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Interview with Evan Dando by Sander Wolf

From New England Performer February 1993

 

Lemonheads' Evan Dando: Alternative Guru or Pop Genius?

My first impression of the Lemonheads' new album, "It's A Shame About Ray," was that it was a really heavy, extremely alternative album. It seemed to be full of obscure ideas, stories and diffuse inside jokes coupled with prerequisite distorted guitarsm, lead singer/guitarist Lemonheads founder Evan Dando's semi-hoarse musings, and the occasional whiff from Juliana Hatfield (who guest stars on bass and vocals). "It's A Shame About Ray" sounded a bit more polished that the band's previous releases including Taang! Record's Lick (and the infamous "Luka" cover), and the Lemonheads' Atlantic Records debut Lovey. But after the interview that you're about to read took place, I formed a different opinion. Instead of being dark and obscure, "It's A Shame About Ray" now takes the form of a collection of pure pop songs. The songs are light, short, and full of sustaining melodies. In a word, "accessible". If pop stars can be considered geniuses then Evan Dando should wear that crown. He's still in a world of his own, but comes across simply as a "nice guy". You'll get the idea by the time you finish reading the interview...

The Lemonheads photo by Eric L. Johnson

The Lemonheads photo by Eric L. Johnson

Evan Dando: Where are you from?
Sander Wolf for New England Performer: Boston, kinda your hometown.
ED: Definitely, it's where I came from.
NEP: But you're on the road so much now...
ED: Yeah, I don't have an apartment. I stay with Curtis from Taang! when I'm in Boston.
NEP: Didn't you have an apartment with Juliana Hatfield?
ED: Yeah, a while back, but we gave that one up.
NEP: For Lent?
ED: No, it was in a very Jewish area but... Is Lent a Jewish thing? No. Catholic? It's across the boards, you just got to give it all up for religion. [Laughter] It was really near Kapel's Bagels which was really awesome. [After that] we went to record in L.A. and I lived there for three months, then we went on tour.
NEP: So this is The Never Ending Tour?
ED: Yeah, but it's gonna end on December 16th. After that we're going to make a rock video [for "My Drug Buddy"], and then me and Nic [Dalton, Lemoheads' bassist] are going to Austria for a couple of months and try to write another album. Then in February we'll play some shows in Japan, then New Zealand, and then tour Australia. Then it'll be March and I don't know what we'll be doing - then we make a record, maybe in May or something.
NEP: You have a "thing" for Australia, where according to your song and press release, everybody calls each other "Ray."
ED: But that's not true. One friend of mine calls everyone "Ray". It's so funny that they wrote that [in the bio]. It's good though, it's good to start a wrong myth like that. But no, it's just this one guy who calls everyone that.
NEP: So what's "It's A Shame About Ray" about? Do you know?
ED: It's a really weird abstract song. It's about some guy who disappeared (you figured that out). And it could be about everybody and also it could be Ray singing about himself and he wonders what happened to himself and how he changed. But I don't know which it is. It's a very weird, abstract song. But it's mostly about words, I guess, and just having a good time with words.
Evan Dando photo by Eric L. JohnsonNEP: Which thought did you have when you wrote it?
ED: Oh, we totally didn't know. We had a title and we had a riff and we had a first line ("I've never been too good with names"). Every line just fit in after that, but we didn't exactly know what we were talking about, but it made some sort of sense to is.
NEP: So you just write the words down and interpret them later?
ED: Yeah, I guess so. Well, we felt our way through the song 'cause we knew we were making something out of it. We were just going for this eerie kind of thing like, "Oooh - it's a shame about Ray." We were trying to write a scary song. Kind of like "The Trouble With Harry." You know that movie?
NEP: Is it the one with the big bear?
ED: No. The trouble with Harry was that he was dead. It's a Hitchcock movie. The song was inspired by that.
NEP: How did you record that one sustained vocal note in that song?
ED: Oh, right, we did like a trick with that. All you do is layer it on a bunch of different tracks and it just kinda overlaps and stop. They just kind of joined up a bunch of different breaths. Somehow it sounds like it's this one big voice.
NEP: How do you do it live?
ED: Me and Nic go back and forth singing it. Like when we first wrote the song. Me and Tom [Morgan, the song's co-writer] would try to do the whole thing just overlapping. "You breathe now, I'll breathe then." It was a really fun song to write. I remember that one day we wrote "It's A Shame About Ray," "Rockin' Stroll" and "Confetti." Tom just kinda stood there and said, "Keep writing." "Confetti" I wrote in ten minutes. I had three songs and I was like, "Hey, cool man - I can do an album after all." It was pretty cool. I didn't know what I was going to do [when I was] trying to write that record. I was thinking maybe I just won't do any more records because I don't know if I can come up with anything, but then I got really into it. It's funny, I seem to write the songs that I like the best in ten to twenty minutes.

