Interview with Evan Dando by Bob Mehr
Photos by Christian Lantry
From Magnet Magazine June 2003
Former Lemonheads and alt-rock pinup Evan Dando disappeared down a seven-year sink hole of addiction and apathy, only to emerge just as bright, beautitful and bored..
When Hollywood gets around to filming The Evan Dando Story - and at the rate they're turning out rock 'n' roll biopics, it won't be long - you can only hope the director includes a scene where the main character arrives in an Australian airport at the tail end of a two-and-a-half-year bender.
Riding high on a mix of acid and heroin and bleeding profusely from his head, he begins a full-blown freakout feeding quarters into grates in the pavement, handing out flowers to frightened travelers. By the time authorties arrive, he's asking to be excused so he can "go look for my mind." Instead, the police slap on the cuffs and drag him into a dark holding room. Just at the moment you think they're going to give the poncey pop star a good kicking before throwing the book at him, divine mercy intervenes. Rather than teach him a lesson, the cops talk it over, clean him up, calm him down and let him go.
"I think," says the real-life Dando now, delivering the kicker, "that one of their girlfriends was a big fan of the Lemonheads."
Even in his worst moments, Evan Dando is one charmed and charming bastard. Few among the post-punk generation - and certainly none from the indie world - so perfectly embody the carefree sex, drugs and rock'n'roll ethos of a long-gone era better than Dando, though for a time it looked like he might become the alternative nation's Syd Barrett rather than its resilient Keith Richards. Born to privilege and given a fine education, Dando instead earned fame by playing punk and partying to mind-numbing excess.Yet his value system - one placing veracity above virtue - always remained consistent. In 1993, when an NME interviewer famously asked a mute Dandle to explain the reason for his shredded vocal chords, he simply scrawled the words: "TOO much crack."
This same candor and uncontrived oddness made him a target of derision and scorn during his mid-'90s reign as leader of the Lemonheads. Kinder critics viewed his failings as a case of massive potential gone unfulfilled, while others saw Dance's high cheekbones as reason enough to dismiss him. But such judgements were based on a media-filtered image that was neither accurate nor fair.
If an effort to understand the real Evan Dando begins to resemble the murmur of a Greek chorus, it's no coincidence, for his story plays like an epic mix of tragedy and comedy. "There's this big conflict in him," observes former Lemonheads A&R woman Bettina Richards, "between wanting to be this dangerous, reckless individual and the other side of him, which is basically a nice, privileged boy from Boston."
"Evan's a very complicated character," says friend and collaborator Juliana Hatfield. "Very complicated. I don't understand him fully - I don't think anybody does. You can't pin him down so easily. And that's why people have a hard time with him, because he doesn't fit into any box."
"People think that Evan's quite crazy," says longtime songwriting partner Tom Morgan. "And if you only met him for five minutes, he is crazy. But if you sit down and talk to him for a half an hour, you realize he's actually an incredibly intelligent person."
"There's a great history in rock 'n' roll of artists who have that kind of tension going on between being too smart and too dumb," says pal and collaborator Ben Lee "That's classic. That's probably what Evan is in a way."
Finally, Dando has emerged from a self-imposed seven-year exile, married, relatively sober and with a new album in hand. Baby I'm Bored - a pun on family-station-wagon signage - tells in plain language and poignant melody the story of Dando's fall and wasted years. It's a note-perfect pop platter that will likely resonate long after the noisy sides of his youth and the gold records of the '90s have been forgotten. That's when the haters and doubters - and perhaps some daring filmmaker - will finally have to ask themselves if Evan Dando is rock's dumbest genius or its smartest idiot.
The Summer of Love was fast approaching when Evan Griffith Dando came into the world March 4, 1967. The youngest child of a wealthy Massachusetts clan, Dando inherited strong qualities from both sides of the family. His wild enthusiasm was all his mother's genes. An art student-turned-housewife, Susan Dando began a successful modeling career - appearing in Vogue and numerous high-fashion ads - after bearing her two children. Evan's passion for music, however, came from his father, Jeffrey, a prominent real-estate attorney. Jeffrey had unlikely tastes for a New England blueblood, digging the sounds of deep soul and progressive Motown, particularly Stevie Wonder's early-'70s sides and the first solo album from Temptations singer Eddie Kendricks.
