Interview with Evan Dando by Dee Massey
From Caught in the Crossfire, June 2009
Evan Dando, front man of The Lemonheads, has just spent the entire day doing back to back press for his new album ‘Varshons’, and yet can still muster a smile as he opens his hotel room door.
Through career highs and lows, with some very public meltdowns but equally public highlights, Dando has always had a happy go lucky outlook, which has endeared him to his legions of fans, who are still on his side after twenty years in the business.
After his brief hiatus in the late 90’s Dando returned to the stage and studio, with a 2001 live album, followed by 2003’s solo record ‘Baby I’m Bored.’ His return to UK to play ‘It’s a Shame About Ray’ from start to finish at The Shepherds Bush Empire in 2005 was a breathtaking return to form, with every word sung back at Evan and Co, word perfect.
Since then the band’s gone through yet more line up changes, and nowadays Evan is the only original member in the band. With the success of their self titled 2006 album on Vagrant, Evan has taken a new direction with a covers album, ‘Varshons’, due to be released in June. Picking and choosing from some great artists, Evan joined forces with producer Gibby Haynes (of the Butthole Surfers), with Kate Moss and Liv Tyler taking up vocal duties on a couple of tracks. Dee Massey met with Evan at K West for a catch up…
So Evan, thanks for taking some time out, I know you’ve been in interviews all day so I’ll try and make this easy..
No no...I’m fine. I was doing this ‘underground magazine’ [one of the UK’s biggest selling weekly music magazines] … it's just not how it used to be over there…..I mean, it was fine but it was a lot of work, we had to do all these recordings and things…but anyway! Look at this…it’s a mock up of the record cover [produces the new cover for Varshons]
Who did the artwork for this?
It’s this guy called Mark Dagley – I mean…this is the actual reason I did the record.
Is this the infamous painting you bought? [Rumour has it Evan’s reason for the album was to pay for the painting]
Yeah! This isn’t a great mock up, the record will look different but you can kinda see it and this is why I made the record, ‘cos I wanted to buy the painting….its really big. [jumps off the sofa to show the size…which is huge..] It’s like big, it’s amazing…
Do you actually have it now?
It’s at my house, at my home in New York [smiles]
So how come you decided to do this covers album, apart from the painting.
Well that was really it basically! I had about half my record done and I thought why not give the people something to listen to while I’m finishing up the next record.
How did you choose the tracks?
My friend Gibby [Haynes, producer of Varshons] really chose most of them, and I chose the first one, the Grams song ["I Just Can't Take It Anymore"] and ‘Fragile’, that was my choice, but he chose the GG Allin song [Layin Up with Linda] and stuff. We were hanging out a lot before we made the record, and then I bought this painting and I thought……well if Gibby will agree to produce it, I’ll go ahead and make the record..
You’ve co-produced most of your records, how did it feel giving someone else to reins?
It was very intense! I did let him take a lot of the control over it, especially the song choices…and he came and helped me when I was singing, I mean I’ve never had someone tell me how it sing, but he had an idea of what he wanted and I really respect Gibby, and he’s really smart, so I thought maybe it’d sound just a little bit different to do what he asked me to do, and it worked out fine [laughs].
So of all the producers you’ve worked with…was he the most challenging?
Yeah yes! Actually I’d say he was [laughs].
Would you work with him again?
Yeah of course, definitely - we’ll always be doing something together. We’ve been doing shows together – we have a band called The Time Whales, I don’t even know where the name came from…it’s like a whale logo. We do 3 or 4 songs, and play at these really posh New York places and everyone hates it, but it’s good cos … some of Gibby’s friends , these cool people, come along and they love it because it so pure in this horrible environment, but we’ve done a couple of gigs and it’s fun!
And I understand you’ve been writing a children’s book with Paul McNeil?
Yeah – have your read M is for Metal? It’s a great book! [gets his guitar out of its case] You know there’s a lot of good kids books but that’s right in there with the good ones! I’m so proud of him that he did that.
So yeah…we’re doing this thing, it like... Acronyms…..like pillaging elves sacked the observatories…with drawings. Or prisoners escaped silently…wait…no…prisoners escaped tunnelling….er…I can’t remember that one! [laughs] A pearl emerges shining thanks oyster you know.. Prince’s enigmatic symbol terminated obligation – Popeye explains sex to Olive – it’s going to be fun!
And you’ve done a little acting…
Er…yes! But I don’t know if I’ll ever do anymore [laughs] I’ve never pursued it , it’s just come my way. Except…I’d love to work with John Waters if he does a movie again [ starts playing his guitar] …and I would do anything…I’d sweep the floor! I’d like to work with John Waters, I like John Waters. [smiles]
So you can act, you’re doing a kids book on top of the music – do you have any other hidden talents?
Well I’m a bit of a book worm, so I guess I’m an inspiring short story writer. [Plays a few chords]. I am very serious about…books.
The next Lemonheads album - is it all written yet?
It’s about half way down. Listen to this [plays a few chords from a new track]
That sounds great..
Well…I’ve got to write some more chords and stuff...it’s getting there! It’s going to be fun…it’s getting there.
Are you still writing with Tom Morgan?
We tried to write this song called Mellow Superstition…wait wait [gets his notebook out] – I don’t know if we’ll ever write another song together, we wrote so many and it was so great for so long…and we were so high [laughs]. I mean...we still get high but it’s not the same! It’s almost like…this is enough you know?
Too much of a good thing?
The tour you’re doing over here….
It’s a solo tour. Just by myself. I do a lot of solo stuff, it’s probably my favourite way of playing actually...no really! I think it’s my strength too actually, because not a lot can get in the way of the songs and I’m a good singer, and I like playing by myself. I like playing in the band…and I like to play solo, I think it’s good to do both. I certainly don’t shy away from playing solo gigs..
You’ve been making records for over 20 years and you’ve still got the most loyal fan base, what’s your secret?
Just ‘cos I’m still really in to it. Nothing’s changed really with me…it’s still really exciting for me, and …um…I’m a late bloomer I think. Like people like The Clash…how do they deal with that? Their first record had so many amazing songs, it must be hard to hit it really hard the first time. I’m like the opposite, I’m just gradually plugging my way towards something, I feel like I’ve still got steps ahead.
What’s your best memory of being in the band?
Oh….I’ll just pick a good memory. Um…hmm….this is hard! No no, I’ll think of one! You know...we did a good gig…but then came the good part, we saw Neil Young play and then The Velvet Underground … and my friend Nick who is a Velvet Underground fanatic…he got the banana from the rider...and the set list! And once Iggy called me, and wanted to write with me and we never wrote anything proper but we tried…and that was cool. I mean, a lot of great things have happened to me.
What’s your favourite city to play…and you don’t have to say London.
[laughs] No I do have a good time in London! But lets see…I really like……Chicago’s a very solid place to play, Glasgow….Zagreb in Croatia and Sydney or Melbourne.
So I have to ask you, what are your 3 essential items to take on tour?
[plays guitar] - - oh Guitar! Passport…but that’s boring. Let’s see….bathing suit, a guitar and…books! [laughs]
And lastly, before I leave you in peace, do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to pass on to our readers?
The foolish man says don’t put all your eggs in one basket…and wise man knows to put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket!
Thank you so much Evan
My pleasure – it was effortless and totally painless [laughs]…unlike some!