Most people remember the Crash Test Dummies for their mid-nineties hit “Mmmmm, mmmm” and their chart-topping album God Shuffled His Feet, but Brad Roberts and crew have been busy in the years since. After a six year hiatus from recording albums, Crash Test Dummies released a new album in the spring of 2010 and have been touring the country ever since.
The Backstage Beat caught up with Brad Roberts, the unmistakable voice of the band and the lyrical talent behind the music and asked him a few questions about the unique styling of Crash Test Dummies.
The Backstage Beat: Crash Test Dummies has always had a really unique sound, mostly due to your voice, but also because of the music itself. How would you describe Crash Test Dummies’ sound?
Brad: Well, the sound of the Crash Test Dummies changes on every record, much to our fans either delight or chagrin, depending on how you look at it. Our first record was very folky, our second record was much more a produced, pop-rock record. The third record had a ton of electric guitars and it was much more in that direction. Our fourth record was much more urban sounding. I didn’t actually rap, and I’m not one of those white people who wishes he was black, like apparently populate the continent of North America, but it was very groove oriented, which is something I hadn’t done. And then the next record was a pure, straight-ahead country record, I Don’t Care That You Don’t Mind, and there’s a couple of other records in there too. There’s a Christmas record, there’s a record called Puss N’ Boots and then there’s Songs of the Unforgiven which was the second most recent record, and I don’t know what you’d call that one. Music for a funeral maybe. It was a totally depressing record. All of the lyrics were disheartening and it had pipe-organ and it was very somber. I actually got hate-mail for that record. People wrote me and said, “Listen, just go kill yourself. Don’t inflict this crap on me.” And then I’d have other people saying, “you moved me to tears.” And that’s the way it is with Crash Test Dummies. They either absolutely love us or they really, really freakin’ hate us.
TBB: Was that album coming from where you were at that point was is produced that way?
Brad: It was a culmination of things. I wrote it about a year after 9/11 and I live in New York City, and I didn’t put any 9/11 references in it and I didn’t try and do what I thought some people were doing, which was taking advantage of the tragedy for their own songwriting purposes. But I was also not very happy. I found that I was unable to make money doing music anymore. The whole file sharing thing just ate away at everything. So my head wasn’t good there either. That was the last record that Crash Test Dummies made, for six years until this more recent release, Ooh, La La, which is completely different again. It spans over all kinds of genres, but it sticks together because of my lyrics and my voice.
TBB: So what did you do during the six years when you weren’t recording records?
Brad: Well, during that period it was both great and very depressing. On the depressing side, you know I’ve been writing music forever and it’s a labor of love. I love my job, and to not be able to do what I do well, of course is very alienating, self-alienating. But at the same time, it gave me a chance to not have to live on the road, which was really getting to me, and also gave me time to get myself into shape, because I was getting out of shape. Really, it was terrible: high triglycerides, bad cholesterol, the whole shooting match. So, I took up yoga with a vengeance, and I’ve practiced for about five years now. I have a teacher I go one-on-one with, and I’ve gotta tell you, I don’t do all the fancy poses, but I’m really good at yoga now and my shoulders are much more broad, I’ve got a wiry strength in my arms, and I have great balance and great flexibility. Balance and flexibility are the first things to go when you’re starting to age. I’ve found yoga has really revitalized my whole physical being, and with that, my whole mental being as well.
TBB: You worked with well-known producer Stuart Lerman on this album. How did you two meet and decide to work together?
Brad: His wife is a woman named Suzzy Roache, of the Roches, and they are a group I was really influenced by when I was a younger man. I kind of idolized them, as a matter of fact and then, by sheer coincidence, we shared a stage once and I got to meet them personally and then I got to know her husband, Stuart Lerman, and we started working together. It was total happenstance.
TBB: How did his production influence the album do you think?
Brad: A great deal. We co-wrote the record. I always write all the lyrics, but we co-wrote the music and he did a lot of the production work, like how the arrangements would be. At one time, like on God Shuffled His Feet, I wanted to make every singe decision on every single track and that record is my baby. Jerry Harrison was supposedly the producer, but now, many years later, I can say that behind the scenes he got fired. He wanted to just watch basketball the whole time. I produced that record, I am the rest of the Crash Test Dummies. But now I’m at the point where I’m quite happy to go over and write a song with Stuart and then leave it with him to do what he wishes. I’ll come back and listen and I almost always like what he’s done with it. He’ll change it if I asked him to, but I don’t think I ever had to ask him, and that’s part of what makes us such a great team is that he does work with other song-writer’s occasionally, but they’re always like “you can’t do that” and I just let him have total free-reign because I trust him and I know that he’ll make what I was trying to say and sing sound even more like what I was trying to say and sing.
TBB: So, will there be more Crash Test Dummies albums in the future?
Brad: Oh yeah. Absolutely. In fact, I’m hoping to have one out in the fall.