In 1977 , Evan received his first guitar. "I got a cheap Japanese Epiphone off my pop for my 10th birthday," he says 'I had a little Yamaha amp and chord book with all the Beatles songs in it. And, you know, that's all you need. Dando's teen years were spent at Boston's prestigious Commonwealth School, a place that fostered both Dando's voracious appetite for knowledge and lax sense of discipline. "There was only one rule in the entire school," he recalls, "and that was, 'NO roller-skating in the hallways."'
Dando was bright but was also a perpetual fuck-up; he was forced by the draconian elders of the school to repeat his freshman year. Often treated like the black sheep of the family, Evan found salvation in the miscreant's music: punk rock. During his ninth-grade redux, Dando met up with budding musician and kindred spirit Ben Deily The two began their ultimately fractious partnership huddled in Deily s parents' basement trying to recreate the sounds of their hardcore heroes: the F-U's, Black Flag and the Weirdos, "Evan and I were never particularly serious about music as a career," says Deily. "We weren't really serious about anything except the two of us making a lot of noise."
Eventually, Dando and Deily added bassist and Commonwealth classmate Jesse Peretz (son of New Republic editor Michael Peretz) to the lineup, and they promptly dubbed themselves the Lemonheads, the group - with Dando and Dily switching off on drums and vocals - tested the waters at a house party before booking their first official gig in August 1986 at a Boston club called the Rat.
By the mid-'80s, Masschusetts was on the verge of becoming alternative rock's pre-grunge epicenter. With bands as diverse as Dinosaur Jr and Dumptruck already making noise and embryonic versions of Buffalo Tom and Throwing Muses starting to perform, the state seemed to be teeming with young talent.
"Our second gig ever was at T.T. The Bear's during 'New Muzik Night,' and the other band on the bill was also playing their second show," he recalls. "They got up and were absolutely fucking amazing, just completely blew my mind, man. It was the Pixies."
The Lemonheads' early career highlight came later that year when the band scored a slot opening for punk royalty. "We got to play with the Ramones," beams Dando, "and we were doing a bunch of coke afterwards celebrating. It was a big night for us." It would mark a pattern for Dando; drugs weren't so much an escape as an extension of the party - one that would grovw to include harder substances and more damaging results.
T he Lemonheads got put on hold that fall when Dando briefly enrolled at Saratoga, N.Y.'s Skidmore College. His shot at higher education - "90 days arc and 90 nights," as he puts it - ended when he abruptly decided to pack his things and head back to Boston.
"I drove away from the university in a snowstorm with all my stuff in the back of my car," says Dando "and I remember thinking, 'OK, I guess I'll give the music thing a go."'
"Somewhere around 1986, I was in a record store with John Strohm from the Blake Babies, flipping through 45s," recalls Juliana Hatfield of her first encounter with the Lemonheads. "we saw this thing called Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners. We just thought the picture looked cool, so we bought it. Not long after that, we went to see them play."
It was a somewhat inauspicious beginning to a relationship that would have profound significance for both Dando and Hatfield; the pair soon becoming friends, creative foils and - as was often suggested - lovers. For such an important figure in her life, Hatfield's first impressions of Dando were decidedly muted.
"I remember thinking Ben was the cute one in the band," she says, laughing. "I didn't even really notice Evan. But the next day, I walked into Newberry Pizza and Evan was in front of me in line getting a slice." Hatfield introduced herself and the two quickly hit off. "Then Evan and Ben came to see us play," she says "and it kinda became this friendship between the Blake Babies and the Lemonheads." The two groups soon became prominent figures in Boston's burgeoning college-rock scene, as the Lemonheads' four-song debut Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners (a 500-copy pressing on their own Huh-Bag label), became a local favorite.
