Interview with Evan Dando by Jancee Dunn
From Rolling Stone 31st May 2003
Uh-oh. Evan Dando was supposed to have arrived for lunch an hour ago, and he's nowhere to be found. His reps have called his New York apartment repeatedly. Nothing. These days, the former screw-up is supposed to be a new guy -- clean and sober, married, with a bright new solo album, Baby I'm Bored, after a seven-year creative drought and corresponding drug jamboree. So where's Dando?
Oh, wait, here he is. "I am so sorry," he says, bounding over to the table. Seems he was out late the night before at his friends' wedding (he declines to elaborate, but it's the day after Liv Tyler has married former Spacehog frontman Royston Langdon). After what he's done to himself in his thirty-six years, Dando should look like Don Knotts, but instead of having that desiccated look of former debauchees, he's fit and cleareyed. He wears a slim, striped-velvet suit with threadbare gray sneakers. "They're North Stars -- you can't get them here," he says, sticking out a skinny leg. "I got them in Peru."
Dando's chipper demeanor is a far cry from a few years ago. "I was drinking so much -- I got, like, to 200 pounds," he says, settling into a chair. "I was doing the full Jim Morrison thing -- I had a huge beard, and I was really fat and fucking doing lots of drugs. This was '99, 2000. I was drinking forty drinks a day. But, you know, it was just a phase."
Just a phase?
"I drank a lot of brandy," he continues, as a family at a nearby table silently leans forward to listen in. "And brandy will kill you quicker than most illegal drugs, because it's fuckin' lethal shit, man. Nothing against Hennessy, and it's a great high, but that shit will kill you quicker than heroin."
Ah, well, if there's one thing Dando would know, it's what will kill you quickest. After his breakthrough on the 1992 album It's a Shame About Ray, with his old band the Lemonheads, Dando saw his life begin to take a decidedly bad turn. His robust drug habit became legendary. At one point he was so high on crack that he was physically unable to talk to a reporter. In the mid-Nineties he was detained at an airport in Sydney -- he was high on LSD and heroin at the time and had to be subdued by a claque of policemen. He was then hospitalized for a nervous breakdown.
Dando pulled himself together to make one last record with the Lemonheads in 1996, the uneven Car Button Cloth, after which he backslid once again into the aforementioned fat and bearded Jim Morrison state. His life story is a classic variation of The Beautiful and the Damned: A handsome, privileged guy pisses his life away. It's a shame that it's so weirdly fascinating, because it will forever obscure the good music that he has put out. Baby I'm Bored, his first foray without the Lemonheads, has the rambling charm of his previous efforts without any of the filler, part classic Seventies singalong pop ("It Looks Like You"), part gentle strumming ("In the Grass All Wine-Colored").
"I worked really, really, really, really hard on this record, and I think it's pretty darn good," he says. Two incidents straightened him out enough to get to work for the first time in seven years. One was meeting a model named Elizabeth Moses in a New York bar. "I was all over her, it was love at first sight," he says of the woman who is now his wife. "It took her a while because I had the worst reputation in town for screwing around and being a womanizer and a complete drug addict." He laughs. "I'm really lucky -- I've got someone who really loves me and who I really love."
The other was the World Trade Center attack, which occurred a few blocks from his downtown apartment. The noise when the second plane hit, he says, was like "God clapping. It was like a clap, but with all the low end of the most intense rap you ever heard, and all the high end of a Husker Du record." His narrow escape convinced him that it was time for him to get on the good foot.
Dando may have split with drugs and alcohol, but they appear to have an amicable relationship. He thinks, for instance, that young bands should take as many drugs as possible, and he actually plans to start taking drugs again to mark his ten-year anniversary of kicking. "Check that shit out," he enthuses. "When I'm forty-five, I think I'm going to take a weekend and get ten hits of acid and a couple of friends, and, like, some E, and some crystal meth to inject and a bit of heroin." He pauses. "I'm just making it up now, but I think I might do it -- so you have a long time to plan the party."
Until that festive day, Dando's only vice is cigarettes. Oh, and hash. "I smoke a little teeny bit now and again," he says. "But that's it. And no drinking." Mostly, he says, he is focused on staying fit. "I reckon as long as I keep skateboarding and exercising a lot, I'll be fine."
There's a video for the song "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You," from Car Button Cloth. In it, Dando's lanky body is scrunched into a carnival ride at Coney Island in New York. It's so oddly poignant. He keeps going around and around by himself with a blank look on his face. Maybe this time he has finally stopped going around and around.
"Since September 11th, I wake up every day -- well, most days -- and I'm, like, fuckin' alive," says Dando. "I have all my limbs. You know? I've got to make the most of this."
He rises to leave. "Thank you for dinner," he says, then he stops. "Did I say dinner? I meant lunch. My mind does that a lot. It substitutes words. It's the drugs." He shrugs. "Eventually I figure it out."