Interview with Evan Dando by Keith Cameron
From NME 25th December 1993
Waking up in Wolverhampton and travelling to London. Putting on a dress and hanging out with Björk. Soundchecks, interviews, meet 'n' greets, guest spots with support bands and great, celebratory gigs... It's all in a day's work for Evan Dando. As The Lemonheads' leader's year of success, stress and crack confessions comes to an end we spend a day with the languid love-God, still cool as the pressures increase.
The box helps. Men are, on average, taller than women, and at least it brings Her nearer to Him, thus conferring a little more credibility on the attempt to pass Her of as a he and He as a she.
But otherwise, we're struggling. Not through lack of effort, mind. Indeed the most potent male and female faces from this Year Of Pop are giving it their furrowed brow darnedest to get this thing to work. Björk, she of the rollercoaster larynx, Vogue-compatible beauty and chameleonic image capability, is suited up and trying to be a bot. And Evan, proprietor of the golden country pop sweet store and globally worshipped pantie moistener, has donned a frock and would have us believe he's a girl.
Trooppers of the highest order, neither are deterred by the odds against them. Björk tries some crotch thrusts, belches a bit and strikes some Cagney-esque poses. The trouble is, even stood on that box she's too unself-consciously relaxed about being a man to be remotely convincing. There's none of the visible neuroses or affectations or inhibitions that make men so infuriatingly male. Venus as a boy? Sorry luv, maybe next time.
Evan, meanwhile, has put his hair up and is pondering just how much powder to apply. He's already tried and rejected a couple of dresses before settling on the floral number. He has a serviceable pout and a doubtless well-worn line in waifish, near distance as-ripped-off-by-Kate-Moss gazes. He looks fine - but dress or no dress, he looks like a bloke.
Björk inspects the preliminary Polaroids and can't help laughing. "I would make a terrible transvestite," she snots, acknowledging the impossibility of this particular mission. Evan, though, is loath to give in. "I'll take the hair down," he suggests, "perhaps that'll help." Maybe try another dress? He frowns and frets. Then, bingo!
"Is it my legs? It is! Hey, I could shave 'em! No, really..."
The details might be unique to this particular scenario but in the wider frame this is a normal day in the life of Evan Dando: hard at work and working hard at the job he's made his own over the past 12 months, namely being the living, breathing, singing, smiling, gigging, interviewing, photo-shooting, flirting, autographing, obliging and all around good-vibing incarnation of Evan Dando. It's not an easy job, but he's the only man up for doing it.
1993 has been the year when Evan ceased to be merely Evan, the supremely talented singer-songwriter lynchpin of a band apparently destined forever to be the preserve of an appreciative few and instead became Evan, bona fide pop god and pin-up on every girl-next-door's wall. The band's fortunes have changed, ultimately to the tune of a potential fortune for their most bankable asset. Before, people might have heard of The Lemonheads but wouldn't be able to name the sandy-faced long-hair who sang and played guitar. Now, there are those who think 'Evan' is the name of the band. Once if seemed The Lemonheads would only be famous for their songs that other people wrote. But the majority of today's Lem-heads are blissfully unaware of the fact that their hero once had to rely on his adrenalised versions of 'Luka' and 'Different Drum' in order to fain a little infamy; as for the jokey stumble-through of a Paul Simon song that first turned them on to Mr Dando, well, who needs to hear that Evan's got thousands of his own to play?
And not so very long ago, Evan's UK record company would not even entertain the prospect of releasing any singles off his album. Now you'd better believe the projected release schedule embraces as many as the calendar can allow. What a difference a year makes. 1993 unequivocally belonged to Evan Dando... If only he could remember where he put it.
"Uhh, when did it start again? January? I was where? I was in Sydney to bring in the New Year, on vacation, and then after that I think I came to do something here and then we went on tour for a bit... ! must admit it's hazy!"
Evan Dando frowns and laughs, two things he does often and often simultaneously. Today's Evanly Dando day had begun in Wolverhampton, the morning after the show the night before, proceeded in a south-easterly direction to a swish hotel in London's South Kensington, then it was straight off to a photographer's studio in the East End where he had to pretend to be a girl and get his picture taken. No-one was fooled but he gave it his all, and besides, the girl was really cool and said she'd come to the show tonight providing she could find a babysitter. Then it was into a car and
off to the soundcheck at the Brixton Academy with the record company guy and a journalist from the NME (whose
jacket, by the way, had come in handy at the photo session).
