Interview with Lemonheads by Ralph Traitor

From Sounds Magazine July 1st 1989

The Big Squeeze

Lemonheads nearly gave up last year but they're back with their third and best album. Ralph Traitor reports. Pic by Ed Sirrs.

Lemonheads' renown on the American underground scene originally derived from their tender ages. When Hate Your Friends, their Taang! debut, was released, they were all under 20 - and sounded it in the best possible way.

Creator, ...Friends' successor, witnessed an older, but only in parts wiser band. Lick, their new platter, and the first to find a UK release, courtesy of World Service, is going to clean the slate. It's a superb example of why we should be excited that America's new generation of bands have found the way to back to natural, powerful rock'n'roll with no ego trips attached.

Yet, as Lemonheads explained to me while chowing down before their triumphant Berlin debut - sharing the bill with fellow Bostonian prodigies Bullet Lavolta - the facts behind Lick's creation are about friction, not satisfaction.

It seems that last August Lemonheads were little more than a rind, split by differences between singing drummer Evan Dando, bassist JLJ on one side and guitarist Ben Deily on the other. Contractual obligations had Taang! label boss Curtis threatening to compile out-takes as a last testament - a cop-out Dando JLJ couldn't sanction. So, as Deily left the band under pressure, the pair chopped and changed, putting Dando up front and getting group guru Corey Brennan in full-time on guitar. They hoped to write new material that would overshadow the "refuse" on hold and save their good cult name for a US farewell tour. But, in the end, sensing that Lick was formidable, they reformed, completing the line-up with drummer Johnny Bravo.

"Recording Lick was one of the most stressful experiences I've ever had," claims Brennan. "We hated Deily's two songs, and he knew it. He ordered us out of the studio when he did his vocal track! Listening to Lick, I'm proud that it is such a listenable product, despite the personal and professional pressures - we had to redo it, when the original engineering was awful. I'll stand by it now, in its final form. There's some high points, and some departures, from Evan's A Circle Of One, which is uncategorisable, to Come Back DA, which is frenzied Manson meets The Misfits."

Lick, Lemonheads happily agree, couldn't come out at a better time, due to what JLJ terms "the listening audience being able to deal with what, a while ago, may have been way too difficult music". "Independent music is the biggest thing with 15 to 25-year-olds in the States," enthuses Brennan. "The typical college student no knows who Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr are; five years ago REM and Elvis Costello were the cutting edge for the average college student."

"To see Lemonheads and Bullet Lavolta taking off gives me extreme pleasure. Seeing people thrashing to our Glad I Don't Know or Lavolta's Baggage - three years ago I wouldn't have thought it possible. I knew both bands were great but I didn't think anyone was interested!"

But being interested has its hazards - Lemonheads have experienced a minor backlash lately, epitomised by a Boston DJ banning their new single, a cover of Suzanne Vega's Luka, from his show. "On our first tour, in the summer of '97, we heard Luka every hour on the hour - it was insane," explains Dando. "We played it a few times as a joke, and Curtis loved it. We put of recording it, hated the idea, but we like it now. It might come across a bit of marketing, and I guess it is. But I feel we gave it the authentic Lemonheads treatment. It's a hardcore parody."

Regardless of Lick's obvious commerciality, Brennan harbours no illusions. "When I watch MTV, or hear a lot of other bands, I realise our music has nothing in common with the mainstream. It's out on a limb. It sounds accessible, but it's still really out there!"

Lemonheads' growing following in Europe has done the band's confidence no end of good: "It's so sick to have people in Dortmund yelling out requests for our most obscure songs!"

For sick, read "fantastic". And for Lick? Read "brilliant".