Interview with Evan Dando by Susie Forbes
From Sky Magazine, October 1993
Cosmic guitar-god, sensitive child of the heavens, global babe-magnet, oh and leader of Lemonheads... No wonder cool is Evan Dando's favourite word.
Evan Dando (frontman for Boston band the Lemonheads, international slacker icon and globally-desired guitar babe) has been at a photographic studio in downtown Los Angeles for approximately five minutes, and despite having just been hauled out of bed, has already shared two of his totally cosmic life theories with us. His one about flying goes a bit like this: If you find yourself sitting two rows in front of a really talented megastar on an aeroplane then there's absolutely no way you're going to crash because, according to Dando, that person just isn't ready to leav this earth yet (er, right). "The other day I found myself sitting right by Phil Collins," he says, trying his best to enlighten us, "and to be honest I wasn't sure what our chances were of survival. I told him who was because I figured we're on the same label and stuff but he wasn't at all friendly, which was kind of good 'cause if he'd been nice and we'd talked the whole journey or something then next time I'd heard Susudio on the radio I'd have had sort of a moral dilemma and would have had to listen to it. He's really OK though," Dando grins, stopping briefly to draw breath, "and that's kind of my theory about music - there's nothing really you can say about any musician just so long as he or she enjoys what they're doing and other people enjoy it. I mean there's a lot of bands I don't like but I still respect them a lot."
One gets the impression that
there are plenty more kooky anecdotes where these came from, but before
the sleepy-eyed Dando has a chance to expand any further he is led gently
away by the make-up artist for a hair-brushing and mascara-applying
session (hey, even someone this beautiful needs a little help sometimes).
Sitting in an entirely mirrored room trying hard not to look at himself
Dando is visibly unhappy about this preening process, but seems to accept
the layers of foundation and hair-gel with the sort of laid-back, loopy-grinned
amiability for which he is famous. Chatting politely with everyone around
him, he keeps himself amused by sneakily using the make-up artist's
Evan facial spray (at least £5 a squirt) to extinguish his cigarette,his
cigarette, and grins delightedly when she doesn't notice.
With eye-bags faded out (well, the guy's had a heavy few months) and hair styled into a half-brushed-half-mussed tousled look, Dando then begins the even more squirm-worthy experience of being dressed up by a stylist. The first outfit, which consists of a white T-shirt and baggy plaid robe, he can just about deal with since he just saw pictures of his friend Johnny Depp wearing much the same thing in a magazine. "That's Jack Kerouac's dressing gown that Johnny's got," Dando explains to us. "He picked it up from Kerouac's house just before the contents were all auctioned off."
Sitting later in the shade of a palm tree at the Chateau Marmont hotel (darlings, simply everyone stays there) Dando munches happily on a BLT and reflects on his role as sometimes-reluctant publicity mannequin. "The promotional thing is just something I go through because I think it might help to get the music out there," he says. "I'll do it for a while longer, you know, but at a certain point I probably just won't do it anymore. Right now I'm willing to do what I'm told while we establish ourselves. At least then people will hear about our music and go check it out."
This latest LP is actually the Lemonheads' sixth album, with three dodgy rock albums released on small labels (while the band were a big-on-the-college-circuit thrash outfit) and the heavy-going Lovey released on their current label, Atlantic/Warner in 1990. Starting out back in 1986, the Lemonheads ("my friend Ivan at high school came up with the name," says Dando, "though originally he wanted us to be called The Whelps. You know, as in dogs. Isn't that horrible?") have had so many face changes over the years that Dando is the only remaining original member. Drummer David Ryan and bassist Nic Dalton are, however, about to clock up their second year as permanent band members, and it's this laid-back, cute-looking trio who were behind last year's easy-tempo, 60s-ish super-smash It's a ShameAboutRay. "The new album is kind of similar to Ray." says Dando, struggling for the words to describe it. "You know, it's sort of songs with melodies... er, you know, songs with melodies in them. I think it's a bit more groovy though, because we played together for about a year before we made it whereas with most of the other albums there was never really a proper band, we just put something together right at the last minute."
