Interview with Evan Dando by David Friedman
From Danbury News Times, 5th October 2005
Catching up with a '90s pop culture icon
To borrow a phrase from one of their most popular album titles, it's a shame about the Lemonheads — but only for the Connecticut fans who would have liked to see the band perform for the first time in years last Friday night at the Webster Theater in Hartford.
The show was canceled by the band's camp six days before it was to happen due to low ticket sales. But fresh off a well-received pair of shows in Europe, the Lemonheads — led by singer-songwriter-guitarist Evan Dando — are far from calling it quits. Instead, the band is back in the studio recording an album that will most likely be self-titled.
And while Dando hasn't settled on a particular label yet, he hopes to have the album completed by the year's end and in stores next spring, he said in a Sept. 19 interview from his Manhattan home.
"The Lemonheads" — if that indeed turns out to be the album's title — will be the band's first studio album since 1996's "Car Button Cloth." But the band is best known for its pair of gold-selling albums, 1992's "It's A Shame About Ray" and 1993's "Come On Feel The Lemonheads." Dando, whose musical talent and good looks made him popular with fans and the media, appeared in the movie "Reality Bites" and toured extensively in 1994. But reported drug abuse and other factors led him to all but disappear from the music scene for a number of years.
He returned to an extent in 2001, releasing a live album. And in 2003 he released his first full-length solo studio album, "Baby, I'm Bored."
Dando, the son of a lawyer and a fashion model, was born March 4, 1967 and grew up in Boston. He formed the Lemonheads when he was 17 and released their debut, 1986's "Laughing All The Way to the Cleaners" EP, on his own Huh-Bag label.
He left Boston in 1990 and toured for five years before settling in New York City. He credits his wife, model Elizabeth Moses, for inspiring his return to the music scene.
In concert, he said his favorite songs to perform include "My Drug Buddy," "Confetti," "Rudderless" and "Ceiling Fan In My Spoon" — all from "It's A Shame About Ray" — and "Great Big No," "Down About It" and "Into Your Arms" from "Come On Feel The Lemonheads." Plans are in the works to re-release both classic albums on Rhino Records.
The following are excerpts from our recent interview:
Your publicist told me you've been in Europe recently. How's everything going?
"I just got home yesterday from two big shows in London and it was really fun. We sold out two nights at this big place in London and it was great. It was part of the "Don't Look Back" series where they had the Stooges (and others) all doing one of their best albums. We did 'It's A Shame About Ray' in its entirety and then we tacked on maybe six songs from other albums and it was incredibly fun."
How far are you into the recording process for the long-awaited new Lemonheads CD?
"We've got seven songs done. It's myself (and Descendents and ex-Black Flag drummer) Bill Stevenson and (Descendents bassist) Karl Alvarez. That's the new band."
From 1984 until 1996, when the Lemonheads were active, you had a number of lineup changes. What made you decide to go with Bill and Karl for the new lineup?
"I was going through there. We were traveling through when I was singing with the MC5 guys and I met up with Bill, who I've known since the '80s. And I just thought that's the perfect lineup for the next Lemonheads thing — Bill and Karl. And they have a great studio and the first session worked out great. So we just took it from there. We're two sessions in and we've got seven songs done, so we're more than halfway there."
Has the sound and style of the band changed after all these years?
"It's really not that much different. If anything, it's just really strong and the rhythm section's really strong. So it just sounds like the Lemonheads, but some of it's pretty fast and pretty rock. So it's really quite different from the last album, the solo album I did (in 2003). It's more extroverted than introverted."
Can you tell me about any of the songs you have in store for the new album?
"Well, it's hard to really explain them. They're just sort of, I don't know ... There's some fast ones and there's some medium-fast ones. And so far we don't have any slow ones. We're aiming for sort of a Buzzcocks sort of thing — sort of melodic rock/punk."
What made you want to do another Lemonheads album rather than continuing on the solo path?
"I just felt it was time to do it. I always intended on doing another Lemonheads album. That's why I called the 'best of' album 'The Atlantic Years,' you know — leaving it open for more records."
Is there any chance of the really early albums — 1987's "Hate Your Friends," 1988's "Creator" and 1989's "Lick" — being reissued?
"I don't know. I mean, we've got some contractual problems with them. We don't know how to deal with our first label (Taang!). There's a couple problems we have with that. So the first three albums are really up in the air right now. I don't know what's gonna happen with them."
What do you think of those albums looking back?
