Ben Darvill/Crash test Dummies:
You don't care, and I DO mind
When Q Magazine described the latest Crash Test
Dummies album as 'intriguing, interesting, infuriating'
- you'd have thought they might have qualified it -
but they didn't. What they also did not tell us when
they labelled it 'brave and imaginative' was that main
Dummy man, Brad Roberts had not been so 'brave' as to
release it under his own anonymous banner. Another deluded
frontman happy to share the name but not the credit?
Well maybe. And maybe not. Corporate forces what they
are - maybe Brad's label had more to do with it. Nevertheless
it dissapoints, and levels a questioning sticky finger
toward any claim of being 'brave'. So it's a solo album.
So what? So you want a really brave and definitive
Crash Test Dummies album, that's what. You think you're
owed it, and you are.Well there's one Dummy who's just
Ben Darvill is a truly 21st century artist. Mixing
"fucked up Country" with techno and R'n'B, he is a real
cypher and a real innovator. Ben has run from the arms
of the Crash Test Dummies to produce two truly
'brave' albums on his own label, Husky Records. The
newest of which, "Wild West Show" is a non definable
gem, showcasing a remarkable talent who, for too long,
has been hidden from us.
The following interview was conducted in the surreal
setting of The Savoy hotel on the Strand. We crept into
the "American Bar",and with it's eerily retro 'art deco
cum Titanic' stylings I was convinced we were in an
episode of "Dynasty" sure that Joan Collins was going
to appear and attack me with a shoulder pad.She didn't,
but the baroque lite furnishings proved oddly fitting
as our conversation fell onto his apocalyptic vision
of the future of music. Over a gin and tonic, Ben Darvill
showed himself to be a funny, likeable guy who was genuinely
passionate about his art.In the stuffy expanses of the
scarily named "American Bar", Ben Darvill was fresher
than the twist of lime in his drink.
Crud: Was it a relief to produce something out side
the Crash Test Dummies or did you always have the freedom
within the band to produce something you wanted to?.
Was it a relief? Yea. Like being bunged up. It was like
(laughs) getting out of church and letting out a huge
fart. That's what it felt like for me .
C:I like the metaphor.
Yea. They've gone and made an album without me and they've
gone on tour with it. I can't go on tour because of
the baby. I'm single parenting it. Beside that I'm tired
of making records with them. Kind of because Brad makes
the whole record on his own and the musicians have nothing
to do with it. It's a front for a money-laundering racket
at the moment!.
C:It's just Brad on the cover of the new album, which
I thought was a bit weird.
It's ridiculous! He made a solo album and decided he
couldn't sell it as "Brad Roberts", so he put Crash
Test Dummies name on the front. That's not cool..
And bless them; I still wish them luck, cause I don't'
want to severe any ties with them, we had a lot of good
times together. But really I have no interest in following
his orders anymore. So, for years I've been recording
my own music, waiting for a time when I could do something
with it. The way the business works is pretty dull too.
We haven't had a scrap of support from BMG, with whom
we're signed to in Canada.. no support from A&R, certainly
no money, no one taking us seriously With many of the
major labels in Canada, where I've done most of my major
label shopping, they don't seem to understand what I
do. I don't understand why. To me it's intelligent and
fun. They just don't get it..
C:Do you think that would have been the case ten
years ago when The Crash Test Dummies were first signed?
Has the business changed in ten years?.
It's probably more open minded now. The fact that Crash
Test Dummies got signed was going on the strength of
the first hit;" The Superman Song". Brad's voice and
"The Superman Song" seemed to be something that had
a universal hit appeal. And although I'd like to come
up with one of those I'm not going to sit around and
try and write one outright, I'd rather write stuff I
C:"The Wild West Show" album sounds more conceptualised
than the "Son Of Dave" album, is it?.
I tried to make the "Son of Dave" conceptualised, but
it didn't come out so impressive as "The Wild West Show."
"The Wild West Show" album came out more erratic than
"Son of Dave" did. It's all over the place but it still
has the conceptual thing about it. "Son of Dave" is
like that too, a bit. I don't just use Hip-Hop beats,
I use a Hip-Hop beat on a couple of tracks, I use a
techno beat on or two tracks. So again it's all over
the map in production terms. (The album mixes) Old sounds,
new sounds, some instrumental tracks. It's how I would
always like to make an album.
To make twelve three to four minute rock tunes with
'verse chorus, verse chorus' and guitars all over it
is stifling. I have to make something that moves around,
but still keeps a theme, to me that's fun. To make a
body of work that hangs together thematically, but plays
with genre and production. When I think about the amount
of music we have now at our fingertips..
C:You mean the Internet?.
Yea, the access we have to so many decades of music.
And with so many people making music, I don't feel I
have anything that's mine. I have no roots; do you know
what I mean?.
C:So, then how do you feel about the term " postmodern"
or do you hate that?.
I can't see things any other way. I think it's sad we
have to be so reflective the whole time. But I don't
see that there is anything that is new out there. There
is nothing that is genuinely mine out there. I mean
I could pretend to be a country music maker, cause of
where I grew up, butů When I was little every kind of
music was thrown at me. That's how most musicians were
born and raised in the western world. I guess you could
be immersed in some scene, especially in urban way,
like people don't listen to anything but Hip-Hop for
ten years and I suppose they're going to come out of
it rapping. But it's like they must have blinders and
earplugs on. How can someone who is in Harlem be walking
down the street and not hear Radiohead? All they have
to do is press the wrong button on their radio dial,
their station finder in their Lexus (laughs) and there's
a Radiohead tune playing. They know about that stuff,
they just shut it out. But to me, being a musician is
not like that. I'm going through some sort of a crisis
actually. What type of music should I make? I'm making
some R'n'B stuff, some fucked up country music, what
should I do now?.