The following year, the group enlisted a full-time drummer in Doug Trachten and signed with Curtis Casella's fledgling Newton, Mass., punk imprint Taang! Records, spawning a succession of summer releases beginning with 1987's Hate Your Friends. By the following year's Creator, the tension between Dando and Deily - which produced a trove of lacerating yin/yang punk-pop songs-turned into a rift over leadership and band direction, driving a wedge between the old high-school chums
"This is the Spinal Tap part," concedes Dando. "Ben is a really talented guy, but it was really about musical differences. We were going different ways. He wanted a cleaner soung, and I wanted an even cleaner soung - or I wanted total fucking noize. I don't know what I wanted, obviously. I made a bunch of schizophrenic records afterward to prove it. But I guess mainly I wanted to be in charge."
The story of the duo's split has been greatly exaggerated - marked by tales of onstage arguments and claims that, after leaving the band, Deily threatened legal action if the Lemonheads continued to play any of his material.
"God bless the Internet, but it's all complete fabrication," insists Deily. "I've read some of the most colorful, amazing outlandish stories online - I'd rather go with them than what actually happened."
Dando also dismisses the notion that the split was dramatic. "Luckily, I was inebriated on heroin at that time, so it wasn't all that big a deal," he says. "I was doing a lot of dope back then. So it was kinda like ... whatever."
In truth, Dando did bolt from the band first-albeit briefly-rejoining shortly after, though on drums instead of guitar. The final effort from the original Lemonheads, 1989's Lick, was a hodgepodge of old and new tracks and was released just prior to a European tour ostensibly seen as the band's final hurrah. But when the group arrived in the U.K.-sans Deily, who finally quit before the dates - the Lemonheads were, much to their surprise, hailed as conquering heroes.
"There was a lot of interest in American guitar music at the time," recalls Dando. "It was maybe six months after Dinosaur Jr had played there and gone over really huge. I remember walking down the street at Piccadilly Circus before the show and this giant electronic ticker said, 'Tonight! The Lemonheads at the Fulham Greyhound!' I thought, 'Holy shit!' You know, being in London with your name in lights and all."
Aided by a British music press that eagerly embraced Dando's good looks and off-kilter personality, English audiences quickly latched on to the group's insouciant charm. With the Lemonheads reenergized, a number of major labels-perhaps sensing the impending alt-rock boom-began aggressively courting the band. Bettina Richards, a young A&R rep from Atlantic who seized on Dando's songwriting potential, signed the group in 1990.
"Evan had this really sweet, adolescent pop sensibility, but it wasn't like bubblegum pop - it was much more fragile, much more childlike," says Richards, who now owns Thrill Jockey Records. "Then he had a really sort of clever, slightly on the edge of danger lyrical sense. Even the Taang! records like Hate Your Friends, it's all very fragile and childlike in a way, but with a real sharp edge to it. That appealed to me. Plus, the fact that Evan and Jesse were extremely handsome didn't hurt, either."
Richards quickly realized she'd signed a group very much in transition. Not only was the band trying to stabilize after further changes in its lineup (now featuring guitarist Corey Loog Brennan and drummer David Ryan), Dando himself seemed to be in the midst of some sort of musical metamorphosis.
"It's funny, my tastes immediately went from, like, Slaughter And The Dogs to Hank Williams," observes Dando of his roots awakening. Around this time he also got his first exposure to another pivotal influence, Gram Parsons, whose relaxed singing style and indulgent lifestyle became something of a template for Dando.
With all this swirling in his head, the Lemonheads began recording their Atlantic debut, Lovey. The album was a creative demarcation point. Dando leavened the group's faux-punk with earnest forays into jangle-pop and country-rock territory, paying homage to his newfound hero with a woozy cover of Parsons' "Brass Buttons."
But all was not well in the
Lemonheads camp by this point. Richards had already decided to quit
Atlantic to start Thrill Jockey, Peretz was getting ready to move to
New York City to begin a career as a visual artist and Brennan - a Harvard
graduate - was about to accept a job teaching college out of state.
As the band fell apart around him, Dando was also starting to feel the
wear of his recreational drug use - something that he would later document
on "Rudderless" (from 1992's It's A Shame About Ray). Perhaps
more galling, he'd also developed a serious case of writer's block With
leader's disaffection growing, it appeared the Lemonheads were once again history. After the extensive tour supporting Lovey finished, Dando disappeared to the other side of the world.
