Interview with Evan Dando by Emma Morgan
Photos by Tom Sheehan
From Bang Magazine May 2003
You probably thought Evan Dando was dead. But that's OK - so did his friends. The former poster boy of grunge-pop spent most of the last decade doing more drugs than the entire Tour De France. In 2003, much to his surprise, he's still alive, he thinks the Lemonheads were "fucking crap", and he wants to assassinate the president. Oh, and he's got a new record out.
Stumbling into the bar of the Columbia Hotel, his arms entangled, Crackerjack-style, with a mess of portable stereo, concertina CD wallet and acoustic guitar, Evan Dando is looking very well for a man who will cheerfully admit to (nearly) drinking himself to death. His once-long blonde hair is now an angular brown bob and the extra weight he was carrying circa his last UK shows has dropped off; if it weren't for his height and the width of his shoulders he could almost pass for a gangly teen. He certainly has the same wide-eyed enthusiasm and laughter frequently punctuates his anecdotes -a strange kind of gulped giggle that offers the only clue to the physical cost of his years of substance abuse. He's effortlessly affable, posing for more pies before laying down his load and searching out a power point so he can provide a soundtrack to the interview: a little Giant Steps, some Ben Kweller, his own split single with Ben Lee, Jason Schwartzman of Rushmore and Phantom Planet fame and Cheap Trick's Tom Petersson.
He delivers a killer story before he even takes a seat, recalling how he once unknowingly lassoed Robert De Niro's legs on the stairs of a New York hotel with a similar stereo cord, around the same time as having battered down the actor's door with a handful of misdirected mail. "I was doing a British accent and banging on the door...and believe me. I know how British police sound banging on your door, hur hur...and I was going 'Open up, this is the police!'" His PR, Tony, delivers the punchline. "No, you said 'This is the Police! And I don't mean Sting."'
Infamous for the scenes of bacchanalian excess that have seen sundry bands banned from the premises, the otherwise respectable Columbia Hotel is the perfect temporary home for Evan, a man whose own chemical indulgence and self-imposed exile from the music industry is finally at an end. The day we meet coincides with the release of his first official solo record, the adorable Baby I'm Bored, and marks a watershed in the former Lemonhead's professional life.
"This is my first record where I feel like a real artist," he says, slowly popping four vast Solpadine tablets into a pint of water. "And I'm excited because I've always been a bit highbrow. I love James Joyce and Thelonious Monk and William Burroughs and Chuck Bukowski and the Velvet Underground and I want to go for it. T want to do... Neil Young."
The Lemonheads' back catalogue is, therefore, less fondly remembered than fans might expect: "Those records to me are just like funny static. They're like meteorites or something from the past, and I haven't gotten up the courage to listen to our first three records in, like, five years because they're so fucking crap!"
The standout track on Baby I'm Bored is the autobiographical `All My Life' ("Can you feel the thunder/From the cloud I'm under/God knows, how will 1 get through/I bit my own sweet heart in two"). Paradoxically, it's one of the few songs Evan had no hand in writing - it's entirely a Ben Lee composition. "He got it way better than I could have, ever, because he obviously has a clearer perspective on what I am...Ben knows me so well that he wrote my song, especially about my mid-life crisis years. And he got it great."
Rewind to 1995. Evan is arrested at an airport - in Australia in a state of drug-induced psychosis and - notwithstanding a warm reception to the final Lemonheads - album, Car Button Cloth, a year later 'Evan is dead' rumours began to circulate. With good reason.
"Dude. dude, hilarious shit, man! One night, me and some friends took a bunch of really great acid, and went to Madison Square Garden to dance with the Smashing Pumpkins. They had recently lost their keyboard player to heroin. And so they employed my psychotic friends from Milwaukee, The Frogs, and they invited me to dance onstage for '1979', y'know, their Sonic Youth-type one? I was wearing a seersucker suit, it was hilarious fun... but of course it ended, I was way too happy that night and started throwing food around and I got kicked out, thrown out of Madison Square Garden - it was a great feeling! - by the head of security. He took me by the arm and [mimes hurling motion] I was like, 'Yes'. Hur hur! It's a great way to leave, y'know? Even though no-one saw it, for me it felt great' And then the next morning, my friends were sitting eating breakfast and they heard [someone say] 'Did you hear Evan Dando died last night?' And they called me right away, and then they laughed over the fact that I was alive and the rumours of my death had been exaggerated."
Do you look back on the years when you were doing drugs and feel that they were wasted now? "No, it was important, I had to do all that. I don't regret one microgram of drugs ingested in my entire life, I don't regret any of it, apart from that one bad batch of coke, hur hur! No, bad coke, I wish I'd never done any of that, but good coke? Didn't mind any of that. Every time I shot up heroin, every time 1 did a speedball, every time I did a spaceball - which is shooting up speed and heroin at the same time - I enjoyed it a great deal. I mean, I've got my diploma in drugs, I took them all...except DMT, which I probably will in a couple of years do, 'cause it's like a 30-minute thing where you see these little green guys and stuff, everyone says the same things, and a lot of my friends are really into it. It's so hard now because my friends all still party, a lot of them, and so I just have to, y'know ... I'm not going to be one of these AA 'I'm shutting those people out of my life'-types."
