Interview with Evan Dando by Shaun Phillips
From Esquire, October 2006
Alive And Kickin'
In life as in music, Evan Dando is a survivor: "I can't not try," he says
Evan Dando has witnessed more than his fair share of history. And real stop-the-press moments, not just bit-part appearances in rock's trivial timeline, though he's done those too (sharing a purple parallelogram with Noel Gallagher in Amsterdam, getting drunk on red wine with Nirvana in Seattle, fooling about in bed with Courtney Love in stolen Polaroids that were splashed over the pages of the New York Post).
"It's insane," he says, rolling a joint in his room at London's Cumberland Hotel. "I was in Paris when Lady Di died. I was in Martha's Vineyard when JFK Jr plopped in the ocean right in front of us - my wife Elizabeth found a wheel. It's really weird, but I tend to be where the action is. It's been great."
"It's been great": the sort of response you'd expect from Gen X's still raggedly good-looking (at 39), semi-reluctant poster boy, whose stoner attitude informed a string of lovelorn classics and big-hearted pop songs in the Nineties, while simultaneously condemning him to A Rake's Progress, from the cover of the NME to knocking on the doors of Bedlam. Like Beavis or Butt-Head, for Dando witnessing 1992's LA Riots was, well, kind of cool. "We were up in the hills staying at Johnny Depp's house, and we watched it through a telescope, getting closer and closer." Downtown, his friends the Robb Brothers were defending Cherokee Studios, where he had just recorded the landmark album It's A Shame About Ray. With Uzis. "The riots were way more scary than 9/11. Even though with 9/11 we really thought we were going to die a quick and violent, horrible death, it's scarier when it comes from within."
Dando was two blocks away from the World Trade Center when the planes scythed into the Twin Towers. It was a sobering experience. "I felt very close to death," he says. "And when I came out alive, I thought: 'What is making my life not what it could be?' It was alcohol."
In 1997, after playing at Reading Festival, Dando surprised both fans and band alike by announcing The Lemonheads were breaking up ("I was high," he admits now), before dropping out completely. He got married - to "a coal-miner's daughter from Newcastle, a heavy-metal chick, just my kind of girl" - and they travelled, but his world view still came through the bottom of a glass.
After 9/11, he sought a solution to his problem. Ironically, it was a drug. "It's this cool thing called Antabuse," says Dando. "When you take it, you get violently ill. I used to be an alcoholic - well, I still am, because you always are. I took it for six months, and I didn't drink for four years. Now I can even have a drink now and then."
For those who remembered him from first time round, Dando's 2003 comeback was a cause for celebration. Not so much for the music as for his vitality. His instore performance at a HMV in London - usually a cursory signing exercise - turned into a 30-song set, while his appearance at a Stop The War Coalition fundraiser the following night was punctuated with a fulminating attack on George W Bush, his wife and dog. "I felt so angry at the time," he admits, a little shamefaced, "but I should have left the dog part out."
Baby I'm Bored was Dando's first official solo album, and he envisages many more exploring Nebraska-esque terrain. "If I was to step out of myself," he says, "my strength really lies in the quieter stuff. But I'm a punk-rock, heavy-metal kind of person, so I can't not try." Hence the new, self-titled Lemonheads album, an attempt to recapture the essence of the early years with a new line-up: Dando, drummer Bill Stevenson and bassist Karl Alvarez, both of whom Dando has admired since they were in Eighties proto-grunge outfit the Descendants. It was recorded in Stevenson's studio near the Rockies, away from the distractions of LA. Dando was relieved it wasn't equipped with a hot tub - "Bill doesn't have all that stupid stuff" - although the no-smoking policy rankled for a while.
Like It's A Shame About Ray, the new album clocks in at around the half-hour mark. "I love short records," says Dando. "I was just pleased to get the word 'aphid' on this album, and I finally got to use that phrase 'pull your chestnuts from the fire'. I think it's German: Hitler used to say it."
The album contains two genuine Dando classics: Baby's Home, a dark ballad by old writing partner Tom Morgan, and Become The Enemy, which, though written by Stevenson, sounds wearily autobiographical. "I was quite happy to live the rock'n'roll cliché," he admits, "but it got to the point where I wasn't happy anymore". Before falling in love with Elizabeth, he even contemplated suicide. "She got me out of it - I realised I had a lot more living to do."