In an effort to cure his growing malaise, Dando left Boston for Sydney at the end of 1991 to hang out with Nic Dalton and Tom Morgan, a pair of Australian singer/songwriters he'd met on tour.
"Evan was at the end of touring Lovey, and it was pretty obvious he wasn't happy with the way things were going," says Dalton. "And when he came over here, I think he just fell in with a bunch of people - mainly Tom and I - who weren't with major labels and who were just writing songs for the fun of it."
Dando's two-month sojourn was rejuvenating and eye-opening. He lapped up the laid-back environment in which the Aussies played and recorded; more importantly, his creative fires were rekindled thanks to his new partnership with Morgan. "Co-writing the first two songs with Tom was kind of the breakthrough," says Dalton. "I remember they came to see me after they'd written 'It's A Shame About Ray,' and it was a big deal for Evan. I suppose I realized then that he'd come over to get out of some sort of funk he was in."
Returning to Boston, where he was sharing an apartment with Juliana Hatfield, Dando broke though his creative wall and began pouring out lyrics. "He set up a four-track and started doing these demos that were amazing," says Hatfield. The material Dando was writing would form the bulk of the new album by a reconstituted Lemonheads, It's A Shame About Ray.
Before leaving Australia, Dando extended Dalton an offer to take the place of the departed Peretz. When he arrived in America for the first leg of the Ray tour, the bewildered Aussie found himself in L.A. during the middle of the 1992 riots. He probably should've taken it as an omen for the chaos that would surround the band - both onstage and off - for the next two years.
Of the dozens of Lemonheads
lineups over the years, the Dando/Dalton/Ryan configuration proved most
compelling early on. Capable of balancing incendiary thrash and bubblegum
melody with playful reverie, the trio captured one such
moment in Berlin during a late-night studio session to cut a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" for a 25th-anniversary reissue of The Graduate soundtrack. "It was like two in the morning when we recorded it, very much off the cuff," recalls Dalton. "I had the chords and words written down, and we just played it once. It was quite loose and poppy."
The Lemonheads' label recognized the song's commercial potential and released the track as a single against the band's wishes; the Lemonheads' version of "Mrs. Robinson" promptly went top 20 in the UK We were really upset," says Dalton, "because Evan had delivered this fantastic album of originals, and then to take a cover and make it the focus was a disappointment. I know Evan wasn't happy that the label wanted us to play it live." On the rare occasion that the band did oblige, Dando would often goof around, singing in the style of Morrissey, while Dalton balanced his bass on his head.
Though the band seethed over the label's strategy, it was hard to argue with the results. Repackaged pressings of Ray featuring "Mrs. Robinson" as a bonus track pushed the album up the Billboard charts. When all was said and done, Ray had gone gold in the U.S. (shifting well more than a million units worldwide), topped the college charts for several months and garnered loads of attention from a mainstream press corps eager to cover anything "alternative" in the wake of Nirvana's success.
Touring practically non-stop for the next year, the Lemonheads watched their crowds get steadily larger and younger as Dando's made-for-MTV mug became a buzz-bin staple. For a band that started as a basement in-joke among high-school buddies and endured a serious split, multiple lineup changes and the strange leadership of its mercurial frontman, such acclaim must've seemed unlikely, if not a little odd. But for Evan Dando and the Lemonheads, things were just starting to get weird.
"I landed in London, and Evan's picture was everywhere," says Dando confidant Howe Gelb. The Giant Sand leader recalls being in the midst of a solo tour in 1993 and getting his first brush with Dandomania. "He's on every magazine cover and being touted as the next big thing. It was so funny to see-and so surreal. It was strange to try and understand him that way as opposed to how I really knew him."
Gelb wasn't the only one pondering the incongruities between the real Dando and his growing public persona, a funhouse-mirror distortion that obscured who and what he really was. For his part, Dando admits the mass media blitz of '92-'94 was ill-advised in the long term.
"I remember telling this friend of mine that they were going to put me on the cover of Interview magazine," he says, recalling an early publicity coup, "and I agreed to it, 'cause I figured that would get people interested in the record. But my friend was going, 'YOU realize what you're doing here? If you're on the cover of Interview magazine, you're actually giving a little bit of yourself away.' And I was like, 'Nonsense!' She was totally right, of course."