Evan's lost weekend ended when he met the love of his life, his British wife of two years, Elizabeth Moses, at a going-away party for a mutual friend in New York's Little Italy: "She saved my ass, totally, one hundred per cent."
The story of their not-meeting is pure When Harry Met Sally. "We realised we had all the same friends; somehow we just hadn't met. Not only that, we lived in the Gramercy Park Hotel at the same time, in the same part of the hotel, two floors apart, I was in 921 and she was in 1121 for, like ... eight months ... and we never met'. I think these crazy powers were at work to somehow not let us ever see each other. I can't believe it, we lived in the same hotel, in the same back part of the Gramercy that overlooks the park. I lived there for a year and she was in and out of there for that whole year and I never laid my eyes on her. Otherwise I would've known, because this is the woman I fell in love with when I first looked at her. It was weird. I had never felt anything that strong in my life, for a woman, y'know? Never ever. And it's gotten stronger and stronger. it's a crazy thing. Just when you think it can't get any better, it does."
It's an impressive volte-face for a man who was once the alt-rock playboy par excellence, with a roll call of conquests spanning an infamously photographed liaison with Courtney Love and a threesome with "the most famous lesbians of the 90s". The Girlie Show host and model Rachel Williams and her musician girlfriend Alice Temple.
"I mean, y'know, I had my fun and it's irrelevant now, I've found my dream girl like the whole thing with The Little Prince, y'know, there's so many other roses but your own rose ... there's lots of pretty girls out there but there's one pretty girl that loves me. That's pretty...neat." Finding happiness with Elizabeth negated his need to take drugs any more, but giving up drinking was a conscious decision Evan took -successfully - eleven months ago.
"One day I went to my shrink and -1 don't go to the shrink much but I'm on medication so I have to go to get the pieces of paper to bring to the drugstore - I'm like `T know there's this stuff called Antabuse where if you drink you get awfully ill', and I don't like being ill. I'm, like, a practical person, and I loved drinking so much that it was killing me. I was putting on weight and I didn't even know, because alcohol's the worst for your body. Heroin steals your soul but alcohol really takes your body away from you. I was getting old, now I feel ten years younger ... in eleven months I've taken nine years off my life. (Pointing at the bar] You can stare at the fucking bottles of Bacardi as much as you want, but you can die from having six shots of tequila ... it's nct for people fuckin' around."
On September 11 2001, Evan was an eyewitness to the second plane hitting the World Trade Centre, an experience which gave him a perspective on his life and the impetus to get back into music. Somehow, he always knew it was going to happen.
"I've been waiting for this since I was about 12. I was like, 'OK, in my lifetime some major fucking shit's gonna go down and I'm gonna see it', and so I was like, `My God!' It was a relief. A relief because I knew it was gonna happen in my lifetime. It was like when you get your first flat tyre. I consider it to metaphorically be America's first flat tyre, in a way. Look what they're doing now, though...it's just a flat tyre, God!"
As his contribution to the One Big No benefit demonstrated, the flower child has found his political voice, and it's loud.
"Really, honestly, it's not fair, this tit-for-tat thing. George Bush, you ever heard this one, 'Two wrongs don't make a right'? You're in a position of wanting this guy, he's not a threat to the world, and you bomb innocent children, you fucking asshole...I am so angry at that man. [Conspiratorially, directly to the microphone] This is a fantasy, OK, this is not Evan Dando talking, this is a disclaimer to you, George W Bush, I'm talking abstractly, but if I was in the same room with you, motherfucker, I would kill you in the head with a gun. And I'm not a violent person. But sometimes when you kill, you have to do so with relish, and George W Bush I would kill you with relish. And some ketchup.
The repercussions of the current war with Iraq remain to be seen, but Evan's future is otherwise bright. Baby I'm Bored has justifiably garnered ecstatic reviews, and he and his wife Elizabeth are planning a move to Paris after a brief trip to South Africa to play at a fan's wedding ("They approached us at the Fleadh Festival, they got backstage somehow - that's an important thing to do - and they were, like, "Play my wedding!" And I was, like, "Yes!" We're, like, two hours away from Durban, in the jungle at an old colonial estate that's back in their family's heritage or something...how exciting!"), The Virgins - his long-awaited supergroup with Ryan Adams, Melissa Auf Der Maur and James Iha - are ready to rock [see JUICE for more] and he's almost persuaded long-time collaborator Juliana Hatfield to play bass on his upcoming tour ("We could finally do 'Drug Buddy' together live...how cool is that?").
"I have a really charmed life," Evan concedes with a grin that spreads like a sunbeam from cheekbone to cheekbone. "I guess I just love life so much that...it is good to me, because I've always respected the life that's around me. I don't know about any kinda karma bullshit, but I'm just happy to be, y'know, alive.