Interview with Evan Dando by Keith Lyle
From Night Howl/East Coast Rocker 8th July 1992
At a time when producers have become musical trend-setters, and hour-long records are commonplace, Lemonheads' mainstay Evan Dando relies on straight forward simplicity. The recently released It's A Shame About Ray, which crosses the wire at just over a half hour, is crafted with solid pop instincts and a confidence in the power of songwriting to impact listeners without studio gimmickry. It's a brave little record.
With clean guitars and a live, natural sounding vocal, the unfashionable Ray is timeless in it's hook oriented appeal. Ray is that favorite of well-worn blue jeans you've had since high school - no frills, low budget, always in style.
Dando, the band's creative soul since the departure of bassist Jesse Peretz, left the familiarity of his native Boston for LA to record with the Robb Brothers production team (Art Garfunkel, Rod Stewart) and a few of their friends. Musical contributors included Gunnar Nelson, Barry Goldberg (of Bob Dylan fame) and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter who added his slide guitar stylings to Hannah & Gabi. Former Blake Babies buddy, now mammoth record solo artist, Juliana Hatfield signed on as studio bassist and background vocalist for the project; it's her you hear harmonising with Dando on the sweetly euphoric My Drug Buddy. Consider it a return favor for Dando's contribution to Hatfield's current Hey Babe LP.
Perhaps the biggest influence on Dando's songwriting has been his recent love affair with Australia. Most of the album was written either during a solo tour of the country, or inspired by reflections on his numerous visits down under. It's the new found fascination with Australia and it's music scene that saved him creatively, says Dando, 25. He also got some lyrical input from Aussie pal Tom Morgan, who plays in a Sydney band called Smudge, on It's A Shame About Ray and Bit Part.
Former Lemonhead Peretz, who co-founded the Boston band with Dando in 1986, contributed to the new album by providing sleeve photos and directing the It's A Shame About Ray video. Peretz, who earned a film degree from Harvard, has also shot videos for Hatfield, Superchunk and Helmet.
The Lemonheads are in the middle of a US tour with support from Hatfield's new band. Joining Dando is drummer Dave Ryan, who played on both 1989's Lovey and Ray, and new bassist Nic Dalton, who wrote Ray's Kitchen. Hatfield is likely to join the band on stage for various backing vocal chores. Night Howl spoke with Dando last month when he was in town to perform a solo acoustic showcase at CB's gallery and remix the album's second single, Confetti, to give it a bigger guitar sound.
Night Howl: What role did Gunnar Nelson play on the record?
Evan Dando: He sang a little bit. I met him at the studio because he was producing a band there. He's good friends with my producers (the Robb bros). They knew Ricky Nelson real well. These old guys come out they know everybody. They knew Charlie Manson and they know Ray Charles and they knew all the Beatles. They played in Little Richard's band and Del Shannon's band. And so Gunnar was there. I thought it would be funny to get him on the record. He sings the ooo-eee-ooo on Alison's Starting To Happen. He was very professional about it. He's a nice guy.
Are you much of a Nelson fan?
No I'm not much of a Nelson fan. I appreciated the funniness of the whole thing. When I met him and realized that he was actually a nice guy and really talented I wanted to throw him on there. I like to go for both funny and actual quality at the same time. It seemed to fit in. Also this guy (Jeff) "Skunk" Baxter played on the album.
Didn't he play guitar with Steely Dan?
He's done a lot of stuff. He's a really great, crazy guy. He had his gun out on the mixing board. He's wild, you know. He's just into guns. A lot of people are in LA.
What made you want to record out in LA this time?
I needed a change, you know - a different coast. The record came out really different, but I'm into it. It's kinda bare. It's kind of a naked record. We could of easily done the old Lemonheads stuff with loud guitar, which is kind of big these days, I've heard. I just decided to go out on a limb. With the next record I'm gonna want to really crank it. But it's fun to do a record like this.
It's not like you're declaring a new musical direction.
No way, it's just a record.
Was it good to have the chance to work with Juliana Hatfield again?
She's so cool, man. She's an old buddy. We've known each other for like 5 years, and always hung out a lot. I played bass in her band for like a year. I've always collaborated with those guys from the Blake Babies. And she was able to make a little money doing a record so it worked out. And her voice is cool. I really thought about how I wanted to use it.
Do you find that the two of you have similar ideas about music?
