Interview with Evan Dando by Andrew Male
From Mojo Magazine April 2003
"Bohemian rhapsody" - After a dissolute seven-year holiday, Evan Dando returns with the album of his career.
And so he's standing there on a tiny four-foot square in the Pfefferbank, an old spice packing plant in the former East Berlin that's now a trendy techno club trading in "Detroit minimal techno & warm housey feelings". The Lemonheads were big in Berlin in 1989 - it was the place where they first really took off - but tonight there's just some smiling girls at the front and a crowd of frowning kids surrounding this tiny stage, all smoking Camels and Marlboro. And the cigarettes are messing with his voice which is already fucked from the jet lag and interviews and he's looking down at this list his feet which reads TOWN, STREET, FRIENDS, CLOTHES, HOUSE, GIRL, CHORD, FAITH, CHILD, LOVE, FACE, TOWN, FEET, HANDS, BED, SHIRT, PACE, TUNE, ROAD, LIPS, STONE, PEOPLE, EYES, TOWN, because he can't remember the words to Ben Lee's Hard Drive, one of the new songs on his new solo album Baby, I'm Bored. So he tells them his voice is shot and he walks off the stage, out into Berlin to get some space and he doesn't get wasted because he doesn't do hard drugs any more and he doesn't get drunk because Evan Dando stopped drinking on the morning of September 11th, 2001.
Four days later, amid the glorious clutter of a Victorian hotel near Notting Hill, behind the door of a room called Wordsworth, Evan Dando is in better spirits, sharing his bed with Anita Pallenberg.
Evan, woolly hat pulled down to the eyebrows, cigarette on the go, plays with a can of alcohol-free lager while Anita, a friend since '96 when Dando became godfather to Marlon Richards' daughter, pores over a Puzzler word-search on the bed. Evan soon begins poring over another, more significant volume, a hand-made diary overflowing with cuttings, scribblings, photos and postcards that details his gilded hedge-backwards life of the last four years. He holds up a postcard.
"OK, look at the front," he says, beginning as ever, in mid-sentence. The postcard commemorates September 11. On one half of the card is a shiny postcard of the twin towers, pre-attack. Next to it is a news agency photo, taken just as the first tower started to fall. Above the images, two words, "The Unthinkable", in 'wish you were here!' lettering. "Someone really messed up," says Dando, incredulous, "put it in 'funny' writing." He was two blocks away when it happened. He holds up a photo of his girlfriend Elizabeth, standing on their apartment balcony, pointing at Ground Zero. "That day was a new chapter in my life. First of all, I didn't have to go to court - because I opened a bale of hay on-stage and then basically told a cop to fuck off and you don't do that. Anyway, my court date was September 12 and they said, 'Mr Dando? Don't worry about it. Your hay incident has been made completely irrelevant by today's historical events.' Elizabeth saw people jumping. When the second plane came in, I thought, it's the navy, doing that forest fire shit. But it was unnaturally loud and so low and fast that I knew...it's militant Islamic activity against the United States, finally! It was America's flat tyre."
That day did something to Evan Dando. It settled him down. As a result he is now something of a connoisseur of alcohol free lager and gets to see 100 per cent unadulterated life rushing straight at him every day. And yes, you're right. Only he could have had the tasteless good fortune to evade a hay baling prosecution on the back of September 11, give up a long-established career of grand indulgence and get himself together enough to produce one of the albums of the year.
Evan Dando announced the death of the Lemonheads at the 1997 Reading Festival. By that time the band had been in existence for over 10 years, evolving from a bunch of post-Husker Du punk-pop chancers from the posh Boston suburbs (1987's Hate Your Friends) into an obvious vehicle for the mid-'90s media sensation/heartthrob Evan Dando, cutting two of the best albums of the '90s, It's A Shame About Ray and Come On Feel The Lemonheads, in the process. After the scorched hull of drug-damaged jet-trash that was 1996's vastly underrated Car Button Cloth, the band, and Evan, burned out. 1997 was meant to be spent skiing and recuperating, but Dando soon found himself back in a friend's New York City apartment né crack den, looking after two Rottweilers, and stopping the rats, real and imaginary, from chewing on the carpets. But next thing he knows it’s 1998, a year’s gone by, he’s staying in a really nice apartment on First and First and that’s when he meets his future wife, Newcastle-born model Elizabeth Moses, in a nearby bar and things start to get better.
