He’s excited about coming back to South Africa and isn’t worried about the now-delayed Day Zero in Cape Town. “No,” he laughs, “I’ll manage a bird bath or something in the sink; it all sounds like a part of the adventure.”
Roberts is known for his signature deep voice and while it has been a hit with the ladies in the Dummies’ heyday, I ask him if he struggled with it when he was younger. “Well, that’s an interesting question,” Roberts says.
“When I first started writing songs, I didn’t like my voice well enough to be able to sing them. I had a bass-baritone and aside from Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash, there just weren’t any bass-baritones singing popular music.
Much to my surprise, the fact that my voice was very different worked out in my favour and people said: ‘What a voice.’ It turned everyone’s perceptions around.”
Roberts and his band curiously titled their seminal second album God Shuffled His Feet. In the title track, a strange tale is told about God being asked a few questions by his people and not quite having direct answers for them at a picnic where wine and bread was served.
I ask Roberts how many picnics with this menu he’s been invited to so far.
“Just the one,” he says after he laughs raucously. “I mean, that can only happen on the seventh day, right? In that song, I don’t really pick on God in any direct way; it’s kind of a subtle, inconclusive narrative about God trying to talk to his people and the people trying to figure out what’s going on in God’s head.”
The Dummies are probably most well-known for their hit, Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm. How did Roberts decide how many Ms to put in the song title? “Well, I knew I had to say ‘mmm’ four times because that melody worked - it had four notes and I figured each mmm needed three Ms to really convey the sound of mmm.”
It’s been a long time since the Crash Test Dummies had mainstream success, but there is still a lot of interest in the band.
“Crash Test Dummies haven’t made a record in seven years and I have pretty much retired, so it wasn’t until recently when some folks from South Africa said: ‘Come here and do some shows and we’ll pay you ... and we’ll even put together a band for you.’ I played here in the 90s once and I am happy to be coming back.”
* The concerts take place at Hillcrest Wine Estate in Cape Town on Saturday and Pretoria National Botanical Gardens on Sunday. Tickets at Computicket.