When Trevor Moore's sketch comedy troupe, The Whitest Kids U' Know, ended their IFC show after five seasons, he took to musical comedy, releasing Drunk Texts to Myself in 2013, followed by his new special, High in Church, which debuts tonight at midnight on Comedy Central. With songs about topics ranging from gay marriage to his mom's talkative friend to the dark cycle of online negativity, as well as being super high in church, Moore specializes in a style of comedy that values making a point almost as much as it does making a joke. He also leaps from genre to genre, taking equally from beach music, heavy metal, hip-hop and country. We talked about the musical comedy albums that shaped him, growing up in a both religious and musical household, and how to herd cats.
AllMusic: Was it an obvious choice to base your solo performances around music?
Trevor Moore: I grew up on a tour bus—my parents were Christian rock musicians in the eighties—so I was constantly around music and music was a big part of my life. I've always gravitated towards it, even when we were doing Whitest Kids, I’d write two or three songs per season and we’d shoot music videos for them. That was something I did that I liked, and I’d keep making these songs. So after five seasons, we decided we weren't going to do the show for another season and I went to Comedy Central and was like, “You know, I have all of these other comedy songs I never put on Whitest Kids, would you be interested in me coming over here and doing them and putting albums out?”
AllMusic: What were the first examples of musical comedy you heard as a kid?
Moore: Weird Al was probably the first time I was aware of music comedy. I was a huge Weird Al fan when I was a kid, and I had an album that was all of the music from the Monty Python show, and that was an album I really loved, too. That’s probably what put me in the direction of doing these musical things on a sketch show. They’re kind of similar, sketches and songs, I think, because you try to keep it around three and a half minutes long, and they’re kind of this great format for comedy and jokes, you can start it, go into your topic, hit as many points as you want to make, as many jokes as you want to make, and wrap it up and jump to the next song. You can go between topics without having to make some forced bridge between them, and even musical genres, it’s kind of freeing that way.
AllMusic: You play in several different styles on the special. What comes first, the genre or the joke?
Moore: There’s not one thing that comes first, it’s that they don’t really match up at first. I’ll have a tune stuck in my head for months, a little snippet of a song, with no words for it. So a lot of times the melody will come first, and I’ll say, “I like this tune, I want to do something with that,” and if I’m listening to something I’ll say, “I’d like to do a song like this.” With the song “Connie Watson” on the new album, I was like, “I’d love to do something that has an intro that feels like 'Number of the Beast,'" and weeks and months later I’ll decide I want to do a song about my mom’s friend, and I’d be like, “Oh, the juxtaposition would be funny if this song about my mom’s friend is the one I do in the Iron Maiden style,” and it comes together that way.
AllMusic: Most of the songs have messages in addition to the jokes. Was that always the goal?
Moore: With the music I always try to make it have some sort of point or to take some sort of stance on an issue. There’s some exceptions, like “Bought a Monkey,” that’s not really saying anything, I just thought it would be silly and fun, but nine out of 10 songs make some sort of point. I think Eric Idle did that a lot, and I always liked that as a kid. And it’s not music, but Bill Hicks, when I was a teenager, I got into his stuff, and I think he was the first guy that I’d really seen who was making a point as much as he was being funny, it wasn't just lightly making a point, it was really hitting a point home, but at the same time it was laugh out loud funny and it wasn't sacrificing either category for the other.
AllMusic: And then you have "Kitty History," which is conspiracy theories and the dark side of history acted out by cats.
Moore: That’s a song that’s just lifting little dark things have happened in our country that are all Google-able, and we’re linking them all together into one linear storyline. I’d written it as a cool project, “What connects all these things, can I put them into one story?” and I said, “I like this, I think it’s fun, but it’s not funny,” and I had this Beach Boys thing in my head for a while, and I said, “If you juxtapose this with a really happy song, that makes it funny.” Then add in cats, and you’re done.
AllMusic: That must have been a delight to film.
Moore: I was there for the beginning of it, and we had all these cats, tons of cats. A trained cat is not that different from a regular cat, so we had all these cats and they were hissing at everybody and not behaving, and I had to leave halfway through to go check on another video we were doing and as I was leaving I was like, “We’re not going to get this, this isn't going to work,” and later in the day he sent all this footage of the cats sitting there and behaving and I said, “How did you do it, did you learn a trick,” and he was like, “No, we just had them there long enough until they got really sad and ran out of energy, then they were great.” So that’s how you work with animals.
AllMusic: The physicality of your performance is pretty crucial to getting some of these bits across. Is it tough to work up to that every single time?
