Interview with Evan Dando by Simon Witter
From Sky Magazine, April 1993
EVAN DANDO, THE THRASH HUNK SURF-HIPPY LEADER OF THE LEMONHEADS, IS CURRENTLY RIDING A WAVE OF GOOD VIBRATIONS. BUT HOW DID A MAN WHO LIKES "THE NICE SEAWEEDY THINGS ON ROCKS" AND WHOSE TROUSER COLLECTION NUMBERS A GRAND TOTAL OF FOUR BECOME SUCH A GLOBAL LUST OBJECT?
Sinking into the bar-room sofa of one of Kensington's more sterile, demi-swank hotels on the morning after America re-bombed Baghdad, Evan Dando smiles with a gleefulness ill-befitting a pacifist. "I know," beams musicland's latest pin-up. "What a bummer! Maybe we should get drunk!"
But we don't, largely because the irrepressibly perky Dando is already half-pissed on the joy of his own good fortune. Well-disposed towards all mankind at the worst of times, the 25-year-old Bostonian thrash hunk surf-hippy is currently riding a wave of success and good vibes. Five albums into their career, on the back of a rumbling, punky cover of Mrs Robinson, his band The Lemonheads have suddenly become the next big thing. Their jangly, 60s-ish album It's A Shame About Ray is leaping off record store racks and the teen press have declared Dando "hunk du jour" - all without denting the group's credibility. There just is no downside.
Dressed in purple jeans, a black T-shirt and RM Williams Australian outback boots, Dando bobs his head Keanu-style, his lank, clean blond hair flailing about a face dusted with a light sheen of make-up ready for our photo-shoot. His blue eyes burn with a hypnotic intensity that would give Bela Lugosi a run for his money in the sinister stakes, if ever the smiling face that frames them were to form a scowl. The waitress who serves him coffee smiles politely, rather than dissolving into a pool of moist arousal, but maybe that's just self-discipline.
Dando talks incredibly fast, in a loud, clear voice, ending everything he says with a little self-conscious laugh, as if to say he can't take himself seriously. He is endearingly unafraid of pouring forth anecdotes that paint a self-portrait of a Dando several notes short of a G-chord. The Lemonheads' star began to rise during a five-month European and US tour at the end of last year, but it wasn't until December that Dando realised the impact Mrs Robinson was having. Now he's pretty dismissive: "I'm more proud of my own songs than the version of Mrs Robinson, which frankly I can take or leave - mostly leave."
Apart from being honest, Dando is also genuinely self-deprecating. Asked about his belated, and sudden success, he has no greater sense of his own appeal than to assume the press had simply run out of other people to buzz about.
"It's a good question," he muses after a bit of cosmic pondering. "People are always looking out for something to get excited about, so chances are that eventually they'll come round to you. I would like to imagine that it has something to do with the way [fellow Lemonhead] Tom Morgan and I have improved as songwriters, but who knows?"
When it comes to the matter of his pin-up status, Dando mumbles and blushes; but maybe that's just an affectation he has picked up from all the flirting he does.
"It's a tough call," he says, looking at his feet, "'cause all that stuff is neither here nor there. I don't know what that's all about. Sex symbol? It's hard for me to speak intelligently on the subject. Does it mean that some girls like me? I've noticed that, girls coming up and saying hello. Back in high school I was more promiscuous, because it seemed a lot safer back then. It seemed like a lot of girls liked me, but it was no big deal. It's definitely the kinda thing that you try not to think about. I figured out that I always want to have fun, to play music and travel a lot, and that's what I concentrate on. I try to keep a handle on that and have a lot of good friends. The sex symbol stuff is the kind of thing I read about and laugh, but I really don't think about it."
I can't help wondering if, when Dando sleeps with somebody, his new-found (if unwanted) sex-symbol status makes him anxious about their expectations of his tween-sheets performance.
"Nah. I hardly sleep with anyone these days anyway. I have a couple of friends who I sleep with, but I'm not into sleeping with a lot of strangers and stuff. I don't fancy the idea of sleeping with someone who has just read about me. That would be kinda daunting."
But it must be fun being lusted after?
"Oh yeah, sure! I guess it's kind of a kick. It plays into my hands, 'cause I've always liked to flirt. So I can just say hi and talk to them."
Dando is currently without a steady girlfriend, a situation he describes as "kinda weird. It's just 'cause I'm travelling around so much, it doesn't make sense." When I point out that his girlfriend could travel with him, he shoots me a horrified look, as if I'd just casually suggested that he nail his penis to the coffee table.
"That's definitely a bad idea. I've tried that before. That's what broke the band up in 1990. Haven't you heard a lot of stories like that?" Like when Janine goes on the road with Spinal Tap?
"Yeah. That's hilarious. She becomes the manager. That's the dangerous situation." So what sort of girls does he lust after?
