Wednesday, May 20, 2009

One from the archives, Evan Dando interview

Received an email/press release this morning with the enlightening news that The Lemonheads are to "regroup" with a unique covers album called 'Varshons'.

Produced by Gibby Haynes (he of the Butthole Surfers), this is the first album to bear the Lemonheads tag since the 2006 self titled release, but essentially it is Evan Dando and assorted players. On 'Varshons' Dando et all have covered songs by Gram Parsons, Leonard Cohen, Townes Van Zandt, G.G. Allin, Wire, July and plenty more. Kate Moss and Liv Tyler even feature.

Full tracklisting as follows :
1. “I Just Can’t Take It Anymore” (Gram Parsons)
2. “Fragile” (Wire)
3. “Layin’ Up With Linda” (G.G. Allin)
4. “Waiting Around To Die” (Townes Van Zandt)
5. “Green Fuz” (Randy Alvey & Green Fuz)
6. “Yesterlove” (Sam Gopal)
7. “Dirty Robot” v/ Kate Moss (Arling & Cameron)
8. “Dandelion Seeds” (July)
9. “Mexico” (Fuckemos)
10. “Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye” f/ Liv Tyler (Leonard Cohen)11. “Beautiful” (Linda Perry)

The album is to be released on Cooking Vinyl on Monday June 15 - more than a year since this reporter spoke to Evan Dando of the 'heads about the record, his career and more in advance of a rare gig in the city, and let's be honest, this side of the Atlantic.

So, in honour of this pending release, we have dragged this interview out of the archives, shaken the dust off it and reprinted it here in full, for your pleasure.

IT IS hard to know where to begin with Evan Dando.

Reading old interviews with the lead singer and only constant member of the Lemonheads reveals that the once notoriously media-friendly singer has become elusive and prickly in recent times.

Trying to become familiar with Dando’s history, and that of the Lemonheads - once considered one of the biggest bands in the world in the mid-90s – merely induces a severe bout of head-spinning.

At anyone’s best count, there has been at least 15 different members of the Lemonheads since the band first released EP Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners in 1986 and huge column inches have been devoted to how Dando, as much a grunge icon as one certain Seattle native, threw it all away.

1992 release It’s A Shame About Ray – featuring some of the best pop songs of the 90s such as the title track, Rudderless, Bit Part and My Drug Buddy, all of which remain timeless classics to this day – was followed by Come On Feel The Lemonheads a year later, and Evan’s star went into supernova.

He was never taken as seriously as some of the other leading lights of his generation, possibly due to his good looks, which saw him dismissed as a pretty boy. His talent is undeniable however.

Many publicised meltdowns took place, including Glastonbury in 1996, when an obviously strung-out Dando was booed off stage. He has admitted several times to prolific drug use, famously in the early 90s to smoking crack-cocaine to most recently in a Guardian interview from a year or two ago when he revealed he was still dabbling in psychotropic drugs. However, he has recently claimed to be on the straight and narrow, so it appears there are number of contradictions in the tales about him.

The Lemonheads returned with an eponymous release in 2006 after a long hiatus, during which Dando released several solo records, and are apparently set to release a new album this year.

I decide to start on this seemingly safe territory.

Although Dando tends to slur his words slightly – I am unsure if this is due to the years of hard living or the annoyance of an early morning call – he turns out to be quite forthright.

Asked about the new record, he dashes out a multitude of information about the as-yet untitled project.

"We hope to finish it up some time in June to come out in August and it is a covers record," he explains, "So I have been very busy lately, travelling all over the place, recording bits here and there.

It’s definitely on the psychedelic side, but it’s really fun, the whole thing."

Dando explains that he and producer Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers picked the songs which will include those by Wire, Tim Hardin, GG Allin, Gram Parsons and more.

It is clear that the project is a departure for Dando, but that he also needed a diversion.

"It is definitely different, it is on the quiet side even though there is some loud stuff too and it should have something for everyone on it," he drawls.

"It is fun and I really like these songs, but I need to kill some time, or whatever, I need to bide some time until I want to put out a real proper record in January."

It appears this record will still bear the moniker of the Lemonheads.