But guess what? Nic and Dave and the other guys were late! So he had to wait around a while, but that was cool because outside the stage door when he arrived was this girl he'd met at Wolverhampton and told she should come down to the London show and he'd make sure she got in and stuff. So he sat around the dressing room chatting to the girl while the journalist made tea for the record company guy, and then he got his acoustic guitar out and sang some songs, including a couple of Elvis Costello numbers which everyone liked. Then Nic and Dave and the other guys arrived so it was time to soundcheck. That didn't take long - they don't need to, y'know! - and then it was off to do an interview with some Spanish TV guys. They interviewed each member of the band individually, which was cool. Then, off to catering for something to eat. The guys from Eugenius were there so he sat down and talked to them about joining them onstage again tonight for that new song. That would be great, they said.
On the way to the dressing room he met the opening band Drugstore, whose single he absolutely loved, and told them he'd be down the front the moment they came on. They thanked him. Then the record company guy suggested maybe this would be a good time to sit down with the journalist from the NME and do an interview. So he grabbed a beer, picked up his Marlboros and went and did just that...
All in an Evanly Dando day's work. By his own reckoning, the days at work have vastly outnumbered the days off in 1993. Touring `It's A Shame About Ray' in Australia in March led to more of the same in the UK in April. Dandomania
had finally arrived in all its shiny, happy Lemonheaded pomp and Evan was working non-stop throughout: press, radio, TV, the fans... he was available for everyone who wanted him.
But then 'Ray"s promotional trawl began to overlap with the task of recording its successor, and it all started to go a little haywire. At Glastonbury the rumours began spreading brushwood-quick: a `stressed' Evan had been refused permission to fly from New York and now looked likely to miss the gig. The band was about to break up and this latest example of Dando's 'temperament' was the final straw. Or even, Evan had arrived in the country but had been lifted by the police for possession of prescribed substances.This was all confirmation of Dando's newly-minted star status. No-one even vaguely acquainted with the man in the past was unaware of his chemical friendliness - indeed, two of 'Ray"s best songs, 'Rudderless' and 'My Drug Buddy', explicitly acknowledged the highs and lows of Evan's drug use - but never before had it been headline news. Now, though, the whispermongers were primed, ready for the merest whiff of scandal surrounding pop's new golden boy. It would not be long before they had something to shriek about.
Crack is the emotive drug of the age, and when it transpired that Evan's LA recording session had involved putting a good deal more than St Bruno ready rubbed in his pipe and smoking it, the outcry was staggering, not least to Evan himself who subsequently appeared on MTV, claiming his words were off the record. Whether it was this experience or (more likely) losing his voice he found the more chastening, Dando subsequently strove to present a clean bill of health right up 'til the album was in the shops and the next certifiable tour of promotional duty got underway, barely four months after the last one was declared over.
Evan nods. "It's been a blurry year." Yes, he says, it was "ridiculous" that The Lemonheads had to tour during the recording of 'Come On Feel...', but he enjoys having a purpose in life. Sure, he says, this job has plenty of hassles, but he can't think of any other job where he could sing and get paid for it plus meet a lot of girls.
He recognises that perhaps the biggest irony of his current situation is it might never have happened without the release of 'Mrs Robinson', something the band would have been against had they actually been told. "I've always been a bit lazy about imposing my own will on situations - laziness pays off these days, I guess!"
We'd first met at the Robb Bros' LA Cherokee studios in February '92, during the latter stages of the making of 'It's A Shame About Ray'. Then Evan had been irrepresible, upbeat about how great the new album was going to be and how the record company was actually committed to pulling its finger out this time, after 'Lovey"s slow-death. He'd played us finished tracks and sat marvelling at Juliana Hatfield, who was recording her vocals that day. But time and again he returned to the same theme: that he knew this was his last chance to convince the powers that be he had it in him to make a great album.
Evan, typically, reckons the bulk of the credit for him being here at all belongs elsewhere.
"Going to Australia made me so much more optimistic about everything. Meeting those people down there like Robyn St Clare (writer and original performer with The Love Positions of 'Into Your Arms') and Tom Morgan (co-writer of much of 'Come On Feel...'), everyone at Half-A-Cow (label and record shop owned by Nic Dalton), they're just so inspiring, such an unpretentious, simple outlook on music that it's just a fun thing to do. I mean, I would have carried on just all on my own because I love music so much, but that was a big, big help. Without Nic and all those guys The Lemonheads wouldn't have been a successful band. I can't see it at all. I would have moved on to something else. Probably gone totally country or something. That's where I was headed."
How do people treat you now the band's become so successful?
"Well, I go under my own name at hotels but the hotel people never say that I'm there. So that's one thing, receptionists are different. What happens? A lot of girls scream and go, 'Oh my God!' and point at me. That's different - used to be only one girl at a time screaming at me! I don't really like it, I wanna be one of the punters, I'm a punter at heart. I still go out the front when Eugenius are playing but then people start trying to make me sign autographs and I go, `Shh! Watch the band, 'cos that's what I'm doing'. I'm a real big fan of music and when my own, whatever, fame gets in the way of that it's annoying. I just wanna rock out."
