Interview with Evan Dando by Andrea Thorne
From Making Music November 1996
The Lemonheads is in fact siner/songwriter Evan Dando - despite the fact that the world is littered with ex-bandmembers.Andrea Thorn stalked him down.
Evan Dando is not a happy bunny. As we prepare for the first installment of an interview which has acheived semi-legendary status in the will he/won't he league, Evan is busy tearing down posters in his dressing room. The reason for his pique is the Lemonheads' performance of "Hospital" on Chris Evans' TFI Friday show - cut short because Terry Wogan over-ran (allegedly). After this physical show of frustration however, Evan regains a degree of amiability.
"Not a good show?" I enquire. "No, I had fun," he counters. "If I don't chuck a tantrum that's a bad show. If I chuck a real tantrum, that's a good show." Ironically the only band poster left standing in the aforementioned onslaught is one featuring the Divine Comedy.
The Lemonheads are in Britain to play a few gigs before heading out to tour Europe promoting their new album, 'Car Button Cloth'. The previous night's concert at London's Astoria wasn't the smoothest performance in history, by Evan's own admission.
"The bass went out in the second song and the guitarist kept going out of tune, but we slogged through it. I've learned. When I was a real punk rocker and in a bad mood I didn't even sing. It was like, 'Fuck all you 18 people in the audience, I'm just going to be an asshole, make noise and bash my head against the wall whilst playing the solo from "Sweet Child O' Mine" over and over'. But that doesn't really get you anywhere. Other people are paying money to come and see you, so every night I go on stage I try to give them their money's worth. People work, you know? I want the Lemonheads to be a quality product."
The Lemonheads are nearly as famous for their frequent line-up changes (12 incarnations in 10 years) as they are for their frontman's movie-star looks and documented fondness for Class A drugs.
The embryonic band formed in 1984, just Evan and a friend playing covers and making four-trak recordings. In 1986 they recruited a third member and adopted their name, after a type of American confectionary. Evan accounts for this choice later in the interview, while explaining how he can effortlessly wrap the most poignant sentiments inside bouncy pop songs. "Lemonhead candy is sweet on the outside and sour on the inside - very bitter. Our music always has that melancholy tint to it."
By the end of the Eighties, the band had crossed over from noise core cult to mainstream critical acclaim. After three indie albums and a striking cover of Suzanne Vega's "Luka", their first major album realy, 'Lovey', saw them on the brink of stardom. A year later Evan's bandmates departed, beginning something of a trend. He embarked on a solo Lemonheads tour before assembling a new band (with Juliana Hatfield temporarily on bass) for 1992's 'It's A Shame About Ray'.
"The Lemonheads are a very protean band," he says, by way of an explanation. "It's just that everyone in the band has always had other stuff they'd rather be doing. The Lemonheads helps them make contacts and they go, 'Right, OK, bye'. Like my drummer [David Ryan who played between 1990 and 1994] is now writing screenplays in LA. He wants to be a writer, not a musician. My bass player [Nic Dalton, 1992-1994] owns a record label in Australia - he can't be touring the world.
"I don't get people on the basis of their musicianship. They can play, but more importantly they're people who I can hang out with, who aren't boring. I have a philosophy these days - there's one per cent of people who really deserve your time, and that one per cent is different for everyone. It's not an elitist thing, but you've got to stick with the one per cent."
The current line-up includes Patrick Murphy (ex-Dinosaur Jr) on drums, Bill Gibson on bass and John Strohm on guitar. John holds the distinction of having been in the band three times (incarnations seven, ten and 13), originally as drummer.
Evan seems happy with his new band, and hopeful that this line-up will last. "I'm progressing because I've got really good musicians for the first time. I'm not going to diss my old band, but these guys, their real passion in life is music and that hasn't been the case, except for Nic Dalton. But Nic got bored, he wanted to do his own music. I'm just beginning to explore the parameters of what we can do - everybody in the band has an amazing angle on music."
I wonder if the constantly changing musicians makes it difficult for Evan to maintain consistency. "Not at all," he says, "I think it keeps it fresh, I prefer it. I lok on the Lemonheads as just a vehicle for me - I like to hide behind the name. The worst thing is teaching them the old songs - that sucks."