"Yeah, lots of different people are playing on it, but it’s going to be called the Lemonheads, I just figure there are so few record stores left anyway, why not keep at least a whole section?" he laughs.

As if to explain his own joke, Dando adds: "I’ve been doing a lot of quieter stuff, I might, whatever I end up doing – I might go do some more solo records eventually, but for a while, I’d like to do a bunch or a couple more Lemonheads records."

This admission is not a surprising one.

There has been noticeable dichotomy in the songs Dando has written for his solo records than those for Lemonheads projects.

Prompted by Karl Alvarez and Bill Stevenson - both members of The Descendents, a band that Dando was heavily influenced by in his early years - on a tour of Brazil in 2004 to record an album with them, the result was 2006 offering, the Lemonheads, the first released under the moniker in almost ten years.

It was also a much rockier, up-tempo affair than his 2003 solo release Baby I’m Bored.

"Yeah, that’s the thing, that’s why I called it that," he agrees. "It sounded like a Lemonheads record. I started writing those songs that just seemed…right, and those guys (Stevenson and Alvarez) were just like perfect doppelgangers for what I wanted the band to be when we started - really good players."

Seeing as he mentions the beginnings of the band first, I feel bold enough to enquire about origins of the Lemonheads and if there was a specific period he remembers above others.

"1989," he volunteers without a thought, "That’s when it was like ‘wow this is really fun’ because we got to go to Europe and stuff every couple of months, that meant more, before we really started to take it seriously."

He once said that he was content merely to play music and get by, but never wanted more. Again, he agrees.

"That’s all, yeah, that’s the thing, I mean a lot of people forgot that’s all any of us were in it for before everything got so crazy. A lot of my friends got really rich and stuff and it got all strange then.

But then, I always remembered through the whole thing ‘all you ever wanted was to live ok off this’ so if you can do that you are doing really well."

The conversation turns toward the re-release of seminal album It’s A Shame About Ray which was recently awarded classic album status by NME, an award Dando accepted, but he reveals it won’t sit on the mantelpiece in his New York home.

"Yeah it was so ugly I threw it away," he laughs. "I mean I was honoured to get the award but it was so ugly I would never have had it in my house. I ended up fishing it out and I gave it to the band that played that night, so they were psyched. It didn’t even say my name on it, it was really shoddy."

I wonder how he views the album now, in retrospect.

"I like it a lot, I think that the next one is really good too, but at that point there was so much over-exposure people didn’t even really listen to it as much," he says in reference to Come On Feel The Lemonheads.

"But there is something cohesive about Ray that makes it work really well live too."

He says he will play "Ray" through in full to begin his acoustic show when he comes to Ireland, a real treat for fans and those that venture out to see him when he returns to these shores.

"I’ll play it in order and then go on to other stuff. I’m going to give it a shot and see if it works, just playing through the album and then I’ll be half an hour into it and I’ll take it from there. I mean I don’t play the cover ever, but everything else is fun to play acoustically."

The cover he refers to is of Paul Simon’s Mrs. Robinson, one the band were asked to do and which the record company tacked on to the end of the album, to Dando’s obvious displeasure. "Yeah that was just an accident, we loved the movie - The Graduate - but didn’t ever care for that song much, so we thought what the hell, they could give us some money, we didn’t have any money back then.

And then, bob’s your uncle, it’s the only thing anyone ever remembers. Well, actually people bought the album and a lot of people liked the other stuff too so I can’t really complain about that."

We wander through a discussion about authors – he declares James Joyce as a favourite – and he reveals he is going to write a book soon, but not a biographical one.

Looking forward he says this will be a year of firsts, as he is due to play for the first time in Israel and South Africa, and it appears he still gets pleasure from his calling.

I wonder if he still lives as wildly as he once did, and for the first time, he clams up.

"Ah you know, I don’t really talk about that part, I have already talked enough about that in the past," he says in reference to his frank admissions of drug use.

Still he laughs when I ask if he has settled down slightly. "I wouldn’t say so, it’s still the same as always, you know? I’m still all over the world at times so it doesn’t matter what you are doing, it is still pretty hectic and it is really fun still, so we will see."

No comments: