Winnipeg act the Crash Test Dummies are a storied band. They’ve been performing for nearly thirty years, have released nine records, were nominated for a three Grammy Awards, and won Group of the Year at the 1992 Juno Awards. They even made a Christmas album and were parodied by Weird Al. We had the opportunity to speak with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ellen Reid.
So to start, I was wondering if you would be willing to go back in the past and ask what your life was like back in the early 90s when you were one of the biggest bands in Canada. What was that period of time like for you?
Well, before we signed with BMG in 1990, the year we were getting courted by different record labels. Everyday was a pinch me kind of day – I still have those moments because I can’t believe how my life turned out, but, I had just graduated from university where I met Brad and the rest of the band and I was working in a bar, bartending, trying to figure out what the next chapter of my life was going to be like. I figured I’d have to go back to school to get more training because I had an arts degree, and well, you know… So, it all happened very quickly. In a matter of months, we went from having a bit of interest in us to signing a major label record deal. It was all a bit of a blur, but it was very exciting, and I was very fortunate to be where I was. At the time I was thinking of going back to school to be a lawyer or take library science or become a teacher, I didn’t think that life would make this decision for me and put me on the path that I was going to take.
I did go back to school in 2002, I went back to school at Ryerson and got my Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work degree and then I went to U of T and got my Masters in Social Work and ask me how much social work I’ve done since then and the answer would be zero. Thank you Ontario tax payers for paying for my education that I have not put to use. I did enjoy the experience of going back to to school, because I’m a total nerd, but I then learned that social work is really hard. Its grueling and social workers get very little respect and low money and the pressure was too much for me to realistically think I could do this because I’m a baby. So, I tip my hat to social workers and those working in human services.
So the band has been touring the 25th anniversary of God Shuffled His Feet, is this the end of that cycle for you the band?
These shows in Ontario will mark the end of that album tour, its been a year and a half that we’ve been doing it. The shows that we will be doing after the Ontario run will be called the 30 Years of Music Tour because it will be 30 years since we were signed to BMG and started our career in music.
When I was younger I thought Weird Al was the coolest guy ever. Crash Test Dummies were fortunate enough to have your song Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm parodied by him (Headline News). What was that experience like for you and the band? Were you in contact with him throughout the process?
You’re right, he is the coolest guy in the world. He does contact artists to get their blessing, but he doesn’t have to ask for the blessing. We told him to run with it, it was a huge honour to be parodied by Weird Al, it’s definitely a career highlight for us, because we love him too.
And what are some other moments that stick out as career highlights?
We are fortunate enough to have a lot of highlights. Just being able to live this particular life is just a gift and none of us take it for granted. Playing Royal Albert Hall in London in 1994 was one. We took a trip to Shanghai to play a show there, but the government actually cancelled the show, so we got an all expenses paid trip to Shanghai for a week. It was amazing to see that city. We played with the Winnipeg Symphony, which was an great and we toured with Alanis Morissette, Bryan Adams, Sarah McLaughlin, Barenaked Ladies – a lot of great acts. We even go to open for Sting.
And if you were to go back in time, would you have changed anything about your career?
If I could go back… I believe that every step you take takes you to where you are right now, and I’m very happy right now. Maybe I would have made some different fashion choices, in the early 90s I did not know what I was doing. Brad had a pretty clear vision of what he wanted to do musically, so we were lucky that he was able to direct the course of action. You know what? I do wish I was a little bit more confident in my singing and performance. I was always second guessing myself.
Now that you’re touring a lot more is there any plans to release new music? Your last record was released a decade ago.
There’s not not a plan. Brad has some ideas bubbling in his head, I wouldn’t be able to say anything concrete about a release, but its definitely not out of the question and there’s been a lot of talk about it.
Crash Test Dummies perform at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on January 22. Visit firstontariopac.ca for more information.