While he's collaborated with other musicians for a couple of tracks on 'Car Button Cloth', Evan is undoubtedly the band's main songwriter and lyricist. He explains how he works.
"It all usually starts with a riff on a guitar and then I decide to write about something and I look through my notebooks and find all the phrases and rhymes. I constantly write down things I like, like 'bereft and adrift'. If I'm missing one line I just flick through my notebook and there's one there - I don't know if it's by design or something, but it's really cool."
He's amused by my suggestion that his lyrics seem to swing between humorous and screwed-up, though he seems comfortable writing either. "I have to do both. Fucked-up and humorous - that's me, that's the best I could ever hope to be as a human being."
A keen drummer, Evan can be heard playing on the track 'Tenderfoot', "because nobody plays drums as simply as I want - I just pound the shit out of them". By way of demonstration he fills a good five minutes of my tape with a selection of rhythms, beaten out on his legs or the walls of the room. He's still pounding away as the photo shoot begins.
"I write with drums all the time, I think about everything. I can't just play the band a song on acoustic guitar, I have to tell them the beats and oversee the basslines and make sure of certain notes. I compose the whole thing and arrange it."
Track 11 on 'Car Button Cloth' is a song called 'One More Time', notable because evan claims to have written it in a dream. "It's the first time that's happened - I always hear songs in dreams and I never can remember them. But I dreamed the whole thing and woke up. You know when you wake up and make sure not to move your head at all - and I was still in the bar in the dream where I was playing this idiotic song, on and on, so I thought it my duty to torture the world with it. I was lucky I had a ghetto blaster handy - I just grabbed my guitar and whacked it off."
Aside from their manic cover of Simon & Garfunkel's 'Mrs Robinson', one of the Lemonheads' best-known tracks is 'Big Gay Heart', a popular single in the UK in 1994. I ask if it was inspired by actual events. "No, it's just a song protesting against people committing violence against other people who happen to have a different sexual orientation - purely a song about gay bashing. It didn't happen to anybody I know, but everybody's heard about it happening. A gay friend of mine was murdered, but that was a coke pick-up thing. I just don't like violence, it's the only thing that really makes me cry."
The interview is then unexpectedly, and slightly ironically, terminated by a lackey who informs Evan he squashed a girl when he jumped into the audience at the end of the TFI Friday performance. He's horrified. While the female in question is only mildly injured, Evan seems terrified by the possibillity of having a lawsuit dumped in his lap. "Rock & roll just leads into lawsuits, there's no way around it."
Despite our assurances British people don't tend to sue at the drop of a hat, he's edgy. "I once had a really bad gig - the guitar sounded really crap. At the end I was like, 'That fucking sucked'. I forgot about physics for a second, threw it down and pieces of it flew into the audience. There were all these kids with huge bumps on their faces - from New Jersey, the capital of suing. So we gave them all pieces of the guitar."
The second half of the interview is conducted four days later over the telephone. Evan is in Amsterdam, and clearly in a hurry. "I just want to smoke some pot," he informs me. With the luxury of hindsight, he's become even more pissed off about the TFI Friday show. "They cut me off at the end - they shouldn't have done that to us. They made us practice a whole day and then cut us off just as we started getting into it."
To take his mind off it, we talk about touring. Evan once said touring keeps him sane. Ironically, it's renowned for sending many other artists off the rails. He explains the phenomenon. "When I'm not touring I'm bored because my main reasons for living are travelling around and playing music. Touring satisfies all these things. Human beings need to work to stay sane - they need to have something to do. My job is to travel around the world and play music. It keeps me out of trouble."
Which brings us neatly onto Evan's solo tour last year - infamous for a disastrous performance at the Glastonbury festival. "I missed my gig," he laughs. "It would have been fine if I'd played in my proper slot because there were people who wanted to hear my songs - but I played to people who wanted to hear Portishead. But that was great because they threw bottles at me for a while, and I threw them back and said, 'Right, you know what if feels like, don't do it any more.' I was expecting a rain of bottles but nobody threw any. I was very proud of myself - I was completely fucked up on drugs - but I was laughing throught the whole thing. People were yelling at me and I was playing just to spite them. It was fun, a great experience.
"I'm more confident playing by myself than with the band beacuse I can change the rhythm when I like - totally relax and play. Of course there's nothing better than rocking out with the whole band, but it's great to be in complete control, just playing guitar and singing. I'm not daunted by doing that in front of a lot of people. Unless they didn't come to see mee..."
