you’re not radio worthy and KROCK has never really liked us even though we’d been on their morning show like 20 times, they still won’t play our song. But hey, that’s the way it goes.

Are you content with the level of success it’s had?

KG: Oh god no. I think it’s one of the best rock albums I’ve ever heard, let alone have ever made. I think it needs to reach a much larger audience.

Are there plans in place to make that happen, i.e. touring?

KG: Yeah, we’re going on tour next week on the west coast and we hope to tour a lot more next year. We’d also like to shoot a video or two and maybe try to get some sort of distribution deal and get some management and publicity and really do it right.  

John: I think its ok that our first album didn’t come right out of the gate and explode and then fizzle. Now we’ve got time to work with this record and enjoy it and have fun touring with it. Its like every tour we do over the next two years will be the album release tour.

KG: We’re looking forward to a long cycle.

Is this “just” a side project; do you think the KGB could be the musical vessel that carries your career at some point?

KG: I think it’s going to be a side project for me just because the other band has been so successful. It could be the main project if it gets popular enough. I’m sure the band will be viewed as a side project. It’s inevitable; I mean you’re always going to have trouble getting people to go see the John Oats Experience no matter what you do. It’s all about branding and the Tenacious D brand has been pretty successful and it’s been around for quite a while and when one of the guys starts another band, it’s just going to be viewed as a side project. There’s no way around it. The challenge is to make it a main project. But I try to not really think in terms of side projects. To me, it’s just a kick ass band and I’m really proud of the album. We’re just doing our thing. We’re just crazy bearded musicians hitting the road and playing our little rock and roll, and the local ladies in various markets, that’s just frosting on the cake. And if we get too drunk after the show and don’t realize where we ended up, that’s part of the gig. (Kyle starts singing “On the Road Again”) 

The album sounds great, who produced it?

KG: Yeah our buddy John Spiker produced it. John was in Trainwreck and is the bass player in Tenacious D. He’s turned into quite the producer wiz and he really put some nice production on it.

How long did it take to record it?

KG: I think the album actually took us over a year. Is that right John?

John: Yeah it took some time because we were doing it between Tenacious D tours. Our first session happened when we had just gotten back from Australia where we were opening for the Foo Fighters and we booked three days and we were jetlagged big time, just coming off of a 14 hour flight and we ran through all of the songs live. All of that live material made the album.

KG: Yeah, we had a collection of songs that we were pretty much sure were going on the record and we got a notion that we’d get a better feel if we just played them live in the studio. Then we ended up tracking and overdubbing for a year.

Now it seems to me that The D takes a long time to get new albums out. It may be too early to tell but will the KGB get albums out there a little sooner?

KG: Well The D is on about a five or six year album cycle. I don’t know what cycle we’ll be on with the KGB because we put everything we had into this album and I want to work it until the last drop is out. I don’t know how they used to do it in the old days, putting out two albums a year. I don’t know how that was done. I suppose they didn’t have smartphones. If the Beatles had smartphone, they would have put out a lot less records.

John: I could see Ringo just playing Xbox 360 all day long.

KG: Totally, fucking John would be Tweeting.

So I saw that your guitars have a D on the headstock. Did you force them to do that?

KG: Yes. Duesenberg’s whole company is based on Tenacious D. We inspire them to make guitars and gave them permission to use the D on the headstock. No, kidding. But they give us the guitar and John believes that it is actually the finest guitar that we have in the arsenal.

John: It’s a wonderful instrument but they are very costly. So we have the one that they gave us but we don’t really want to buy anymore. We’ll keep the one.

KG: One is all you need.

John: One is good for the studio but playing live, you’ll want to have backup and the last thing we need is fifteen thousand dollar Duesenbergs flying around in jets and crates all over the world.

KG: No, when you go on the road, you want to take like 15 Mockingbirds. I don’t know if we’re endorsed by Gibson but they let us use their acoustic guitars.

John: You and Jack have been using the Gibson’s pretty exclusively for a while and there are quite a few now in the collection.

KG: I know. We’ve been talking about ending that. Actually I was just rehearsing with Jack and we were talking about how apparently they’re not really our guitars, they’re just lent to us.

John: Who told you that?

KG: That’s what Jack said.

