Interview with Evan Dando by Joan Anderman

From the Chicago Tribune 1st May 2003


If the measure of a rock 'n' roll survivor is the distance between the low point (say, wasted on heroin and acid and pushing money through pavement grates at the Sydney airport) and the point of re-entry (a fine album of pop music after seven invisible years), Evan Dando is a giant among screw-ups.

"Baby I'm Bored," the long-awaited solo project from the Boston native and former Lemonheads frontman, has just been released. And the record's been four years in the making, during which time Dando married, gave up drugs and rediscovered skateboarding - a passion that has landed him on vacation in Miami.

"I consider this the beginning of my music career," says Dando by telephone. "Nailing an album that I'm actually comfortable listening to has brought me to the start. I'm sure I thought `It's a Shame About Ray' was a good record. I don't have anything against it. But that was then."

In Dando's circuitous cosmos, however, perspective is anything but linear. Ten minutes later Dando says he hasn't changed at all. Everything is of a piece, he says.

"If you were looking in a bird book, the Lemonheads and the new album would be in the same genus. They're wrens and warblers. I love birds."

Dando's glory days as an alt-rock poster boy with the Lemonheads were short-lived. Formed in 1987, the band became a commercial sensation in 1992 with "It's a Shame About Ray" - which featured a hit version of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson." But by the following year, Dando's addictions and bad-boy antics began to overshadow the music, and after two subsequent albums the Lemonheads disbanded. Dando seemed to fall off the face of the earth - an impression he does little to dispel when asked what he's been doing since 1996.

"I caught a fish," Dando says. "A 1,000-pound black marlin off the coast of New Zealand."

That may sound pithy and evasive, but the truth is he spent long periods traveling from place to place, trying to clear his head of demons and fog, and trying to find his way back to writing. He played low-key acoustic shows, sang other people's songs, and made a live recording at the Brattle Theatre for a United Kingdom label.

Meeting British model Elizabeth Moses, whom he married 2 1/2 years ago and whose face graces the cover of "Baby I'm Bored," was a turning point. He struggles to describe it.

"God, I don't know. It's like the Raymond Carver book: 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.' It's so important to have a friend. A pal," Dando says. During our conversation he calls out to Moses to double-check various facts. "I married the right girl," he says.

Dando and Moses live in Manhattan, two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center. The collage in the liner notes for his new album includes a childlike picture Dando drew of himself standing on the roof of his apartment building, watching an airplane fly over him toward the pair of skyscrapers.

"I was spitting distance away when the second plane came screaming by," Dando recalls. "Now when I wake up, I check to see that my hands still work. Yeah, it was a catalyst, the mortality thing. Let's get moving again. Let's do things that are fun, like making music."

Enter Jon Brion - former Bostonian, prolific pop tunesmith, and alt-rock studio guru. A mutual friend introduced Dando to Brion, a longtime Lemonheads fan. The pair wound up co-writing - with Brion producing - five of the sweet, aching songs on the new CD, which also features Boston guitarist Chris Brokaw (who will tour with Dando), former Spacehog vocalist Royston Langdon, Howe Gelb of Giant Sand, and John Convertino and Joey Burns of Calexico.

"He would arrive in the afternoon, we'd start writing and usually by dinnertime we had a song," says Brion on the phone from a Los Angeles studio where he's producing Fiona Apple's next CD. "We'd record that night. There was no master plan or manifesto or marketing meetings... Frankly, I think he was shocked to meet someone who enjoyed where he was coming from. But I think lots of people are eager to see what he's up to."

Another collaborator was Australian musician Ben Lee. In response to a comment about the album's strikingly reflective tone, Dando says it was Lee, a close friend, who was doing the pulse-taking. The former Noise Addict frontman wrote "Hard Drive," a gentle, country-tinged paean to living in the moment, and "All My Life," about a man who realizes he doesn't need the things he once believed he couldn't live without.

"They're biographical songs written about me for me to sing," says Dando. "It's very old school, an I've-got-a-song-for-you kind of thing. I couldn't have written as good a piece about myself, because my perspective is all skewed."

The intimate involvement with other musicians has been an important part of getting back on track for Dando, who plans to move to Paris later this year. He says the ground feels solid beneath his feet. Dando's happy with the album, and he's happy with his life, which has freed him to look back on both his brief moment as an alt- rock pinup and his lost years with equanimity. The former inspired eight months of celibacy. As for the latter, Dando insists he wouldn't change a thing.
"Whatever it is I was doing I enjoyed. I didn't die. If I had to describe the time of life this album sums up I'd say drunk and morose but not maudlin. I've been lucky," Dando says. "Someone always comes along out of the blue and sees a kid that has potential."