But in spite of the dramatically increased glad-handing quotient, Evan Dando appears genuinely happy to be available for the fans, the hangers on and the hacks. He's that rare thing among his peer group: a star who enjoys stardom.
Does a part of you crave attention?
"Oh yeah, I'm a show-off, I must be. Ever since I was a little kid, when I would walk down the street yelling and screaming and singing and embarrassin my sister. I think f was born to do this. I'm a real performer at heart. I enjoy reading aloud, I enjoy communicating with my voice. I was in all the plays at high school."
What sort of stuff?
"I did Antigone, I played the lead in Don't Drink The Water. Um, i was in She Stoops To Conquer. I got to make out a lot! It was fun."
You don't appear to mind all the peripheral things that come with being successful, like doing too many interviews, meeting new and probably quite tedious people all the time...
"I can really enjoy it. Sometimes it just drives me crazy, but also you meet people who tell you pertinent and interesting things about what exactly makes them feel good about your music. It's more evidence that you should carry on."?
So you don't mind your life being picked apart?
"Owned by someone else? No, I like it. I figured out that it would happen and I'm willing to deal with it. I have my own ways of getting away, like go down to Aussie, just take off and do my own things. As long as I can get those break I can carry on."
How long's a break?
"Two weeks. After I finished 'It's A Shame About Ray' I went down for two weeks and after finishing 'Come On Feel...' I went down for two weeks. That does it. I haven't had many vacations but it's not such a hard job I have anyway." He thinks for a moment "Actually, it is! I need a break soon. I'm OK now, but a couple of days ago I was feeling like I couldn't carry on. And the in Germany I almost went crazy. It was raining and we went out to find Astrid Kirschner in Hamburg and made up a song about her, played for the hookers and they gave us money. And we were thinking we were real groovy cats but it just gave us colds! And I turned into Darth Vader, I couldn't sing. I have to bundle up. I gotta be careful."
The problems with success appear to centre on power. Most bands assume, not unreasonably- that a sudden and
considerable increase in their sales potential will convey upon them a greater means with which to control their own destiny: ie, do less work for more money. What invariably happens is the opposite: record companies, managers, agents or whoever recognise their charges' new status and revise their financial projections. The artist has to work more, not less; and if they actually get to see more money they have neither the time or presence of mind to do with it as they might otherwise wish.
Some of them go mad, for one reason or another. This is often what 'success' boils down to.
"It's all in how you deal with your success," considers Evan. "We're just gonna learn to communicate better and try to avoid things that would be really bad. And it's hard, and things come up that make you really angry.
Management companies often try to undermine the band's friendship with each other and the crew. They make it easy for some people on the tour and hard for others, and then try to make people on the tour pretend that everything's cool 'cos they're worried they might get fired. They do evil things, sometimes, management companies,and it's all because they don't know what they're doing, either. I give them the benefit of the doubt, it's just they're not talking to each other enough.
Christ, they're on the phone 24 hours a day and they still can't communicate that well! We're really just taking it as it comes and trying to have people dealt with fairly. It's a very strange position that I find myself in because I've neverbeen a person to lead anything or set rules or ask anything of anybody. I've always been wanting everybody to do their own thing 'cos I never wanted anyone to tell me what to do. So it's a little hard."
Are you saying that your management treat Dave and Nic differently from you?
"Well, that's the thing I'm trying to stop, and trying to get it more understood that it's a band. Sure, I guess I'm the leader of the band, but it's a band nonetheless."
Do you get the feeling they're resentful of the attention you get?
"I really feel like they don't want that kind of attention. They're happy to have a decent job with the band, and they have other things they're doing. Dave writes, he's got plenty things oing on for himself, and Nic's got his own band and his record label, so they're pleased and enjoy playing with me but I don't think they wanna be more in the spotlight. But they're gonna do more interviews 'cos it just gets boring me doing all of them, both for the reader and the babbler."
What was all that about at Glastonbury, when you arrived late?
"I took a Mandrax too soon, and started drinking because the plane was delayed. So I was a little loopy, a little silly and sleepy and blinky. And I went in with a Polaroid camera and started taking pictures of the stewardesses and giving 'em to 'em. They thought I was really weird. They called over one of their superiors who asked what was going on, and I asked her what her mother's maiden name was. That's all I did and they kicked me off the plane! Which is their prerogative - I mean, I guess I might have seemed a little loony. But I went over and got a ticket on British Airways and was sitting with Phil Collins before I knew it. Luckily I made the gig."
That seemed to be the general opinion of everyone there too.
"Good. A little intrigue's good sometimes."
Were you surprised at the strife your drug revelations caused?
