Interview with Evan Dando by John Mulvey
From NME 10th October 1992
It's all sulking under iron skies in Switzerland for the Lemonheads - which seems unusual for such a casual, flexible group. Until you hear King Slacker Evan Dando talking about drugs, weird nightmares, good vibes and loving Tipper Gore.
David has bronchitis. Evan has flue and is exhausted. Nic has flu, is exhausted and is sulking, pouting and staring blankly in the corner.
In the bleak brick corridor that, tonight, the three of them are obliged to call a dressing room, the atmosphere is as buoyant as a funeral. Somewhere in central Europe, it seems as if Lemonheads lost their sense of fun.
In reality, though, the trouble only started here in Aarau, Switzerland, a few minutes ago. An advance copy of their new single, 'It's A Shame About Ray', has arrived with the label wrongly accreditng 'Shaky Ground', the B-side, to Evan Dando and his friend Tom Morgan, rather than Morgan and Nic Dalton, the bassist. Evan's angry and embarrassed, Nic's sullen beyond belief, there's a rammed, expectant club waiting for them to play, and all they want to do is moan at their manager (who also works for Nirvana) back in the States. Suddenly, those colds have got much, much worse.
Under the circumstances, with the band far keener to slope off and mope back at the hotel, the gig goes remarkably well. Evan spends much of the time with his eyes clamped shut, rocking gently and scraping notes out of his sore, croaking throat. The emotion-packed power pop of the sparkling 'It's A Shame About Ray' album is beefed up a little, but still buzzes with a naive, laid-back charm that's at odds with the black mood of the band. And Evan even stirs himself to encore with a heart-breaking solo shimmy through The Shirelles' 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?', the latest addition to Lemonheads' litany of unlikely, gorgeous cover versions. A triumph, pretty much.
Afterwards, we're stood on the steps outside the club, built at the top of a charmless metal shopping centre on the outskirts of Aarau. Evan points to a hoist that's slowly lowering the band's gear down to ground level: "When we played here last year, we were riding up and down in that thing. It was great." Not tonight though.
"It's so funny. The weater is perfect for the way we're all feeling, it's all like iron sky."
The next morning, as we wander through Aarau's chintzy old town, at least Evan can joke about the business mess that tainted the show. The Lemonheads have been touring for about three months, first in America and now in Europe, and this has been the first real glitch they've encountered. Otherwise, everything's been fine for this most casual and flexible of groups.
As David Ryan, the drummer with big, bright eyes that explode with big, bright eyes that explode out of his skull, who's stuck with Evan longer than most, puts it: "If things weren't going well I wouldn't be here, I'd have flown home weeks ago." He's more interested in being a writer than playing the drums, and reckons "the situation is really... mercurial." Certainly, no-one's here for life, no-one needs 100 per cent dedication to the cause.
The easy-come easy-go attitude most obviously applies to Nic Dalton, still introverted but a bit more cheerful this morning. The latest addition to the Lemonheads, replacing Juliana Hatfield, who played bass on the album, he met the band in his native Sydney last year. Since then, Australia's become something of a spiritual home for David, and Nic has become a close confidant and inspiration. "Hopefully. I'll be doing the next Lemonheads album," he says, with exactly the right amount of carelessness, "but I really have to go and do my own thing as well. I can't stay away forever."
Nic's own things back home included a shop and record label, occasional work with The Hummingbirds and three more bands; Sneeze, the excellently-named Hippy Drivel and Godstar (who may well feature Evan on drums, if he can dump his own band for a month or so next year). His world, it's safe to say, will not fall apart if the Lemonheads do.
Whether that could be said for Evan Dando is more difficult. The 'slacker' tag, that's currently slung at anything American with long hair and a dopey demeanour, seems particularly applicable to him. Sat in a plastic cafe near Aarau station, he's ungainly and absent-minded, his favourite word is "coooool", he talks a lot about his trouble motivating himself and has, much of the time, the dazed smile of the happily, hopelessly lost. And yet, the history of the Lemonheads - in which, five albums down the line, he's the only constant - suggest he's something of a control freak, far more fastidious than he seems.
"I do have a casual attitude to everything, yeah, that's true. Eventually I might crack if the pressure gets too much, but it's pretty mellow so far. I think maybe I don't belong in control because I'm not very good at making double-sure about things - I probably should've double-checked that credit. I'm not careful enough about the details, and then I end up kicking myself for not, like, stressing what was supposed to happen."
But surely you've built the band around you like that, so that you're the only one who makes the decisions?
Evan shrugs. "I guess so. I think it just comes from... I don't know what happened, but over the years it was me who came to the band's aid when it was neede. I played the drums when I had to, and I felt after a while I could kinda have it as my own. I wonder if it's just some sub-conscious thing that my casualness is really just wanting to be recognised..."
At least now he's surrounded by people who encourage and inspire him, who kick his arse, help him write songs and drag him out of the isolated, uncreative lethargy he easily slips into.
"Whenever I go back to Boston I end up not doing anything, y'know? What do you do? You walk down the street and get breakfast, and then what do you do? Last year I wasn't inspired to write anything.