Both Ray and the soon-to-be-released new album Come On Feel the Lemonheads were written almost entirely by Dando (mostly while chilling out in Australia) and it is near impossible not to fall in love with the from-the-heart, pop-meets-country-meets-bubble-grunge songs that are now the band's trademark (to say nothing of the cute singer with the mad hiccuping laugh and those oh-so-seductive sea-green eyes). "A lot of the last album was inspired by people who I admire and people who are close to me, and the same goes for this one," says Dando. "There's a new song about Juliana Hatfield [Evan's Boston buddy, ex-roommate and sometime musical collaborator] which is kind of written from her perspective. Then there's a slow song called Rick James Style which has him singing on it and is about the before and after of getting stoned. And there's another song called Style, which is a pretty rad song that goes `I don't want to get stoned, I don't want to not get stoned.' [Do we feel a theme coming on here, Evan?] I also wrote 'a song for Belinda Carlisle," he grins, loving the idea of the unlikely pairing. "Her manager introduced us because I guess she wanted me to write a song for her record. I wrote the song but it took me a while to do it and by the time I'd finished it was too late. The song was called I'll Do It Anyway, so I figured I should do it anyway. So now it's on my album and she sings back -up on the chorus which is pretty cool [it is?]. Even more cool is that Sneaky Pete from The Flying Walters is flying in on Saturday to play on a track called Big Gay Heart, which is a real slow country song," says Dando, who claims to only listen to old country music from the 30s and 40s these days. "Oh, and Ella Fitzgerald of course," he adds with a smile. "As far as contemporary music goes I usually just check out bands when we play gigs with them. I'm around so much live music that it's almost enough, though if I really like them I might listen to their record or something."
In LA to add the final details
to what is obviously another this-is-my-life, true-stories kind of an
album (he's always preferred writing about kitchen stoves than the latest
political issue) Dando is tiring of California and talks endlessly about
getting out of LA once and for all. "I like it in this hotel,"
he says, motioning at the strange Disneyland-style Chateau Marmont,
"and what's really cool is that the tiles in the bathroom are the
same as the ones my mum and dad used to have at our place in Boston.
That kind of makes it feel like home. The trouble is, though," he says, "I'm, like, such a hermit these days that I just go to the studio, come back, hang out here and don't do anything else. This town is totally fun for a while but after about two weeks something just starts to bother me about it. My system just says no. It's like this country is an experiment out of control and this city is symbolic of the whole country. And the way the TV is here, it hurts your eyes, its bad lighting, and what's on is horrible -
all the violence and stuff and those awful cop shows when the cops are like mugging to the camera as they pull the drug dealers out of their cars. These days I just prefer to read or draw or something."
Talking incredibly quickly
in an attempt to get his point across, a panting Dando pauses to take
a small gulp of breath before adding, somewhat mournfully, "LA
can also be kind of lonely because I don't have that many friends here.
One of my really good buddies is Johnny Depp, but ironically the last
time I saw him was in London. He and I and that really cool British
actor Tim Roth went and hung out in the Gaucho Club in Soho [aah, bless
him, we think he means that infamous media haunt The
Groucho Club]. Johnny's been really busy lately," he adds, "but I have a feeling he's back in town so hopefully I'll see him again soon. He's open ing a new dub down on Sunset in a couple of weeks and we're playing at the opening night which is kind of cool. You know, Johnny's just this really nice, really kind, funny guy. He's got a really big heart and whenever I start getting freaked out about stuff, you know, about trying to remain the same no matter how well the band is doing, Johnny's the perfect person to ask. He's been through everything you could ever go through in LA and he's stayed entirelv the same, so it's really cool to have him as a friend."
The general consensus about Evan Dando is that (aided by Johnny Depp's handy hints or not) he is about as unwarped by fame as you can get. Ambling through life with that slightly lost, slightly bemused grin that has unwittingly melted a thousand hearts. Dando is distinctly lacking in rock 'n' roll bullshit and is, if anything, slightly intimidated by his new-found role as megastar and babe-magnet. "People are generally pretty sweet to me," he says, "and I don't have much trouble. The whole girl thing can be a bit difficult but, I don't know, it kind of turns me into even more of a hermit. I mean having lots of girls at our shows and stuff makes you sort of want to spend a lot of time alone. It's too confusing apart from anything else and it's too sleazy to just pick one and say, 'Hey, you, come with me.' I could never do that."
