Crash Test Dummies on philosphy, songwriting, and coming to South Africa
“Crash Test Dummies get back together now and then when the occasion arises,” says Brad Roberts, the Canadian band’s frontman/lead singer. “I wouldn’t say it aided the band, so much as it has been a natural consequence of getting older: priorities change.”
But luckily, the stars align every now and then and they get to play in South Africa. Like this February, when they’re coming down for two shows: in Cape Town on the 17th, and Pretoria on the 18th. They haven’t released a new album in a while (their last single, I’ll Be Peaceful Then, came out in 2016), and it doesn’t look like that’s gonna change soon.
“I don’t have any desire to write albums anymore,” he answers. “An album is meant to be listened all in one sitting, from beginning to end, like a movie. But for many people music is just wallpaper—background interest. And with Spotify, people have lost the appetite for listening to entire records. They just want to listed to singles, not to experience an album-length project.”
“I’m sure there are exceptions, but the general drift of things is, for me, disappointing.”
The Crash Test Dummies’ music has often had a sombre, philosophical tone — especially with songs like How Does A Duck Know, I wondered whether the bands’ songs and views line up with textbook philosphy.
“Yes they do!”
“How Does a Duck Know plays on the distinction between instinct and free will: How DO ducks know to migrate, and where, and when? In the case of verse two, how does the human automatic nervous system ‘know’ to keep breathing without us having to think about it?”
“This a partly scientific question, but in broader terms it is also touches on teleology: is the duck, for example, governed by a larger, orderly plan? Or is it all just accidents of evolution (Darwin’s theory of random mutation suggests that the universe in NOT orderly; though cutting edge science is starting to rethink this position. Again, science and philosophy merge at this point.”
“Science likes to think it is above philosophy, that it has usurped philosophy; but this is naïve at best, and harmful at worst.”
But more than the philosophical, Crash Test Dummies’ music also has a fair amount of fun involved. One album, Oooh la la!, was reportedly partly inspired by musical toy-instruments like the Optigan.
“I used to write all the melodies first, on the theory that if a song without words — in other words, a song simply hummed — was good enough to pull in the listener, then no matter what the words were, they would be linked to a powerful melody.”
“However, one day, I sat down and wrote a lyric on my new laptop. It was very spontaneous, and as I wrote it I ‘heard’ the melody for the lyric as the words came to mind. Ever since then, I write lyrics first and set them to music. The music might be inspired by the Optigan, as in the case of the Ooh La La record you mentioned; or it might come from some other place entirely.”
This change in songwriting approach also links to their genre, instrumentation, and production techniques. Brad likes the variety of trying something different every time.
“I think our first record had many folk flavors as far as instrumentation goes,” he says. “The next record, God Shuffled His Feet, was nothing like the first, about as far away from folk as possible: synthesizers and samples are the order of the day on that recording. The third record contained much straight up hard-rock. The fourth record barely resembled the same band: all very groove oriented; I used my falsetto for the first time; and the lyrics were less intellectual and more bad-ass. Our next album was a country record…. I could go on, but basically the gist here is that I have always tried to change up the sound — the ‘genre’ — on every record I put out.
With all this taken into account, what are Crash Test Dummies going to bring to a live show?
“You can expect lots of old songs from God Shuffled His Feet,” he says, of the upcoming South African appearances, “and a few new ones to boot.”
Crash Test Dummies will be appearing in South Africa in Cape Town on 17 February, and Pretoria on 18 February, with South African bands AKING, Bed On Bricks, WONDERboom and Adventure Man joining both shows. Get your tickets here for Cape Town and Pretoria, or check out the Facebook events: CPT & PTA.
We have a set of tickets to give away to each show – check here for details.
Floris sometimes writes things when he’s not watching movies or playing video games or editing videos or folk-rock singing/songwriting.