Categories: Interviews

Crash Test Dummies Laugh it Up

Life is a serious subject.

Why do we exist, what’s our purpose here, why can’t we all get along, why is Michael Bolton so popular? These are hard questions, and like the rest of the world, pop songwriters don’t have any easy answers.

Brad Roberts, lead singer and songwriter for the Crash Test Dummies, will be the first to say: just lighten up.

Through much of their just-released second Arista album, “God Shuffled His Feet,” the Winnipeg-based Dummies explore philosophical issues with a sense of humor.

“Often times,” Roberts said recently, “songwriters with an agenda tend to write music which is preachy and one-dimensional, and it’s designed to deliver a nice, tidy, succinct moral message to the listener, which is usually nicely summed up toward the end of the song. I find that rather annoying.

“When I wrote the songs for this album, I’m often times talking about things that have to do with existence, and sometimes they’re even quasi-political and have scenarios with philosophic questions in their background.

“Unless you deal with these subjects in a way that is humorous and a little self-depricating and ironic, I think you run into that problem of sounding preachy and moralistic.

“The world is a complicated place, and I’m not in any position to provide anybody with any final answers for these longstanding questions. I think it’s much more interesting to look at these questions and talk about them than it is to ideologically and narrowmindedly assert that there are answers to these questions.”

The title track, for instance, is likely to turn the religious world on its ear. In it, God hosts a picnic for a flock of followers, who are given a chance to pick his brain and ask questions like, “Do you have to eat or get your hair cut in heaven?”

Roberts said he is already taking flak from both sides of the Christian church.

“On the one hand, the much more fundamentalist, right-wing thinking would be that, yes, there is blasphemy involved there,” he said. “On the other hand, the more left-wing, united church kind of Christianity would jump on me for calling God he and not she.”

Lyrically, “God Shuffled His Feet” takes up where the Dummies’ debut disc, “The Ghosts That Haunt Me,” left off in 1991. The first album, powered by the witty track “Superman’s Song,” sold nearly 400,000 copies in Canada and 200,000 in America, and earned the Dummies a Juno award (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy) for group of the year.

Musically, “God” is more upbeat and rhythmic.

“The reason the music is the way it is has to do with the band’s brief history,” Roberts said. “On the first record, you find essentially a situation where we tried to take a variety of acoustically based traditional genres and re-combine them in various ways.

“Partly, that came out of an agenda I had in my head, but partly it came from the fact that when the Crash Test Dummies began, we were a house band at a late-night cafe who sat around drinking beer and banging out tunes on acoustic guitars and pianos.

“This record, on the other hand, has synthesizers, sampled sounds, much more production techniques being applied. It’s mixed in a far more grandiose way, and that has to do with, that on this record we had more time and money to spend.”

When you have a budget and leisure to pursue options, a lot of avenues open up to you, he said. For that, he considers “God Shuffled His Feet” just part of the band’s progression.

BWF (before we forget): “God Shuffled His Feet,” which later cracked the Top 10 on Billboard’s pop chart and sold more than 2 million copies, was co-produced by the Crash Test Dummies and the Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison. … Adrian Belew provides synthesized guitars on the title track. … The first single, “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,” reached No. 4 on Billboard’s chart, while the follow-up, “Afternoons & Coffeespoons,” hit No. 66. … The band also features Ellen Reid (piano, vocals), Benjamin Darvill (mandolin, harmonicas), Roberts’ brother, Dan (bass), and Mitch Dorge (drums). … The band’s third album, “A Worm’s Life,” was released in 1996. … Bump into them on the Web @ www.crashtestdummies.com.

Gerry Galipault

Gerry Galipault debuted Pause & Play online in October 1997. Since then, it has become the definitive place for CD-release dates — with a worldwide audience.

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