“I’d never been in love before. It’s interesting. It’s a powerful thing. It makes you want to hold on to it. And love’s addictive. It’s a druuuug, baby!” Thanks to love, 1999 got a little better and saw Evan hooking up with various pals including John Convertino, Joey Burns and Howe Gelb from Giant Sand and Calexico and feted powerpop producer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion. Like George Bailey at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, when people heard that Evan needed help in making his solo record, they rallied round: Aussie teen Dando obsessive Ben Lee, long-time writing partner Tom Morgan, Ben Kweller. Getting his chops back, Dando guested on albums by The Blake Babies and Craig Armstrong, toured with Ben Kweller and put out an endearingly ragged live album, Live At The Brattle Theatre, that came with an extra CD of country covers. “I have a group of people who help me out when I need it,” admits Dando, “I’m incredibly lucky.”
Dando has always worked best in collaboration. Last August he found himself back in Melbourne with some of the people who inspired the Lemonheads’ greatest album, It’s A Shame About Ray; Nicole, the character from My Drug Buddy, Alison from Alison’s Starting To Happen and Tom Morgan. “Ray is all about this girl from the Hummingbirds, Alannah, who suggested that the Lemonheads should come out to Australia. That’s where I met Nic Dalton and Tom. That gave me a shot in the arm. Unfortunately, it was a double shot because that’s the first time I picked up a syringe. I’d always wanted to do it but it was too much bother to get clean needles in the US but [in Australia] you call up and say, I need some more and they pull up in a van and chuck them over the fence. But I’d rather write songs straight. To tell you the truth, I haven’t done much heroin in the last seven years, [but] in ’97 I was still doing it [and] you tend to get self-indulgent as fuck on that stuff. So whenever I did heroin I’d put on Shame About Ray, not every time but it’s fun to get out of yourself and go, Wow, this is me! I’m proud of that record! It’s kinds glowy, bright and shiny.”
And it’s the record that set it all off 10 years ago, the magazine covers, the fashion shoots, the booze, the drugs, which all unraveled considerably with Glastonbury 1995 when Dando turned up late for his slot and became the first and last person in history to get bottled off by Portishead fans. “That was totally my fault,” he says. “I went off with [celebrity bisexual couple] Rachel Williams and Alice Temple. Their cottage was ages away and I was high on heroin and having great sex and I missed my concert. Oh well! I’d like to apologise publicly for that again.”
There is a difficult pause, signifying one memory too far. “God! Sometimes you have to remember to look after yourself. You can forget stuff, like your book, or something. I’ve just read The Odyssey and now I’m onto The Iliad. They’re such fun books! I find them so delicious to read, the descriptions of the food and the clothes.” He pauses. “You know,” he says, like we’re talking about someone who’s just gone out of the room, “that Evan Dando, he ain’t so bad after all. I’m fine with him. He had a terrible time smoking crack and heroin but…there were so many peaks and valleys along the way. I remember I woke up every morning for a week straight with a basket of fruit and a bottle of champagne. You see, in hotels, we’d always get too loud for the room and move the party into the stairwell and I’d be the last person partying and I’d wake up in the stairwell with the basket of fruit and the champagne that the record company gives you because you’ve had a good gig and those were great mornings. (pause) Yeah. Very sad. Very sad.”
When Evan Dando was a kid he always felt like he needed to go some place and clear his head. All throughout the madness of the Lemonheads it never seemed like he found it.
“No! You’re right!” he says. “Elizabeth and I want to get a place out in the desert, in Tucson, and that would be the closest thing. Somewhere we could go and chill. And I’d like to get a flat in Glasgow. We’re both working so we’ll be able to have another year-long vacation soon. Oh man, but the seven-year vacation is dangerous. I guess I only took a two-year vacation really, but God, I didn’t work much. But it was good. It was good. Everything happened perfectly.”