Center Presents: Crash Test Dummies
The Tarkington // Saturday, Mar 11, 8pm ET
Founded in the 1980s in Winnipeg, Canada, the Crash Test Dummies achieved international success with their 1993 album “God Shuffled His Feet” and the hit single “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,” showcasing lead singer-songwriter Brad Roberts’ distinctive baritone voice. The group reformed in 2018 after a long hiatus and has been touring North America and Europe to mark its 30th anniversary. A new original single, “Sacred Alphabet,” is set for release in March.
Opening the show will be Carleton Stone, an Americana and pop singer-songwriter from Nova Scotia.
Purchase your tickets at thecenterpresents.org.
Janelle Morrison: While preparing for this interview, I took a fun trip down what I lovingly refer to “Amnesia Lane” when I was a young person in school. Listening to the early [Crash Test Dummies] albums, a lot of great memories and great years came flashing back. I’m thrilled that you’re back on the road and doing this 30th anniversary … eek, tour.
I’d like to talk about what’s new with you, but before we get into that, for those in my readership that may not be as familiar with the great music that you’ve created then and now, let’s take a look at the genesis of Crush Test Dummies and what made “God Shuffled His Feet” such an iconic album.
Brad Roberts: Most people don’t realize this, but that was actually our second record, and it vastly outsold our first record [The Ghosts that Haunt Me]. Although, I have to say our first record, in its own right, did extremely well in Canada and it went like quadruple platinum. Even though we hadn’t picked up much attention outside of Canada, we definitely experienced enormous success in our own country. I think the first single off that record, “Superman’s Song,” stands the test of time, but not much else on that record does for me. I didn’t even like that record once I was finished making it. [Laughs] I wanted to go back and start again!
JM: What, in your opinion, made your second album so successful?
BR: I think the reason why it did so much better is because I had the experience of making a record under my belt, and I knew what I was doing the second time around. That record started getting played on this new radio format — back then — called Triple A or Adult Album Alternative, which, no doubt, you remember from back in the day. People were calling in and requesting this song [“Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”] and asking, “Who’s that guy with the deep voice?” So, the record company noticed us, and for the first time in our career, Arista Records — who was run by Clive Davis — decided to plug us into the machine. All of the sudden, we were in every show: Saturday Night Live, David Letterman … and it was just crazy. It went through the roof, and I was extremely relieved because I had just made the best record of my life and I just really thought we were going to sink into oblivion. I am very thankful to my adoptive country [USA] for rescuing us from that fate, as it were.
JM: Your sound is still such a unique sound, and when I think about the artists that I can recognize after a couple of notes, I think of Ozzy Osbourne, David Gilmour, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, and then there’s Brad Roberts. I hear your voice, and it’s still such a cool sound. But I remember reading an interview that you gave early on, and you had some reluctancy about singing your own songs because you thought your voice was “too low.”
BR: Yes, as you recall, in the 80s there were screaming metal bands, aside from the obvious new wave thing that was going on at the time. But, in any case, the metal band screamers were the people that got on the radio, and people with low voices just weren’t out there. The only person that I could think of that I listened to growing up in my grandfather’s basement, of all places, was Johnny Cash, and later on I discovered Leonard Cohen. They were barely influences on me musically, but I love their music and I just felt like there wasn’t any precedence for the way that my voice sounded. I thought it was never going to sound like a commercially viable voice. So, I looked for other people to sing my songs. Inevitably, they would inflect them in a way that just didn’t ring true with me. So, I ended up singing them. Everywhere, I was getting, “Oh, your voice man … it’s so low! It freaks me out!” and I was expecting that all. I was kind of hoping that the song would rise to the occasion and people would look past my voice.
JM: And all these years later, you still have that strong, hypnotic voice.
BR: Wait until you hear this new song that we just recorded; it’s the first thing I’ve done in 10 years or something, and my voice is even stronger now and people have been saying as much to me after our shows.
JM: You’re referring to “Sacred Alphabet,” of which I hope we are going to be able to see you perform when you come to Carmel?
BR: Yes, and I hope that you’ll be able to listen to it on streaming platforms before, but if not, we will certainly be playing it live!
JM: Comparing now versus the early days of touring, what are enjoying about touring now? Your fans and fellow musicians understand that it’s a difficult life and there are a lot of sacrifices made. Plus, traveling in general can suck really bad, so why did you decide to get the band back together and hit the road?
BR: Well, for one thing, there’s an awful lot less pressure on me now. Back then, I had to work like 5 times harder because we were signed to a record label, and I started and finished my day doing interviews or meet-and-greets. I never had a moment to myself. Whereas now, when we tour, I don’t have a lot of press going on. I do interviews like this one, and I’m very grateful to be able to do that, but it’s nothing like the job that it once was. It’s much less complicated going on the road for me, and it’s on my terms now.
JM: Last question, when it comes to the songwriting process for you, at this point in your career, are you inspired more by past events and experiences or more by the present?
BR: I would say the present. I don’t have any sense of golden ageism in my life, and I don’t think of the past as being “the good old days” or anything. What I do know is that the result of what has gone on in the past is the product of an evolutionary creative process. And although we only have the one big record, I’ve actually made about 10 records altogether. So, who I am as a songwriter today does depend a great deal on who I was as a songwriter yesterday, even though I’ve moved on.