"I slipped up. All I was trying to do was explain to John (Mulvey), 'cos I knew he'd come so far and I'd talked to him before and I knew he was a nice guy and I didn't want to disappoint him, it's such a long way from London to LA... So I offered him an explanation. I'd just been at the doctor's office and so I just told him what happened, thinking it was going to be off the record, and then I thought I guess you just don't do that sort of thing. People have to report on things if you've offered them something like that.
"My only regret about that is my mum -- I don't want my mum to have to worry about me that much. Otherwise, I'd rather tell the truth. Why not? It's easier to remember. Why lie? But I shan't be speaking about drugs in the future - not that I'll be doing them, but I just don't think it's a good thing to set that kind of example for kids that might like your music. Your music doesn't come out of drugs. Sometimes rock'n'roll people find it necessary to use them to get through things, I think that's all it is. You got a gig and you're f-ed, you can't play so you have some speed or something... It's just an unfortunate symptom of being in a band."
That was why you took crack, wasn't it, to make the process more bearable?
"No, I was wanting to escape from the pressure I felt, and that was just the wrong way to do it because it made me dramatise it more for myself. I didn't get anywhere by trying to escape that way. And then when I stopped taking the drugs I realised how silly I'd been. All I have to do is make an album I like and that's its own reward. Money, acclaim, fame, is all beside the point."
You're not seriously saying you'll never take drugs again?
"Yeah," he nods, vehement. "I was scared. I didn't wanna mess up and lose my new-found fun job. And yeah, I felt I was being rushed too much, so maybe it was my way of scaring 'em a bit."
Evan reckons'Come On Feel...' has turned out better than any previous 'Heads album. Against this, it could be argued that it feels too relentlessly 'up', that it lacks some of the gravitas, the deceptively dark touches that made 'Ray' such a perfectly rounded 29 minutes. Interesting, then, that his favourite song, the one he feels "came out perfect", is `Big Gay Heart', which breaks the froth-pop tidal wave's momentum and represents a little of the "total country" direction he believes pop sainthood saved him from.
"It's a serious attempt to get the word 'gay' back to meaning 'happy', but it also has to address that other issue too. It's really just about my friend's house, a big happy house on the hill in Austin. I wrote it in Austin, Texas and Perth, Western Australia, two great country and western towns."
The BBC made you censor the lyric for a live session - can we expect Parental Advisory stickers in the States?
"Well if Bart Simpson can say, 'Eat my shorts' I should be able to say, 'Suck my dick', it's not like those kids haven't heard that before in third grade."
So it's not you coming to terms with your latent bisexuality?
"Let people think what they want. It's just three great words together, three great words that sound great together, that's all it is. It's against judgement of people's sexual preferences and against the ultimate judgement of beating people up. I'm gay in the old sense of the word, not the new one. The gay '90s - I'm gay in the 1890s sense!"
Do you find men attractive?
"Sure. They can be good to look at, yeah. I'm not attracted sexually towards them."
What do you think when you look in the mirror?
"Well, he's not so bad. You're in a band, you oughta make sure you get some cool clothes, get a haircut... My mum was a model, so I guess I get the affliction from her. She was always very concerned about her appearance. Now she paints and sells real estate!
"I'm gonna bring her down to Sydney for Christmas, that'll be great. I hope I've maybe saved up enough money toget a little house in Annandale near Nic and Robyn's house, something very demure, somewhere I can throw my stuff. And Tom Morgan will live there, we'll co-own it, he'll pay me back as he gets his royalties and stuff. That'll be good. Then we can just sit around and write songs. We could write songs for anybody, I think. I'd like to do that for a while. I'm sure that I'll feel the call for the travelling and playing in a while, but I could really use six months off after this album cycle."
Which, remember, is next August. The number of simply, utterly Evanly Dando days from now 'til then stretch ahead further than the man at the centre of this little fuss-storm can see from his position at ground zero. This is, undoubtedly, just as he prefers it. Dando is an idealist and a dreamer, but also supremely smart enough to know that he lives in an imperfect world.
What everyone wonders about Evan Dando right now, though, is whetherhis sunny-side disposition can see him through the many moments of doubt and loneliness to that idyllic endless summer in Annandale, and whether this sick old business will ultimately poison another one of its most gifted sons.
Later on that day - much later, after the interview, after he'd serenaded the dressing room with the song he wrote for Astrid Kirschner, after he'd shimmied onstage with Eugenius, and after he'd thrilled four and a half thousand of his fellow punters with a top-drawer display of Lemonheady tang - he strides into the bar. Bjork hasn't turned up, but he's got Urge Overkill's Nash Kato in tow. He looks fine.
How are you Evan?
"I'm fine," he nods, grabbing my hand and squeezing. "Really, I'm fine."
He really, possibly could be, probably just about maybe, sort of is.