'Car Button Cloth' took Evan nearly two years to write, and one month to record. "We recorded it with the same guys who are touring except for John [Strohm]. But we had a bunch of other people on the record - a girl called Dina [Waxman] played bass on a couple of songs, Royston Langdon from Spacehog played on a couple, and my friend Kenny [Lyon] from Martha's Vineyard played guitar." (Trivia note: Martha's Vineyard is a Massachusetts holiday island where Evan rents a beach house, but may be better known in the UK as the place where Mulder's father met a sticky end in the X Files episode Anasazi).
The album was produced by Bryce Goggin, who's worked with the Lemonheads before. A memorable shot on the CD inlay shows Evan lying under the studio desk, singing into a microphone taped above him - a good example of Goggin's unconventional approach. "That's how I got the vocal sound for a lot of the songs," says Evan. "Not because it's an enclosed area, but if you're not standing up your voice sounds really different and weird. We did three or four songs like that.
"One day I came in and said, 'Bryce, I don't know if we can finish this fucking record,' and a I lay down under the console. He was like, 'Hold on - I'll get a mike, a blanket and some pillows and maybe we'll do some vocals'. So that saved the day. There's no rules with Bryce - I've worked with him for years and he's amazing."
Nineteen ninety four was not a good year for Evan Dando. His drug use spiralled out of control, his career was on the rocks, and he spent a lot of time hanging out with Oasis, then midway through their meteoric rise to fame. "I went to hell", he offers, "I got way too fucked-up and lost it completely. I had to stop".
There are conflicting theories and reports as to what exactly caused the breakdown, but the most amusing came from Evan himself who was quoted as saying, "It was the pressure of fame - of not being famous enough".
"Yeah I liked that one," he says, "but that was a joke, I don't feel that way. The last record [Come On Feel The Lemonheads] was projected to do way more in the States than it did; it ended up going gold so everything's fine now, but for a while they thought it was going to sell five million immediately and it didn't, so that was a bit of a bummer."
The music press coverage around this time was scathing - particularly with regard to Oasis: Evan was depicted as a hapless ligger, too far gone to do anything other than watch from the sidelines, hanging onto fame by association. But he doesn't seem embarrassed or contrite about this period in his life.
"I'm not really bothered about the press. It's cool to read things that are nice, saying how talented you are and stuff, but in the end it doesn't really matter. What matters is people buying, hearing and enjoying the record and the thoughts it provokes. The press is just a vehicle, a middle man. What they say doesn't matter to me because I know the truth. Iggy Pop asked me to write songs with him, and Jonathan Richman likes my stuff, that's what matters to me, not the stupied music press."
He maintains his lengthy prescence around the Oasis camp was genuine. "Why wouldn't I be around that band? They were really exciting, interesting guys on their way to total rock stardom and we really got along. There's this portrayal that I was like tagging along with them, but that wasn't true - they wanted me to come with them. I think their tour manager got a little pissed off, but we bonded and it was great fun."
Evan and Noel Gallagher even wrote a song together. Called 'Purpler Parallelogram' (Evan's nickname for the prescription insomnia drug he was using at the time), it was set to be the Lemonheads' first single release of 1996 - until Noel and his publishers vetoed the enterprise, causing the track to be hastily plucked from the album six weeks before release. Apparently Noel couldn't remember writing it and didn't like it anyway. Evan concurs completely, expressing only relief.
"I was really glad - I didn't want it to come out as a single, but in England the record company would naturally pick that one. It was lucky Noel stopped it. I don't really like it and would never want to put it out if he didn't like it. Everything's cool with me and Noel - I saw him the other day and we had a big hug. I really like Noel, it was the record company trying to trade off his status as a songwriter, not me. He's absolutely right about the song - it wouldn't have sold many records."
The future, once again, seems rosy for the Lemonheads. Reviews of 'Car Button Cloth' have been positive and, to all intents and purposes, Evan Dando seems to have been given a second change.
"The best thing for me is a gradual success - I don't want to be meteoric, I just want to proceed slow and steady. If you look closely, it's been a very gradual improvement over the years with some serious fucking spirals down. The general trend, if you average it out, is definitely on the way up."