New Again: Evan Dando
In the late ‘80s, America was graced with the advent of a playful pop-punk band: the Lemonheads. The group’s three original members met during high school in Boston, and released an album per year from 1987 to 1990, but it was in 1992 that their LP It’s a Shame about Ray reached the masses (with the support of Atlantic Records). The group’s one constant member throughout the years, Evan Dando, fully embraced the life of a musician, spending many a day performing in dark music halls, only taking a small portion of the year to enjoy the simple pleasures of “normal life.” Even when the band began their nine-year hiatus in 1997, Dando released solo music, most notably the alt-rock record Baby I’m Bored in 2003, which he reissued last week through Fire Records. The new edition includes previously unheard tracks, outtakes, and covers, and coincides with Dando’s worldwide tour, which reaches the U.S. next week.
In celebration of Dando’s resurgence, we pulled our Feburary 1993 cover story on the artist from our archives, in which he enjoys some time at the beach. Fittingly, the issue was Florida-themed, and Dando appears surrounded by lemons. —Caroline Lowder
Lemon Head: And here’s to you Evan Dando Florida loves you more than you can know. Wo-wo-wo.
By Peter Galvin and Lance Acord
The way the story usually goes, oranges and lemons are shipped from Florida to colder parts up north. But we want to tell you about the time citrus was imported to Miami Beach. Florida grows some of the juiciest, tartest, sweetest lemons, but it has nothing that quite compares to the tang of Evan Dando of the Lemonheads. A friendly, garrulous, opinionated, slightly hippie-dippy dude, Dando had been on tour with his band for almost six months when he took a brief winter break from his grueling schedule to bask in the Florida sun. His skin a little pasty from being in too many dark, smoke-filled clubs, his voice a little hoarse from singing at the top of his lungs too many nights in a row, Dando was a creature transformed when his feet hit the Miami Beach sand. As you can see from the Bruce Weber photographs here, Dando looked almost merman-like after a few hours lolling about in the surf.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and Dando had a tour to finish. But we caught up with him again in San Francisco a few days later to talk about his Florida sojourn and what it’s like to be an up-and-coming rock star. Since Dando formed the Lemonheads after graduating from Boston’s Commonwealth School in the mid-80’s, the group’s popularity has grown steadily, reaching new heights with the release of their latest album, It’s a Shame About Ray (Atlantic). Less hard-core and more upbeat than their previous releases, Ray showcases Dando as a craftsman of sublime power-pop in songs that combine the urgency of punk with the irresistible ease of Top 40. Joining me on the phone call with Dando was Lemonhead fan Lance Acord, an assistant of photographer Bruce Weber. Acord was on the beach when Dando was kicking up his fins.
PETER GALVIN: Hi. Who’s this?
EVAN DANDO: It’s Evan Dando talking.
LANCE ACORD: Hey, Evan, how are you?
DANDO: I’d doing really well, man.
ACORD: Cool. So let’s talk a little bit about when you were in Florida for your rendezvous with Interview. You said that when you got down there, you could barely open your eyes when you got out of the car. You looked like you hadn’t seen daylight for about a month. Where had you been before Miami?
DANDO: Well, I’d been in all of these backstage rooms with lots of fluorescent lights and obscene drawings all over the walls. It was just, like, a necklace of days spent in fluorescently lit rooms. We had to play rock shows every night, and you just end up hanging out backstage. That was why I was so happy to be suddenly on the beach.
ACORD: I remember when you went through your bags and practically wore everything you had in the ocean.
DANDO: I just opened my bag and showed Bruce [Weber] all of the rubble and started picking through it, trying to express myself to him. And I got to go swimming in the water in Florida, which was the best thing. And then they put seaweed and shells in my hair, and I felt at one with the ocean. It was a real boost—I needed to go to Florida, man. It was too cold up north. I’ve still got sand in my bag.
ACORD: What happened to all those clothes that you stuffed into that plastic bag after the shoot?
DANDO: I went to Boulder the next day. There was snow everywhere. We played a show—clothes still wet. We finished the show—clothes still wet. I woke up the next morning—clothes still wet. I got on a plane to L.A.—clothes still wet. I got to Hollywood Roosevelt, went to my room, and hung them around, and now I’m wearing the pants, even though I haven’t put them in a washer or dryer. They’ve got salt in them. It feels good.
ACORD: Remember when you were singing while Bruce was taking photographs?
DANDO: In the water?
