Interview with Evan Dando by Jude Rogers

From The Word September 2006


Keep Off The Grass
...unless you're Evan Dando, in which case the sex/drugs/rock & roll cocktail appears to be your ticket to eternal youth. He's done Bad Things, he tells Jude Rogers. And he hasn't come back to repent.


Most girls' favourites early '90s poster boy - the shiny-haired heart-throb whose big grey eyes would fix us in their gaze before we went to bed every night - sits in front of me. Sitting before him are four open scrappy packets of Marlboro Reds, one packet of Camels, a packet of Drum "rough shag" tobacco, several packets of Rizlas, a battered first edition copy of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, a white marble ashtray in the shape of an upturned palm full of squashed little butts and two lumps of hash. An electric guitar - not plugged in - is played idly in his lap and a jagged piece of wood with "Wet Paint" daubed upon it sits in the room's corner. "Isn't it awesome? I stole it from the Latitudes festival and I'm going to Fed-Ex it back home. It's like one time when I found this piece of wood painted blue that looked like a lightning bolt and I Fed-Exed that. And my car got hit my this tumbleweed in the South once-it was huuuuge, man! - so I got a big box and Fed-Exed that back home too!" Evan Dando, back with another fizzy poppy Lemonheads album, is 39 years old.

Look at the picture below and gawp. What's Dando's secret of eternal youth? For most people his age it'd be a combination of hardened exercise, taking two bottles into the shower and a penchant for posh moisturiser. But for Dando presumably it's cannabis, heroin, cocaine, crack and alcohol, close personal friendships with Courtney Love and Noel Gallagher in their sherbert-snorting prime, plus a rich, liberal upbringing courtesy of a lawyer father who would take his young liege to the Caribbean every summer (before cutting him off when he ducked out of college). Add to that 20 years as a Lemonhead, playing his own brand of sunny, grungy pop that climaxed with the success of It'sA Shame About Ray in 1992 and Come On Feel The Lemonbeads in 1993. The years have made their mark on Dando just a little: the lantern jaw has softened slightly, the skin is a little leathery from a spot of sun worshipping, and a few lines try to crease his forehead, but this mug's not the Easter Island crag it should have been. You'd expect Evan Dando to be Keith Richards-in-the-making. He's more the Gram Parsons who survived.

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"I didn't want to stop. No one was telling me to stop, and they should've been. I was just way...too...into". Dando speaks in a slow, deep drawl as he assesses the years, like he's just indulged in a particularly energetic bout of shagging - given the full-mouthed kisses he plants on wife Elizabeth as she floats around the room, I wouldn't be surprised - or like he's a Duracell bunny whose battery's conking out. 
"I think I went around the world 20 times between '93 and '94. I just thought it was really funny I was 23, 24, just doing what I was told to do, and the rest of the time I'd get really good and out of it. I was into the whole rock cliche. I liked the safety of sex, drugs and rock and roll, how it was a byproduct of what I did. Like hiring Lear Jets was pretty fun." His capers made him a staple of the weekly music press gossip columns - "I became like a comic-strip character, almost, didn't I?" - writing songs with Oasis, heckling Jeff Buckley at his first London gig, hanging out with Jarvis Cocker ("He's so awesome! Le Jar-veeees!") and being found in compromising positions in hotel rooms with Kurt Cobain's recentlv-bereaved widow. But his good looks were also a golden ticket to the covers of fashion and style magazines. His appeal was simple: girls wanted to shag him and boys wanted to be him.

His first judgement day, he says, came at Glastonbury's 1995 Festival. He was meant to play the Acoustic Tent one sunny Saturday afternoon but didn't "because I was wasted. It's not a good career move to miss your gig. I was so late I played to Portishead's crowd and they nearly killed me. The guy who does that tent still won't let me play Glastonbury." He inhales thoughtfully and stands up, wobbling on one foot and stretching his arms into a Bruce Lee pose as he speaks. "It probably didn't help that my promoter kung-fu chopped him in the head." After '96's Car Button Cloth, Dando disappeared from the music scene completely, and many predicted a good old-fashioned rock star demise. Dando admits he needed time away but denies any severe problems. "It looked a lot more complicated in the papers than it was in real life. They made it out to be a tempest in a thimble. I'd just made a lot of money and I didn't do anything important with it. I'm just a hedonistic, lazy person so I spent the next years bumming around and just getting rid of it all."

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Judgement Day II came a year after Dando married Elizabeth, a beautiful blonde model from Newcastle who is the spitting image of him (a fact made clear by how everyone thought they were looking at Dando, and not her, as was the case, on the cover of Dando's 2002 solo album Baby I'm Bored). They were standing on the roof of their downtown Manhattan apartment on September 11, 2001 when they heard and then saw United Airlines Flight 175 go over their heads and into the south tower of the World Trade Center. Dando said at the time that "the noise was enormous; it had all the high end of Husker Du and the low end of Dr Dre". Afterwards, he says, the events hit him hard - he stopped drinking and went solo. The new Dando. according to his press at the time, had settled down, grown up and kicked the drugs. Today's Dando disagrees with this, albeit gently and politely. "I never said I was clean." He sprinhles tobacco onto a Rizla paper with one hand and tosses his hair nonchalantly with the other. "I said I'd stopped drinking." Five minutes later, he wraps an arm around Elizabeth's waist and asks her to call room service for some Budvar.

Somewhere between 2002 and 2006, Dando decided to bring back the Lemonheads, partly because he saw Baby I'm Bored as more of a collaborative project between him and writers like Ben Lee and bands like Calexico, and partly because he recognised for the first time the depth of feeling his fans had about songs he'd written under that band name. I tell him about my experience of his previous night's gig at Somerset House, standing among hundreds of late twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, all singing perfect renditions of obscure Lemonheads album tracks back at their hero. "I realised that, yeah. One day a few years ago it just clicked in my head. I put all that work into that band for so many years that there was no reason in the world not to put out another Lemonheads record." Which he is, in September, with "The Lemonheads Mark 7", incorporating Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez from early '8os punk band, The Descendents. Playing with people he's loved for years has also helped get the fire back in his belly "I'm so excited about music. My horizons have widened so much, it's like starting again. I've got ambitious- really ambitious - for the first time in my life. I want the next record to really do some damage."

So do you feel like you've had a second chance - that's prompted another burst of youthful enthusiasm - or do you think you're growing up? Those grey eyes fix me in that familiar stare. "Woah. I don't know. That's deep shit. I guess I've never got over my adolescence in some ways. But we want to have kids soon, so I've started to think about that." And do you feel like you're blessed? "Yeah. Mv mom always says to me, `There's some people like you that get a lot of chances. The chips could have fallen the other way.' And they could've. I could've died a couple of times for sure, but I've been real lucky. I think some people just have it in them. Coleridge, Dylan Thomas, Bukowski, William Burroughs, they did what they did because of that craziness. And I definitely did, from the age of ten, reading James And The Giant Peach. It helped me go to places. After being up for five and six days a song would come out sometimes, you know, 'Cos you're brain's so crowded something has to come out." He suddenly laughs like a car starting up - a big "hur-hur-hur-hurrrgh"-as he relights his Rizla and lolls his shiny-haired head. 
"Luckily this isn't a magazine for young people because what I'm saying right now is that the drugs do work. They do! The Verve must have had a really crap dealer."

The new Lemonheads album, The Lemonheads, is out on Vagrant in September.