Almost instantly, the press shifted the focus from Dando's gifts as a songwriter to his potential as a modern-day pop pin-up, unshirting him and mussing his hair just soduring photo shoots, posing him as a spaced-out, slacker sex kitten.
Dando didn't exactly help deter the inevitable backlash by taking roles in Gel film fodder like Reality Bites, being photographed in bed with Courtney Love, posing for People, hanging with a run of Hollywood starlets and even guesting on Live With Regis And Kathie Lee. "I think saturation is the right word for it," Dando says dryly. At its peak, Dando's familiar (if somewhat cloying) stoner visage provided inspiration for an anti-fanzine called Die Evan Dando, Die.
"I think people were kind of hard on Evan and unfair to him in not taking into account how uncontrived he really was," observes Juliana Hatfield, who was forced to deal with similar issues when her solo debut, Hey Babe, became a success. "Both of us probably made some choices that weren't the smartest things. But he was just being himself, and certain people probably tried to manipulate his whole image and his look."
Tom Morgan suggests that Dando's handlers, Atlantic Records and Gold Mountain management (the same firm behind Nirvana and the Beastie Boys), were looking to position Dando as a disposable pretty boy. For two-and-a-half years, the Lemonheads maintained a grueling schedule, only pausing from touring to write and record.
"I don't know what Gold Mountain or Atlantic's true agenda was, but to me it looked like they felt that they could run him into the ground, make a bit of money off him and then ditch him in the end-which seemed fairly obscene," says Morgan. "But he was up for the ride the whole time. He knew what was going on in that sense, but it's still fairly sad."
"I have no bitterness to my management or any regrets 'cause I was going full bore," says Dando. "I was the main guy saying, 'This is fine. Sure, we've got an album here.' Honestly, I didn't care about my career back then. I just wanted to have fun."
Fun was something Dando enjoyed to excess, his partying and drug intake increasing in direct proportion to his fame and workload. 1993's Come On Feel The Lemonheads-a schizo collection written mostly on the road - reflected the strange blur Dando's life had become, rather than being the neat, well-defined pop album everyone was expecting. Whatever the reasons-and despite selling almost as well as Ray-the album was seen as a letdown, falling well short of the Nevermind-style breakthrough the powers-that-be were hoping for.
The relative failure of Come On Feel didn't slow Dando, however. As soon as his own tour was over, he jumped in the van with Oasis and rode shotgun with the Gallaghers for two months, witnessing the birth of the biggest thing in Britain since the Beatles. Naturally, Dando's presence - which found him engaged in bizarre onstage cameos, hotel-room trashings and brushes with airport security - was a show unto itself.
"I don't regret any of that, because it was such fun," he says. "I opened up for [Oasis] the night before their first record came out in Buckely, Wales." The gig found a giddy, chemical-fueled Dando serenading a confused crowd from the club's rooftop. "It was an amazing time Of course, I ended up in the hospital at the end of the whole thing"
By 1995, Evan Dando was more a svalking punchline than a viable musician. Debauched, often exotic tales of his misadventures began making the rounds Stories such as his being chased out of Brazil by angry coke dealers (l might've been chasing them down the street," he jokes; coupled with Dando's candid revelations concerning the Herculean depths of his habits, had come to overshadow anything he might do with a guitar. All of it came to a crashing halt with his meltdown at the Sydney airport.
To those on the sidelines, Dando's very public slide was painful to watch. "I felt he was sort of throwing his life away," says Bettina Richards. "He wasn't prepared to set any parameters for himself, and there was no one that seemed to do it for him. As long as he was still showing up and playing the shows, no one was gonna change things."
"I was definitely at
a low point-doing too many drugs, drinking way too much," says
Dando. "It wasn't a struggle because I always had money. But I
wasn't really leading a satisfying existence. I was blotting out any
kind of unaddressed anger I had and addressing it with substances. I
had to go through a lot of shit, man, 'cause I was
really into getting high." He was encouraged by his family and friends to enter rehab, but the weeks spent drying out only provided a temporary respite.
