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After The Burn Out: Evan Dando Interviewed By Michael Hann
Michael Hann , May 16th, 2017 09:27

Evan Dando kicks off a small British tour today. Michael Hann speaks to him about getting chewed up by the machine and spat out the other side

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There was a time when Evan Dando appeared to be the most naturally gifted pop songwriter at work. Melodies seemed to tumble out of him, beautiful, sad-eyed songs about nothing in particular: about getting rid of his old stove, about buying pot, about being a young man with plenty of time and the looks and time to live life how he pleased. He understood brevity, he understood how minor chords could break hearts, he understood that appearing not to care about those things would make people care about him even more.

And then he turned into something else, even as the Lemonheads continued to put out those beautiful, bruised records. He tumbled down a rabbit hole of hard drugs - one interview had him unable to speak because he'd smoked so much crack beforehand - and became better known for pretty much everything other than music.

He followed Oasis around Britain; he would pop up in music paper gossip pages for his latest out-of-it misdemeanour. At times it felt as if everyone who went to a gig in London in the mid-90s had a Dando story (my own: going to see Jeff Buckley at the Garage in 1994, and standing in front of Dando, who spent much of the show heckling at extreme volume, while an entourage laughed indulgently).

And then, more or less, he disappeared. After The Lemonheads released the Car Button Cloth album in 1996, there was no more music from Dando until a solo album, Baby I'm Bored, seven years later. There was a minor burst of activity later that decade - a new Lemonheads studio album in 2006, an amusing but inconsequential album of covers in 2009. But, as far as recorded music goes, that's it. His visit to the UK this month to play live shows isn't to promote anything new - it's to support the reissue of Baby I'm Bored, for that all-important 14th anniversary.

"You get burned out," Dando says, looking back on his retreat from the sunlit uplands of alternastardom. "You don't know there are other options. And let's not be too innocent: there are cynical people at the reins who want you to keep going and burn yourself out. The music industry is the worst one, as far as showbiz goes. The most evil, the most venal. It's really fucked up."

To be fair, though, it wasn't the music industry forcing you to live your life in public, while off your nut, was it? "Some pretty funny things came out of that. But what are you going to do? I was hanging out with the guys from Menswear, I was going to clubs in London where people would see you. But the idea was not to fucking care about what happens. That was the whole point."

And did taking all those drugs help you not to care? "Probably. They do do that. That was supposed to be a positive thing: reality plus drugs is a good thing. Get real, everybody. But I really, really fucked up on that one because it looked like a cautionary tale. And drugs are really dangerous. They are really dangerous. But I always think they do have a place in human life."

Dando once said drugs had made him who he was. That displayed both a certain amount of self-awareness as well as a degree of blithe dismissal. If drugs had freed him to be a songwriter, and lowered his inhibitions, they had also turned him into the class buffoon of mid-90s rock. Does he still feel that statement is true? "It's not something you should say in interviews … But if I hadn't done them, would I have played the guitar so much? I met Alex Chilton when I was 17 or 18, and he told me: he didn't want to admit, it but he wondered whether he would ever have done it [become a musician] without speed."

We are talking on the phone, Dando at his waterfront home on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. He's garrulous and engaged, talking briskly. There's no sign of the non-communicative stoner that some interviewers have encountered. He sounds, for want of a better word, healthy. So what's his position with drugs now, given so many interviews over the past 20 years have included sections in which he says he has recently given up drugs for good. "Er," he says, "I don't know. I don't get carried away with them. I'm not above taking acid. I definitely don't not do drugs. I used to do drugs and I still do them. Fuck, they're dangerous, and I had my problems with them. I had to cut back - let's say that. Stick to weed and beer!"

The Lemonheads' beginnings lay in mid-80s Boston, with Dando and the band's other original singer and songwriter Ben Deily among the kids who had been enthused by hardcore punk, before realising their musical ambitions lay beyond that. "It was the weird thing of everyone getting laid and saying, 'Fuck it, I don't want to play hardcore.' That's how all that stuff came out, Dinosaur Jr and things like that. It was an amazing place. We started in 86 and played our second gig with the Pixies. It was their second gig, too. We met amazing people early on: there were people like J [Mascis] out west, and Buffalo Tom and Throwing Muses. There was a really good community in Boston from, say, 86 to 88. It was nice and cosy, and you could feel something happening with people getting signed." It's worth remembering, too, that this was the culmination of a period of 15 years or so in which Boston, as much as LA or New York, had been ahead of the musical curve, with groups such as The Modern Lovers, Mission Of Burma, DMZ, The Lyres and even The Cars being inspirational forces to younger musicians.

Even in The Lemonheads' heyday - let's call it from the album Lick in 1989 to Car Button Cloth in 1996 - the idea that the songs were pouring out of Dando was wrong, he says. He didn't find songwriting as easy as he made it appear (which is testimony, also, to the strength of the eventual songs, because they rarely sound laboured). He had luck, he says, and he also picked good people to hang around with, to bounce ideas off, to write with - notably Tom Morgan of the Australian band Smudge. "He's more effortless for sure," Dando says. "He helped me a lot. And once you hang around with someone like that for a little while you can write your own stuff. I like to bounce off other people, and I didn't write that many songs by myself, but I liked the ones I wrote by myself almost the best."

