Interview with Evan Dando by Jaan Uhelszki
From Harp Magazine, November 2006
Evan Dando: The World's Forgotten Boy
Most of the world thinks that, by rights, Evan Dando shouldn't be alive. But like Iggy Pop (one of his mentors), he's a misunderstood boy—and much more than the sum of the drugs he's taken. Perhaps because so much of his messy private life has been exposed to the light of day—from being one of People Magazine's 50 “Sexiest Men Alive,” to his fleeting role as Oasis' court jester/drug monkey, to the tabloid photos showing him kissing Courtney Love in a New York hotel room, hugging her teddy bear-shaped knack sack containing Kurt Cobain's ashes—he’s frequently been an object of ridicule.
What no one seems to have appreciated is his wry left-of-center sense of humor and highly developed sense of self. After all, the Lemonheads did get signed on the strength of a single song, “Fucked Up," a self-conscious thrashed-out paean to Hüsker Dü. Because he was and is so incredibly photogenic, many have overlooked his keen sense of absurdity, cerebral introspection and subversive lyrics masked as simple pop. But with Dando, what you see is never what you get, and that's not really a bad thing. We spoke to the tall, idiosyncratic musician on the brink of his first Lemonheads record in ten years about image, ageing and the downsides of Zoloft.
HARP: In July you told a London audience that your solo career was now over.
No, I didn’t.
HARP: Yes you did.
Well, you know how that stuff goes. A lot of it’s not true. And anyway, the time that I had said that this is our last show, I probably said, “this is the last show of our tour.” As far as breaking up the Lemonheads in '97, I was always going to do another Lemonheads record. I just knew we needed to take a break for a while. And then I took a long break from doing it, and then decided to do a solo album because my masochistic streak came out. It’s more fun to be in a band, even if it’s a constantly rotating cast. It’s more fun, really. I’m not saying I won’t do another solo album. I might. I mean that’s fun too, but I felt I might as well do the Lemonheads again.
HARP: Maybe the name’s just lucky for you.
Exactly, the name is just an organizing principle.
HARP: It’s like you’re on a ten-year plan; in 1986 you began the Lemonheads, in 1996 you ended it, in 2006 you're resurrecting it again. There's a bizarre pattern at work.
Yeah, there is. I did really want to get it out this year so there wouldn’t be more than three years that went by since I put out my solo record. I know I don’t put many things out. I only put out things that I really like, stuff I can really stand behind. I’ve just been careful about that. I would just as soon wait until I really have something to say.
HARP: Iggy Pop said he was the world’s forgotten boy; I think you earned that title as much as he did.
Yeah, I agree. And actually, Iggy’s another reason why I kept the name. We were having dinner in Japan together and he told me he liked the name of the band.
HARP: I remember when asked why you’d named the band after Lemonhead candy, you said: “because it’s sweet on the outside and sour on the inside.”
Right, exactly. And there were still like the remnants of Quaaludes culture when we started our band, and so the lemon thing was a vaguely disguised reference to Quaaludes.
HARP: Do you still stay in touch with Ben Deily and Jesse Peretz, the guys you started the band with?
I’ve seen Ben actually more than Jesse lately. He came to see me play in LA the night that Lucinda Williams got up and sang a couple songs with me. He was there, and after the show we went back to where I was staying and we played all the old songs. And it was crazy, we both remembered everything. We played together perfectly still.
HARP: Can you tell me about hooking up with the Descendents? Were you a big fan of the band and is that why you asked them to be Lemonheads?
Yeah. I did the reunion tour in 2004, and we brought my friend John Castner’s band, and at the time Karl Alvarez was playing bass in his band. And so I met Karl, and we got along really well and had a lot of fun together down in South America. And he was saying, why don’t you just get Bill in on it and we’ll make a Lemonheads record. I was hatching plans to make a Lemonheads record because they did this Lemonheads covers festival in Brazil. I thought if that’s going on, why not?