Moore: We've been doing Whitest Kids for a decade now, and when we perform live there are still some sketches we’ll do that are fan favorites, and we’ll do them, but they’re sketches we've been doing for a long time, so we kind of learned it with that, being on the road so much, even though we know this thing forwards and backwards, you have to put in real work to make sure you’re not going through the motions, you have to be in the moment and doing it like it’s your first time doing it, or even if people are laughing at it, it’s not going to connect on the way that it could. We got good at that, and with the music, I think it’s even more so, like the “Connie Watson” song, the juxtaposition of singing about my mom’s 62-year-old friend and really running around the stage and doing knee slides and throwing yourself into it, that’s one of the levels of why it’s funny. The tough thing about the special is that when I tour, that has to be my closer, because I can’t sing after it, I blow my voice out for the night. So that was the thing I was nervous about with the special, was changing the order, and we had two or three songs after that.
AllMusic: Did you practice your knee slides at home?
Moore: No, I just started doing them and banged up my knees a whole bunch. I haven’t done it at my house, I just tried it once, and I’m pretty sure I just went straight down and there was no sliding whatsoever, I realized there had to be a lot of forward momentum, you can’t just body-slam your knees.
AllMusic: Several of the songs on High in Church have some religious critique. Growing up in a religious environment, did your parents encourage you to figure things out for yourself?
Moore: Religion was always such a big part of my life. I went to a Christian school, we’d have chapel at the school, and we did church on weekends, and my parents were always going around and singing at Christian churches, so because there was so much of it, I feel I always was more like the bored slacker teenager, like, “Church again?” Then as I got older, that’s when I started learning about religion a bit more, at first my parents would be upset by the stuff I’d be writing in Whitest Kids, they took it as a personal affront, like it was about them, which it never was. As time has gone on, as I've gotten older and have been doing this longer, it’s clear that I’m not attacking them. It’s that history, religion and politics were the big three things that were always around in my childhood, and those are the topics I’d always return to, because that was so much of what formed the way I think or my personality when I was growing up.
AllMusic: Was secular music restricted in your house?
Moore: There was a lot I wasn't allowed to listen to; I wasn't allowed to get anything with a parental advisory sticker, I wasn't allowed to watch TV shows that had more than one swear word in it. I had a two swear word counter; if I’m watching something and my parents were in the room and they said a bad word they were like, “That’s one!” and then with the second one, I had to cut it off.
AllMusic: Was there one particular parental advisory CD you were proud of sneaking in?
Moore: Adam Sandler’s music, that was my “don’t let your parents know you have this” parental advisory album, and friends of mine had made me a bootleg copy of it, and it was the funniest thing in the world. I remember in middle school one kid, because it was a really conservative Christian school, one kid had Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral album, and he felt guilty about having it, he thought it was giving him nightmares, so he was going to get rid of it, and I said, “Let me listen to it,” and I loved that album, I thought it was great. That’s one that you keep under your rug in your room.
AllMusic: Speaking of Nine Inch Nails, you played Trent Reznor in a 'Whitest Kids' sketch once. It's easy for teenagers to take him at face value as a serious, brooding musician; how early on were you able to see the humor in being that morose?
Moore: I hung out with the quote-unquote bad kids in high school, so it was always about making fun of everything, because there were so many rules and everything was so serious. So that was our sense of humor, that we really shouldn't be saying this at this very conservative school. So Nine Inch Nails immediately went to that kind of thing with me, where the darker and more morose of stuff you could be talking about or making jokes about, in this very Christian, conservative setting, that was the stuff that was funniest to us.
That sketch, I like Nine Inch Nails a lot, I still do, and when we did that sketch, I think a lot of Nine Inch Nails fans took offense at it. We were kind of making fun of Trent Reznor, but it was such a bizarre caricature that I didn't see it as being something that would irritate Nine Inch Nails fans at all, it was me and another friend of mine talking about Pretty Hate Machine and how that album seems to be about a girl, “Some girl really fucked Trent Reznor up, she really put him through the wringer, I wonder what he was like before she broke up with him,” and then he goes and makes this album, and that was the whole premise of the sketch. And people got really offended by that.
AllMusic: The comments on the sketch on YouTube are pretty silly.
Moore: “Whatever, Trent Reznor would beat you up if he saw you!” Probably not, I’d hope he realizes it’s a joke. Like everybody my age, I've always been obsessed with Star Wars, and we made so many sketches making fun of Star Wars. There’s making fun of things that you actually hate and you want to make a point about, and then there’s a thing of making fun of stuff that you’re actually a fan of. You have to be able to make fun of everything.
'High in Church' premieres tonight at midnight on Comedy Central