Interview with Evan Dando by Everett True
From Melody Maker 11th July 1992
Juliana screams. She sounds petulant, annoyed, frustrated: "I just want a bit part in your life! I just want a bit part in your life!" The boy is ignoring her. How could he? She's hung around him all this time, camped on his doorstep, chatted up all his friends, and still he avoids her. She's got grace, charm, passion; what more could a boy want? She's not asking for much, even a walk-on would be fine.
The boy doesn't care. He's lived this scene a thousand times before. He could choose from a million different girls and he knows it. He: a pin-up for American teen magazines, and with a voice to match. She: a mere bit-player. He: a happy fool, a handsomely romantic heartthrob who's written dozens of throwaway punk/pop songs. She: the singer with Blake Babies, filling in on bass and backing vocals on her mate's album. As moments in pop go, it's sublime.
As Juliana's shouted intro to the flip side of the new Lemonheads album It's A Shame About Ray, it's breathtaking. When Evan Dando's voice swoops down to take up the refrain, you forgot every inhibition you ever had about skinny tie noo wave, country rock and old Costello albums, and fall in love unreservedly once again. Pop music hasn't yet run out of ways to express yearning, romance and desire within the constraints of a three minute song, thank heaven for that.
The school where Evan Dando spent his teenage years playing hooky, skateboardlng, drawing mazes, designing paper aeroplanes and smoking drugs, is lush. Opulent. Located on Boston's picturesque Commonwealth Ave round the corner from the famed "Cheers" bar, it's more of a quaint country house than the chalk-smelling monstrosity, that most childhoods recall.
Evan bounds from small classroom to small dassroom in a happy haze, occasionally running across an old teacher who advises him to get his hair cut. Sometimes stopping to reminisce about where he used to hang out with Jesse, ex-Lemonhead (and noww video maker), and chat up babes. Steve Gullick instructs Evan to put his feet up on an old teacher's desk and the singer complies. Next he strikes a suitably pose over a book. Then, he lounges carelessly in the common room. Posing in a classroom comes naturally to Evan: he still has a schoolboy's demeanour and boyish charm.
Nic, his Australian bassist of 10 dayw standing, seems quite impressed by all the grandeur, but maybe he's more intrigued by the inside of an American school. Dave Ryan (drums) has seen it all before, having played with Evan for a few years now.
It's all a far cry from the trailer park upbringing which seems almost mandatory for any self-respecting American guitar band nowadays. But then, Lemonheads aren't yer average US guitar band. Not now, anyhow. While America is crammed to bursting with humourless, talentless, no-hoper, flannel-shirted, retards, it comes as a genuine pleasure to encounter groups with such a clear love for the harmonies of the old soul purists, the directness of the Fifties' country dudes AND the ability to translate it onto vinyl.
"I grew up on Marvin Gaye and Al Green and Stevie and Jackson 5 and stuff," reveals Evan. "It gave me a real enjoyment of music. My parents were into groovy music when I was a kid, and 'Hair' was one of the major records. That, and Stevie Wonder."
The love for "groovy" music is evident on the album where, sadly, the only cover (Lemonheads are renowned for their inspirational covers, particularly those of Suzanne Vega's "Luka" and Mike Nesmith's "Different Drum") is an awesome and sultry version of "Frank Mills" from the aforementioned hippy stage-show. To hear Evan Dando sing lines like, "I love him/But it embarrases me/To walk down the street with him/He lives in Brooklyn somewhere/And he wears his white crash helmet" is, frankly, to truly appreciate how wonderful and tantalising pop music can be.
"It was, like, more reminiscenes, bringing out stuff you remember from when you were a kid cos it's kind of a kick," Evan tells me. "It's the same kinda song as 'Different Drum', it has the same kinda quality. When I was young, I would visualise the whole thing. I dig the fact that it mentions 'The Waverley', and I would try to figure out whether it was the Waverley hotel or the Waverley library."
"It's A Shame About Ray" was recorded in LA this year through one disaster after another: earthquakes, riots, arson and theft. Evan was pleased to see the back of the place when he left. Most of the songs were written while Evan was in Australia last year, however, after he lived out a childhood dream of suppoting Fugazi on a solo tour (Minor Threat, Fugazi's precursors, were his favourite band in high school).
"It's a good jarring thing, to be so far away," thinks Evan about his time spent in Australia. "I like being under pressure, otherwise I find it hard to motivate myself. I wish I could build things, or cook, or sculpt or something, but I can't. The only thing I can do is write songs, but that's pretty satisfying too."
Like Lemonheads albums before it, "Ray" is populated with characters, both real and imaginary. There's "My Drug Buddy", which is one glorious mess of evocative images, a tale of a night out on the streets with a friend's girlfriend, scoring, shooting up, hanging out, just enjoying life.
Then there's the even more optimistic "Alison's Starting To Happen", which has such a surge of joy running through the whole song that you can't help but start bubbling over with happiness every time you hear it.
"That's about Nic's girlfriend, Alison, who plays drums in Smudge (they have a classic single out, Don't Wanna Be Grant McLellan)" Evan tells me. "She'd taken ecstacy and she had started to come onto the drug and she was like, 'woah!' and I was thinking, 'woah! Alison's starting to happen'. So I turned it into a sort of love song."
So how about the title track, "It's A Shame About Ray"? Did you invent a character called Ray to write the song about?
"It comes from this guy in Melbourne, Australia who calls everyone Ray" explains Evan. "So I started to think that Ray could be a name for everybody, so It's A Shame About Ray could be about anybody, it's a pretty grey and indefinite kind of thing, but then it's very specific. It's a little puzzler for me too. I'm not sure if the person singing the song is Ray himself, or someone who knew him, it's hard to know."
Cool. I think Ray could be anyone too.
And everyone should like "It's A Shame About Ray".
"It's A Shame About Ray" is out now on Atlantic.