Sure, definitely. We've evolved in a parallel way. We have a lot of common ground. It's easy to work with her. She's really talented.
The record is pretty short. Was that intentional?
Yeah. I set out to make a record of twelve, short songs 'cause I thought that was an album. I just modeled on an older kind of record. I got a lot of shit for it. They almost were gonna release it as an EP. That would have been scary. I think it's an album, it's just not as long.
With CD technology everything is getting a lot longer.
If I had thought it through I would have put more on it, but I hadn't thought it through. I had a copy of Rubber Soul lying around. I was like, 'this is nice, man. Twelve songs, two or three minutes each.' That's what I aimed for but some of the songs came out like one minute forty seconds.
When was the first time you went to Australia?
Last July. So less than a year ago and I've been back three times.
You really fell in love with the place.
I totally did. I love it. I'm orienting myself to eventually live there. That's where I'd like to have kids. It's nicer and more friendly there. It's like America in the '50s. It's not perfect, right. It's built on rape like our country is, but it's not as advance and depersonalized. America is a little bit of a bummer, especially LA. I was there for three months and it seemed like everything wrong with America is clearly displayed within Los Angeles. When I got there all these crazy floods started happening, then earthquakes and then when I went back there after being in Australia the place burned. It was like too Biblical.
Are you seriously thinking about raising a family?
Not at this point - in four years. I love kids so eventually it would be good to have my own. It's a wild concept, man, but I'm into it.
How was it you were able to hang out in Australia for so long?
I did a solo tour. I opened for Fugazi on a couple of shows. I played thirteen shows in six weeks so it was a really mellow tour. It worked out great. I made money on it, but of course, I spent the money whilst I was there and ended up not having any money at the end. But I was able to have a really cool time.
How was it warming up for Fugazi?
It was totally my high school dream come true but it twisted around a little because I was playing acoustic guitar. I would play a Minor Threat song acoustic every time and Ian (MacKaye) would give me endless amounts of shit after the show. He's a funny guy. He always called me 'the trouble maker'. You've gotta love him.
What Minor Threat song did you play?
I played 'Guilty of Being White'. When I was in high school I learned every Minor Threat song - all those bar chords. And so I was like, 'oh, which one can I possibly remember?' This one, I remembered it all of a sudden. I think it's a cool song.
I also like it when you do the Misfits song 'Skulls' on acoustic guitar. It sounds so sweet which is pretty funny considering the lyrics.
It's just a great song. Glen (Danzig) seems to be all about having fun - like horror movies - campy, funny fun like that. (Reciting the lyrics) 'demon I am and flesh I peel to see your skin turned inside out, because I gotta have you on my wall'. Man, it's great folk lyrics (laughing).
Did you ever consider changing the title of My Drug Buddy to something that might make the song more appealing to radio programmers?
But it couldn't be called anything else. The only reason that I wrote it was that I really wanted to write a song called My Drug Buddy. That's the only reason. It's about this really cool girl I know in Sydney and it's a totally true story about one night. But it had to be called My Drug Buddy. I think we're gonna put it out as the single in Europe.
It's interesting because it isn't apologetic about drug use, and it isn't advocating it either. It's just about an experience two people had with drugs.
That's the way I feel about drugs. They're not a good idea but I wouldn't trade the experiences I've had on drugs for anything else. I'm really glad I did them. It's really valuable experience and I don't think they should be illegal. Everyone wants to try them. It's human nature. It's not gonna work to keep them illegal. It's just gonna get worse. There are a lot of complications with legalizing drugs but I have a feeling it could work better - definitely better than the way it's working now. That's my little political song. L'il Seed, that was the other political song. It's about drugs, too.
Have most of your 'drug buddies' been women?
No... wow, kinda. That song is kind of an amalgamation. The line, 'too much with myself, I wanna be someone else' - that was a concept a (girl) friend first came up with. Why do you take drugs? You just want a break from being yourself. She's another one, so it is about two females. But I definitely have had guy drug buddies, too. I'm into women though, I like women (laughing).
Are you comfortable being the one, lone, Lemonhead?
Sure. I earned it man. I definitely wouldn't want to make up a new band name. What's the point 'cause noone would know it. Really, I've been through a lot of shit with this band and I deserve to have the name.
Lemonheads are scheduled to play with Juliana Hatfield on July 9 & 10 at CBGB in New York, and on July 11 at the Fast Lane in Asbury Park, NJ.