HARP: Did you have the awareness, when you were in the Lemonheads, that you were making history?
Yeah, I did. It was a funny time. I mean, at least there seemed to be a lot of good music happening then. And of course it was double-edged sword. Making money definitely lost some of the fun at that point. Once we realized that it was a job, some of the fun invariably was gone, I guess. You long for the days when it was just a small sort of cult thing.
HARP: At the core of your songs and probably your life, there seems to be this essential contradiction. You crave success and yet you’re repelled by it. Maybe it's at the center of your ten-year pattern.
Right. Yep, that’s true. I mean, there’s nothing else that I can do, so I’m coming back to it again. I can’t think of anything else I’d like to do, really. I’m a voracious reader, I want to be a writer one day, but I still haven’t really gotten down to work on that yet. I think I've got a couple more years before I do.
HARP: Maybe you're just waiting for the urn to fill.
Yeah, I do a lot of waiting. I always kind of know when it’s right again to make a move. I just thought it was a good time to get out of the situation at the height of the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys. I thought it was maybe a good time to duck out for a while and wait for things to change. Of course, then the Strokes came along and rock came back in fashion for a while. I don’t know what’s happening now, we could be entering a drought again, who knows?
HARP: Did you always feel that you were meant for big things? Your mom was a Vogue cover girl, so you were kind of destined not to have an ordinary life. Did you have that perception that your life wasn’t like other kids’ lives?
I knew that I was lucky because the high school that I went to, the only rule on the books was no roller-skating in the hallways. It was really the only rule. You couldn’t get in trouble because they didn’t spell anything out. We were reading Kafka’s diaries in, like, tenth grade. So when I went to college it was like taking three steps back and so I just withdrew after one semester. Of course that’s what Iggy did, and he was my hero. All my rock heroes did one semester and just left after that. That’s why I became a waiter. Although my dad made good money, he wouldn’t give me any. He knew the best thing for me was to have a dose of reality. It’s the best thing a parent can do in a weird way—when a kid reaches 18, they have to make their own way. That really was the best thing he ever did.
HARP: Can you talk about when People Magazine called you one of the sexiest men alive, and Courtney Love saying she had impure thoughts about you? Do you think that helped or hindered your career?
I don’t know. It’s a tough one because I sort of went along with it. And I should have said no when they called me up about the “50 Most Beautiful People in the World,” but I just thought it was really funny. And so much of the stuff I was doing was so unconnected to reality and so ludicrous that I thought, just go along with it and see what happens. I was never very careful about stuff and neither was my management company. I think they saw me as someone who was going to politely overdose, but I didn’t. I don’t know what was going on with that management company [Gold Mountain]. Us, Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr. and Hole—it was the top management company at that time. They definitely worked me into the ground where I couldn’t really say no to stuff.
HARP: Is being from Massachusetts important to who you are?
Boston’s got this real strange hostility and narrow-mindedness to it. I mean, of course, it’s unsafe to generalize. But yeah, it’s not my favorite place in the world, Boston. It’s okay. Generally I like being out of the US these days. I feel strong negative vibes when I’m here, really. It’s just because of what’s going on in the world.
HARP: Probably one of my favorite song of yours is “If I Could Talk, I’d Tell You.” Did you really flush the Zoloft down the toilet?
Yeah, I did. I didn’t really like that stuff. I think in certain cases you need ’em, but I don’t think I qualify. I mean, I always know that I’m going to get back to normal if I’m in a depression. I don’t like to take antidepressants. I tried it for a little while, back in ’97 or something. Like, my friend Epic [Soundtracks] died and it just seemed like things were kind of going rough for me. The problem was that I was just drinking way too much, so I stopped drinking. That really helped a lot.
HARP: You'll be turning 40 soon. What does that mean to you?
I don’t really think about it much. I’m just looking forward to going out on tour, really. Didn't Coltrane die at 40? I think I'll do this all my life, so what does age matter? I mean, I’ve worked really hard at it and I’m very passionate about it.