ACORD: Yeah. You were singing this Billie Holiday song. What’s the name of it?
DANDO: “Jim”? I sing a bunch of those. [sings] “Jim doesn’t ever bring a pretty flower. Jim doesn’t try to cheer my—”
ACORD: No, it was the one about—
DANDO: [singing] “Be sure it’s true when you say I love you.”
ACORD: No, it went [sings] “Da-na-na-na-na-na-na-na.”
DANDO: Oh, that’s “Gloomy Sunday.” I sing that song a lot, in the street and stuff, just walking around.
ACORD: It’s weird hearing those words on the beach in Miami.
GALVIN: What else did you do while you were in Miami?
DANDO: I stupidly wandered off down that main street later that night, until five in the morning. I was so impressed with something about that street. It’s called Ocean something.
GALVIN: Ocean Drive?
DANDO: Yeah. It’s like a festive Melrose Avenue. It has the same kind of vibe as Melrose: “I’m not gonna say hello to you if I don’t know you’re cool already.” But I finally did find some really nice people I said hi to, and they didn’t totally snub me. We hung out and danced to Madonna and stuff. It was fun.
GALVIN: Did you ever go to Florida when you were a kid?
DANDO: Not really. I went to the Denny’s in Miami once on the way down to Costa Rica. I ordered a trout special.
GALVIN: What were you doing in Costa Rica?
DANDO: My parents were surfers. I went there three times when I was a kid. We used to go to Biarritz every other summer, too.
ACORD: Wow. Did you surf with them when you went to Costa Rica?
DANDO: No, I was too little. I just got bitten by crabs on the beach, until I was nine, and then I got into surfing. It’s a good time to learn to surf, because you’re not scared of much and you can adapt and learn.
GALVIN: All right, let’s talk about music.
DANDO: Go, man.
GALVIN: What did you like when you were a kid?
DANDO: I loved the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, and Al Green, and Eddie Kendricks from the Temptations—all the stuff my parents played all the time. Mostly soul. And Neil Young.
GALVIN: When you were making your first record, your music was hard-edged. Why the jump from soul to rock ‘n’ roll?
DANDO: Around 1983, when I was in high school, I started realizing that rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t dead. I didn’t have to listen to just old stuff. There were things coming out, like Minor Threat and the Angry Samoans and the Replacements and Hüsker Dü and the Ramones, that got me thinking about just rock ‘n’ roll. I used to see the Replacements every time they came to town. They really inspired me because they clearly were just a bunch of guys up there playing songs they liked and songs they had written. And that made me think, yeah, I can get up there and do that, too.
GALVIN: Did anger have anything to do with your choosing rock ‘n’ roll as the music you wanted to play?
DANDO: Yeah, it was a lot about anger, but my disappointment in human nature was probably the foundation of why I started playing really loud guitar and screaming.
GALVIN: But you were only, what, 18 when you started? Why were you so disappointed?
DANDO: I got a really unfortunate head start on being disappointed, when my dad left my mom when I was 11. What happened was my and sister would cuddle up in bed and about it every night, and I was down at the other end of the hall all alone, and it really freaked me right out, you know? That experience made me a very angry kid in high school. I wasn’t violent; I just had a very sharp tongue.
GALVIN: But now the music is—
DANDO: More happy.
GALVIN: Right. I don’t know if you like this word but it’s “infectious.”
DANDO: That’s all right. A couple of years ago, I started thinking, I would love to make people happy with my music. That would be the best thing.
GALVIN: I read a quote by you in a newspaper that said, “Fun is the most important thing. I’m glad we haven’t been real successful, because it seems like whenever you get successful you start to suck.”
DANDO: Scary, man. That’s true. I just always have to remember I’m playing music to have a good time, to comfort myself by writing songs and trying to figure out problems. Singing just makes me real happy. I’m going to really give it a go not to become despicable and strange and pretentious. I just really want to stay on the street level, like when I play for the scalpers before a show.
GALVIN: Do you do that often?
DANDO: Yeah. I often go outside before a show, when people are just starting to line up, and I play a song for them. It’s cool, man. It helps me remember why the hell I’m doing this thing.
ACORD: I love your version of “Mrs. Robinson.”
DANDO: Thanks. At first, we felt like the record company was making up do that song, but then I got to thinking how much I love the movie The Graduate. We had sampled Katharine Ross on “Alison’s Starting to Happen,” so it seemed somehow comically correct that we should cover “Mrs. Robinson.”
