One can be excused for thinking that Trevor Strong’s ascension to superstardom began with the awesome Dweller song (above). In truth, he was already well established in the biz as 33.3% of the Canadian musical comedy trio The Arrogant Worms, which is easily one of my favorite bands.
I went to see them in concert several years ago, knowing nothing but that they were a Canadian musical comedy trio…but really, what else do you need to know? It was one of the most entertaining shows I’ve ever seen, and it quickly led to acquiring the entire Arrogant Worms music collection and listening to each song approximately 8 billion times on my iPod.
Unfortunately, Florida and Canada are not adjacent, and my regular clicking of the “Tour” page of the Arrogant Worms site did not bear fruit until 2008, when they finally returned to Florida. Three hours away in Florida, but hey, I would have happily driven three-and-a-half or even three hours and forty-five minutes to see them again…and there was a world-famous hot dog place along the way. It turned out that the hot dog place sucked, but the Worms were as great as ever.
I met Trevor Strong on Facebook. Then he did the Dweller song. Then I read his book Grimm Fairy Tales. Then he did this interview, which was conducted at a leisurely pace via e-mail.
JEFF: I’ve already read Very Grimm Fairy Tales and loved it, but for the purposes of this question I’m going to pretend I’ve never heard of you or your book. What’s your book about?
TREVOR: Very Grimm Fairy Tales is about fairy tales that are… well… grim and Grimm. I love the old fairy tales where life is cruel, nothing is explained, and characters are killed instead of developed, and I wanted to use that style to tell my own stories. I’d have to say most of the stories aren’t really “about” much at all, except for maybe the whole “life is cruel” part. Oh, and they’re funny–at least they’re meant to be–and the body count is pretty high. I must admit I’m proud of the breadth of the work encompassing, as it does, everything from the dreams of a little girl, to a giant rabbit made out of raw hamburger that devours almost all life on earth.
JEFF: The raw hamburger rabbit is one of the most deranged things I’ve read in…well, pretty much ever. The whole book is quite a bit darker than your music (a body of work that, I should point out, includes a merry little tune about an alligator devouring a young boy). When you’re writing with The Arrogant Worms, do you guys tone yourselves down? What are the limits of poor taste that you’ll perform live in front of an audience?
TREVOR: Because the Worms perform a lot of outdoor concerts to audiences of all ages, our material has to be a little on the safe side. For example, our naughty-word-o-meter stops at the words “ass” and “bastard”. That being said, there is a surprising amount you can get away with as long as you deliver things with a smile. Some subjects we have sung about in front of little kids and grannies include: decapitation, murdering your neighbour’s dog, rampant alcoholism, and, of course, a boy being eaten one limb at a time by an alligator.
When we first played “Rippy the Gator” we were expecting at least some modest outrage. But, no. Nothing. Ever. Not a single complaint. In fact, the only song we receive complaints about is “Jesus’ Brother Bob” which is almost completely inoffensive. But it has the word Jesus in it, and some people seem to think he didn’t have a sense of humour. (Although the song has also been used in sermons.)
But yes, in a book you can go further (or is it “farther” I am still confused by these words), because the person is choosing to read it. The words aren’t blasting out of loudspeakers that carry half-way through town.
JEFF: Very Grimm Fairy Tales is your second book, after Get Stupid. Since you’re making a living in the brutal, cutthroat world of music, why enter the brutal, cutthroat world of publishing?
TREVOR: I guess once you’ve managed to make a living off of writing novelty songs, nothing seems impossible. Although I now know that some things are. Like getting a book published. I thought all I’d have to do is say, “Hey look, I’ve already made a living doing something way more ridiculous,” but they didn’t buy it. One publisher (that sat on one of my manuscripts for months) finally rejected it and told me it didn’t have enough “depth”. I told him that I like to swim in the shallow end of the pool. Up until that point I had never imagined that “depth” was a desired quality in North American society. So I’ve decided to publish on my own. Hopefully my faith in humanity’s innate superficiality will be vindicated.
JEFF: The live version of “Mounted Animal Nature Trail” is designed to encourage people in the audience to shout inappropriately, so that the band can tell them to shut up. And your live CD Toast is filled with unsolicited audience participation. Have you ever felt like you “lost control” of a show, and do you ever think “Excuse me, I’M the performer and YOU’RE the audience–please respect our assigned roles”?
TREVOR: I can’t think of too many times when we’ve “lost control”– occasionally an audience member will get a good response from something and then overdo it. But we’re pretty good at quieting them down, and besides, we have one big advantage: microphones. The only times we really lose control is when we don’t have control in first place. This usually happens at corporate gigs when they decide to have us play during the buffet or something similar.
JEFF: Your podcast, “Trevor Talks It Through,” provides listeners with a delightful 15-20 minutes of totally free laughs on a biweekly basis. A recurring theme of the podcast is that you haven’t done any preparation, but I feel like that may be a LIE! What’s the prep process for an episode?
TREVOR: Well, the first step is remembering to do the podcast. So far I’ve succeeded in doing that. If I remember a day early, I’ll often ask people on my Facebook page to send me ideas about a particular topic to turn into a song.
The day of the podcast I print off all the questions I’ve received and whatever responses I got on the topic. Then I get some coffee and find ways to procrastinate–read the paper, pet the cat, re-examine my feet. Eventually I’ll work on the song, then read through the questions so I have some idea what I’m in for. I’ll also try to think about whether or not there’s anything else I feel like talking about. If there is, I’ll might even write it down. This is followed by more procrastinating, then I’ll look at the time, curse, and set up the microphone. Then I ramble on until, finally, I don’t. This is the end of the episode.
JEFF: You wrote a wonderful song for my novel Dweller. If readers and critics declare the book to be a complete disaster, what are your plans to distance yourself from the project?
TREVOR: I have no idea what you’re talking about. Could we end the interview now?
Want to learn more about Trevor’s books? His music? His podcast? It’s all right HERE, kiddies!
Want to buy lots and lots of Arrogant Worms music? Visit their official website right HERE.
And, of course, you KNOW you want to hear “Rippy the Gator,” so…