Interview with Evan Dando by Ted Kessler
From NME 8th March 2003
Few rock’n’rollers have crashed from such a spectacular height as Evan Dando. Fewer still live to tell the tale. In 1992, he was primed to be the biggest rock star in the world, bigger even than his friend Kurt Cobain. As the singer in little-known Boston indie combo The Lemonheads, Dando had surprised himself by scoring a huge international hit with a pop-grunge version of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs Robinson’. The band had recorded it in one take for a compilation and were upset to discover it have become their calling card.
Nevertheless, the hit propelled the handsome 25-year-old onto magazine covers across the globe and rekindled interest in an album of sunny country grunge called ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’. With ‘Mrs Robinson’ tacked on to the end, the band’s fifth album became more successful than all of its predecessors rolled into one, scorching its way into the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
B ut it was Dando that sold it as much as the great tunes. He was the anti-Cobain. Evan didn’t hate himself and want to die. He wanted to skateboard. When asked the time, he quoted Blake instead (“Who needs time when you’ve got angels in the trees?”). His favourite sound was his phone ringing because “man, when it rings, that’s the unknown!”. NME voted him Man of the Year. The whole world – well, mainly girls of a certain disposition – fell in love with him.
And Evan loved the world right back – way too much. He couldn’t stand not touring, so when The Lemonheads ended their world tour Dando just piled into the back of his new friends Oasis’ tourbus, becoming an onstage, pissed presence at everything the band did. People started laughing at him, but Evan couldn’t hear the punchline. He turned up everywhere with his guitar at his chest, becoming dreadfully over-exposed. And the more exposed he became, the more complex he revealed himself to be. He spoke openly of using heroin. When NME went to interview him once for a cover, the conversation had to be conducted by paper and pencil because, as Evan explained at the time, “the crack has fucked up my voice”. His star was falling fast. When photos appeared of Evan and Courtney Love in bed together just weeks after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, people stopped laughing at him and started to turn away.
Evan, though, couldn’t just turn away. He gigged ferociously but it became increasingly haphazard. At Glastonbury ’95 he was bottled off the acoustic stage. Then, in Australia, he literally lost his mind and spent several days looking for it down pavement drains, before being arrested at the airport trying to retrace his steps to New York because he thought he’d left his mind somewhere on the way in. The end was nigh.
There was one final Lemonheads album in 1996, the brilliant, confessional ‘Car Button Cloth’. The he split the band. And since then?
“Mostly odd things, helping like,” he jokes, quoting A Clockwork Orange and clutching a can of non-alcoholic beer in the lounge of his exotic London hotel. Pink shirt, white sneakers, woolly hat, toothy grin: he looks fantastically well for a guy last seen by NME smoking pot through a rusty can.
“I met my wife in ’98 and that’s when I first felt non drug-induced happiness. I stopped taking heroin. I haven’t had a drink for nine months and that’s been so great because I’m alcoholic. I’ve got into skateboarding again. I’ve travelled, discovered new pleasures. And I’ve made this record (‘Baby I’m Bored’). It’s just the coolest thing.”
It really is.
Evan was primed for rock’n’roll living from the start. The son of moneyed hipsters from Boston, he was reading William Burroughs by age ten, followed by Bukowski and Coleridge because “they all loved drugs so much”. He started smoking pot at nine and by 14 was into acid, mushrooms and cocaine, consequently having to retake his first year at private school. He was into heroin by 19.
“I did a lot of drugs and I don’t regret it,” he says, “But I came out healthy. A lot of my friends didn’t.” The end came one September morning when he looked out of his Manhattan apartment window to watch the second plane slam into the World Trade Centre just two blocks away. “All the money in the world truly can’t buy a near death experience. I really wanted to stay alive after that.”
Remarkably, considering all that he had and lost, Evan’s not bitter. He’s charming, funny, smart and relaxed. But not bitter.
“I regret nothing. Fuck it, I think young bands should do drugs. I liked it. I chased the rock’n’roll dream, I crashed and burned. I think any rock’n’roller worth their salt should be completely out of their minds on drugs if they’re 21. It’s good for bands. You write a different kind of song when you’re been on speed for four days.”
And you also write a different kind of song when you’ve lived through all Evan has. The kind of soft-focus, perfectly constructed odes to love, death and addiction that are located on ‘Baby I’m Bored’. It’s hard to imagine there’ll be a sweeter rock album all year. Evan says he’s never felt better or more motivated. He plans to work constantly for the next three years, recording, touring and writing a book.
“I don’t crave fame,” he says. “I just want to produce as much as possible. Of all the buzzes, that and love are the best. I sincerely believe that.”
We leave him – as always – strumming his guitar in the hallway of his hotel.
“Come and see me on tour,” he calls. “We can share a can of Kaliber together.”
Who could possibly refuse?