Interview with Lemonheads by Simon Williams
from NME 20th April 1991
They're not the Barron Knights of the '90s, but the Lemonheads do star in their own real-life squidgy hardcore cartoon caper, changing line-ups, doing weird cover versions and getting spat at by punks.
It would make a fantastic TV series. No doubt about it. Following the nuclear family-upsetting antics of The Simpsons and The Jetsons, meet The Lemonheads; the continuing story of a squidgy hardcore band from Boston going bonkers.
Starring singing beanpole Evan Dando, with occasional guests Jesse Peretz (bass) and David Ryan (drums), the plot revolves around daring renditions of archetypal pop classics and a whirlwind of line-up changes which make the England soccer team appear positively settled. This week's episode: The Great German Caper.
The setting is Frankfurt, gig number five on a European tour. The twists in the tale are numerous, the most significant being the return of the Ryan/Peretz rhythm section after a less-than-acrimonious split at the close of their previous Continental trek last year. Evan Dando, a man not averse to nipping into the studio and playing everyone else's bits when no-one's looking, built himself a new band but the foundations were, sadly, crap.
"The other guys didn't really work out right," shrugs the singer. "We had the drummer who used to be in Squirrelbait and he just went nuts all the time. It didn't suit some of our songs which require a little more backbone, a little more of a Charlie Watts approach than a completely epileptic Mitch Mitchell, which is what he ended up being."
Jesse and David, meanwhile, were coming to the inevitable conclusion that absence really does make the heart grow fonder. "We had some personal differences," reveals Jesse, mysteriously, "but we worked them out."
The mind boggles - did the twosome return because Evan promised to wash his touring socks on a more regular basis, like once every six dates?
"Oh, I'm not a smelly person!" protests Dando, belching pure lavender. "None of us are smelly people."
"We really are the kind of rock band you can take home to meet your mother," beams Jesse. "Well, hygienically speaking anyway..."
Cleanliness isn't The Lemonheads'sole virtue. Although they started to establish themselves back in 1986 with rudimentary geetar scrambles on the `Hate Your Friends' and subsequent `Creator' albums, it wasn't until '89 that the band hit the jackpot and the major label trail by slaughtering Suzanne Vega's `Luka'. Never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, the arrival of the last `Lovey' LP was heralded by a sterling sprint through Mike `Monkee' Nesmith's `Different Drum', which multiplied their crossover potential twentyfold while suggesting that The Lemonheads had their sights set upon being the jokers in the US noiscore pack.
As if to emphasise the latter point, now comes the' Patience And Prudence' EP, christened after the makers of `Gonna Get Alonq Withouf You Now', a '60s girlie bopper given a frivoilous Lemonheads licking. Further fun is to be had with a casual cover of the New Kids 'Step By Step'. This is getting Very Silly lndeed.
Fending off accusations of cynical manoeuvering and creative laziness. Evan offers a simple explanation for the release: "We're trying to put ourseives at the mercy of the meanest critics around, to see just how slagged we can get. Murhurhur!"
But really . . .
"Our label wanted us to put something out," he explains, logically, "I don't know why - maybe I wanted to put a record out and I didn't remember that I'd asked them about it - but it came to the point where it was, man, you've gotta record tomorrow, and we didn't have anything solid. And `Gonna Get Along. . .' was one of the last songs I really felt like I had to do for the sheer fun of it, 'cos the proud sparrow thing, like puffing its chest out and saying I'm OK, gonna get along without you now, really appeals to me for some reason, I'm also fixated on songs originally sung by women. It's really fun!"
"It's like cross-dressing," notes Jesse, joyfully.
"Yeah," muses Evan, "we're very open-minded around here..."
You can spot a Lemonheads cover version a mile off, They all possess a laconic drawl, guitars shaved through unholy effects pedals like meat through a mincer, and a section featuring a screaming woman which the band pilfered from the Halloween soundtrack. What you won't hear is anything by either Black Sabbath or The Stooges, because they're "too sacred" to cover: And no. The Lemonheads are not striving to be the Barron Knights of the '90s.
"I don't think we're
a joke," defends an aggrieved Evan. "I've written songs that
I'm happy with, and so I don't worry. This single is just an in-between
thing, it's throwaway. But the next album will be more serious than
Macbeth or, erm, Hamlet."
It'll make Shakespeare look
like Emo Phillips, right?
The best thing about The Lemonheads is the fact that underneath this commercial exterior lurks a band with a heart of mould, one which swings from countrified lethargy to powermad aggression, writes songs about Charles Manson and, in terms of the American guitar tidal wave, can be spotted surfing straight for the rocks, alone and endangered.
"We don't really have a specific genre," agrees Evan. "The biggest non-compliment I can think of when I see other bands is that they've turned into late-period Ramones - all their songs are at the same speed and at the same pitch. But for some reason we're schizophrenic as a band."
"There are a lot of sub-divisions in our audiences that only like one type of music," explains David, "which is really good, 'cos a lot of the time there's actual fights between people of different genres at our gigs!"
At one particular gig in Norwich, however, The Lemonheads' idiosyncratic tendencies almost signed their death warrants ...
"When we were playing, this bunch of punks started spitting with such accuracy they spat right in my eye" recalls Evan, grimly. "I couldn't believe it! Then we tried to frustrate them more, so we went completely wimpy on them, playing slow songs and turning down all the amps to get them really frothing. After the gig they were lying in wait with two-by-fours and they started attacking our van!"
Great! Fights, cameras, traction! Precisely what the director ordered.
The Lemonheads - coming to a screen near you soon ...