Interview: Evan Dando of The Lemonheads

August 16, 2006 01:56 PM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

When the Lemonheads' Evan Dando heard about a festival dedicated to his music, he figured it was time to revive his 1990s hit-making machine. As a result, the New York-based band will release its punk-heavy, self-titled eighth record Sept. 26.

"I decided to do it because this festival happened in Brazil where all these unknown Brazilian bands were doing covers of Lemonheads songs," Dando said from his New York home. "They had a daylong festival of it. I figured if they're doing that, I might as well do another record under the name the Lemonheads again.".

"I was very, very flattered. I remember I put a lot of work into the band for all those years. I figured, 'Why not?'"

For his first Lemonheads album in 10 years, Dando brought on board guest musicians Garth Hudson, Karl Alvarez of the Descendents and Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis. Producer Bill Stevenson (The Descendents, Black Flag) was at the helm at his Blasting Room studios in Fort Collins, CO. The touring band features bassist Josh Lattanzi and drummer John Kent.

Originating in Boston, the Lemonheads were best known for their 1992 album, "It's a Shame About Ray," and the hits "Mrs. Robinson" and "Into Your Arms." In the late 1990s, Dando broke free from the group to concentrate on his solo efforts.

Before heading to the studio, Dando talked to LiveDaily about the new album, working with the legendary Stevenson and where the Lemonheads fit in with today's music.

LiveDaily: What are you working on in the studio?

Evan Dando: I'm doing B-sides today.

Are they songs that didn't make it on the album or songs that you had written afterward?

They're, like, versions of the songs on the album without drums to go on the English single and for certain digital downloads. They [Vagrant Records, his label] want more material to have to download and stuff like that. It's actually fun. If the song doesn't hold up without drums and bass--although we are putting bass--maybe it shouldn't have been done at all. It's fun to make sure they work that way too. It's really fun. I'm doing them with this guy called Daniel Ray, who worked with The Ramones a lot and he plays in Ronnie Spector's band. He's a really great guy. He has a studio in his apartment.

I see you're heading off to England for a promotional tour. Will that lead to a US tour?

Yes. I'm leaving the first week of September. I'm going with my wife because she's working in Switzerland for a couple days. Then we're going to visit her parents in Greece. The tour doesn't start until Oct. 4 or something. I'm looking forward to it. We're going to have a little time off before it gets hectic again.

What was it like to work with Bill Stevenson? I have friends who recorded with him and they said he's just a genius in the studio.

I've always been a fan of his songwriting and his drummer. It was great working with Bill. We both, I think, learned a lot. We had a great time. It wasn't always really easy, but nothing worth doing is really easy.

What do you think you learned from him?

Just talking about music. Let's see, what did I learn from him? Certain things, like what Cole Porter songs are his favorite and my favorite. We talked with other artists a lot.

How do you feel the Lemonheads fit in with today's musical culture?

Don't know. Don't know if they do at all. It's not something I've ever really thought about it. I've always done whatever I felt like doing musically. It's been OK. It's been all right.

How did you recruit the new members of the Lemonheads throughout the years. And will this round lead to future albums?

It was me and whoever wants to do it. I want to do another [album] right away. I'm going to be writing on tour. And I want to get right in the studio and do another one, I hope, at Fort Collins with Bill again.

For "The Lemonheads (music)," were most of the songs written in the studio with Bill?

No, most of them were written before. Bill and I wrote one together, that's the one we wrote right in the studio, track four ["Let's Just Laugh"], and two songs Bill brought to the sessions. Two songs were written by Tom Morgan, and the other ones were before or after.

It seems like a lot of pressure to write in the studio.

Yeah, it is. You can't really count on it. You should have something to fall back on. Sometimes, it just happens.

Are you going to play the hits during your tour?

We're going to learn a bunch of old songs so we can mix up the set list now and again.

