Interview with Evan Dando by Zack Yusof

From The Malaysia Star 23rd October 2006

Carry on, Dando

From tragic rock ’n’ roll burnout out to charismatic grunge rock survivor, Evan Dando’s return to form is most impressive

In 20 years of releasing records and touring as The Lemonheads, Evan Dando has endured the rock star life with all its high and lows, self-destructed in spectacular fashion and lived to tell the tale.  

Having been one of the prime movers of the grunge scene, Dando’s descend into rock ’n’ roll wilderness is well documented and often a thing of ridicule. From musical triumph and pin-up status to drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, being arrested for possession of heroin and then finally rehab, the 39-year old’s a career has been marked by wilful self-destruction, derision from the music press and the occasional stunning record. 

Fast forward to the present and Dando is sober and happily married to a coalminer’s daughter from Newcastle. On the music front, he is armed with an excellent new album having signed to a new label (Vagrant records) and seemingly eager to make up for lost time. 

Recording under the name The Lemonheads for the first time in 10 years, the recently released self-titled album offers a collection of enjoyable, indie rock songs that harks back the band’s early sound with its combination of loud rock guitars and sweet melodies.  

Dando’s first release since 2003’s enjoyable country tinged solo effort Baby I’m Bored; the new album is certainly the loudest Lemonheads record since 1990’s Lovely. It also happens to be the band most critically acclaimed and enjoyable outing since the breakthrough release It’s A Shame About Ray from 1993.  

Expertly straddling the band’s usual musical touchstones of punk, rock and country without ever losing its musical appeal or melodic core, the 11 tracks on The Lemonheads is the sound of a band seemingly revitalised and reinvigorated. For the new album, Dando hooked up with a new rhythm section – drummer Bill Stevenson and bassist Karl Alvarez, two musicians that Dando has admired since they served time in 1980s punk outfit the Descendants. Also weighing in with musical cameos are Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis and Garth Hudson from The Band. 

“It’s feels good to be back making loud records,” enthused Dando about getting reacquainted with loud, rocking guitars all over again in his slow, deep drawl down a crackly long-distance line. “You gotta rock, you know? It’s something you have in your system and I have it. I definitely want to ... especially now, I got couple of more years of rocking out in me. There’s plenty of time to do other stuff.” 

Our phone interview caught Dando in Indianapolis at the end of the first day of rehearsals for the band’s upcoming tour of Britain. Despite a tendency to wander off in weird tangents during conversation and an inability to finish his sentences, he was in an upbeat, optimistic frame of mind and keen to talk up his new record.  

The prospect of going on the road with his touring band which comprises bassist Josh Lattanzi and drummer John Kent is also reason for his optimism.  

“Yeah I’m really looking forward to the tour,” said Dando. “Today was our first practise and I know it’s going to be good. Everything is in place now. I’m really glad that I’m down here now, out of the city. Getting out of New York was something I did ? I’m in the suburbs you know? It’s very relaxing, a good place to rehearse. It’s always very volatile before a record comes out because you don’t know what’s going to happen. Of course, you don’t care too much. I’m just really happy with it.” 

Fans of the band were expecting Dando to settle into country rock Gram Parson territory will have to wait a little bit longer as it was always in his plan to go back to making louder, rock records at some point even though the press have tended to gravitate towards the band’s slower, more country tinged material. 

It’s a ploy that has paid dividends, as the critics have been quick to praise The Lemonheads for its feisty exuberance.  

“Oh yeah, I knew this record wouldn’t be a country rock one and I think it’s remarkable we’ve gotten really good reviews which we have,” reckoned Dando. “Usually we do get four star reviews but yeah, it’s a big chance to get the Lemonheads back together again. I just hope that people don’t think it’s a money making scheme or something.” 

For Dando, the opportunity to work with Alvarez and Stevenson, who co-produced the record and weighed with a few songwriting credits, including the excellent lead single Become The Enemy, was one of the main reasons for reviving The Lemonheads.  

“It’s a very valid experiment and a way to leave the Lemonheads legacy with something more than what it has,” reasoned Dando. “I want us to be remembered better and I definitely want another one after this one.” 

Working with the reclusive, multi talented virtuoso Hudson on a couple of songs for the album was another high point for Dando who rates The Band as one of his favourite acts of all-time.  

“I met him in 1998 and felt entitled to at least try and get his number and it worked out fine. We had the stuff emailed to his studio in Woodstock where he lives. It was amazing to meet and work with him.”  

On the prospect going back out on tour and being exposed to usual trappings of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll debauchery, Dando commented: “I can’t do that anymore. When I was 23 I could do that but I can’t play a show, do drugs and stay up all night and be ok the next day now, you know? So I’m not going to do that any more. You just can’t live that way, so I can’t have too much fun on tour.” 

Dando is committed to the music these days considering he hasn’t been a prolific recording act for over a decade now. There is a keen willingness to work this new tour and to return to the studio to make a new record soon.  

He took a slight pause before concluding the phone conversation: “Maybe I’m a little bit more ambitious now. I want to do well because it’s just entertaining people, you know? Why not give the best you can? I got to knuckle down and make another great record from the last one and then I’ll be happy to kick back and do a really, stripped down record, something like a Nebraska type record. But for now, I’ve got to get this out of my system.” 

The Lemonheads is available through Universal Music.