Interview with Evan Dando by Mikael Wood
From The Phoenix 23rd October 2006
Evan Dando speaks from the roof
Evan Dando lives in a high-rise apartment building in Lower Manhattan whose rooftop patio affords an intimate view of the sprawling construction site where the World Trade Center once stood. Five years and one day after terrorists flew two airplanes into the Twin Towers, Dando is standing on the patio pointing out where he was when the second of those two planes passed directly over his head. “The memory is seared into my brain,” he says, the tone of his voice reflecting the horror of September 11 but also the awe with which a stoner describes a laser-light show. “But I think seeing it so closely actually helped me make sense of it.”
Dando’s been doing a lot of looking back lately, most of it happier than that. The Lemonheads (Vagrant) is the first album in 10 years from the group he formed in Boston in 1986. He recorded it in Colorado with the rhythm section of the Descendents, bassist Karl Alvarez and drummer Bill Stevenson, and though it’s a little harder-rocking than the Lemonheads’ early-’90s folk-rock stuff, it suggests that his knack for perfect little pop songs hasn’t dimmed with age. He’ll spend November and December touring American clubs — the band hit Avalon on December 16 — and playing stuff from The Lemonheads as well as gems from his extensive songbook.
Here’s some of what he had to say about the Lemonheads’ return.
Despite a rotating cast of band mates, the Lemonheads have always been your show. Yet you released an album of songs under your own name in 2003. Why resurrect the Lemonheads for this one?
This thing happened in Brazil where all these young Brazilian bands got together and did a tribute to the Lemonheads. And I thought, “If that’s happening in Brazil, I might as well get the band back together.”
But the current Lemonheads are a totally different band from the one on the last Lemonheads album. You’re the only constant.
Well, I mean, it hasn’t been the same people since 1989. On Lick I played all the tracks on the first song, you know what I mean? So I felt quite justified in taking the name over a long time ago. This has been happening with every Lemonheads record since Lovey. I think I finally found people that I think are really up to snuff as far as musicianship goes on this one, and I wanna stick with them for the next one too.
Did you and Karl and Bill, who also co-produced the album with you, share an instant rapport?
Absolutely. I met Bill 20 years ago and I met Karl 10 years ago. I know I learned a lot working with them, and Bill said to me that he learned a lot doing the record.
What do you think Bill learned?
It was a different way of recording for him — he’d never played slow.
The Descendents happened a little earlier than the Lemonheads. Do you think of Bill as a sort of punk-rock elder?
Bill was part of the first wave, you know? They’d sleep on Ian MacKaye’s sofa when they were in DC; they were really in there when he was with Black Flag. He always says there was 250 people that were in the first wave of hardcore. He was one of them. He’s not a lot older than me, but he’s more experienced and certainly a master at his craft. He’s a really great songwriter, which not that many people know. A lot of the best Descendents songs were written by Bill — a lot of people’s favorites.
As a producer, did he create a different experience in the studio from what you’re used to?
He’s really quick — so quick that I was kind of like, “Whoa, it’s sunny out. Can’t I just wait five minutes?” But we worked that out eventually. I’m more leisurely than him. He really just wants to work when he’s working and not work when he’s not working.
Do you respond well to that kind of whip-cracking?
I do. Sometimes I need a kick in the pants. I also like having a creative partner. In a way, this record is a product of our vision; it was a real collaborative effort.
The new music seems to reflect that recording process. Most of it’s loud and up-tempo.
It was sort of getting back to the earlier Lemonheads stuff, but played better. We used to take five days to do a record. And we took maybe a month and a half over a year and a half on this one. Which was lucky, because I didn’t have all the songs done until then anyway. But the recording process wasn’t anything like the old days, really, except that we cut the tracks live.
Is that something that comes with just having recorded a lot?
No, some people are just born with the ability. But it helps to have practice. I think some of these bands today can’t even play that well. With ProTools — which we used a little, but we also used tape — the joke is that the engineer goes, “Okay, that was terrible. Come on in, guys.” You can play it horribly, then fix it up later.
Does recording live preserve some kind of spontaneity?
Yeah, definitely. The whole essence of the project is trying to be really firmly in the tradition of the Lemonheads — the idea of it, the sound of it, everything. I was really careful about that; I didn’t want to put out something and call it the Lemonheads that didn’t sound like it.
Lemonheads records have sounded like lots of different things.
They’re really schizophrenic, yeah.
So in a sense, anything could’ve been true to the Lemonheads æsthetic.
I don’t think so. I think there’s certain kind of melodies. I discovered on this record that we do have a sound, even if it’s all over the place.
How did you hook up with Vagrant, a label that’s probably best known for emo?
They were the one label that sent us a contract the day after we sent them five songs. So that was it.
A lot of Vagrant bands have cited the Lemonheads as an influence. But a lot of those bands’ fans are too young to have been into the Lemonheads a decade or more ago. Does the idea of being introduced to a new generation of kids appeal to you?
Yeah, that would be cool. You get the younger-brother factor, who listened to it when they were six who now get to see it live.
Is it strange or difficult to go from the commercial success you had in the ‘90s to the sort of respect you’re receiving now?
Nah, it’s great. It leaves me room to go forward from here. I hope to be done with this tour with a record ready to record. I wanna keep it going for a little while. I wanna leave the band with a decent legacy. I don’t think we did all we could.