Interview with Evan Dando by Mat Snow
From The Guardian, 23rd August 2006
'I can't completely let go of drugs - and I don't want to'
He was the golden boy of grunge, and then he threw it all away. Evan Dando tells Mat Snow why he wants to make a comeback on his own terms.
Ten years ago, Evan Dando nearly became a dead rock legend. Due on stage at Glastonbury, he was instead in bed with supermodel Rachel Williams and singer Alice Temple, along with a large bag of heroin. Had he misjudged his self-medication, no doubt an entire industry would have sprung up to make money out of the man, his music, and a final exit that would have rivalled that of his friend Kurt Cobain or hero Gram Parsons. In the end, he arrived on stage two hours late and was ignominiously booed right back off.
Evan Dando has spent the past decade in the twilight zone of rock stardom, almost forgotten by the entertainment corporates who positioned him as grunge's poster boy in the early 1990s, the sunny antidote to Kurt's tortured artist. "In the old days, the Lemonheads appealed to 16-year-olds and their mothers," Dando recalls of his band's early success. "We caused a lot of rows because dads didn't like us. Paula Yates liked us, and Bob Geldof used to write 'wanker' on pictures of me on the fridge. I don't approve of him. I don't think he's doing it for the right reasons at all. I think he's a ponce and a megalomaniac. I don't like that guy. Never met him, though ... " He tails off from such uncharacteristically harsh opinions.
Today, Dando's infrequent outings are acclaimed by the faithful, and pretty much ignored by everyone else. Hanging over his head is the collective judgment that he blew his big chance, and will now have to wait until the obituaries to get his full due. Of course, it's not impossible that he should stage a major comeback, but semi-obscurity seems to be how he likes it.
"I've been blessed with never having had a 10m-selling record," he says. "That ruins a lot of people's lives - though U2 seem OK. The music gets invariably bad. My high-school dream was to be in a band, pay my rent and eat - and I've been able to do that for 20 years. So I'm completely content."
Dando made no records for six years, between 1996 and 2003: how did he get by? "It should have killed me, right?" He laughs. "But I made quite a bit investing. I got out right before the tech stocks crashed. I have people working for me. Every three months I would give this person 100 grand I would have spent on coke, so when my music income ran out I still had $700,000.
"I was trying to spend it as quickly as possible. Because I'm so lazy, all that money created a block. I was flying around the world, staying at fancy hotels, having fun and trying to get rid of it as quickly as possible, so I could get on with some more work."
At 39, Dando still bears the badges of slackerdom. Strumming a battered single pick-up cream Gibson SG as he talks, he wears a 1998 tour T-shirt of one of his heroes, former Dinosaur Jr leader J Mascis, in addition to jeans, baseball boots and a red wool US Marine Corps cap emblazoned with a bulldog and the marines' motto, Semper Fi ("It's great to wear if you get pulled over by the cops: you get better treatment"). Half a dozen packs of Marlboro close to hand and an incipient Ozzy Osbourne shake are this afternoon's only outward signs of a lifetime spent irresponsibly.
Even if his songs are full of wistful regret, in person Dando lacks an atom of self-pity. Part of his charm lies in a palpable absence of either burning ambition, or the sense of entitlement that so often goes with a privileged upbringing. The youngest child of a wealthy property attorney and a former fashion model, Dando attended Boston's prestigious Commonwealth School and, although an indifferent student, he enjoyed the benefits of a liberal, hip 1970s childhood.
Given his first electric guitar on his 10th birthday, his father made an even bigger - if unintentional - contribution to his son's career the following year. "I wanted love from the masses because I was trying to make up for my parents' messy divorce and feeling abandoned when I was 11," Dando states matter-of-factly. "I didn't see my dad for a year. That was the sand in my oyster, why I had to write songs as a catharsis to make me feel good - actually, physically - without drugs. I've got nothing against my parents; I don't know what it's like raising children and they did a damn good job, but they didn't see eye to eye."
Last month, Dando performed with the latest incarnation of the Lemonheads at Somerset House in London; next month sees the release of a thrilling new album, the eponymous The Lemonheads. Boasting two cameo guitar solos by Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis, the album features contributions from other stars of the 1980s hardcore punk scene where Dando first cut his teeth (as well as, of all people, Bob Dylan's veteran Band sideman Garth Hudson).
Dando now tends to take his wife, Elizabeth Moses, a Newcastle-born model, on tour with him. Insiders credit her with restoring the singer's sense of purpose. "It's better when you have your wife with you, more fun," Dando says, contradicting the rock rule that matrimony and the road don't mix. "When there are no women on the tour it can get awful and ugly - constant horrible jokes and gross behaviour. It needs to be leavened with a feminine presence. My advice to any band is, bring a female tour manager or T-shirt seller. The all-male crazy pirate thing? You start doing things you regret.
"Since Elizabeth, I certainly live a healthier lifestyle," he continues, "but I'm no angel. I don't like alcohol, but I still like to mess around with other stuff occasionally. I think it's important I take mushrooms and acid. They're certainly not addictive, so I can't rule that out. Every six months or so I'll take some mushrooms, because I can't let go of that completely. And I don't want to."
Does he document his trips? "I don't write down my experiences, but I have a very decent memory. I have tons of books in which I write down phrases as they occur to me. That's how I write songs. I'll need a line and I'll go through the books and find it, the right rhyme and everything. The best songs I write in 20 minutes. I'm very inspired by F Scott Fitzgerald's The Crack-up. When I write a song, it's all about the riff - the riff first, then the words come later.
"I want to write short stories," he warms to his theme. "For me, it's all about The Dubliners by James Joyce. I love The Dead. Rock stars wanting to write is even worse than wanting to act in movies, right? Haha!"
Dando's occasional co-writer, the reclusive Australian Tom Morgan, is credited with the best song on the new album, No Backbone; Morgan also co-wrote The Same Thing You Thought Hard About Is the Same Part I Can't Live Without, a highlight of Dando's 2003 solo album, Baby I'm Bored. "He continues to be a great inspiration to me," Dando says of Morgan. "I go down there [Australia] all the time. He's not the most ambitious person; he doesn't want to go on tour. He likes his time alone at home. He's not even a phone person. We joke that he's Bernie Taupin and I'm Elton John."
But far from penning larger-than-life showstoppers, Morgan has pushed Dando deeper into the bluest of moods. The nuances of Dando's more reflective songs risk being lost in the rush of the new album's frazzled punk-pop treatment - which for Dando is, perhaps, something of a retreat into a nostalgic comfort zone.
"I have to make rock records occasionally," he says. "This may be the last one. I'm going to be 40 soon - I had to get another one in there while I can. I like to do that kind of music, but I'm probably better at the other kind, the quiet Fred Neil-type of stuff," he says. "I want to do both. I've got time, I hope, to make lots of quiet records. So quiet you won't be able to hear them".
The Lemonheads is out on Vagrant/Polydor on September 25