Interview with Evan Dando by Dave Simpson
From Melody Maker 22nd September 1990
WHOLE IN ONE
"Came to the end once again
Start over now, just can't win
Do it all again
Gotta learn to fight ...
Slide right to the bottom
Climb back up again"
"Circle Of One", Lemonheads
Those words, written by Evan Dando on '89's syncretic "Lick" LP, have proved to be startlingly prophetic. Shortly after the album wasreleased, Lemonheads lost a guitarist and songwriter, Ben Deily; then, a few weeks ago, at the end of an arduous European tour timed to precede the release of "Lovey", their major label debut, Lemonheads split. Drummer David Ryan and long-time bassist Jesse Peretz waved goodbye, leaving Evan Dando the sole remaining member. The Circle Of One.
On the line from Boston, Evan explains: "It was mainly due to the tour, I guess. That tour must have been the most gruelling we've ever done ... you know how a tour can get, it was out of control, no one was really talking to one another and things started to ... I dunno, just fall apart. It started off with the recording of the album. The two guys were in school at the time, finishing off their university studies and they didn't have much time and so I played the bass and the drums on some songs and so ... I think that that basically made them upset."
Can you understand that?
"Yeah, I can understand it," he says in his Mascis-Bostonian drawl. "But I wanted to get it right, y'know? They didn't really have the time to do it and maybe I was too lazy to teach them exactly what I wanted, so I just went ahead and did it! I guess I was sowing the seeds of discontent. The tour was fun, though, despite being rigorous. Itwas kinda sad the way that Jesse left. When he told me in Rome, I thought he'd come around after the tour. But he wants to do visual things now, he's into making films and photography and such. We're still friends. I'm a little bit sad about it and maybe I was at fault - but these things have a habit of working themselves out, you know."
Evan's almost casual dismissal of the events surrounding the split tends to reinforce the commonly-held view that Lemonheads are pretty much a Dando solo vehicle, an estimation that led many reviewers to look upon "Lovey" as a purely-Dando album.
"There is some truth in that because of the way it was made. Right from the start, I had a very strong vision of how I wanted my songs to sound, so when it got to the point where I was writing all the songs that just tended to encompass the band as a whole. But I'm not a dictator, it was never 'What,Evan says goes!"
Dando formed Lemonheads (named after a candy bar) in Boston in 1986. They played their first ever gig with a then embryonic Pixies and not long after released the "Hate Your Friends" album, at that time leaning much more towards hardcore than the mood-ridden tunefulness we know today. The second record, "Creator", came and went, but it was last year's excellent "Lick" and its corresponding cover of Suzanne Vega's "Luka" that brought Lemonheads to wider attention. This year,it was another cover, their joyous rendition of Mike Nesmith's "Different Drum", that resulted in a Melody Maker Single Of The Week and paved the way quite nicely for "Lovey", their finest work to date.
"Lovey" sees Dando's own son writing reaching a fruitful maturity, with plaintive country-rock songs like "HaIf The Time" and "Ride With Me" nestling neatly alongside wilful stompers like "Li'I Seed" and "Stove". But before the listener gets to sample the record's more gentle, relaxing moments, there's a great hurdle over to get over, "Ballarat".
"Ballarat" is a great unholy shriek of a song. Violent guitars and sinister vocals do battle with a chilling chorus of female screams. Listening to it is like being put inside a room with a hundred TVs showing nothing but snuff movies. It's frightening as hell, puts your stomach in your mouth and it's about Charles Manson.
"My sister first turned me onto Manson when I was very young. She gave me that book 'The Family' by that guy who was in The Fugs. It's just a fascinating story, especially coming at the time when it did in America. 'Ballarat' is the last place they went when things were closing in on them after the killings. It's near the Barker Ranch in the desert in Death Valley. The song's like a lot of what was going on just thrown together, like the frantic state of mind they were all in at the end of the whole ... sorry episode."
The lyrics are quite hard to make out, but they seem to be almost an essay on the alienation that Manson felt at the time, both from the mainstream culture of Sixties America and from the alternative culture, the peace and love thing?
"That's it, yeah. That line 'They thought there was a hole out there' refers to them believing that there was a hole in the desert where they could hide until the revolution was over and then they could come out and reign."
Do you identify with Manson in any way? I'm not suggesting you're a closet psychopath or anything, but maybe you feel an empathy with that level of alienation?
"Sure, sure. He had a very interesting viewpoint on society and stuff, through being in jail and institutions since he was a kid. He was never really accepted by anybod . He was very much the outcast. Maybe I can identify with that perspective."
He was a manipulator.
"Yeah, but l don't feel at all like him in that way, the way he tried to get people to do things and stuff. I'd pretty much rather stay uninvolved with anybody . "
A lot of your lyrics imply that you're quite a loner.
"Yeah, pretty much ... I've always been like that. I do have friends and stuff! I've been seen as that before, like at school and stuff ... I've always liked to do my own thing. I know where I'm at, uh-huh!"
Dando's almost solitary independence could go some way to explaining the way he works within Lemonheads. Maybe it could also explain why, on "Lovey", he's written a love song addressed to a stove!
"Oh, that song's just like a diary of a day. It just struck me, basically, it produced a definite feeling in me of sadness that they were taking away my stove. You get soused to something, some object in your house and then, when it's gone, you don't really notice it unless it's sitting outside on the sidewalk for the garbage-men to take it away - a real sad image. I told a friend of mine I was real sad about that and he encouraged me to write the song."
I like that line about the bloke that came to take it: "He told me he used to be a prize-fighter once/ Some fella threw him out the door. . ."
"Yeah, that's true. The guy that came, I told him I was in a band and he said he used to be a professional boxer and he said to me, 'Son, I'd stay out of that business because one moment everyone loves you and the next moment everyone hates you!' The guy was a really cool character but he got really f***ed over in boxing. It's just like rock'n'roll."
Does that worry you?
Well, I guess the trick is to try and keep a good attitude about yourself, and it's a good kick being in a band anyway. I figure it's worth it!!"
At the moment, things are looking good for Evan Dando. Despite being rather horrified when they realised the band they'd just signed had imploded, his new label, Atlantic, are quite happy to give him the space to do things his way. Comparing the major "Lovey" with the independent "Lick", you'd be hard pressed to spot any real change - it's just better.
"There was more time to get a good studio sound. This time, any distortion on the record was intended to be put on the record!" he says.
Dando has just recruited a new rhythm section ("Two guys from Kentucky, sounding really great!") and Lemonheads will tour Europe again in the spring. One thing's for sure, as long as there's an Evan Dando, there'll be a Lemonheads. And as long as there's a Lemonheads, there'll be great records like "Lovey".
Ride again, Dando.
When you get to the bottom you go back to the top of the slide.