"The Lemonheads" tracklisting:

1. "Black Gown"
2. "Become the Enemy"
3. "Pittsburgh"
4. "Let's Just Laugh"
5. "Poughkeepsie"
6. "Rule of Three"
7. "No Backbone"
8. "Baby's Home"
9. "In Passing"
10. "Steve's Boy"
11. "December"

About the Artist

Evan Griffith Dando formed THE LEMONHEADS with two high school buddies in late winter '86, in their senior year at Boston's tiny Commonwealth School. A few months later, they spawned what is now one of the most sought-after punk relics of the 80s, the indie EP Laughing All the Way to the Cleaners. Boston-based Taang! Records immediately picked up on the LEMONHEADS, with three college radio pleasers to follow: the LPs Hate Your Friends (1987), Creator (1988), and Lick (1989). In 1990 Atlantic Records took notice of the massively expanding LEMONHEADS fanbase in Europe (where they toured in 1989) and America by signing the band and releasing their well-received (in Cambridge, Massachusetts) fourth LP, Lovey.

Even by this time, the LEMONHEADS lineup had been volatile: more than a dozen different configurations over a period of just five years, all sorts of bit parts and reshuffles, with Dando as the only constant. At one point it got so confusing that an ex-drummer, just a week after getting kicked of the group, answered the LEMONHEADS' ad to replace himself. By a conservative estimate, the band has had more than ten bass players and at least a dozen drummers over the years.

But out of this primordial chaos came a veritable Golden Age for THE LEMONHEADS. A 1991 tour brought Evan to Australia, where by chance he met songwriter Tom Morgan and future LEMONHEADS bassist Nic Dalton. Their collaboration made all the difference for the next Atlantic release, It’s a Shame About Ray (1992), a concentrated blast of pure pop perfection that clocks in at just under 30 minutes. Thanks to songs such as "Confetti", "My Drug Buddy", "Rudderless", and "Ceiling Fan in My Spoon", Dando hit a whole new audience ("they’re getting younger," he confessed to Kathie Lee Gifford at the time).

Mainstream media hype of THE LEMONHEADS shifted into high gear, with lots of wild speculation as to the exact nature of the relationship between Dando and long-time friend Juliana Hatfield (who played bass and sang on Ray). It also didn’t hurt when a 1993 People magazine spread devoted a full page to Evan as one of the fifty most beautiful people in the world. That news came to Evan in New Zealand, on his 26th birthday. When a magazine rep called to tell him he was among the "fifty dishiest people", Dando recalled, "I thought she said ‘busiest’. And I thought, ‘kin right!' With all the traveling, I was busy!"

Atlantic released a smash follow-up, Come on Feel the Lemonheads, in October 1993. The album brought Dando a genuine charting single ("Into your Arms") as well as instant classics such as "Great Big No", "Down About It", "Being Around", and "You Can Take it with You." In winter 1993/1994 Evan Dando was in your living room, thanks to live appearances on the Letterman and Leno late night network TV shows. Inevitably, in Warrington, Pennsylvania, a 20-something named Jeff Fox published the first issue of his backlash ‘zine Die Evan Dando, Die.

Product Description

"It really sounds like THE LEMONHEADS. Maybe a little better." Evan Dando is getting a bit conspiratorial about the latest incarnation of the legendary pop/punk outfit he formed a full two decades ago, now about to unleash their eighth album on an unsuspecting and defenseless world. And how does this new release—the first for THE LEMONHEADS on Vagrant Records—compare to, say, Dando’s much-acclaimed solo work of the past few years? "Louder, faster, more like BUZZCOCKS pop-punk—and way less introspective."

Talk about getting back to your roots. For the Vagrant offering, Dando convened two of his early influences—the unholy duo of drummer Bill Stevenson (DESCENDENTS, BLACK FLAG) and bassist Karl Alvarez (DESCENDENTS)—in a remote Rocky Mountain hideaway. And it was there, off and on over eighteen months, that they kicked out the first LEMONHEADS album in ten years. Said guitarist/singer/songwriter Dando of Stevenson and Alvarez, "I wanna make another loud record, and those are the guys to do it with."

Dando and Stevenson co-produced the album, and Stevenson wrote or co-wrote three of its eleven songs; long-time Australian collaborator Tom Morgan added another two. And very much inna LEMONHEADS stylee, there’s cameos galore: from wunderkind bassist Josh Lattanzi ("Poughkeepsie", "Rule of Three", "In Passing"), certifiable rock giant Garth Hudson (THE BAND, who plays keyboards on "Black Gown" and "December"), and some real foot-on-monitor guitar work by DINOSAUR JR’s J. Mascis ("No Backbone", "Steve’s Boy").

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