Interview with Evan Dando by Randy Harward
From Salt Lake City Weekly 11th September 2003
There’s no way Evan Dando, erstwhile Lemonhead, could account for seven years in 15 minutes—at least, with any detail. Yet, he gives it a shot:
“I was doin’ stuff, you know?” he says before invoking the catchall explanation for a prolonged absence from paid artistry: “I was fed up with the whole music thing, really.” Yes, for Dando, the nappy-slash-flaxen-haired alt-rock poster boy and/or pinup, music was no longer “this great, fun thing to do” but rather mired in “bullshit” and reduced to “getting your picture taken.”
To color it: The Lemonheads began as a somewhat schizophrenic punk band, playing a hybrid of punk and pop that was fast enough to be labeled hardcore (inasmuch as you’d call the Replacements or Husker Du the same). Dando headed up the pop department, partner Ben Deily the punk division. The two had an alpha-male conflict for supremacy in 1989 and the band split, only to be reconvened by Dando in 1990 as his own. Signing to Atlantic Records, the Lemonheads issued Lovey and followed it up with It’s a Shame About Ray in 1992.
Months into Ray’s release, Atlantic added a bonus track—a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” It was the dam breaker; the Lemonheads were all over MTV and Rolling Stone. Dando became paparazzi fodder, often photographed in diminished levels of consciousness (Brit rock rag NME wrote, in a review of what would be the Lemonheads’ final album, Car Button Cloth, of Dando “standing handcuffed, tripping on acid and bleeding in Sydney Airport insisting the police release him so he can retrace his steps around the globe to find his mind”), or with Winona Ryder on his arm. The drugs and drinking had mostly abated at the issue of that album, whatever success the Lemonheads found had already leaked or been pissed away because, says Dando, “[The music business] just turned me off.”
After helming a 1998 Lemonheads best-of disc, Dando became something of a phantom, trying to live a real life. “It was in New York, though, so how real can you be here in New York? The bums in New York have Websites. I should have gone somewhere more mellow, maybe.” Perhaps it was the location that helped him revive some joy for his craft. Just a few years into his duck-and-run, word of different projects would materialize (you know, he was doin’ stuff).
There was the hired-gun gig with singer-songwriter Tom Morgan’s band The Give Goods. Then, a single on Aussie label Trifekta with Dando joining singer-songwriter Ben Lee, Cheap Trick bassist Tom Petersson and Rushmore star and Phantom Planet drummer Jason Schwartzman. And in 2001, it was reported Dando was working with Ryan Adams, ex-Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Mar, Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and possibly Foo Fighter Dave Grohl in a supergroup called the Virgins (a project on hold since 2002). In between, he played some shows and issued the Australia-only live/covers album, Live at the Brattle Theatre/Griffith Sunset.
To be sure, he’s kept busy, which makes the name of his prodigal album, Baby, I’m Bored (Bar None) somewhat ironic. The record is everything Dando has stood for: Sweet, simple, often country-tinged pop songs with personal lyrics that are as direct as they are otherwise. For the occasion, Dando is joined by Lee (who co-wrote “The Same Thing You Thought Hard About Is the Same Part I Can Live Without” and donated “All My Life” and “Hard Drive”), Joey Burns, John Convertino and Howe Gelb (all of Giant Sand), producer/session man Jon Brion (The Grays), and ex-Spacehog vocalist Royston Langdon. It’s not the self-indulgent, gratuitous guest appearance-laden album it could have been, and then, again, it is. One could say Dando has hit the sweet spot in-between.
“The whole business side of it turned me against it for a while. I got over that, because playing music is what I like to do, so I started doing it again.”
Now comes the requisite tour, which also seems to bring him some happiness. And even though his last non-ski trip to Utah was rather traumatic, he’s looking forward to returning.
“One of the most amazingly weird things happened to us there,” he recalls. “We were playing this sort of weird, big warehouse. It was a long time ago. They had the back doors open and there was a horrible hatch of these nasty, big flies that stung, like horseflies, and they started biting everybody. I was singing and they were biting my tongue and stuff. We couldn’t finish the show. So we’ll hope for fewer bugs this time.”