When Dando finally resurfaced in late 1996, it was with another Lemonheads record and lineup in tow. (Dalton and Ryan left the band the previous year.) The largely overlooked Car Button Cloth further confirmed the growing view of Dando as a one time talent gone awry. Even the formerly hospitable European press now treated Dando like a houseguest who'd overstayed his welcome. Car Button Cloth suffered audibly under the weight of its creator's accumulated excesses: Dando's voice was haggard, the album's overall feel sluggish.
Eventually weaning himself off hard drugs but still drinking to excess and feeling worn out, Dando decided he needed a more dramatic break, so on a stage at Reading in 1997, he decided to announce the end of the Lemonheads. Considering he was the band's only real member at the time, it was a curious act of self-immolation.
He asked to be released from his Atlantic contract (the label obliged in exchange for the rights to a Lemonheads best-of compilation), severed ties with his management and disappeared from public view for much of the next six years. The first part of Dando's wilderness period was rife with boredom and ennui. Dando's wild energy and demons appeared to be getting the best of him when he was kicked out of a Smashing Pumpkins concert in March '98.
"I've known Evan for 10 years, and I sat backstage with him at Madison Square Garden before we played," Billy Corgan reported to millions on The Howard Stern Show shortly after the incident. "And he was literally in tears, talking about the old days and how he wishes things were simple again And then an hour later, he's throwing food at people backstage and screaming at them, telling them to get the hell out of there, and so we had to throw him out ... He's in bad shape."
Sadly, it looked as if Dando were falling headlong into a familiar downward spiral. Then-out of the blue-he saved himself. He fell in love.
"When I met him he wasn't doing very well, which was kind of obvious," says Dando's wife, Elizabeth Moses. "But I didn't really know anything about him, about his past."
Moses, a fashion model and Newcastle, England, native, was living in New York when she first encountered Dando in a Lower East Side bar in the summer of '98. "He was sitting with a friend of mine," she says, "and we were introduced and got to talking. At that point, I was thinking about going away and doing some traveling. I mentioned this to Evan, and he said, 'Well, I'll come with you!' So we ended up driving cross-country-from Miami to L.A. When we got to L.A., we didn't feel like going back home, so we got on a plane and went to Sydney. We've been together ever since."
Much of the following two years - the couple married in October 2000 - was spent traveling together, and even as the new relationship seemed to fulfill Dando, Moses knew that something was missing in his life. "From the first time I Met Evan, he talked about wanting to get back into music," she says. "But it took a long while for him to be able to do that."
"My wife always had faith in me, and she's not a bullshitter," says Dando. "So I believed in her, believing in me." But just as he'd suffered a creative crisis before the breakthrough of his last great album a decade earlier, Dando again found himself burdened by writer's block.
Fittingly, it was Ben Lee-who as a teenage tunesmith penned an ode to Dando called "I Wish I Was Him" - who started his idol back on the road to making music. "I made it my mission to get Evan writing songs again," says Lee, who'd grown close to the singer since meeting him in 1993. "I would just kick his ass a little bit and say, 'Come over, we're writing a song' - forced him as it were. The first batch of things he had for this new record were written pretty much under lock and key."
Lee got the ball rolling by composing an eerily perceptive ballad titled "All My Life": "To be filled with hatred/For the time I've wasted/And I'm so impatient/For a new sensation/All my life/I thought I needed all the things I didn't need at all."
"That was meant specifically for Evan to sing," says Lee. "It's very much about him - or from his perspective."
Soon after, Dando took some tentative steps in his professional comeback by recording a country-covers collection for an Australia-only release (although the project was ultimately aborted, several tracks did appear on 2001's Griffith Sunset EP). Further sessions with Gelb in Tucson, Ariz., low-key acoustic touring with protege Ben Kweller and a cameo during the Blake Babies reunion followed, but Dando still seemed reticent to re-enter the rock 'n' roll fray.
Says Dalton, "After the whole big Lemonheads thing-that weird experience - a bit of his spirit and confidence was taken away. For a long time, it was a struggle to get that back."
