Interview with Evan Dando by Steve Malins
From Vox March 1993
EVAN BETTER THAN THE REAL THING
With a top 20 single and an acclaimed major-label album under his belt, the Lemonheads' Evan Dando is every grunger's sweetheart. His mum is proud of him - but does she know about the drugs?
Evan Dando, singer/songwriter for the Lemonheads, shuffles bare-foot into San Francisco's Phoenix Hotel, a rolled-up sock in each hand. Cuts and bruises on his knees show through ripped, heavily patched jeans. "I was abusing myself on stage last night," recalls Evan, "lying on my front, rolling across the stage, getting close to the audience."
The Lemonheads' current drummer, David Ryan, is accustomed to such behaviour, laughing at Evan's enthusiastic chatter. "He's on one of his manic highs;" explains Ryan. "He's a strange, emotional person. Simple, in some ways."
"I was born with a tendency towards wild, scary nightmares," Dando offers as explanation for what others call mood swings. "They've been exaggerated by the drugs and stuff."
It's taken the Top Twenty single success of the Lemonheads' 'Mrs Robinson' cover to place Evan Dando, the most unlikely yet genuinely charismatic of stars, before the audience he currently enjoys. For all his sleepy charms and pure, New Wave-flavoured voice, the band's founding-and only constant- member has spent six frustrating years recording noisy guitar-pop records enjoyed by only a small following. "When I first met him last year he was very intense and wanting to be successful," explains Danny Goldberg, Vice President of Atlantic, the Lemonheads' US record label. "He was frustrated by the lack of success, but almost embarrassed by his ambition."
Goldberg was impressed by the singer's "talent and looks" and decided to make Evan a priority artist at the label. "'There had been executive changes in the company and there wasn't a champion for him," says Goldberg. "I also had to find him new management. Until then, Evan had dealt with the business side of the band. He was well-liked but wasn't very good at the mechanics of the industry"
The Vice President also put his enthusiasm, power and business acumen into the release of the 'Mrs Robinson' single. "I suggested that they should record the song for the video release of The Graduate, and then, when I heard how good it was, that we should release it as a single."
On the back of that success, Dando's acoustic-based songs on the excellent It's A Shame About Ray album have reached a wider audience, establishing him as a maturing writer and performer.
This long-awaited change of fortune has brought with it an exhausting work schedule, crammed with the kind of unusual experiences that Evan's impressionable, hyperactive personality revels in. In December, he was photographed, naked in a bath full of lemons, by Bruce Weber for Interview magazine, and the same month, Nirvana invited him to their Seattle studio where they blasted through a full, live version of their album, solely for Evan's appreciation. Meanwhile, the tired but still excitable singer has reached San Francisco on the final leg of the tour with muffled hearing ("the drugs, the drugs," he cries), four nights without sleep, a bag full of dirty laundry, a lipstick-kissed letter from Tanya Donnelly of Belly, and jeans covered with messages from female fans. It's little wonder that his mother rings him at the hotel to check, according to Evan, that "I hadn't fucked myself up completely. I had to reassure her that I'm not completely bonkers. But then she's no polished model of sanity herself. She's very youthful, into roller skating and stuff. My friend J (Mascis) from Dinosaur Jr calls her 'super mum'."
In Jack's Bar, opposite the Phoenix, Evan is wide-eyed and intense as he gulps down his second beer, chain smokes and explains passionately - but incomprehensibly - the influence of dead Country singer, Gram Parsons, on his more recent compositions. In the end, he's satisfied with tugging enthusiastically at the soiled, ragged Parsons T-shirt flopping over his jeans. It's four days since his last tab of Acid, but the effects have, if anything, grown more intense. Occasionally articulate, often rambling sweetly, Evan appears to be happily disconnected as, gesticulating wildly, he argues that "there's no reason for human beings to hurt each other physically. We can just hang out and have a good time. And would the real cops stand up and be gentle and enforce peace, please." More self-consciously, he laughs as he admits, "yes, I am vague, nervous, edgy, definitely geeky and I definitely have a good time."
