Interview with Evan Dando by Mark Sutherland

From The Punter August 1994


For years The Lemonheads were rock's perennial underachievers. But then came It's A Shame About Ray and Come On Feel The Lemonheads. On the eve of the band's Reading Festival appearance we catch up with Evan Dando to talk about sex, drugs and rock'n'roll


He ambles into the hotel's breakfast room, all gangly limbs, sleep-rubbed eyes, and apologises for being almost an hour late. He sits down, charms his press officer into giving him cigarettes and the waitress into serving him breakfast way after she should. He's slightly hungover after going to see Whiteout last night but still exudes an easy-going good-naturedness. He's exactly how you imagine him to be, in other words. But, despite all indications to the contrary, this is not the Evan Dando of old.

Ever since The Lemonheads' fifth album, It's A Shame About Ray, finally lifted the Bostonian underachievers into belated commercial orbit, Evan's been subject to all manner of strange pressures. First he became a reluctant left-field heart-throb and was coerced into releasing a cover version of Mrs Robinson as a crossover single. Then he was ordered to tour himself into the ground to prolong the album's shelf-life by a record company who were perversely and simultaneously demanding a follow-up in double quick time.

Small wonder that, in the run-up to Come On Feel The Lemonheads, Evan got sidetracked into a much-publicised dalliance with drugs, including a brush with the big C (ie crack). Not big, not clever but, in the circumstances, probably inevitable.

His problems didn't end there. When Kurt Cobain committed suicide earlier this year, his action threw the career of every post-grunge 'alternative' rock star into sharp relief. Especially Evan's. After Kurt, he was probably the genre's most recognisable face and almost certainly its greatest songwriter. With the king of grunge dead, Dando was the logical successor. Evan himself, of course, wants no part of it. Pushed for a definition of grunge he dismisses it as "the sticky stuff you get left in a bong" and the notion of him being the new king of commercial-alternative American guitar rock is dismissed with a curt "Don't be silly". So, with Come On Feel.. cementing The Lemonheads' international appeal, it's time for Evan to sit back and discuss crack, crops and, er, Kylie.

Because it hasn't all been misery for Evan in the last 12 months. There was the added bonus of a steamy affair with everyone's favourite pop poppet, Ms Kylie Minogue. Or was there? "No, no," he smirks. "All that happened is we went out together dancing and got drunk. She came to our show and she showed us round Melbourne but that was it. It's just a shame that she's got so much press action on her that they had to write that we had a big affair."
Didn't you fancy her then? "Oh sure," he giggles. "She's cute. She's a hot babe."

Only Evan Dando could utter that sentence without sounding like a lobotomised extra from Wayne's World. But then he's something of a sex symbol himself: his lantern-jawed good looks and huggable child-of-the-universe persona has been known to send even the most sensible indie girlie a bit wibbly. For his part, Evan is said to hate the role. It's even been suggested that his principal motivation for replacing his trademark shoulder-length mop of strawberry blonde curls with a crop of almost military severity was to get rid of the screaming girls.

"Nah, I just did it for fun, " he refutes. "I got drunk, decided I wanted to shave my head and started clipping. Now I've done it, of course, I want to grow it back."

He does admit to sleeping with groupies when the band first started our (the 'Heads spent years as unknown angry punkers before discovering their current more mellow musical direction) but claims he ceased all such activity years ago "because it just didn't feel right". And despite his supposed dissatisfaction with sex symbol status, he actually seems very relaxed with the attention - and very secure with his sexuality. Asking someone if they're attracted to people of their own sex usually raises eyebrows, if not hackles. Not here - he just shrugs his shoulders and declares: "I can appreciate guys who look really cool but I'm not really sexually attracted to them."

So we've done sex, we've done rock'n'roll, time to broach the final part of the immortal triumvirate and bring up the subject of drugs. Again, you might assume this to be a touchy topic but Evan doesn't even blink one of those heavy eyelids. Instead, he frankly admits that both drugs and alcohol disagree with him and make him depressed, but he's still disinclined to preach on the subject.

"Y'know, I'm going to try and stay away from them but sometimes I may fall from grace. The main thing I'm going to do is avoid talking to the press about drugs."

The media spotlight, it seems, is the one thing that can dispel Evan's happy-go-lucky attitude to life. Not that he hasn't got good reason - at one point some particularly lurid (and completely untrue) rumours attempted to implicate him in events surrounding Cobain's suicide. For a man who was a great admirer - and friend - to "the 90s' first true rock star", that must have been hurtful.

"When I first heard he was dead I was angry, 'cos we weren't going to hear any more classic songs from Kurt. Later I became more empathetic about it, but he just seemed the kind of guy we could use around."

Despite his own brushes with infamy, it seems unlikely that we could ever lose Evan in the same way. For a start he retains an inbuilt pressure valve - whenever things get too much he simply ups and offs for Australia where, despite his fame, he feels able to relax.

"It's just a cool place for me to regain my perspective," he smiles. "I can just kick back and forget all about being Evan Dando."

And with one more goofy grin, he's of to charm someone else.