Interview with Evan Dando by Derek Paiva

From The Honolulu Advertiser 27th February 2004


A long time ago, in a era when Kurt Cobain could still swear that he didn't have a gun, every band in Seattle had a record deal with a major label, and even your mom and dad sorta knew what "grunge" meant, a goofy, kind of handsome 25-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist named Evan Dando and his band The Lemonheads were dubbed "the next big thing."

Cocooned in a blanket of folk-infused sonics tempering Dando lyrics ripe with melancholia, emotional turmoil and wry, self-deprecating humor, the music of The Lemonheads was akin to a cool glass of iced tea in a musical landscape serving mostly black coffee.

The band's 1992 breakthrough album, "It's a Shame About Ray," became a minor hit on the strength of its title track and an irony-free cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson." The following year's "Come On Feel The Lemonheads" produced a modern rock radio smash and prom season perennial in the jangly-sweet "Into Your Arms."

Dando, blessed with cheekbones to die for and lengthy tendrils of wispy brown hair more often than not hiding dreamy half-asleep eyes, blissfully embraced his press-anointed role as the band's cover-ready id. He hung out with Courtney Love and Johnny Depp, boasted of shagging seven groupies in a single week, and was named one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People of 1993.

Growing increasingly disillusioned with music, his membership in the never-as-big-as-predicted Lemonheads, and the pressure of being "Evan Dando alterna-hunk," however, the musician also began ingesting just about every drug he could find. And stories of Dando's seemingly gargantuan drug appetite filled music mags.

Look! Here's Evan Dando physically unable to talk to a reporter because he's so high on crack! Hey! There's Evan Dando being detained and subdued by Australian police for skipping on a cab fare while loaded on heroin and LSD!

By the mid-'90s, Dando seemed all but poised to assume the mantle of the next celebrity drug casualty. The Lemonheads managed one last album, 1996's half-hearted "Car Button Cloth," before Dando left for four years of drug, drink and zero music.

"I definitely, on purpose, kind of sabotaged my career," Dando, 37, admitted earlier this week. "I was sick of it. ... And I thought I would never run out of money, too. So I was, like, let's (expletive) this up right now, really badly, and make a real spectacle of horror out of it. And then for sure, I at least won't have to do it anymore. And that's what happened.

"I realize now that there was some amount of irresponsibility there toward the people who really liked my music. ... Now, I realize what it really is. And I'm very grateful to be doing it at all ... still.

Yep, Evan Dando is still alive. But perhaps more importantly, Evan Dando is a lot happier now — happily married, happily crafting new music, happily performing it, and happily as sober as he'll allow himself to be.

Released last spring, his first CD of original material in seven years, "Baby, I'm Bored," may have lacked anything resembling commercial heat, but it made up for it in ample critical kudos. A mostly acoustic collection of life sketches, "Baby" finds Dando matching the rough-hewn twang and clever lyricism of his old band circa "It's a Shame About Ray" with mature, at times even humorous ruminations on his long, strange trip to 2004.

With Dando in the middle of a two-week tour of Australia and New Zealand before a Hawai'i show on Monday, we chatted leisurely and at length about the former Lemonheads vocalist's years in and out of the music spotlight. Dando was looking forward to his first-ever show here, and a couple of days of down time.

"(The Lemonheads) were offered a show in Hawai'i a long time ago opening up for Blind Melon, but we said, '(Expletive) that!' We didn't want to play first," recalled Dando. "But I've been to the airport ... once. I went outside ... once. The air seemed nice."

Off the booze

The second-to-last drug Evan Dando kicked — and the most difficult of 'em all — was alcohol.

"It's worse for you than any of that other stuff, even though heroin steals your soul," said Dando, sagely. "So I got out of the heroin, started with the coke for a while, tried to get rid of (both), and then got way too into drinking."

Dando nursed an alcohol consumption rate he once estimated at about 30 drinks a day even after marrying model Elizabeth Moses in 2000. He credits two reasons for quitting the sauce for good the following year: Jon Brion and 9/11.

An in-demand producer of albums for Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple and Rufus Wainwright as well as an accomplished studio musician, Brion was also an old-school Lemonheads fan. After inviting a recently-performing-again Dando to his regular gig at a Los Angeles-area club in 2001, Brion began writing and recording music with the musician on the condition that he curb his drinking.

