How Tenacious D Rebounded From a Flop With ‘Rize of the Fenix’

It’s difficult to imagine, but Tenacious D haven’t always felt like the biggest, baddest and best band in the world. Back in 2006, when the duo released its full-length feature film, Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, it was met with little fanfare. The movie bombed at the box office, and the D’s core members, Jack Black and Kyle Gass, walked away from the experience more than a little jaded.

You can’t blame them. Tenacious D had been on a rocket ship to stardom since their inception, and with Black’s run of box office hits in the early ’00s — High Fidelity, School of Rock, Ice Age, King Kong, et al. — the duo had good reason to believe The Pick of Destiny could launch them into the next phase of their career.

Instead, it sidelined them for about six years, during which they worked on their own projects and eventually regrouped to put together their comeback record, 2012’s Rize of the Fenix. Produced by John Kimbrough, Rize is the perfect blend of comedy and rock. Backed by John Konesky, John Spiker and some guy named Dave Grohl, Black and Gass tear through cut after cut of redemption rock, reminding the world that, yes, they made a movie that no one liked, but it didn’t matter, because the D have always believed in themselves, even when no one else did.

Tenacious D have always understood the importance of music videos and the freedom they could be allowed when they were controlling their own bombastic image. Rize birthed a number of kick-ass music videos, including “To Be the Best,” which announced the group’s return with humor, aplomb — and Maria Menounos.

The video tells the story of Hollywood Jack, who went off to make movies and forgot about his friend Kage. The latter ends up in the looney bin, only to escape in an attempt to resurrect their friendship. There’s a shooting, Val Kilmer is involved and Jack and Kage end up enmeshed in a redemptive hug that lasts for weeks. Other cameos include Grohl, Jimmy Kimmel, Yoshiki, Josh Groban and longtime D associate and booster Tim Robbins.

Tenacious D announced their triumphant return with a low-budget, “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!“-style clip for “Where Have We Been,” followed by an epic video for the album’s title track, which was directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the now-famous directorial duo known collectively as the Daniels. The pair has since gone on to direct hit movies like Everything Everywhere All at Once, and in many ways, the “Rize of the Fenix” video demonstrates similar absurdist through-lines.

The Daniels told Rolling Stone earlier this year that they were incredibly nervous to meet Tenacious D, but the first time they met Black on set, he simply shook their hands, farted and greeted them with a “Hi, guys.” “I couldn’t even laugh because my brain broke,” Kwan admitted.

The director said he and Scheinert were “really intrigued by making something that falls apart on purpose,” but “the challenge was doing it in a way where the audience was in on the joke.” The resulting “Fenix” video is meant to look like it’s gone horribly awry, but on purpose. The duo shot Black and Gass running in front of a green screen, assuring them it would look cool, then invited a bunch of VFX artist friends over to throw around ideas. It was “exactly how we worked on Everything Everywhere, to be honest,” Kwan told Rolling Stone. “That process kind of really starts with this video.”

Elsewhere, the “Roadie” video evokes comedies like Eastbound & Down and The Righteous Gemstones, featuring Danny McBride at his greasy, overconfident best and paying tribute to the unsung heroes of the rock ‘n’ roll road. McBride plays “Sebastian,” a veteran roadie who’s worked with the biggest names in rock and has opinions on the coolest types of lasers. The D hire Sebastian to take their tour to the next level, but as always, things don’t go according to plan.

Released on May 15, 2012, Rize of the Fenix debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and became the highest-selling comedy album of 2012, selling a respectable 113,000 copies in the U.S. and earning a Best Comedy Album nomination at the 2013 Grammys, ultimately losing to Jimmy Fallon‘s forgettable Blow Your Pants Off. But Rize of the Fenix‘s significance goes beyond mere accolades. It cemented Black and Gass’ glorious comeback, and just like the giant, veiny phallus — er, phoenix — gracing the album cover, it saw the D rize again.

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