NEP: How did you work the cover of "Mrs. Robinson" into everything?
ED: That was just like this weird idea that came around. Some people bought [the rights to] the movie [The Graduate] and they had this idea that they wanted a band to cover that song to help promote it and we were just the suckers to go in and record it for them. They asked us and we did it. Then it just got overblown into this weird thing of being a single. We just recorded it in three hours. And now it's funny 'cause it's some sort of big deal. Now it's going to be on MTV or something. It's helping the record kinda alive, which is really cool. I don't mind it, it's just kinda weird.
NEP: You don't mind your covers being more successful than your originals?
ED: You know, whatever. I'll be a little bit of a whore so I can keep doing what I'm doing and actually work in some things that I really care about. I like to just sing, and I'm really grateful to be doing it at all, so I'll be a bit of whore now and again.
NEP: I like your name tag in the video (a sticker that says "Hello, my name is: Luka").
ED: Oh yeah, me too, that's the key.
NEP: It's kind of unusual how the single is being added to new copies of "It's A Shame About Ray" so if you want the single you have to buy the album again.
ED: We're putting out a CD5 with the single and some unreleased tracks so if you just wait a while you can get that if you want to you know? The record industry's pretty weord/
NEP: You've gotten pretty lucky with the recordy industry.
ED: Somehow I got into this "enviable" situation with the label. All of a sudden they're like really into it. It's funny.
NEP: Did it start out that way?
ED: No, they were mostly blowing hor air before. We were one of the first indie rock bands to get signed and people really didn't have their shit together. The people that signed us left the label too. Somehow things all worked their way into being more streamlined for me.
NEP: Do you pay much attention to the business/record company stuff?
ED: No, I'm just kinda interested in how many records we've sold. That's about it. It's good to sell records 'cause then you know people are listening to your stuff.
Nic Dalton photo by Eric L. JohnsonNEP: Don't you see all your listeners every night while you're on tour?
ED: Yeah, that's true. That's obvious and that's really good too. But it's also kinda cool to think that there's people that don't even go out of their house to listen to us. I mean, whatever their lifestyles are they can listen to us too. They don't have to comeout and see a show.
NEP: This may sound kind of silly, but what's "My Drug Buddy" about?David Ryan photo by Eric L. Johnson
ED: It's really about when I went back to Boston from Sydney and I was really missing a lot of my friends back there and I was trying to bring them back by remembering one night, trying to relive it. It's about taking speed and exploring Sydney all night. It's really more about friendship and really liking someone than it is about drugs.
NEP: What do your parents think of the Lemonheads?
ED: My mom would like for me to call her more, and I'm going to try and do that - I'll try to write her more and stuff. I think they look upon it as a normal course of the way life goes. They're really into it, they like it a lot.
NEP: It's interesting that the band members can change the band is always still called the Lemonheads?
ED: Over the years I've played the drums on our records. I've played the bass, I've played the guitar, I've sang. I feel like by now I can use that name for a while. But I don't want to use it that much longer, maybe for one more record.
NEP: Then what?
ED: I'll call my band Sugar [laughter]. I don't know what I'll do, but I don't know if I can hang onto this [name]. It seems like more of a young thing. I'm getting on in years. I'm 25. After the next record I'll be 27, I don't still want to be called the Lemonheads. That was our name in high school, you can imagine the associations it has for me - it's the band I was in when I was 18. It's really weird, but we'll see what happens.

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