It's also worth remembering that many of the songs most closely associated with The Lemonheads were covers – not just 'Mrs Robinson', their breakthrough hit, but 'Different Drum' (Mike Nesmith, but a hit for the Stone Poneys), 'Luka' (Suzanne Vega), 'Into Your Arms' (Love Position, who featured future Lemonheads bassist Nic Dalton), 'Divan' (Smudge).

The Australian school of musicians that included Smudge and Love Positions had a profound effect on Dando. His writing had already started moving towards the everyday and the small scale on the 1990 album Lovey, with the song Stove. Meeting these artists when he visited Australia in 1991 took even further in that direction, though even then there were signs of the Dando who would become the what-the-fuck-has-he-done now staple of the music press a few years later. "I opened for Fugazi in Australia in 1991. It was so fun. I was doing a drunk version of [Minor Threat's] 'Guilty Of Being White' every night." And how did Ian MacKaye, who did not drink and wished he had never written that song, respond? "Sure enough: 'I'm flattered. But I wish you wouldn't get drunk and play that song.'"

The new style of writing produced It's A Shame About Ray, the definitive Lemonheads album, an Instagram-before-there-was-Instagram hazy reverie of an album about aimless early adulthood. It's forgotten now that Atlantic had so little faith in the album that in the UK, which proved to be The Lemonhead's biggest market, it was released straight to mid-price, before the addition - against Dando's wishes - of 'Mrs Robinson' made it a hit.

The process of ascending to fame was fun, Dando suggests at one point. "There was a fanzine called Die Evan Dando, Die, and I was like, 'Hmm, I must be doing something right." And then his square-jawed, flaxen-haired, all-American good looks made him a pin-up: the alternahunk. He didn't care so much for that. Nor did he care so much for the attentions of his audience as the crowds grew bigger. "One thing that was a bummer was when you'd jump into the crowd. At first, they'd pass you back to the stage. But later, they would suck you in, take all your shit off you. You'd have to get rescued."

Being successful can be a dangerous thing, too. "It's hard to keep striving. It's hard to even pretend you're striving. I've had a lot of problems, but problems make you a great person."

I saw The Lemonheads several times across those years, and each time Dando appeared a little more tired, a little less inspired, until, finally, the only way he could have made it more plain he was phoning it in would be if he had pulled out a mobile and played the show into that. That was the burnout. And then came the pause. What he do for the seven years from 1996?

"I did all kinds of crazy shit. I had money. I would go skiing for a month and do fun shit. Go to Costa Rica. But that got boring, too. Because if you do all the things you like to do all the time, you can't get satisfied. There's nothing like the grind, right? Nothing like the hamster wheel to keep you going - it's true."

Was he able to rediscover his pleasure in music by stepping off the hamster wheel, though? "Don't get me wrong, getting spat out the other side and still able to make music made me never take anything for granted." All through these past 20-something years, Dando has continued to pop up on stages of varying sizes all over the place, and he recalls sharing a tiny tent stage with the Black Keys in 2000, and the blues-rock duo being astonished by how excited Dando was to be playing.

If music is still a pleasure, when is he going to make some more of it? Well, he says, he's working on a record. A solo record or a Lemonheads record? "I don't really know. I've messed that up. If it was going to be loud I was going to call it The Lemonheads and if it was not loud at all, I was going to use my name. But I've switched it all round. It doesn't matter and I don't really know."

Evan Dando, still slacking after all these years.

Evan Dando plays four UK dates from 16-19 May, beginning at the Scala in London


May 16, 2017 11:53am

Evan Dando gets a lot of stick but I just see a guy who's lived a free life. Could've made a few more records (he has the BEST voice) but that's my loss not his.

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Greta X
May 16, 2017 8:14pm

Nice article, wish it was longer but it'll do. For now. :)

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Catherine
May 17, 2017 2:09am

Great article! Best of luck to him. Like him or not... He's a talented soul.

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May 19, 2017 8:46am

very great article.really got very informative stuff through this

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Deiseboy
May 22, 2017 3:57pm

I saw them in the Mean Fiddler summer 1991 and it was terrific. The played Sad Girl that night towards the end -- entire gig is up on Youtube actually. I can see my younger at the front!! Anyway, 'Lick' is the best Lemonheads album for me (Sad Girl -- what a song) although 'Lovey' and 'It's a Shame About Ray' are superb as well. The early hardcore based albums 'Hate Your Friends' and 'Creator' have some great moments also. I have Creator and Lick on vinyl. Great teenage memories.