Ultimately, two distinctly different NYC phenomena pushed Dando back into the spotlight. The first came when he heard an EP by an up-and-coming local five-piece. "I got the firs Strokes recording," he says, "and I was like 'What the fuck!? This is a new band? '' I figured if these guys are getting any kind of buzz, then the waters must be safe to go back in "
The second - and perhaps more galvanizing event - occurred on September 11. For Dando, standing on the roof of his apartment mere yards away from ground zero, it was an understandably harrowing experience.
"I saw the second plane hit the tower," he says. "It fucking flew right over my head. [Elizabeth] and I just started running. We had to leave our apartment for a couple months. I've never seen anything like that, man. That definitely made me get off my ass."
Baby I'm Bored (Bar/None) is largely an album of echoing, acoustic folk pop marked by Dando's renewed sense of quality control. After recording four years' worth of tracks - including studio forays with the Giant Sand/Calexico contingent in Tucson, producer Bryce Goggin (Pavement, Phish) in Brooklyn and the remaining bulk with producer and songwriter Jon Brion in L.A. - Dando pared 22 songs down to 12, sequencing the final group with the help of wife Elizabeth (who graces the album's cover) to create a song cycle that's both battered and bewitching.
"I wasn't concerned how this album related to his other records or people's expectations of him," says Brion, who began co-writing tunes with Dando in 2000. "It sounded like Evan was moving toward being the folkie he always implied, which I found really interesting."
The moody "Rancho Santa Fe"-a track inspired by the Heaven's Gate cult and recorded as a video monitor played Bergman's the Seventh Seal in the studio - seems an appropriate statement of rebirth, while Spacehog's Royston Langdon stirs Dando from the depths with the intertwining glam-slam "Waking Up." The aforementioned "All My Life" proves a stunning slice of self-examination, even if written by someone else, while another Ben Lee song ("Hard Drive") captures Dando's current state of domestic bonhomie.
More telling is country pastiche "Why Do You Do This To Yourself?," its lines easily read as Dando's own internal dialogue "You stayed awake for 14 days and then you slept a week/Why do you do this to yourself?" Dando further puts his past in perspective on "The Same Thing You Thought Hard About Is The Same Part I Can Live Without": "I can't believe how far I slipped/And secretly I'm glad I did," he sings, his weary baritone and craggy croon imbung songs with a wizened, lived-in truth.
The album closes with the looping waltz of "In The Grass All Wine Colored" - the imagistic rendering of a Civil War soldier's thoughts as lay he dying on a blood stained battlefield - whose sole lyric is a one-line variation of the title repeated for three and a half minutes. The effect is mesmeric, turning the song into a metaphor that seems to draw a neat symmetry to Dando's own experiences. Once bloodied and beaten, Dando has managed to seize the perspective such tragic beauty leaves behind, Neither steeped in pathological regret nor bloated with defiant posturing, Baby I'm Bored is very much the chronicle of a 36-year-old man owning up to his lost years and potential.
"The Lemonheads was a really fun thing to be involved with and I think some of the recordings are good, but this one is for keeps," he says. "I really did go for 12 songs I can live with for the rest of my life - which is ideally what you want when you make a record."
While marriage and a return to music have settled him down somewhat - Dando claims he hasn't had a drink in more than a year - that doesn't mean the man has lost any of his famous edge.
"He's still the same person he always was - which is a bit out there," laughs Morgan. "It's just that he puts more value into he's doing than he used to."
"Speaking to him lately, you do see a lot of the old Evan coming around," adds Lee. "You see a glint of that old mischief in his eye. The truth is it suits him to be a rock 'n' roller - that's [something] he draws hu;e pleasure from it. And it's fine as long he stays healthy and happy. I dunno, it's just good to have him back."
Dando plans to stay around for a while, as he's already slated to record an album of obscure county tunes in Nashville in the fall - a project along the lines of Elvis Costello's Almost Blue - before completing a proper follow-up to Baby for release next year.
And what of that feature film treatment of his life? A big-screen bio may have a happy ending, but as his leading lady notes, the only sure thing with Dando is that there are no sure things.
"With Evan, every day is a surprise," says Moses. "You don't know what's coming next. But I'll tell you, there's never a dull moment."