"He was sick of it," Dando said of Brion. "He had just come out of an experience with (singer/songwriter) Elliott Smith (who died last October of a reportedly self-inflicted knife wound), where Elliott was all (messed) up. ... Jon Brion made me realize that I didn't need it. I certainly didn't need it when I was recording with (him)."

And 9/11?

"We were living two blocks south of the World Trade Center. And I was on the roof when the second (plane) hit, so it was right over my head," said Dando. "It made me realize that life is good. And all the money in the world can't buy you a near-death experience."

It took Dando another five months to quit drinking for good ("What are you gonna do, not drink when New York is falling down around you?" he theorized), but he finally did.

"Now, I'm relatively sober," said Dando. "I guess I have to be honest with myself: I'll occasionally smoke a joint or something to wind down. But that usually ends up keeping me up all night, so I'm trying to stay off of that, too.

"You know how most people get mellow when they smoke pot? Well, I start bouncing off the wall."

Back to good

Asked what nudged him toward new music again in 2000 after four years away, Dando hinted at channeling his inner-music fan again.

"'Heatwave' by Martha Reeves and The Vandellas!" said Dando, excitedly. "We got (The Strokes') 'The Modern Age' EP right when they recorded it, and I was, like, 'These guys are gonna be huge!'"

Dando suddenly saw a musical landscape that might be more receptive to some new work from him.

"It was almost best that I missed all of those Backstreet Boys years," said Dando, laughing.

Dando wrote or co-wrote the 30 or so songs winnowed down to a dozen for "Baby, I'm Bored" with producer Brion, Australian singer/songwriter Ben Lee, one-time tourmate Ben Kweller and Spacehog vocalist Royston Langdon over several years.

"Baby" isn't a perfect record, but it certainly flirts with moments of greatness. And as a harbinger of music that still might come from Dando, it's also a most-welcome comeback as well.

"I wanna make two or three more records really quickly," said Dando, hinting at a late summer release for his next CD. "My manager has a record label so I also want to put out some 'odds-n-sods' things (from The Lemonheads) that we find all over the place and that people are always giving to us (in a) weird versions and B-side collection thing. There's so much stuff."

Fun, no chaser

Dando copped to having "tons more" fun with his music career the second time around.

"I'm ambitious now, actually," said Dando. "I do want to get it back to where it was, at least. (But) I'm not gonna rush anything. I'll just let it happen naturally by just doing the best shows (I can), not ever being (messed) up ever at a show, and just playing as well as I can."

As with his Down Under shows, Dando will accompany himself solo on acoustic guitar here. He promised songs from "Baby, I'm Bored" and much of the freshly-squeezed Lemonheads repertoire he had been playing for Australian fans.

"Some nights I play, like, 32 songs in the set just, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang until I feel like I'm ready to stop," said Dando, chuckling. "It's like a marathon. It takes a lot out of me, actually, playing them by myself."

It's even easier without the drugs.

"Much easier," said Dando. "I'm glad I did all that stuff, because I had to get it into and out of my system. But you can only do that for so long and then it just gets boring."

The air seems nicer now, too.


Dando's vinyl tap

"Oh, you should see the stuff we got in New Zealand," said a duly stoked Evan Dando, shortly after being outed as a vinyl LP junkie near the end of our chat. "Hold on a second. Let me go get the box."

A small fraction of Dando's 33 1/3 rpm purchases follow:

  • "Let It Bleed," The Rolling Stones. "This is my favorite Stones record. I bought a first pressing with the insert and the poster and everything."
  • "Street Hassle," Lou Reed
  • "Legendary Hearts," Lou Reed
  • "Baby's Got a Gun," The Only Ones
  • "Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables," Dead Kennedys
  • "Hey Joe," The Leaves
  • "A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra," Oscar Peterson
  • "Revolver," The Beatles. "Because I don't have it on vinyl"
  • "Desire," Bob Dylan
  • "Physical Graffiti," Led Zeppelin
  • "The Great British Psychedelic Trip, Vol. 4," Various artists
  • "Kaleidoscope World," The Chills