Interview with Evan Dando by Bryget Chrisfield
From The Music, 28th February 2018
Flying Nun Records Tribute Bands & The 'Noble Savage' Genius Of Mark E Smith
From his home in Martha’s Vineyard - where countless children’s book authors live - Evan Dando from The Lemonheads chats with Bryget Chrisfield about touring his Flying Nun Records tribute band TSP (The Sandwich Police) Down Under, the “noble savage” genius of The Fall’s late frontman Mark E Smith and how beards feel good but don’t look good.
Evan Dando has spent a lot time touring Australia over the years both with The Lemonheads and in solo mode. "Do you live in Melbourne?" he inquires. "I can hear by the accent."
Dando lives in Martha's Vineyard these days and observes, "There was a band from Western Australia and they were called Martha's Vineyard. Have you heard of those guys?" We respond in the affirmative, but the phone line's dead. Then Dando's voice returns "...it's a wonderful place." So how does Dando typically spend his days in Martha's Vineyard? "I like taking walks on the beach. It's an island and so it's just beautiful," he enthuses. "And I like country people, you know. I lived in Manhattan for 19 years and then I realised - I knew I was a country boy all along, but I've just gone, 'Oh, isn't this is fun! I'm in a place I'm not supposed to be, but it's novel. It's fun!' But after 19 years I was like, 'Get me the FUCK out of here,' so I ended up here in Martha's Vineyard and, you know, my dad moved here in 1978 or '9 and so I've been coming here since I was very little.
"My uncle Ray - Ray Ellis - my great-uncle Ray, you know, my grandmother's brother... He was a very famous painter and he lived here, and the first time I came was to come visit my great-uncle Ray, Ray Ellis, in Edgartown. And then when my parents got divorced, my dad hooked up with a vineyard girl named Margie and we bought a house." We lose him again.
"I can't hear you. Evan, can you hear me?"
"Hold on. This should help. Hold on. Um, ok, can you hear me any better now?"
"Yep, sounds good now."
"Great, there you go! So Martha's Vineyard is a beautiful island off Massachusetts, you know, next to Nantucket... the end of a glacier and it's really beautiful, diverse geologically, as well, as opposed to Nantucket, which is not diverse culturally or geologically. But here it was the first affluent, black, you know, second-home place in America, which I'm very proud of."
As well as being "an incredibly cool place", Dando points out that an unusual number of children's authors have called Martha's Vineyard home, though many have now passed. "So Roald Dahl lives here, Maurice Sendak lives here, ok? Judy Blume lives here and Randall Jarrell lives here, Jules Feiffer lives here - there's more... So Jackson Pollock lives somewhere over here - he doesn't write children's books, though. It's just amazing how many children's books are written here... Shel Silverstein lives here, you know. Have you heard A Boy Named Sue? He wrote children's books, yeah."
Recent photos of Dando reveal The Lemonheads singer sporting a bushy beard. Does he still have a beard? "I do, yeah," he laughs. "I'm gonna shave soon. It's a winter thing, you know. It feels good. It feels good to have a beard. It's one of those things: it feels good, doesn't look good, you know? Kinda like long hair in general; long hair on a guy. I don't really like how it looks, but it feels so good you have to do it. But, um, my friend Metal Mike said - I always liked this - he said, 'I hate the '60s. It ruined long hair for men.' It's pretty funny, though, because it's true! Back in the 1770s and stuff it was really common to have long hair, for men. Ok, you can ask some questions. I don't wanna dominate with my hyperbole or whatever it's called."
"Alrighty, then. Are you working on anything musically at the moment?"
"I'm makin' a record right now, I'm about to finish it. It's actually a covers record, a Varshons [The Lemonheads' covers record, 2009] two... I'm doing a real record and I'm doing a covers record, and I dunno which one's gonna come out first, but it's been really fun." It sounds like Dando's enjoying a prolific period right now. "I am going into one, yeah," he allows. "I am. It's great. What are you writing for?"
Dando does this a lot, whether out of genuine interest or to momentarily divert the focus away from him.
When told The Lemonheads will be performing at the zoo during this touring stint, Dando shows off his local knowledge once more. "Where are we playing? In Brisbane? 'Cause The Zoo's in Brisbane."
"No, actually as part of Taronga Zoo's Summer Concert Series."
"Oh, hahahaha." Has Dando ever played in a zoo before? "Nooo... And I think - aren't we doing, like, winery gigs, too?"
"Absolutely, and they're called A Day On The Green, which probably appeals to you."
"Cool, yeah," he laughs. "I don't smoke pot. Hahahaha. Um, no, I do. Hahahaha."
A couple of years back, Dando's Flying Nun Records tribute band TSP (The Sandwich Police) supported Courtney Barnett on some of her Stateside dates. We wonder whether there are any plans to tour TSP Down Under. "No, not yet," Dando shares, "we're dying to, too." TSP is rounded out by Dando's girlfriend Marciana Jones and folk singer-songwriter Willy Mason and when this side-project is brought up, Dando seems chuffed. "Did you hear the single and stuff? Did you hear it? I think it's really good. Did you like it? Do you like The Dream Syndicate?"
"Yeah, we've copied their cover of The Days Of Wine And Roses... And there's three [TSP] songs out there, one's called Splinters and one is called Love Yourself, the third one is called The Credits. It's a three-song EP and it's on the internet, you can get it on YouTube. So you should check it out!"
Given that our chat takes place a mere week since the legendary Mark E Smith passed, we can't help but wonder how Dando received this sad news. "Oh, please, please, please, please - I couldn't believe that. I couldn't believe that. I couldn't believe that. He was the kind of person I just thought would go on forever, you know. I didn't think of a world without him. Ever... I also watched a really great documentary about him once... I didn't really meet him or anything - I just loved the records and stuff - but that documentary was amazing, you know. Did you see it? Maybe there's been many, but there was one great one; a documentary about Mark E Smith - one really good one." (We're tipping Dando's referring to the 2005 doco, The Fall: The Wonderful And Frightening World Of Mark E Smith.)
"You've heard Totally Wired," Dando continues. "I mean, you know the way he sings? His voice is so characteristic, yeah! We wouldn't have a Pavement without them, no way! You know, we wouldn't have Pavement the same way at all, that band Pavement. You know them, right? Pavement?" Affirmative. "You've heard of them? You know, they're big Fall fans. And [The Fall have] influenced a lot of amazing stuff, too." On Smith, Dando also acknowledges, "Oh, man, yeah, [he was] super, super-smart, you know? Super, super-smart and, you know, literally the old noble savage trick. I like it. I like it."