"Oh, you know, it sounds like immature 18-year-olds. I like some of it. It's got energy and stuff. Some of it's not great, but there are some good songs on each record."
How did you like the whole experience of being on Atlantic Records from around 1990-98?
"It was fine. It served its purpose at the time. It did what it had to do."
What about the media attention focusing on you specifically? By 1992 you were on magazine covers and you were considered a sex symbol by many. How did you deal with it?
"You know, whatever. It was a little bit of a pain sometimes. I just looked upon it like it was a big joke and some of it bit me back a little bit because I just wasn't taking it seriously at all. I was doing too many things — like the '15 Most Beautiful People in the World,' maybe I should have said no to stuff like that. That can give people the wrong idea if you get that kind of weird attention. It can draw attention away from music."
You were reportedly seen with Oasis regularly for a span following the "Come On Feel the Lemonheads" album. How did you meet them?
"We'd met just on tour. We met them in Paris and just had mutual friends and stuff. I'd been touring for 2½ years and I kind of didn't want it to end. And those guys were just about to release (their 1994 debut) 'Definitely Maybe.' So I just hopped in the van with them for like 10 days. That was really fun. I was used to a certain level of excitement every night from being on tour, so it was just sort of a natural thing. And it was really fun. It was a really good time."
What's the deal with the song you wrote with Oasis, "Purple Parallelogram," which was earmarked for the "Car Button Cloth" album?
"Oh, it was about these Rohypnol I used to get prescribed — these sleeping tablets. And Noel (Gallagher) got up in the morning and started singing the beginning of it and then we finished it. And it wasn't a very good song. So he said he didn't want it on the album and I was kind of relieved anyway because the label was trying to pressure it to be the first single. And I didn't like it that much. It sounded kind of like 'Achy, Breaky Heart' to me anyway. I was just doing it because he said he wanted me to do it. And then when I did it, I guess it didn't turn out good enough. And also he kind of used the melody of it for 'Roll With It' anyway, so it kind of had already been done."
You've always had an interesting choice in cover songs. In the past, Lemonheads albums have included remakes of Suzanne Vega's "Luka" and Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson." How did you choose these?
"Oh, you know, mostly I picked songs that were always sung by women first and I guess I thought that automatically made them sound interesting. But I don't know. No regrets there — except for 'Mrs. Robinson.' That wasn't one we picked. We were asked to do that for someone who bought the 25th anniversary of 'The Graduate' — the rights to the video cassette. We recorded it in three hours — you know, really quickly. And then, when they heard it, everyone loved it and so we couldn't really stop it from there. It just kind of went. It got out of control. But whatever. That was the only one I didn't really pick. I mean, the Dickies' version's better."
Do you still play "Mrs. Robinson" in concert?
"We've never played that. We played it maybe 10 times, right when it was really big. But we always had someone else from the audience sing it. We were never into it."
When you made the jump to a major label and released your top-selling albums in the early '90s, was it a matter of being more mature, having better musicians in the band or both?
"I think I had progressed as a songwriter and we had a better studio and we did it all in one time and we spent some time on it and whatever. There was more of a thread running through it. 'It's A Shame About Ray' has a real sound to it. That's what we're going for on the new album — with a thread through the whole album, something in common. And we're getting there."
When the Lemonheads' last studio album, "Car Button Cloth," came out, did you have a feeling that it would be the last one for the time being?
"I just think, at that time in music, you just got all funny with the Backstreet Boys and all that stuff. And I just decided to duck out for a while. I didn't have it in me. It took until I met my wife in 1998 until I got back into making music. She writes songs and stuff. She's certainly musical. Her band hasn't put anything out yet.
What inspired "My Drug Buddy" from "It's A Shame About Ray" and what makes a good drug buddy?
"That was just a totally factual account of one night with a couple friends of mine in Sydney (Australia). And I don't know (what makes a good one). I'm sure it's different for all people."
What's the story behind "Big Gay Heart" from "Come On Feel The Lemonheads?"
"That one, we were just trying to write a song for gay truckers. It was sort of like a real country song. And also we were trying to reclaim the word 'gay' as just meaning happy."
It's funny how you covered, of all things, a New Kids On The Block Song — "Step By Step" — back in 1990. How did that ever happen?
"I'll tell you the funny story behind that. That was rock bands all doing New Kids songs. It was all gonna be a charity record. But nobody else actually went in who committed to do it. No one else did theirs. So I just decided to put it out myself, just for a laugh."