Interview with Evan Dando by Melan1
From Faster Louder, 1st April 2009
“Evan, here is Lewis,” says the operator.
“Hulloooo,” drawls Evan Dando in his lazy, from-the-Valley-let’s-roll-a-spliff voice.
“Happy for you to call me Mel, dude.”
He chuckles, strumming on a guitar, “Yeah, man, I was like, Lewis? You don’t sound like a Lewis.”
“No, no. I’m a girl,” I assure him before inquiring as to his upcoming tour itinerary. Given Dando’s long love affair with Australia, I am not expecting that he’ll fly in for the back-to-back shows and then shoot home. “Well, I’m actually working on a book with Paul McNeil. You know his book M is for Metal?”
With Evan’s excited synopsis, it’s difficult to comprehend exactly what this book is going to entail but suffice to say, it will be a celebration of his love for language. He has always enjoyed word play and confesses that as a kid, he harboured fantasies of becoming a writer.
“Do you get a chance to creatively write for yourself anymore?” I ask.
“Yeah, of course. That’s the whole thing, to be able to write creatively for myself, by myself. And don’t let anyone near it, right?” he enthuses.
“How do you decide what’s okay to share?”
“Oh,” he sounds surprised that I ask. “Oh, I share everything. I’m not very good at censoring myself.”
Yet he just suggested he wouldn’t let anyone read his work. It’s the first of many contradictions, or directional changes. It’s as though as when Evan speaks, his mind is running too fast, so by the end of a conversation he has realised what he said and is already correcting himself before you even grasp what he meant in the first instance. He’s right. He’s terrible at censoring himself.
I remind him of a quote where he intimated that reaching a level of financial success was also a point where he experienced a creativity block. “Sometimes when it’s a quiet time, financially, it creates more of a hunger to produce work,” I suggest.
The quiet refrains of his guitar continue in the background. “Unfortunately, I can’t quite see it as a job yet, ever, still. I know it is,” he trails off, sighing dramatically, “I don’t know.”
“Can it be hard to put a dollar value on your ideas?”
“I don’t mind that,” he states. “Artists have to eat too. I don’t mind charging for shows, I don’t mind people paying for a ticket.”
“Well you gotta pay the bills.”
“Exactly,” he declares. “That’s what I mean. I’m really not after any wild, financial thing. I just wanna stay alive, you know? I had too much money for a while, but I dealt with that pretty quickly.”
It may be a touchy subject, because Evan suddenly asks, “Where are you?”
I confirm my location. “Oh,” he swoons, “Ohhhh. I love Melbourne. It’s the best place. Autumn in Melbourne’s kinda like a thing, right? It’s, like, really nice.”
We discuss the devastating bushires, and he politely enquires as to the affected areas. “It sucks man,” says Dando, “but it does totally bring people together.” Speaking of which, I clumsily segue, “What’s the go with Varshons? Have you decided on a release date for that yet?”
The mood swings to the ecstatic. “No, but the record cover’s amazing, I gotta say. That was, like, the whole reason for the album. I bought this painting that I couldn’t really afford and was like shit, what do I do? What do I do?’ Then the eureka moment. ‘Cover versions! Put it into the budget of the cover versions!’” He calms down slightly. “It’s, like, this really beautiful painting. I like the cover a lot.”
And the ‘bringing people together’ segue? Oh yeah, Varshons is the brainchild of Evan’s mate Gibby Haynes, of The Butthole Surfers. “Yeah, we’re old buddies, me and Gibby, so we finally decided to act on it and do some work together. So that was really cool. And a song came out of it too. Wait. I’ll sing a little bit of it.”
Before I can say, okay Evan Dando, sing down the phone to me, he’s strumming and crooning in that familiar voice. “Well I know a girl who lives on a hill/She’s rolling to the bottom/And she always will/She rides on a feather/And it flies through the air/She showed me her body/And there’s nobody therrrrreee.”
It’s a sweet thing.
“That’s the song that we wrote, he actually wrote most of it but, we’re gonna do it for the next record. We wrote another one, too, that might go on the next record.”
I get the distinct impression that Evan has no idea what’s going on the next record, or if there even is a next record slated. “And anyway,” I chide, “do you even have a band, or are you going to musical-chair it again?”
He’s quick with the expected, “The bands already changed again. I’ve got John Perry from The Only Ones over from England and it’s mostly psychedelic music,” he pauses, “or country. Like, random people, a mish mash. Gibby just got, like, friends and live? I don’t know what’s happening yet. With The Lemonheads tour, I don’t know.” He’s not losing sleep. “It’s going to be easy to find people though.”
“Jesus,” I say. “The evolvement of your little band, how does it work? Have you got no attention span?”
“Yeah, I know,” he giggles. “It’s getting to be about 44 people. It’s hilarious. You know, whoever’s good and has some time and wants to do it. It’s fun, it keeps it fresh for me.” He admits that he finds it difficult to have a constructive time in a situation where a band is over committed to each other, “where there’s a band and there’s fights and stuff. I’m kinda passive aggressive so if there’s a situation I’d probably just reform over here. Makes it easier in a way for someone who can’t really get along with people too well.”
As Evan realises he has either confessed to what happens under The Lemonheads umbrella or given me the complete wrong impression he quickly blurts, “Not me, not me. It’s everyone else who’s ever been in a band,” punctuating with a little stoner laugh.
For someone who claims not to get along with other people, he’s scheduling time to catch up with buddy Ben Kweller as their Australian tour dates overlap. That reminds me of the other Ben. “Where’s Ben Lee these days?”
Turns out Ben’s wife Ione Skye is old friends with Mr and Mrs Dando. “So I’ve been talking to Ben a bit lately,” Evan rambles. “We had a bit of a falling out cause he got all religious and I’m really anti-religion.” Dando laughs, “I mean, it wasn’t a falling out, I was just yelling and screaming at him.”
We swiftly change the subject before international relations get messy. Knowing Evan’s discomfort at the attention The Lemonheads cover of Mrs Robinson got, I wonder if he will be compelled to play the ‘hits’ at his upcoming shows.
“That’s what I want to do man, pull the hits. Boom boom boom boom. I don’t want to bother people by playing all new songs, I’m not into that.” He lets me in on the secret of his stagecraft: “You start playing the next song before [the crowd] reach their peak of applause. It’s sort like a tantric sex thing. You don’t let them have their full clap until the end.” He stops. “I’m jinxing myself. Where are you again?”
“Oh yeah, that’s right. Oh, I wish I was. Well, I’ll be there soon I s’pose. I wanna come down and visit for a while and go to [Chapel Street nightclub] Revolver.” We both crack up. “And get thrown down the stairs,” he chortles. “You know those really steep stairs, and that really big bouncer?” I admit I am yet to see a small bouncer.
He goes on, “Tom [Morgan, longtime Dando collaborator] got thrown down those stairs one time. He was trying to get in a fight with the bouncer and it was his birthday, oh wait, it wasn’t his birthday, the court date was his birthday.” Oh dear, I think. This is where Evan gets himself in trouble. “All the way down those stairs, man. That place goes allll weekend, man. It’s hilarious.”
Which reminds him: “You’re coming to the show, right? At The Corner?”
“Yeah, well, that’s my local,” I offer, deciding against telling him that being invited to gigs over the phone by international touring stars rarely translates to a position on the guest list. Instead I begin to make my goodbyes.
“Oh well, you’ll have to come around so I can meet a girl called Lewis,” he laughs at the idea. “No, no I know it’s Mel. That’s good,” he manages a pleasant sarcasm, without making me feel entirely common: “because there’s no other girls in Australia called Mel.”