Every local musician at one time or another has had the dream of moving to Los Angeles to try and “make it” in the music business. Very few, however, possess the drive, ambition, skill, and will-power, to actually achieve it. The deck is most certainly stacked against you, and you have to be prepared for the fact that the dream may never become a reality. Ever.
You need a rare combination of talent, desire, thick skin, and some good old fashioned serendipity.
Or, maybe be two Midwest kids just cocky enough to quit your guitar shop jobs and set out to defeat those odds.
For Columbus expats John Konesky and John Spiker, that dream became a reality. Many moons ago, the two decided to quit their jobs here, load up Konesky’s car, and split for the West Coast. That was 13 years ago. Since then, they have slept on floors, worked at pretty much every music store in Los Angeles, and trashed a really sweet old man’s penthouse apartment in Los Feliz. And through some incredible and random events that only can happen in Hollywood, they’ve managed to find themselves embedded in the very scene they were attempting to break into: playing lead electric guitar and bass, respectively; in Tenacious. Fucking. D.
Given the fact that “the D” have a new album coming out on November 2, and they are performing at Express Live! November 10, we thought it would only be fitting for them to regale us with their journey. We connected with the fellas on a rare day off in Sitges, Spain, where they’re currently in one of their non D-related gigs; touring in John Carpenter’s band. (Yeah, the Halloween franchise, Big Trouble in Little China, Escape from New York…THAT John Carpenter.)
Spiker: We decided we wanted to see what would happen if we tried doing what we were doing in Columbus, but in Los Angeles. Effectively, we had never been to California. Our trip out there to test the waters was, we drove one of our cars, full of all of our shit. It was kinda like a jump into the fire… We slept in sleeping bags on our friend Tony’s floor for a while when we first got there, and this is pre-smartphone and laptop days. We got an L.A. Weekly and hunted for an apartment.
The spot they found was a penthouse apartment in the Hollywood Hills.
Konesky: Hey, do you remember when the old Dude was like “hey, you guys have good credit, right?”
Spiker: And we were like, “Yeah! Sure, of course!”
Konesky: He didn’t even come up there and show us the place.
Spiker: He was like, “Yeah it’s unlocked, just head on up there!”
Konesky: He was like, “There’s alotta stairs, I don’t wanna go up
all those stairs.” So he literally just gave us this place we REALLY couldn’t afford.
Like the majority of people who fancy the move to L.A., they got an apartment they had no business signing the lease on, flew home to Columbus to grab the rest of their shit, and promptly drove back to Los Angeles. They didn’t have beds, nor furniture. They didn’t have money.
As it is with most new arrivals to Los Angeles, it was a far cry from the glitz and glamour associated with Tinseltown. Spiker got a job working at Virgin Megastore, and they had no clue where to go to get gigs, or do anything musically. They were naive Midwesterners in their mid-20s, alone in a city that’s notorious for making tapas out of such greenhorns. That is, until they decided to look up one Kyle Gass, whom they had met through mutual friend Erin Robinson back when they were still in Columbus. Gass had flown out to Columbus because he needed musicians for his side project, and didn’t want to choose from the same old L.A. crop. They met and began rehearsing, and the first shows of Gass’s side project, Trainwreck, were in Ohio (at the now defunct Music Factory in the Buggyworks building, and the Grog Shop in Cleveland). They had some trepidation about reaching out to Gass, and didn’t want him to be all, in Konesky’s words,“who are these fuckin weirdos callin’ me now?!” Much to their delight, he remembered who they were and enlisted them to officially join Trainwreck. Due to the fact that KG is half of Tenacious D, Trainwreck had gathered quite a cult following amongst the L.A. scene, and before they knew it, Konesky and Spiker were playing packed-house residencies at the legendary Viper Room in Hollywood.
Konesky: There was this weird buzz around this funky little side-project of Kyle’s. We didn’t necessarily make enough to survive; but we were getting paid to play in a band, and it was super fun…and we partied a lot.
Spiker: I do remember doing a Trainwreck gig, and thinking, “Man, I guess we’ve kinda like made it?!” I was working at Sam Ash at the time; and I was like, taking out the garbage or something, and some dude was like; “Hey, man! I saw you play at the Viper Room last night. Like, what’s going on?” He couldn’t figure it out, y’know, why I was working there. It was that weird thing where we weren’t really making it. It wasn’t a living at the time… It was a foot in the door.
