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Interview with Evan Dando by Peter Shapiro

From The Times 26th August 2005

THE ORIGINAL LIBERTINE

With drugs little more than a happy memory, Evan Dando has time for his other careers as pop star and accidental witness to history.

Evan Dando - photo by David Corio of The Times

As he shows me around his apartment building in Manhattan’s financial district, Evan Dando points out the children’s play area next to the gym on the top floor. “I’ve always wanted to go in there and take mushrooms,” he says with a dopey, impish laugh. “All the bright colours and toys lying around everywhere — it would be great.”

This kind of druggy charm made Dando a star in the early to mid-1990s. He and Kurt Cobain were the poster boys of indie rock. With his square-jawed but sensitive good looks (sort of like David Cassidy after one too many bong hits), he regularly graced the cover of Melody Maker and NME. His band, the Lemonheads, specialised in simple, sun-kissed guitar pop with just enough angst to appeal to mop-haired grunge boys, and plenty of dreamboat winsomeness for their girlfriends.

Even now, a decade after his prime, Dando still has star power to spare. Next month the Lemonheads will be appearing as part of the Don’t Look Back season of London concerts in which bands such as the Stooges, Dinosaur Jr, Belle & Sebastian and Gang of Four will play what the organisers consider to be their best album in its entirety. When the first Lemonheads date was announced it sold out within an hour.

It marks an impressive return from several years lost to Dando’s unrepentant hedonism. He was famously booed off the stage at Glastonbury in 1995 when he showed up for his appearance several hours late after a heroin-fuelled dalliance with the celebrity bisexuals Rachel Williams and Alice Temple. Things went rapidly downhill from there and Dando became just one of a long line of pop music’s talented and charming cads turned drug casualties, an American Pete Doherty.

“I don’t regret any of the drugs I’ve taken,” declares Dando as he fumbles for cigarettes, trembling slightly like a hipster Ozzy Osbourne. “I don’t endorse them, though. If you do them, make sure you do something creative or productive — 99 per cent of drug-taking is useless, but that 1 per cent . . . For me, almost all the people I really loved — Coleridge, Yeats, Coltrane, Miles Davis, James Brown, even Andy Warhol, although he was more of a drinker — took drugs, so by the time I was ten I knew I’d be taking them just to see if they would work any magic on me.”

After two years lost to heroin and crack, Dando met his Geordie model wife, Elizabeth, travelled the world and started to clean up. They bought their flat, which is two blocks away from where the World Trade Centre stood, and witnessed the events of 9/11 from their roof. “It was a real mindblower,” he says. “It was reminiscent for some reason of the end of the first Planet of the Apes, you know with the Statue of Liberty. The noise was enormous. It had all the high end of Hüsker Dü and the low end of Dr Dre. It was like God clapping or something.

“It made me quit drinking. I was like, I’m alive. I survived that. It really felt like surviving, being that close. You know, all the money in the world can’t buy a near-death experience and I realised that the one thing that was holding me back was drinking.”

In 2003 a sober Dando (although he admits “I still occasionally mess around with other things”) released the largely acoustic Baby, I’m Bored, a security blanket of an album filled with understated pop. The album featured All My Life, a song written for him by Ben Lee, whose band Noise Addict originally made a name for themselves with I Wish I Was Him, a song about envying Evan Dando.

“It’s cool to be able to help each other out,” Dando says. “I gave him a topic to rant about and he gave me a song that was great.”

For the Don’t Look Back season Dando will be revisiting the Lemonheads’ breakthrough album, It’s a Shame About Ray, from 1992, at two concerts at the Shepherd Bush Empire. “I’ve never done anything that structured and academic before, so I thought it would be kind of fun,” Dando says. “Of course the tour we did before It’s a Shame About Ray came out we actually did the same thing, but everyone was just p***** off because they didn’t get to hear any of the old songs. Hopefully it’ll be different this time.”

The album was recorded in Los Angeles in 1991, which allowed him another bird’s-eye view of a seminal moment in recent American history. “I met Johny Depp — someone had put two Lemonheads songs on a mixtape for him and he really liked our music. He let me stay at his house, which was up in the hills and had 360-degree views, until the record was done. We were there during the Rodney King riots and we thought they were going to burn up the hills. If they were smart they would have set fire to the hills, but they only ever got as far as Hollywood Boulevard.”

If the best songs on It’s a Shame About Ray have a certain amount of crackle and spark, it wasn’t because of what was happening on the streets, however. “That was when I first started shooting up speed,” Dando says. “I don’t know what it was, but there was some sort of magic in those songs. We would stay up for a week on speed and then I’d write songs as we were coming down. When you’re crowding your brain that much, you know something’s got to come out. When we were recording it we would only drink beer, though.”

Dando thinks that Come on Feel the Lemonheads, from 1993, was probably the band’s best album and is unsure why people are still interested in him and them. If he’s being honest, no matter how much he seemed to be enjoying it at the time, Dando has always had an uncomfortable relationship with fame.

“It was kind of weird back then,” he says. “When I did my first big magazine cover I was like: ‘Why are all these people doing this stuff for me for nothing?’ But it’s part of the job, for someone like me at least. If you’re Bob Dylan, you don’t have to do interviews . . .

“I have been really lucky to be a professional musician for 16 years and that’s the way I look at it. So all that other stuff doesn’t really matter that much.”

 

The Lemonheads perform It’s a Shame About Ray on Sept 14 and 15 at the Shepherds Bush Empire (0870-771 2000).

For details of all the Don’t Look Back events see www.atpfestival.com

 

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