Crash Test Dummies
Most listeners’ first encounter with the Crash Test Dummies was “Superman’s Song,” off the group’s 1991 mainly acoustic debut, The Ghosts That Haunt Me. An elegy for the sort of moral integrity the famous comic book character embodied, “Superman’s Song” caught people’s attention because of its unusual subject matter and singer Brad Roberts’ amazingly deep voice, which he sometimes accounted for by claiming he had a third testicle.
The peak of the band’s popularity came with their second record, God Shuffled His Feet, featuring the title track and “Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm.” Successive records increasingly strayed from the folksy sound of their debut, confusing many listeners and selling less impressively.
For their first few records, Crash Test Dummies had a fairly stable line-up—guitarist/vocalist Roberts, keyboardist Ellen Reid, bassist Dan Roberts, harmonica/mandolin player Benjamin Darvill and drummer Mitch Dorge, who was added for God Shuffled.
Though the Crash Test Dummies have never officially broken up, at this point Brad Roberts is the only constant member of the band. He is the legal owner of the band name and the sole member to have performed on every record. But the band seems to maintain a revolving door policy. Roberts recruits new musicians as needed, with “official” members participating when they have the time and interest; Reid and Dan Roberts are the only original members to join Roberts on the most recent record, Puss ‘n’ Boots.
But it’s unlikely that the old members will reunite and make, as some would have them, another God Shuffled. Reid, Darvill and Dorge have all released solo albums, and Roberts now lives in New York City.
“There’s a huge pool of talent, studios and producers. It’s very concentrated. I’ve met some really good people,” Roberts says of New York City, contrasting it with his hometown of Winnipeg, which he explains is “a butt-fuck town in Canada.”
Whatever it takes to keep warm.
Puss ‘n’ Boots sounds as New York as the band’s first record sounded Winnipeg. Where there were mandolin, harmonica and—most Winnipeg of all—banjo, now there are drum loops, synthesizers and abundant use of electric guitar. Produced and co-written with Crash Test Dummies newcomer Stuart Cameron, the CD is slick and “groovy"—make-out music for thirtysomethings.
Like many songwriters, Roberts has tried stretching his writing abilities into new areas. Jewel and Dave Alvin, for example, have written books of poetry. Nick Cave and Jimmy Buffet have published novels. Roberts, likewise, has written poetry, which he has posted on the Crash Test Dummies Web site, but he has no intention of publishing. He’s also written a novel, an as-yet unpublished work with the intriguing title A Man Called Pigface.
But unlike many songwriters, Roberts is also an aspiring talk-show host. He’s been hosting an un-televised, live talk show twice a month at the New York club The Living Room, featuring guest musicians and interviews.
“It’s something that I thought would be fun to do, and it’s become more businesslike,” says Roberts. “I’m going to put together a reel of highlights and try to sell it to a cable TV station.”
In the meantime, Crash Test Dummies are touring as a three-piece group. Roberts is joined by Dan Roberts on bass and second guitarist Saul Zanana. The new record Songs of the Unforgiven will be released this fall.