Mumbling slightly and blushing slightly, he adds: "I really think it's impossible for me to have a girlfriend right now. I just can't have anybody waiting around for me. It wouldn't feel very good at all. And, I don't know, I can't seem to find the right girl to go out with at all. I fact it wasn't doing me well to have girlfriends, it wasn't the right thing for me. It's a bother, you know, it pesters. you but the whole situation is like, I don't know, it bugs me. I'm getting sort of dangerously independent, so maybe I might not go out with anyone ever again. The thing is that I like to just come down here and sit around in the garden and, like, go for a walk and stuff, but when I've had a girlfriend they always think it's weird, the things I do and they say, 'Don't do that' and stuff it's like I want to do what I want to do. I think really that I'd like to have a girlfriend again one day, but I'm just going to let it take me over rather than trying to make it happen."
All of this might sound odd coming from a guy who is a self-confessed superflirt and who "totally loves women", but ever since his parents' divorce 15 years ago there have been signs that Dando might have the odd hang-up or six about relationships. The son of a rich bohemian Boston family (he was apparently conceived on a houseboat) Dando saw his parents as "one of those ideal couples," until, one day, his dad, "who'd always seemed such an easy-going guy, just couldn't really deal with things any more and left. I was an angry kid after that," explains Dando, whose days spent bird-watching (we kid you not), surfing and skateboarding soon lapsed into a rebellious punk-rock phase. "I had blue hair," he says, grinning at the memory, "and spent all of my time going to see bands and stuff. I was at high school then and the only thing that seemed to capture the energy ofrock'n' roll the way it used to be was all that hardcore punk-rock music." Dando's rebellious teen years were the antithesis of the squeaky-clean cheerleader-dating 90210-style lifestyle that the average Boston schoolkid was into, and it is only this year, at the age of 26, that he finally got to go to the prom. "I met this girl from Atlanta," he says, "and she didn't have a date for the prom so I borrowed a suit and took her. Everyone from her school made a real big deal of it, which was too bad, but for me it was a really fun thing to do."
Fun and Evan seem to have been strangers of late, and his plan to "kick back and take a big break in Australia" (his new-found spiritual home) as soon as the album is completed is the only thing that brings that dolphin-like grin back to his face. "I feel really relaxed there and people aren't as crazy about racing around all the time," he says. "I might even get back into surfing, though none of my friends in Sydney go near the sea. It might be kind of scary though, because, you know, the ocean gets so unruly sometimes. I just feel like the pressure is a little bit off down in Australia," he explains, "and people can't get in touch with me that easily either. It's a good place to go AWOL. I'm also hoping that my mum might come down there for Christmas. She calls me everv now and again just to see if I'm OK and to let me know that she's thinking about me, but she lives in New York so I don't get to see her that much."
With Dando still having no home of his own ("I don't know if this is going to be a permanent thing," he says, "but it'll probably be for a couple more years at least") one of the few times he sees his parents is when he swings by to offload records, clothes and anything else that he no longer wishes to lug around with him. "My dad lives in Martha's Vineyard," says Dando, "and so do my records. I went to visit him recently and I kind of edited my bag. What I did was drop off all the necklaces and stuff that people [he means girls, of course] had given me lately. I don't own many things though, so mostly I just carry everything around with me. I'm a great collector of odds and ends but I haven't found that much good stuff since I've been in LA. The thing I'm obsessed with is photographs of people who I don't know, and if one of those falls into my path I'll always pick it up. People are always giving me new T-shirts," he adds, "but I don't really like them. This one is kind of a favourite, though," he says, proudly stroking his chest. "It was given to me by a girl in Australia, but the really cool thing is that the picture of Gram Parsons which she had printed on the shirt was taken in this hotel."
As the sun starts to set over the sprawling city of Los Angeles and the wasps (of which Evan is endearingly terrified) start to intrude upon our shady spot, Dando decides to wrap up the interview by playing me a couple of songs from the new album. This, by the way, is his favourite parry-trick (let's just say I'm not the first female to have had my own private acoustic concert), and as he sits there strumming his guitar under the palm tree with his eyes shut, his hair swinging backward and forwards across his face and that dippy angelic smile, he looks exactly like Dylan, the stoned, guitar-playing rabbit from The Magic Roundabout. Wishing, for a moment, that I was Zebedee and could boing around shouting "time for bed, time for bed," I settle instead for a polite peck on the cheek, a handshake and one last heart-stopping smile from Dando before he ambles, guitar slung over his shoulder, back into his hotel.