GALVIN: In the sing “My Drug Buddy,” you explore the issue of drugs. How do you feel about drugs?
DANDO: My take on drugs is that I would never in a million years condone them for someone else, because I hate the idea of that. So many times I thought to myself, man, I never want to do drugs again. But I would never sacrifice any experience I’ve ever had on them, and I am not remorseful that I’ve done them. I would like to get more and more away from drugs. I’m worried about the fact that the reason I do them is because as the song “My Drug Buddy” goes, “I’m too much with myself / I want to be someone else.”
ACORD: You said on the shoot that you’ve been going down to Australia a lot and that you wrote your last album there. You’re going back soon, aren’t you?
DANDO: Yeah, I’m going for Christmas.
ACORD: What is it about Australia that you like so much?
DANDO: I met all of these amazing people down there who inspired me and kind of saved my life. Also, there are a lot of nice beaches. You gotta wear a hat, but that’s all right. It’s just a very relaxing kind of place with a lot of unspoiled coastline.
GALVIN: You grew up in Boston?
DANDO: Yeah, Back Bay kind of scene. We moved there when I was nine, and I took off on my skateboard to discover the city, which was fun for me because I had been in the countryside—Essex, Massachusetts.
GALVIN: How do you feel about your image as a major heartthrob? Sassy magazine thinks you’re “foxy,” referring to you as “His Beautiful Blond Sadness.”
DANDO: That kind of stuff is unfortunate, but what I am going to do? It’s just this weird way for people to find out about the band. I don’t think it’s a particularly pure way, but it’s a way, and I have to accept it.
GALVIN: It’s tough, because a lot of what you do is about how you look. You’re a good-looking guy who plays music, and you can’t do anything about what happens because of that. If people say, “He’s cute. I’m going to go buy his album,” hopefully they’ll like the music, too.
DANDO: That’s part of the freezer burn that television and all the media culture is perpetrating on America. It’s like singers have to be pretty, which is stupid.
GALVIN: I know this is a cliché, but do you have women throwing themselves at you?
DANDO: I’m afraid it’s starting to happen. It’s really weird…
GALVIN: What is it like?
DANDO: It’s like you have to catch ‘em. [laughs] But them you gotta say, “Hold on a minute.” And then you gotta place them.
GALVIN: Place them and run away?
DANDO: No, I usually just hug them ‘em and say, “Peace, baby.” I’m making a real effort not to be promiscuous. I’ve never been very promiscuous, except early in high school I was with a lot of women. Now I just can’t hack it.
GALVIN: It can be such a mental drain. It’s like giving away pieces of yourself. It depends on the person, of course.
DANDO: It depends on the piece, too. [laughs] It’s nice to hold on to something—yourself, I guess—so you can really give it away someday. Besides, you don’t have to have sex to… What was that really bad song? [sings] “You don’t have to take your clothes off to have a good time.” Anyway, I realized I certainly don’t have to sleep with all of these girls. They’re usually 15, so I don’t want to go to jail, and I don’t want to mess them over—they probably couldn’t deal with it.
GALVIN: Are you going to make another Lemonheads album?
DANDO: Yeah. Me and Dave [Ryan, drummer] and Nic [Dalton, bassist] are going to make an album together. I already have about five songs I think are better than the last album, so I’m really excited.
GALVIN: And then will you go solo?
DANDO: I don’t know what’s going to happen. I see one more Lemonheads album. There’s no reason for us all to look past the next album, because we’re so busy right now.
GALVIN: But whether Lemonheads go on or not, you like to perform solo anyway, right?
DANDO: I like to do it whenever I can—I know so many songs. I’m like a walking karaoke torture machine. [laughs]
GALVIN: You’re like a rock ‘n’ roll cabaret singer. It’s like you have this knowledge that you just want to share.
DANDO: Yeah, but I don’t think of it as knowledge. It’s really just a love I want to share. I really didn’t study any music. I just picked it up real quick.
GALVIN: How do you feel about touring—is it fun or a drag?
DANDO: It’s the best. It’s an ideal combination: I get to see the world and try to make people happy. I’m very much of a wandering spirit, if you’ll pardon the expression.
GALVIN: Do you think you’ll always be making music?
DANDO: Forever. I’d like to do it my whole life—although I also love words and want to write short stories. But right now, my songs are kind of my short stories.
THIS INTERVIEW ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE FEBRUARY 1993 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.
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