Crash Test Dummies dabble in different stylesWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Oooh La La” doesn’t exactly sound like a Crash Test Dummies disc. There’s big band, country twang and even a song inspired by doo-wop.
But then you hear Brad Roberts’ deep voice and you know it’s the alt-folk rockers.
“When I first started, I regarded [my voice] as a liability and tried to get other people to sing my songs because I just thought I sounded good for only Irish sea shanties,” the front man of the Canadian group said and launched into such a ditty.
“I couldn’t get anyone to sing [the songs] the way I wanted to hear them, so I sang by default,” Roberts continued during a call from his New York home. “When we were released, it was just coming out of the 1980s and that was like hair bands and every singer on the radio was a screaming tenor. The idea that the radio would even play a baritone voice was unthinkable.
“And it turned out things opened up; hair metal kind of died, especially after Nirvana, and suddenly my voice became an asset.”
Roberts and his recognizable pipes had fun making 2010’s “Oooh La La.”
“I came across this thing called the Optigan, this little ’70s instrument that was designed for amateur hobbyists. It has a singular strange technology; it’s weirdly prescient of digital sampling,” he said. “It’s very versatile because you can have it play all kinds of different bands, which were actually people recorded as opposed to mere synthesized sounds, that being the breakthrough technology of it for its time. And these discs had this weird, spooky, old-fashioned, creepy 78 RPM feel.”
The singer-songwriter worked with producer-engineer Stewart Lerman on the CD.
“The whole point of the record was to use those widely varied discs, which contain everything from bands that sounded like they were from Polynesia to Nashville,” Roberts said. “[The discs] grew songs practically; we’d sit down and play them and there were so many different genres to just be able to tap right into as a composer — it was great.”
Listen to “Now You See Her,” which was inspired by the Optigan.
“It’s an old-fashioned kind of ’20s jazz band sound, so I wrote kind of a campy, Tin Pan Alley-sounding lyric to go with it,” he said.
The Crash Test Dummies’ tour to support “Oooh La La” will stop in Ann Arbor for an 8 p.m. show May 26 at The Ark. Tickets are $27.50. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
Roberts said he’ll be joined by original member Ellen Reid, vocalist and keyboard player, and touring guitarist Murray Pulver.
The group is known for “Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm” from 1993’s “God Shuffled His Feet” and “Superman’s Song” from 1991’s “The Ghosts That Haunt Me.”
“Demo-Litions: Cast-Off Recordings 1996-97” was released in April.
Roberts said he wished he had more demos to share.
“There are demos for the entire ‘God Shuffled His Feet’ record, which many people would love to hear; I would love to hear them. I have no idea where they are, probably on some cassette somewhere in a rusty old box in a storage room. Just never kept track of it, never cared, never thought about the future, never thought about posterity.”