John: I don’t know man I think they give you those things.

KG: That’s what I think too. One thing is for sure, they’re not asking for them back. Nor would we give them back if they did ask. But it is the cheapest form of advertising. I mean they should actually pay us to play those things. I’m sure we’ve sold a lot of Gibson Guitars for them and to get three of four guitars, I don’t know.

John: You could always start doing print ads.

KG: Yeah…..I don’t want to do that. But I was also thinking that I should just find like the greatest guitar possible and just buy it.

John: Would you play it after spending that much on a guitar?

KG: I don’t know, how much is it going to cost me?

John: I don’t know, $25,000. Any number you can think of, there is a guitar out there that costs that much.

KG:  That’s a little steep. I don’t mean vintage necessarily, just what’s the best sounding acoustic that I would enjoy? I feel like I could get into a really nice Martin or Taylor for five to ten thousand, maybe I’m dreaming.

John: No, you’re right, you could get a great one for that much.

How much time do you spend in guitar shops?

KG: I used to spend a lot of time in guitar shops but now we have this embarrassment of guitar riches where over the years we’ve accumulated a lot of really nice guitars. I was just at the rehearsal space and god damn, there’s got to be one hundred guitars on the wall. I don’t even know what’s in there – guitars that we don’t play anymore. I can’t even keep all the guitars in the house, I have to put them in the guest house and Mike has them all. My favorite guitar is this shitty Takamine that I play because it’s got a tuner on the side and low action. When we’re on tour, John and John will go around and hit guitar stores and stuff –they’re gearheads.

When you’re in the studio, do you go through all the different guitars and search for that one tone for that one song?

You know what, absolutely. Whenever you’re in the studio it’s like, let’s try all the possible amps with all of the possible guitars to see what sound is good that day. One day you might be like, oh man the Duesenberg through the blarbitibloo with that pedal – that’s the sound we want right there.

John: Nothing sounds quite like the blarbitibloo.

Do you use a lot of effects?

KG: I don’t.

John: I do. But for years now we’ve been trying to get Kyle set up with a Monte Montgomery style acoustic pedalboard. So he can do looping and hit distortion pedals.

KG: Maybe that’s the next phase for me. I just use a tuner pedal and the direct to the PA usually. I should spend more time on my sound though I think. I get a little lazy up there.

Do you use the same equipment with KGB as you do with The D?

John: The acoustic rig is identical except that it is wired in KGB and its wireless with The D. The big difference in sound would be the PA which is different in every club that we play with KGB. With The D, the big sound system comes along for the ride. My rig is the same for both bands.

It’s got to be nice to be playing smaller clubs again.

KG: Yeah I love it.

John: People ask us sometimes which is more fun. You see the big D shows and it looks like a lot of fun and it definitely is but there’s always been something special about playing those smaller clubs. Sometimes the shows where there are only 20 or 30 people are really special for some reason. Maybe it’s because you’re right there in front of them and you can make more of a connection.

KG: There is definitely a connection that happens. It’s like hey we’re all in this crazy bar at midnight. We’re drinking and it’s a party. It’s a good feeling.

Do you now or have you ever toured in a van?

KG: You know, I was lucky enough to skip the van stage. Actually I think we did do one tour in a van. But we drive my truck around – my Tundra and it’s a pretty tight squeeze in there so I think we’ll be getting that van soon.

John: I think we’re actually beneath the van right now. The Tundra is a fine vehicle but it’s not as spacious as a van.

You guys are station wagon status at this point then?

KG: Yeah we’re above the station wagon but we do it all ourselves, there are no roadies or tour managers or anything. It’s definitely a DIY experience.

I know lugging gear can suck sometimes but there is some kind of gratification there. Do you miss that when you tour with your other band?

KG: Yeah actually I do. I do miss that. After you get to a certain level, you tend to get removed from what‘s happening. I love playing bars and stuff. It’s always fun, the people are right there and you can get a drink with them after the show and hang out and sell some merch. We get to play fun festivals sometimes – we played the Lebowski Fest in Louisville Kentucky and that was a lot of fun.

So when you say “Lebowski Fest” – does that mean that there is a festival out there dedicated to the movie “The Big Lebowski”? Why was I not informed?