"But I was really transformed when I went to Australia. I got optimistic abotu making music again through my friends down there, like Nic. They have a whole scene that makes it seem possible to write songs all the time and really, really enjoy it."
What would the album have been like if you hadn't gone there?
"I dunno. A bunch of Jackson 5 covers or something, probably."
Instead, we were blessed with 'It's A Shame About Ray', a dazzling improvement on the first four, only sporadically exciting, Lemonheads albums. A bright, consistent record, it showcases Dando's newly-honed knack of tossing off unforgettable, brilliantly gauche two-minute perfect pop songs, along with a couple of awesomely beautiful country vignettes - 'My Drug Buddy' and 'Hannah and Gabi' - that stand as the best he's written.
"I think more and more than I'm better at doing the quieter stuff," he agrees. "But there are still all these fans of our first record - especially on the continent, they're really frank here - who come right up and say funny things like (in a thick Scandanavian accent) 'T'was not superior, but was OK' and 'So much lovey pop - ridiculous'. It's not always easy being in a band."
The recording of the album, in Los Angeles, also cemented a long-term friendship with Juliana Hatfield, who started The Blake Babies in Boston around the same time as Evan formed the Lemonheads. The recent American tour, when Juliana's new band were the support act, may well have screwed up the relationship, however.
"We don't get a chance to see each other that much now - I don't know when I'll see her again - but I miss her. I think she's pretty mad at me right now 'cos I'm a little bit of a flirt and she gets disappointed with me when I go off with girls. I was a little out of contril on the American tour, meeting a lot of girls and stuff. Which was stupid - I mean, I had a really good girl right along with me the whole time. I dunno what's wrong with me, why I would do that. I dunno, it's complicated."
Were you a real rock pig on that tour?
"Not really. I really, really like girls, y'know? And we took mushrooms a little bit too much. And one time in Austin it was really bad 'cos we took some acid before we played and I felt really small, like I couldn't do anything, like wooahh, like vertigo. And then I got onstage wearing this stupid nightshirt and I said, 'Oh, I'll have you know I'm tripping, so please don't try to freak me out' - so they all started chanting and looking mean. I was saying 'If anyone wants a refund they can go right to the door and they'll give it to you.' But I think it was actually an OK show."
Then the reams of drug anecdotes stop, and a highly confused sense of responsibility ambles in, concentrated on the cosily strung-out 'My Drug Buddy'. Attention readers: the credibility of the Lemonheads ends here...
"I don't want kids to get the wrong idea from that song. Everyone talks about Tipper Gore and 'Smash the PMRC', but I don't know if it's really such a bad thing to put stickers on records for kids. I think kids can get influenced in a bad way by music. Maybe not. I dunno..."
But what does it say on the back of your t-shirt, Evan?
He laughs self-consciously. "It says 'KILL FOR SATAN'."
You should have a parental guidance sticker across your forehead then.
"Yeah, maybe. I should really think that through. I just worry about that song because I don't wanna be any part of kids thinking drugs are cooler than they are, 'cos they're not for everybody. I just know that I wouldn't sacrifice the experiences I've had on drugs for anything."
Evan Dando is weird. All the time, there's this strange morality playing off the requisite selfish sex, drugs and rock'n'roll excesses that he - at least pretends - to stumble into. If he couldn't keep up the whacked-out, languid image, you feel he'd be ripping himself apart with guilt and recriminations. As it is, the only problems that clearly disturb him - as opposed to confuse him - are the nightmares and habitual sleepwalking he's been tormented by since childhood, long before the recreational drug use kicked in.
"It's really bad. Every time I go to sleep I don't know what's gonna happen. I have really bad nightmares of someone pursuing me, or a really bad landslide coming down on me, and I race out of my bed and run, run far away and find something to defend myself with, like a candleabra or a bottle. I run outside and hide behind a hedge then wake up laughing, 'cos I'm out there in my underwear on the street.
"I need a really simple room to sleep in, 'cos if I sleep with things overhanging or weird, too complicated visual stuff, my eyes open and they make things out of it. Maybe that's my un-laid back side coming to haunt me at night."
Maybe. Even though he's calm and affable, he's chain-smoked throughout the interview, and hardly smoked in all the time we've spent together prior to it. And, in spite of his apparent gawky straightforwardness, there's a nervous, complex, almost impenetrable side to Dando beyond all the cute songs, stupid-fresh cover versions and slacker platitudes.
He says one of the reasons he likes Australia is because the people there don't analyse the fun out of everything, they just go ahead and act. But perhaps Evan still thinks too much, or perhaps he doens't think enough or, then again, perhaps he doesn't really think at all... God only knows. At the end, I guess there's some kind of haphazard logic there. anyway...
"I wanna go to Argentina. I wanna go there 'cos... like, there's three As here, gith - America, Argentina and Australia - and America is teh A in decline, but Argentina... Somehow I get a vibe off it that it's gonna be a really good place to be, 'cos maybe things aren't as f___ed up down there. I have no clues about it, but I have a good vibe."