C:In terms of your record label, Husky records where
so you see that going in the future? How does it compare
with the other independent labels out there? You've
got Johnny Sizzle on there, who you're also producing..
We're only three albums in .So it's hard to see into
the future with three albums and two artists. It'll
come eventually. I'm not in the mindset of signing lots
of bands .I don't have the money to play that game,
anyway. I hardly have the money to promote my own albums.
It' s magazines like yours that do that. Its incredible.
It's never going to recoup; these albums are never going
to sell. I'm just doing this out of stubbornness..
C:"Breathe Till She's Blue"-XTC influence?.
Yea, people have said that, and there's a history of
listening to XTC and Crash Test Dummies used to talk
about XTC influence the whole time. But I don't' think
XTC have cornered the market on that, it's an old English
tradition to have a melody that goes (sings an ascending/descending
chord progression). It's like Salvation Army music,
marching band music, and melodies that go all the way
up and all the way down. Once in a while you stumble
across one of those .To try and mix that in with R'n'B
is a risk but I thought I'd give that a go. It's a nice
tune, a nice melody. I don't think that influence is
from living in England. Again its (musical styles) that
are just in us. I'm obsessed with this melting pot idea;
I can't stop thinking about it..
C:The music industry and the world wants to put you
into a pigeonhole, when you're not people get angry
.So you get forced to do it, in a way.
I'm working to go against all that shit. Like people
who are stuck in one geographical location and listen
to one kind of music. It's what racism and narrow mindedness
are about. But a lot of that is breaking down, in the
last couple of decades. I'd rather continue to mix things
up rather than settle into some comfortable brand of
C:I guess you don't set yourself musical boundaries
then? Or is there a point where you think "That's too
left field, I'm not going to try that".
I've thought about writing a musical or an opera. The
reason I don't is that I don't think I'm smart enough.
I could pull off something like Gilbert and Sullivan.
Come up with a few characters and put them in ridiculous
scenarios write some pop tunes, and some themes that
came back within the ten tunes. Then write the story
on the record sleeve. But to do it with any power and
grace without just being silly is intimidating. And
longer pieces of music, I don't know how to do that,
I'm just a pop musician .You know, how do you make something
that is seventeen minutes long and hold your attention?
So I do set myself limits, I know my limitations..
C:Do you prefer the studio or performing?.
I like performing, but I think creating is more enjoyable
.I feel more productive making an album than getting
up and performing for people..
C:You're organising a music festival, which artists
would be on your fantasy festival line up?.
I'd get my friends to play (laughs).
I don't have any celebrity friends. I don't' know how
to talk to other celebrities! I've met other celebrities
but I just end up, just, I don't know!. I usually ask
them about themselves! They just don't like me. Who
have I met? Chrissie Hynde, Sheryl Crow. I've met Sting.
He's short! I've met a lot of stars but I've never had
a conversation with them. They seem so stressed out.
The situations you meet them in are so phoney. Like
award shows I'd just get my mates to play at my festival.
C:What's the greatest evil: mainstream success or anonymous
Anonymous failure is miserable.
C:It's honourable though
It's isn't, because nobody hears your tunes. I really
feel like there has to be an audience or you're wasting
C:So you are you doing it for your audience or yourself?.
Well, ultimately you have to do it for yourself.You
have to proud of what you're doing; you can't just cater
for an audience. If nobody else appreciates it, I guess
that says it all. You can be a hero in your own eyes,
but if no one else appreciates it, then it's just sad.
And there are a lot of people who are like that. I would
not like to be that person. Anonymous failure is not
C:You might think you are going to be like Nick Drake,
and your music is only going to be discovered after
you have died..
It's crossed my mind a number of times. We're not selling
loads, so hopefully sales would pick up if I died..
C:There's that quote about the Velvet Underground
that they didn't sell many albums in their time but
everyone who bought one went out and formed a band.
Just showing that you can influence a huge number of
people without selling loads..
I hope I am communicating with people a bit It doesn't
have to be a universal "lets come together" tune. But
I'd like to think I'm getting something across. I feel
that we're at an end of something. Now that we're all
communicating with all these different things at our
disposal, it seems retrospective and reflective, which
creeps me out .I think in the future people will become
even more territorial. There will be this type of music
and people will listen to nothing but that type of music,
wave their fucking flag, they'll eat one kind of food
and support their hockey team. In 50 or 100 years it's
going to get extreme, people will have the area they
live in, the music they listen to, and they will be
very specific about it. They'll become ferociously territorial
and protect their own space. .
C:Do you think that it's possible to drawn a parallel
between the film industry and the music industry. The
movie industry seems to be rehashing the same ideas
over and over again, with blockbusters and such. There
is that quote, which says there are only then stories
in the world..
I studied theatre and playwriting in University. I read
that book actually (about the ten stories), because
I was trying to write for (a play) this playwriting
course .I was trying fuck things up and write a play
that was on it's ass, that went backwards and forwards.
And the plot failed me. I tried (to rewrite it) three
times It was the end of the year, and (my tutor) was
just like a cranky conservative fart, whose face looked
like it was chiselled out of marble. He told me "You
know"-and he threw the book with ten plots at me and
said" You should read this, what you're trying to do
is undo-able, all the plots have been done before",
Which is not what you want to hear when you are 22..
But he was absolutely right. And if you want to draw
a parallel with song writing there are probably four
or five structures that really work. And that is scary.
I think both movies and music will never be 'over' but
they're over as uncharted territories. Just like there's
no wilderness anymore .We have covered it all, we haven't
gone down to the deepest oceans, but it's not nice down
Interview conducted by Crud's Priya Elangasinghe ©
Priya Elangasinghe/Crud Music Magazine 2001