KG: Yeah, it’s a festival dedicated to celebrating the movie. People dress up and we dressed up as characters from the movie for the show and we played a lot of songs from the movie.

Have you given any thought to the KGB finding an opening spot with a “bigger” act?

KG: That’s a good idea. I’m not against it as long as it was a good fit and it was financially viable. It would be good to expand the fan base a bit by opening for another band but I’d almost rather headline a smaller venue then open but I think it is good for fan base expansion.

It seems like indie cred is important to you. How have you managed to hang on to that even as The D got pretty big?

KG: I think by just being true to our mission. I mean we could have sold out a lot more than we have. We’ve gotten offers from a lot of places that would have us do commercials and stuff like that. I think people appreciate that we’ve passed on those and tried to stay independent….Is someone doing dishes?

John: Oh, you can hear me? Yeah I’m just putting away some dishes off the drying rack.

He’s a multi-tasker. I was delighted to see that John is not only the guitar player from KGB but also the publicist as well. He set this interview up.

KG: I know. He’s a very talented man.

John: Thank you guys.

When did you realize that you loved music and wanted to pursue it?

KG: I remember playing with Jack early on and we were just jamming in the apartment and just thinking, dude we are way too good to stay home. We have to find a place for this. We just thought we were so entertaining but we didn’t know how to get gigs or anything- that was completely alien world to us. But we just knew that we had to take it out of the apartment and out to the people. I remember listening to the Radio under the blankets and waiting for a song to come on. That was back in the old days before the computer and such.

It seems like it’s harder these days for new bands to find an audience.

KG: I think the internet and all that stuff has made it easier for bands to get their stuff out there. But I think because it’s so accessible to everyone, there’s so much crap to wade through. It’s a saturated market. I think it’s super hard for bands to find an audience but that’s just the way it is. It’s survival of the fittest out there. So, if you want to be known then write some great jams and get some good gigs and make people like you. That’s the game; you’ve got to just say, “Hey check out our shit, it’s better than the other shit out there.”

John: Yeah and having something original is key. I think there’s a lot of the same sound circulating out there.  When you see that thing that’s truly original like Tenacious D, you can tell that is real and that’s the reason it’s risen above the crop.

KG: I think it was easier for us starting out. We had some lucky breaks and we were lucky enough to get a show on HBO which put us ahead of the game. That being said, it is very hard for bands nowadays and with the record companies in decline, it’s a whole different ballgame. But people still love music and people love going to live shows and if you can put on a live show with great original music, I think you’ll find an audience.

What’s new with The D?

KG: We’re going to Europe in December and I think we’re going to be working on a new album next year. And we’ve also been working on an animated show for the internet, so I think that will be a fun project.

What’s new with the acting career? I must say I do like the cameos that you’ve done and the film Lower Learning was great.

KG: Ah yes, Decatur Doublewide, one of my many roles.

John: Was that the movie my old landlord produced?

KG: Yes it was. That’s crazy. I’m doing a pilot next week for a show with Dan Finnerty of The Dan Band. I’m playing his rival from childhood. In the show, I was basically this fat kid who sold cookies and he stole my gig from me and I’ve hated him my whole life because of it.

John: That sounds amazing! You and Dan were so fantastic together in the original Rock of Ages. There was some real chemistry there.

KG: Yeah thanks. I liked it. Apparently the movie people didn’t. They wanted Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand – they had some chemistry. Also, winter has arrived so you will be able to see me in the classic picture, Elf about three to five times per day. You can view my acting career as a unique collection of cameos or as I look at it, as just a complete failure.

Is that really how you view it?

KG: Yeah, it’s just the problem with acting is that it’s just too much work. They want you to wake up early and go to the shoot. It’s not that much fun, that’s what people don’t realize.

John: You have to ask yourself how much do you really want it. Because if you don’t want it that bad, how can you call it a failure? It could be exactly what you want it to be.

KG: Well, just by a wrinkle in the universe I hooked on to a successful band and thought, this is the way to go. I’m always fighting laziness and entropy.

So if you could choose between being a movie star and being a rock star, which would you choose?

KG: I’ve got to go with rock star. The hours are way better, the money is good and I like live performance. Hey, I’m not complaining.