Nevertheless, the excesses and workload have, in David Ryan's words, turned the last few dates into the "gangrenous leg of the tour" and tensions have begun to surface. Australian-born bassist, Nic Dalton, is irritable and has already gone to bed, where "more nightmares" prevent him from sleeping. As his friend tries to get some rest, Evan fingers a lucky charm given to him by the lead singer of support band The Jayhawks and cocks a goofy grin. "Man, this is scary. I think it's supposed to represent my soul and look, it's started to fray. I want to take care of myself, but sometimes I just can't put two and two together."
Prior to playing April's UK dates, the Lemonheads will have completed the US tour, flown to London for an appearance on Top Of The Pops, toured and written new material in Australia, and re-promoted It's A Shame... through the recently-released 'Confetti'/'My Drug Buddy' single. They are scheduled to record their next album in Los Angeles this May, and the album is expected to be ready for an Autumn release. "The forthcoming album is the really important one for the band," states Goldberg, who admits to feeling concerned about the "physical strain" Dando is under. However, he believes the singer is "good at dealing with the media and is adjusting to the new demands without sacrificing his principles".
Evan himself tries to shrug off the workload, opening a little notebook to show-off the lyrics to a new song, declaring that his only "scare" came after a recent night partying in London when he found himself stranded at Heathrow airport. "God, I hate that," he laughs. "I wish I'd taken better care of myself so I could have woken up and caught that friggin' plane."
His personal relationships have been coloured by his parents' break-up when he was eleven. As a child, he found himself spending a lot of time alone, dealing "with stuff a lot of people don't have to think about until later years. I was angry all through high school".
His parents' experiences have been a rich source of lyrical inspiration for recent songs like 'Confetti'. "When my dad saw mum at college and realised that everyone wanted to go out with her, and saw that my mum liked him, he made too easy a deduction. He said to himself, 'Okay, everybody likes her and she likes me - I'll marry her'. But she just didn't turn out to be right for him. He ended up losing his own will.
"I've pretended to be in relationships too, so I got free of them. My longest girlfriend - she's in San Francisco - well, I wasn't telling her the truth all the time. I was still anxious to meet other girls, so I had to leave.
"Then there was this other sick relationship," he continues, the plot becoming increasingly twisted as he reveals the inspiration for last year's album track, 'Hannah And Gabi'. "You see, Gabi, this Australian model, allowed me to get away from Hannah and I felt disappointed with myself. But I didn't really want Gabi either - she was a symbol of what I was missing. And before that it was this girl, Louisa, who I got away from." Evan pauses and shrugs pathetically. "I want to stop getting away from everybody. I want to find the right girl."
Evan's relationship with occasional Lemonhead, ex-Blake Baby and, currently, solo singer Juliana Hatfield is equally intricate and, at times, self-centred. "We've known each other for six or seven years. We love each other, it's always been the same between us. But I'm a terminal flirt, I don't deny it. I hug a lot of girls. That's the thing Juliana doesn't like about me for some reason - I don't know why. She wouldn't want to be in a monogamous relationship with me, she's very independent. But she doesn't like the way my flirting behaviour looks on me. Sometimes I think it's pretty gross too. I just like girls and I want love badly, too."
No doubt Juliana is, like the Lemonheads' latest band members, David (who was briefly in an earlier line-up) and Nic, both exasperated and inspired by the manic singer. "I think Evan was hoping to stay with Nic when he goes over to Australia," says David. "But Nic probably needs some time away from him for a while. They're very good friends. He hugs me more, but I think he's closer to Nic."
Evan's strong bond with Nic developed during a trip to Australia in 1991, where he wrote the It's A Shame... album and, with the help of his new Sydney-based friends, hauled himself out of a particularly deep depression. "It saved my life, man," he says in a slow drawl. "The really happy songs come from down-under. It's the distance and valium feeling of the country. The nature and solitude. I've recently given up my apartment in Boston and I'm thinking of getting a place in Australia." As for their relationship on the road, "Nic needs his space," grins Evan. "I try to hug him a lot but I think someday I'm going to get smacked."
The following morning, a quieter Evan perches on the corner of his hotel bed, and stares at the mound of dirty clothes on the floor. There are no girls to mother him or for him to hug, only the mess belonging to his room mate, David. "Last night, I snuggled into bed with him by mistake", smiles Evan. "I was worried I was going to run screaming out of the room in the middle of the night. I have a bit of a problem with sleepwalking. But David was very benign and cool.
"You know, I am abusing myself a lot these days", he laughs, recalling the excitement which had kept him up for four days. "But it sure was fun."