When he's not playing as one half of Tenacious D -- the self-proclaimed greatest band on earth -- Gass moonlights as lead guitar in his side project, Trainwreck.
It's almost surprising that he finds the time, what with Tenacious D's ongoing quest for world domination. He and Jack Black have already produced a short-lived HBO series (which reruns on Comedy Central), a self-titled album (released in 2001), and a DVD: Tenacious D: The Complete Masterworks.
Obviously, there was nothing left to do but go Hollywood. The Tenacious D movie, Pick of Destiny, which will open a week before Christmas, tells the fictional tale of the duo's initial meeting and the subsequent quest to acquire a devil-headed pick used by Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, and Angus Young, among other guitar greats.
The film opens on Black's childhood, when an overbearing father could not extinguish his need to rock. Meat Loaf plays Jack Black's dad, singing in a movie for the first time since The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
"All the stories he told were about him kicking somebody's ass," Gass says, fresh from the Video Music Awards in New York. "It's weird, because Meat Loaf is such a huge guy -- he's already kind of intimidating."
In the film, Black becomes Gass' follower after seeing him play guitar, but in real life, the pairing took a rockier road. The two met in Tim Robbins' theater troupe, the Actors' Gang, when Black -- then in high school -- performed in one of its shows. Initially, Gass was "cold as ice," according to Black. But heartbreak and pot eventually brought the two together, and they began getting stoned and writing songs, during a period that is lovingly chronicled in the movie.
"It has almost a Cheech & Chong level of crazy marijuana use, because it's about when we first got together," says Gass. "I think the last scene in the movie is probably the greatest marijuana scene ever. I'll just say that."
As Black's career in Hollywood began to take off, Gass missed the road. So several years ago, he started Trainwreck with J.R. Reed (aka "Lee" from Tenacious D).
"It was just the two of us," Gass says. "We did it one time, and it was just like Kmart D. I was playing guitar, he was singing lead, and I was like, 'This is kinda lame.'"
Gass hadn't decided what to do with Trainwreck when he got a call from former Phish guitarist Page McConnell, who wanted Gass to open for his band, Vida Blue, on short notice. So Gass decided to form a real band. He hooked up with three guys from Columbus -- guitarist John Konesky, bassist John Spiker, and drummer Dallas St. Bernard -- who became his rhythm section.
As much about performance as about music, the quintet's over-the-top classic rock is gilded with humor, such as the "solo fan" used to produce the appropriate blowing-hair effect to accompany the band's guitar-shredding. And Gass, who is bald, loves donning outrageous rugs.
"Any excuse to put a wig on," he says. "It's kind of a costumed character band, and I think it sort of allowed just the right amount of fun for the concept to maybe kind of liberate it from Tenacious D."
As in the D, Gass and Black have their tempestuous moments, but Gass attributes it to a brotherly competitiveness. "If I can get Jack jealous in any way, it's like, 'Ah-ha, I did it!'"
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