Interview with Evan Dando by Craig McLean

From The Telegraph, 14th September 2006

'It's good for you to lose your mind'

Lemonheads frontman Evan Dando tells how 9/11 helped him sort out his life and record a new album

Evan Dando – the man behind the Nineties pop-grunge outfit the Lemonheads – is back with a new record, 10 years since he last released an album under that name, and three years on from his last solo album.

It's the eighth, self-titled album from the band whose revolving line-up he's headed since forming straight out of high school in Boston in the late Eighties.

The 11 pacy, heartfelt, careworn songs on Lemonheads reboots American college rock in a style that will surely have the mouldering REM crying into their (just rereleased) back catalogue.

"We weren't the worst band in the world," says Dando, 39, with a mix of humility and pride. "But I looked back and figured our legacy could be a little better."

Ah, yes. The legacy of this totemic band: nothing to do with the thrilling, tumbling, perfectly concise songs on the classic albums It's a Shame About Ray and Come on Feel the Lemonheads. Everything to do with Dando's reputation as modern rock's saddest waster of his own talent.

So, today in a West London hotel room, there are some things Dando would like to clear up. Yes, that was Kurt Cobain's raincoat he was wearing in the mid-Nineties as he caroused around London, enjoying the fruits of his success.

No, this handsome man with the honeyed voice did not have sexual relations with Courtney Love. Yes, he was great pals with Oasis in Britpop's high years.

No, it isn't true that he hung about so much, making a druggy nuisance of himself, that Noel Gallagher kicked him out of the van. "They were happy to have me along. We had a great time and continue to be friends."

Finally, yes, the maddest story that sprung up around this ill-starred hero of romantic rock is largely accurate.

He was arrested on drugs charges at Sydney Airport in 1995, deported from Australia, and shipped back to America and into hospital, where he had a nervous breakdown. "I did the crime, I'll do the time," he says.

From the outside, Dando's fall from grace was sad. Another wasted talent, lost (albeit not fatally) to neuroses and narcotics, just like his hero Gram Parsons and his friend Cobain.

But from the inside – and the benefit of a decade's hindsight – Dando can almost find his travails funny.

That mental breakdown? "Hell yeah, I'm glad [I went through it]," he says with a chuckle. "If you're a strong enough person, it's good for you to lose your mind, once."

Did it make him a better person, or a better songwriter? "Possibly. If you look at the historical history of it," he says in the speedy, tumbling diction of the vaguely frazzled, recovering addict, "a lot of the best ones, they lose their minds sometimes, or once."

Pause. "It just happened. It was a combination of heroin withdrawal and taking acid on top of it. That'll do it to anybody! I'd forgotten I had a habit. Or I kinda didn't know I had a habit.

"Then I went to Australia and would have been fine if I'd just gotten some dope. Unluckily, I didn't." A shrug and a strum of the guitar he is holding. "I guess I needed to go into rehab for a little while."

During his lost years, after the release of the final Lemonheads album, Car Button Cloth, in 1996, Dando was still writing songs. But nothing he felt passionate about. So how did he finally get it together?

"First it was the grounding influence of Elizabeth [his wife, who he met in 1998], then it was the completely shattering, weird experience of 9/11."

The couple were in their apartment, two blocks from the Twin Towers, on the day of the attacks.

"That made me quit drinking. Unfortunately, I've been having a drink now and again. But I'm not doing it like I used to – I used to get up and have a 12-pack before 10 in the morning!"

He appears to have survived all the abuse well. His hair still shimmers, his eyes still shine, and despite the occasional bit of rambling, he's lucid and funny.

Best of all, his talent hasn't been fried – Lemonheads, recorded with some buddies in the seclusion of the Colorado Rockies, is the gung-ho, heads-up sound of a musician half his age.

"I still look at things in a very simple way," says this man who once wrote an excellent song (Rockin' Stroll) from the point of view of a kid being wheeled around in a buggy.

"I like to have fun. I love touring and playing live. I love travelling. Making records is one of the best things of all. I needed a good break. Now I'm ready to do it full-scale again. For a while."