"I like girls who can sing. We need to be able to sing songs together, 'cause that's always really fun, y'know. I actually do like singing; I'd be doing it whether it was my living or not. It comforts me. I like girls who like to go swimming - you know, athletic, but not too athletic. This sounds like one of those teenybopper magazines or computer datingagencies. I like girls who can ski, and can swim and can play the guitar."
But all this clean-cut, campfire-singalong talk doesn't mean that Dando's a saintly health-and-efficiency type. He freely admits that his bad habits include smoking and drinking too much, and "the impulse to party". And I had heard a rumour that, at college, Dando used up all his book money buying drugs.
"That's true," he says with his usual smile. "I was really disappointed with college. It seemed a huge step back from my high school, which was an ultra-cool little school in the city [Boston] called Commonwealth School. It was so intense. They had whole classes on Kafka's diaries, but college was really vague, and they slapped my hand for not writing the way they wanted me to. I got disillusioned, and then I read somewhere that Iggy Pop had only done one semester at college. I thought, 'That's it, man. I'm gonna follow in my idol's footsteps.'
"But I'd be the first one to try to take back anything I'd said condoning drug use. I'd never say go out there and try drugs, 'cause it's definitely not a good idea for all people. For me, it has enhanced my life in certain ways. I'm glad. I would never feel guilty about what I've done with drugs, but it's not for everyone, and definitely not for young kids. But when people ask me what I think about things, I try very hard to be honest, so I'm not going to lie and say I've never done drugs."
The Lemonheads' sound has changed since its thrashy inception, not just because Dando got into Gram Parsons and Country music four years ago, but also because the angry youth of yore has become a fullyfledged, card-carrying 90s hippy.
"A lot of things are in place for a reactivation of the 60s feeling," he insists. "We've got a weird war and stuff going on. There's a real need right now for people to simplify. I don't say 'Oh wow! We're going into the new 60s!', I just think it would be really cool if people would start making necklaces and singing songs rather than playing video games and all that other stuff."
Dando's purple jeans, bought yesterday in Camden Market, bring his trouser collection to a grand total of four pairs. "I'm a little bit not good at shopping," he confesses. "I do like clothes, but I don't have time to remember to go out and get 'em. It seems like they should just come to you."
Quite how clothes are meant to find this modern nomad is a mystery, for Dando has no fixed abode. "Did you see the Daily Star article?" he cackles. "It said: 'Dippy Dando has turned his back on the rock-star lifestyle and is sleeping rough in the back of his Mustang.' They made up all this stuff about me. I love it! There's a picture of me, and it says, `CAMPING OUT: EVAN IS SO IN TENTS'. I'm starting to believe it. I'm gonna start living the tabloid image of myself, get a tent."
The truth is that Dando has no home. He's been living out of hotels for almost a year. But his favourite chill-out place is Australia - he has many friends in Melbourne and Sydney. As soon as the last tour, and Mrs Robinson, had blown over, he shot out there.
"I spent Christmas day on my own in a hotel room in Sydney. Since then I've just been going to the beach, Tamarama and Bondi, walking around the rocks and doing the scunge-plunge. That's where you dive into the sea and the waves throw you back up onto the rocks, which are real soft 'cause they're all coated with this beautiful rug of nice seaweedy things. So I've just been doing that lately, really not thinking about anything but the water."
The only time off Dando has had lately has been in Australia, where a typical day unfolds as follows: "I get up, take a shower, get dressed and put my purple sunglasses on. I have these cool purple-vision sunglasses, which make everything purple and cool everything down. Then I head out to the beach, Tamarama. There's this amazing path along the cliff, and everyday for two weeks I walked along it to Bondi, to visit my friends in Jackie's Cafe. Mostly I just like to walk around, meeting people."
But just meeting people, on the streets of this unfriendly world, can't be easy...
"I know. But it's easy being me. I just say hello, and a lot of people will walk by and grimace at me. But maybe one in 10 will say hello, even stop for a chat. The weird thing is that people think you're after something when you say hello, and I really am not. I just wanna say: 'Hi, how ya doin'? What do you think of where you are right now?' It's pretty cool. But people think you're an operator, a hustler, if you say hello. It's depressing."
But Dando doesn't quite "Hello" everyone. "No, sometimes I can't. Sometimes you get too downtrodden after 10 people in a row walk by you and go 'Grrr!'. So I can leave it alone for a while. I say: 'Evan, just give it up for a while. You need to take a break!"'
And what are the criteria for earning a "Hello" from Evan Dando?
"When I'm in that kinda mood. I'm very strict with myself - I say hello to everybody. It gets really tedious if it's a busy street, but I don't choose people. As long as it's not too busy, and people only come up every two minutes, you can say `Hi!' to everybody."
The Lemonheads are touring this month.