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Ben Darvill - Crash Test Dummies

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 crashed out.

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 like..

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?.

Ben Darvill - Crash Test Dummies

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 music..

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).

C:Celebrity friends?.

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.

C:Oh no!.

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 failure?.

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 your time..

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 good..

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 there anyway.

Interview conducted by Crud's Priya Elangasinghe © Priya Elangasinghe/Crud Music Magazine 2001

See more on Ben Darvill at Husky

  © Crud Music Magazine/ 2001
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