Interview with Evan Dando by Tom Lynch
From New City Chicago, December 2006
Evan Dando Lives
The Lemonheads are back
Even when it's over, it's never really over. We'll always have reunions.
Rock music will forever see its share of remarriages, perhaps with different lineups, but always with the same purpose--to recreate what once was, and, if possible, build on it. Probably the biggest reunion of the last few years was by the influential and groundbreaking Pixies, who set fire to the Aragon just over two years ago with a five-night stay, and have since played various festivals around the world, including 2005's Lollapalooza. On a smaller scale, the recent Smoking Popes ignition has sparked more than just local excitement. It goes on and on.
Now, Evan Dando's The Lemonheads. It's been ten years since the band released a record, 1996's "Car Button Cloth," a precious, often tired album that clearly showed the band's blood was thinning. The record failed to find the nostalgic wonderment of 1992's "It's a Shame About Ray"--a pitch-perfect early-nineties ode to angst and melancholy, crammed in under thirty minutes--or even that album's thin follow-up, "Come on Feel The Lemonheads." Both of those records made Dando a poster child for the emerging alt-rock of the era--his good looks and dirty-enough hair landed his image on the bedroom walls of countless teenage girls, and the boys wanted to be just like him--he was even named one of People's "50 Most Beautiful People in the World" in 1993. So beloved Dando was, it sparked an underground backlash, culminating in the creation of zine Die, Evan Dando, Die.
Of course, during this time, Dando was also heavily using drugs, from acid to pot to heroin to cocaine to crack (yes, crack). After the failure of "Car Button Cloth," the band put out a best-of collection in 1998, and then that was it for The Lemonheads, and Dando immersed himself into more dope, essentially disappearing for a while. He emerged again in 2003 with a solo record, "Baby I'm Bored," but it didn't really catch on, despite some touring. He had gotten clean, but relapsed while fronting the 2004, ahem, reunion, of MC5.
He cleaned up again, and decided The Lemonheads deserve a retry. "[I got the band back together] perversely just to confuse people," he says. "But also because I did put a lot of work into the band, the trademark, that name. I think we could have done a little better. Leave a better legacy."
He teamed up with drummer Bill Stevenson of The Descendants and Black Flag and bassist Karl Alvarez, also of the Descendants, and the result is a self-titled glance into the past, on Vagrant Records, staggering in its ability to transport you back to that prosperous time for alt-rock and also because of the sheer joy gained from a listen. This record fits in so naturally with the rest of the band's catalogue--at no time does Dando and crew attempt to create something of this time, rather looking back at what worked so well over a decade ago.
"That's sort of what got it signed, that sort of nostalgia," Dando says. "When Vagrant heard it, they were like, `Whoa, is this some stuff that didn't come out [back then], or unreleased stuff?' They were really psyched about it. Everyone came in and they were like `What the fuck is this?'"
He says that while making the solo record was rewarding, this time he wanted something different. "I wanted to do a record that faces outward more than in. I like both sounds, but with this we were thinking Buzzcocks, good punk pop."
Dando doesn't change his songwriting technique, whether it's for a band or for a solo project. "It's always the same," he says, "messing around in a hotel room. Usually the best songs happen in a half-hour, and the second-best songs are the ones where you write one part, and you wait six months and think of the next part."
He says that throughout all of his experience, originally with The Lemonheads and then during the band's ten-year absence, there were lessons to be learned. "When you're burnt, you just gotta get through it," he says. "I mean, you gotta try to enjoy every gig. You never know what's going to happen. Music is solace. As long as you remember that you gotta get to the fucking gig, that it's like `wow, people actually paid to be here.' Just relax and have a good time."