At the time the guys were starting in Trainwreck, Gass’s main gig Tenacious D was on one of its multiple-year sabbaticals, due to the success of Jack Black’s film career. In 2005, Tenacious D begin work on their second album, which also was accompanied by their feature-length debut, The Pick of Destiny. At the time, John King, who is half of the legendary duo, The Dust Brothers, and who produced the first Tenacious D record (as well as the Beastie Boys seminal hip hop classic Paul’s Boutique, and Beck’s Guero album); had mentioned to Gass that he was looking for a runner-type PA (production assistant/gopher) for his studio, and Gass had told him about Spiker. Spiker had been working for King for roughly a year, when worlds collided, and Tenacious D came into the studio to begin work on their record. Due to their new-found relationship with Gass, and their musical abilities, Konesky and Spiker were asked to work on the music for the record with the D.
Konesky: We had sort of proven ourselves in a way, too, because Jack would come and sit in with Trainwreck sometimes. So we got to know Jack already through that, and he was “Toughie McFucklebee.”
Everyone that has performed or had a guest appearance in Trainwreck has a stage name, Tim Robbins was “Slim Ribbons,” Gass is “Klip Calhoun,” Konesky is “John Bartholomew Shredman,” and Spiker is “Boy Johnny.” While they were working on the record, it didn’t occur to either Konesky or Spiker, that they would be asked to be part of any touring aspect of the D; partly because Tenacious D had never toured as a full band before. Konesky mentioned that they didn’t expect anything from Black and Gass, and when they were asked to tour, they were understandably over the moon. •
Konesky: It was arenas, and 16 semi-trucks, and four tour buses. Yeah, it was like, they sold-out Madison Square Garden, and then that same weekend, you’re gonna play SNL. And it was like, we’re 26, and it was our first big one, and it was so f*ckin’ big, and we had no idea…I think we really f*ckin’ lived it up.
The honeymoon was short-lived. Once the tour wrapped up, Black’s film career was back on, and the D went back into hiatus. The come-down hit Konesky and Spiker, who realized they needed to find a source of steady income, yet again. The film release of The Pick of Destiny didn’t exactly do what the D had hoped it would, thus the tour ended abruptly, and there was a half a decade of nothing Tenacious D-related. Spiker wound up taking a gig as touring bassist for the band Filter, as well as for Pete Yorn, and also went back to work for King. In addition, Konesky and Spiker resumed their gig in Trainwreck. Then as fate would have it in 2011, they got a call that the D were heading into the studio to make their third album. This time, both Konesky and Spiker were super involved in the recording process. Then after another world tour it was back to, ‘what next?’
Only this time, because of their connections and their talent, they were able to find themselves with some pretty unique opportunities. As a result of working for King, Spiker honed his skills in the studio and even won a Grammy for his work on Steve Earle’s album, Washington Square Serenade. He has since branched out on his own, working out of a studio he’s built at his home in North Hollywood. Amongst some of the albums he’s made are an EP for Konesky’s band Wynchester, as well as their first full-length, and the forthcoming Tenacious D album. Spiker has also done work for Andy Samberg’s project, Lonely Island.
Konesky’s non-D-related body of work, includes a bit part in the film The Runaways, where he also served as a technical director that taught Kristen Stewart how to look like she was actually playing guitar on-screen, as well as playing in the superbly talented band the Haden Triplets. Through his relationship playing with the Haden Triplets, Konesky was asked to be a part of the two-part season finale of season one of Documentary, Now! As lead guitarist in the Blue Jean Committee.
Now, we arrive at the latest Tenacious D album, Post-Apocalypto. The D had been asked to write and record a song for a tribute album to the late Ronnie James Dio, who happens to be a major influence on Tenacious D. Jack and Kyle had suggested that they try and do it at Spiker’s studio, to have a relaxed, hassle-free environment. They cut the track in a day, turned it in, and subsequently, won a Grammy for their performance. Since that experience had gone so well, Jack and Kyle decided it was the right formula and setting for the next record. The four of them, Black, Gass, Konesky, and Spiker; as well as their touring drummer Scott Seiver, were able to create the record in a relaxed environment, and avoid the astronomical fees of renting a fancy studio in Hollywood. Oh yeah, and Dave Grohl came in, and laid down drums for half of the album (it took him one day).
This month, Konesky and Spiker will embark on a sold-out tour to support the new D album, which will be kicked off on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Konesky’s band Wynchester will be the opening act for the entire tour. On November 10, the tour stops in Columbus, which will be the first time the D has played in Columbus as a full band. The first time Konesky and Spiker saw a Tenacious D concert was back in 2001, when they opened up for Weezer and Jimmy Eat World at the Value City Arena. Now, after their incredible journey, everything comes full-circle, when they get to play their first hometown gig in Tenacious D, to a sold-out Express Live! Pavilion. It’s a rare case of when packing everything up, and moving to L.A. in pursuit of the dream of making in the music business, actually pays off. It’s as almost if the story was ripped directly from the pages of a Hollywood screenplay.
Tenacious D performs 11.10 at Express Live! Tickets have been sold out since they announced the tour back in the summer. Wynchester opens the show.