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Jun 24, 2017 1:05am

I spent the last 4 years with Evan Dando living in my guest house on Martha's Vineyard. He was my best friend (for 20 yrs in fact!) who turned out to be my WORST friend ever (since November 2016)... he threw me under the bus at the whim of his now-girlfriend, who decided I was a threat of some sort because, well, I didnt recognize her "talent" as, well, talent... because, well, it isnt. Evan became infatuated with her (then married to Willy Mason), and decided she would "save his career" if she wrote songs for him. I knew that was a terrible idea and simply warned him of my humble opinion. well he showed Marciana my texts and she retaliated by indulging Evan's infatuation with her, dumping her husband to be with him as long as he shunned me, his friend of over 20 years, forever. She blocked me from all his social media and phone. Bear in mind: I LITERALLY TOOK CARE OF THIS MAN FOR 4 YEARS WHEN HE COULDNT TAKE CARE OF HIMSELF! I GAVE HIM A FREE (BEAUTIFUL) PLACE TO LIVE, CLOTHING, FOOD, AND I GOT HIM PAINTING ART! he was showing signs of happiness, moving in a positive direction. she came on like a bad song... a curse. regrettable to be sure. now I cringe at the sidelines bearing witness to what will certainly not end well. and after all that, despite myself, I miss him terribly. Evan brought my life a magic i hadnt known. now, having known it, and being denied it, I wish i never had. this is the TRUTH about evan dando. Contact me if your curious because telling my tale helps me shed my pain. really. Thank you.

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Gimili Glavin
Jun 24, 2017 1:24am

I spent the last 4 years with Evan Dando living in my guest house on Martha's Vineyard. He was my best friend (for 20 yrs in fact!) who turned out to be my WORST friend ever (since November 2016)... he threw me under the bus at the whim of his now-girlfriend, who decided I was a threat of some sort because, well, I didnt recognize her "talent" as, well, talent... because, well, it isnt. Evan became infatuated with her (she was then married to Willy Mason), believing she was the "ANSWER" and that she would write the songs for a new album that could save his career. Well, she got wind of my "advice" after I told even him he wasnt thinking clearly, and demanded he shed me from his life forever and completely, after knowing eachother over 20 years! Since Evan had become absolutely infatuated and obsessed with her by that point, and further, since she promised to be with him and dump her husband (whom had been the third wheel in their recent TSP project), he obliged her without hesitation, and i was blocked from his phone, and all social media. If we bumped into eachother in town, he was to avoid me like a plague. I have never been so shocked and hurt all my life. Evan had recently told me "how wonderful it was that we'd been friends solong and how we'd always always always be close". It was all a lie. A regrettable lie. And yet, as much as I am so angry with him, he brought magic into my life i'd never have known without him, and I miss him tremendously. Watching the inevitable demise of the two of them shall not be much enjoyed by me. I just hope someday he can realize all he needed "was right in front of him", as his song Rudy with a Flashlight laments... and perhaps finally find happiness not through selfish indulgences, but through recognizing REAL tenderness and caring. Indulging selfish whimsy is NOT at all that. He has a long long way to go to become a "grown up" man. That beautiful soul would be something quite extraordinary to see getting "wise". I fear this new relationship shall inhibit such spiritual growth yet further. I witnessed her hurling glass jugs at his skull, enraged for no reason at all. It's like that movie Betty Blue. She is totally and completely MAD BONKERS. People around here on MV who know them and know whats going on, fear that someone really might die by her hands in a mad fit. it shall probably be ME if she reads this, lol. oh shit! really.
For now Evan remains a self-centered, indulgent, somewhat narcissistic, yet impressionable, reckless child with nothing but disillusioned longing and misguided notions of how to satiate that longing. So dont be fooled. this is the TRUTH. unfettered. from someone who actually KNOWS. thats all.

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Jun 24, 2017 1:37am

In reply to Gimili Glavin:

In my eagerness to vent my pain here, I neglected to include how much I adore ALL the music Evan makes. It is true he hasnt released so many of his own solo-written tunes, but live nearby him and you would hear amzing creative sounds becoming constant music, every minute he's around. it is a glorious thing. I was very lucky. I know it know, a year later, without it. I especially loved his indulgent (yea I know, maybe its contradictory to be using "indulgent" affectionately after what I prior said) experiemtal spacey jams for hours on end, days on end. he never sleeps. poor thing. but he seems to enjoy that too. no one like him in all the world. that is a FACT. I am glad I knew him so well, so long... and who knows... maybe further down the road I will again... love affairs never last forever... while friendships certainly can. I sincerely hope so at least... even tho I am hurt and feel quite betrayed... I know what he's in th emiddle of... and I know HER. its no excuse, but well, I also know how it feels to be so hung up on someone... you lose sight of your morals, or your responsibility to your other loved ones, and your accountability for hurting them. obsession is a bad bad bad blinding thing.

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Jun 24, 2017 1:45am

In reply to :

hey man, sounds like a song. a sad song... but a good one.

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USPS Tracking
Jul 11, 2017 8:23am

informative content, keep on sharing such useful stuff.

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