Interview with Evan Dando by Steve Malins
From Vox Magazine November 1993
In an LA penthouse with a masseur on call, Lemonhead Evan Dando is locked away from the lure of drink, drugs and parties. But can he resist a wafer-thing pizza?
Evan Dando is climbing up to the sloping roof of the Chateau Marmont in Sunset Boulevard, LA, gazing at a blue moon. Thirty feet below him, a subdued cocktail party is briefly enlivened as the Lemonheads' singer hoots and screams from his precarious vantage point. "I'm going to keep my door locked tonight if there's a party going on", he shouts down, adding wistfully: "I've been feeling strange for the last couple of days. I have a feeling that something sinister is going to happen." Perhaps chastened by his own superstitious fears, he backs cautiously down the '30s steel ladder, and regains the safety of his penthouse-suite balcony.
In the past, the luxurious rooms currently occupied by Mr Dando have provided temporary homes for numerous Hollywood movie stars, including Greta Garbo and John Wayne. For $600 a night, Evan has the privilege of spreading his dirty washing, guitars tobacco tins and CDs over a king-size bed, a slightly worn coffee table - "Garbo must have done some partying here," he laughs - and a wide terrace overlooking the city. "This place is so cool," he enthuses, "I can't resist showing it off to people. I just brought a couple of friends from Soul Asylum up here." He looks contrite. "God, I wish I hadn't done that. They'll probably want to party later."
Evan is staying in the Chateau for a week, while he completes his vocals for the band's new album, Come On Feel The Lemonheads. The final recording was delayed by a throat infection, which the singer blames on "some bad crack". He confesses: "I've been smoking heroin and cocaine for a long time. But things have got heavier over the past few months, especially when I've been in LA."
As a result, he's resting his voice - with considerable prompting from his management - by staying indoors and avoiding his local "party friends". He declares: "I'm trying to clean up. I've been straight since I got here - only a couple of beers. I haven't heard from most of my friends. It's good for me that they're out of town for a while."
Seeking other distractions in his empty hotel suite, he's been up the roof ladder "every chance I can", or skidding down the hallways in his laceless boots and shuffling around the terrace with his guitar and radio-cassette player. Obviously aware of Evan's short attention span, his manager has booked a masseur, Dr Sharon, to keep the singer occupied later this evening. "It's a management thing, but I'm not going to argue", he sighs.
While he waits for Dr Sharon to arrive, Evan plays a tape of a new Country song, Big Gay Heart. He explains, "It's anti gay-bashing. A non-violence song. The title came from Johnny Depp, who described his place as a big gay house. It has that happy meaning too." The album also includes backing vocals from Belinda Carlisle on I'll Do Anything - written especially for her by Dando - and funkateer Rick James, on a bluesy version of Rick James Style.
Meanwhile, Evan has been involved in some low-key collaborations of his own, playing drums in an LA club for Porno For Pyros, and appearing on Sleeper, the new surf-buzz album by Australian band, Godstar. Evan's percussion skills feature alongside those of Tom Morgan (who co-wrote most of the tracks on It's A Shame About Ray), Lemonheads bassist Nic Dalton, and singer Alison Galloway (Nic's girlfriend, and the inspiration for Shame About Ray song Alison's Starting To Happen). "We recorded the songs in between breaks on the Lemonheads' tours," says Evan. "I'm going to be with them soon in Sydney, as soon as I'm finished here. We're going to play a few dates." In addition to this, he's co-written material on a forthcoming album by Smudge (a trio including Morgan and Galloway), entitled Manilow. One of the songs, Down About It, also appears on Come On Feel The Lemonheads.
The singer's forgetfulness in mid-sentence suggests his relentless work schedule and drug-use are taking their toll. Evan shrugs and laughs: "I guess I'm pretty stupid. Maybe I should have given myself more time with this album. But I enjoy all this," he declares, indicating his lavish hotel room.
He's also enthusiastic about his recent experiences at the Reading Festival. His on-stage appearance - a flower-printed dress and pigtails - added another name to the new cross-dressing, 'rock frock' brigade, which currently includes Perry Farrell, Kurt Cobain and Smashing Pumpkins. For Evan, this drag-tease is an obvious shock tactic, as he instantly slipped back into T-shirt and leather jacket after the show. He then spent the rest of the evening with long-standing friends J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr and Juliana Hatfield: she joined him on-stage for the Lemonheads set, while he ran on during her solo spot, kissed her, and ran off again, instantly up-staging her. Juliana didn't seem to mind, but Evan's goody hedonism sometimes loses its charm. On the day before this summer's Glastonbury Festival, a stewardess had him removed from a flight to the UK after Evan took photos of her and signed them "with love". As a result, the band arrived for their festival slot only half-an-hour before their scheduled appearance. "I dropped a Mandrax ten minutes before I got on the plane so I was feeling a bit silly. I started asking her about her mother's Christian name and she had me ejected. She didn't have a sense of humour. I wasn't violent or threatening."
Forty minutes have passed, and there's still no sign of Dr Sharon. Evan's mood shifts into one of boyish rebellion. "Let's go. I mean, I need to eat, don't I?" he argues. In the hotel lobby he stops for a moment to point out the piano in the corner. "Gram Parsons used to play on it when he lived here," he says. Parson's folk-rock songwriting has made him a revered figure amongst many of the current 'alternative' crop, in particular the Lemonheads. They've worked with former Parsons collaborator Sneaky Pete on the new track Big Gay Heart, "I'm an old fuddy-duddy," states Evan. "I like old music. I think those old songwriting chords are infinite. I don't believe this bullshit that every song has been written. I don't like all this techno stuff, even though my family is partly responsible for it. One of my step-father's ancestors was a German pioneer of synthesisers in the '30s."
Evan strokes the scuffed wooden surface of the piano, strolls over to the cab and directs the driver to a pizza restaurant in Fairfax - "near to where Kurt and Courtney used to live". Once inside the eatery, his mood changes abruptly. He sounds weary as he recalls his recent publishing deal with Virgin/EMI: "I had to sign the contract to get some money. Record companies never like to give you money," he complains. He then dismisses his wealth by declaring that he's left the contents of his will to Mr Cigar, a lapdog belonging to Butthole Surgers singer, Gibby Haynes. "Aren't dogs cool?" he ponders, as his food arrives. The restless pop star takes only a few bites of his plain pizza before deciding to leave. "I shouldn't be out here. What am I doing?" he states, bemused and guilty about his broken resolutions. Time to go home and lock that door...