pop-break visits Mexicali in Teaneck, N.J, to see and chat with Evan Dando, the frontman of 1990s rockers The Lemonheads …
Words by Jason Kundrath | Photos by Melissa Kundrath
As a hard rain fell outside, Evan Dando walked out onto the darkened stage at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, N.J., carrying a battered acoustic guitar, adorned with stickers and photographs, some of them peeling away from its weathered surface. The guitar looked like it had been around the world and back a few times over. As the lights came on, however, the man who was a grunge-era heartthrob as the frontman of The Lemonheads looked a little weathered himself, but still undeniably handsome, with long dirty blond hair falling over his high cheek bones.
From the first notes of “My Idea” from his 2003 solo album Baby I’m Bored, Dando’s unmistakable low baritone filled the room with a grand presence. His performance, however, seemed tentative at first, with Dando looking slightly uncomfortable under the lights. Continuing with “Confetti” from It’s A Shame About Ray, the Lemonheads’ famed 1992 album, Dando flubbed a lyric towards the end and then apologized, explaining it was his “first show of the year.” He proceeded to play a string of songs cherry-picked from his sizable discography, each one illustrating his preternatural knack for beautiful melodic hooks and easy folk-rock jangle. “Into Your Arms” from 1993′s Come On Feel The Lemonheads sounded like the classic it is. “Rudderless” and “It’s A Shame About Ray” shined. And “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” and “Tenderfoot” from 1996′s complicated Car Button Cloth were reminders of that album’s many gems. But rather than let each song breathe, he’d hit the last chord of one tune and immediately start the next one, without a word to the audience. He offered only a subtle smile of acknowledgment in between songs. It seemed as if he was racing to an imaginary finish line.
Eventually, he offered a “thank you,” admitting that he “didn’t feel very well.” Through it all, he struggled to hit some high notes here and there, changing a few melodies around to adjust to his state of health. He took requests from the audience as they called them out. When someone asked him to play “Buddy” from It’s A Shame, he said, “I almost forgot that one. Maybe it’s because I’m not high.” As he began the song, however, he made sure to clarify his position, saying “I’m not anti-drug!” It’s fairly safe to say Dando’s fans know this.
Closing his set with “Hospital,” he said, “I think that’s about all I can sing tonight,” and briefly thanked the appreciative crowd. It seemed clear that he wouldn’t be returning for an encore, and this was confirmed as he was headed for the door with his guitar case in hand before the dust settled on stage.
But before he could escape, I cornered him and arranged for the following exclusive interview for Pop-Break.com conducted over a series of e-mail exchanges the following week.
Pop-Break: The guitar you played at your recent performance at Mexicali looks like it’s been around the world and back a few times. How long have you been playing it? Have you written many songs on it?
Evan Dando: That’s my favorite guitar. I got it in ’93. It’s a 1957 Gibson J-45. I wrote lots of songs on it. Can’t remember exactly which!
PB: Who are the girls whose pictures are taped to the front of it?
ED: They’re all pictures of my goddaughter in different phases. Her name is Ella.
PB: Looking back at your extensive catalog, what albums would you consider your personal favorites?
ED: [1993's] Come On Feel [the Lemonheads] and [1988's] Lick. I also like [1996's] Car Button Cloth and [1992's] It’s A Shame About Ray. But I’m in no position to judge!
PB: You recently played some dates with Juliana Hatfield. What was the impetus behind that reunion? And how was the response at the shows?
ED: Jules was gonna quit music, so I said, “Tour with me first,” and she said, “Cool.” The reaction has been amazing and sold out. I am happy to report that Jules is recording a new album!
PB: Why was Juliana going to quit music? Have you ever considered that yourself?
ED: I think Juliana just had a moment of doubt. It can be really easy to get discouraged. I considered quitting in 1988 but never really entertained the thought again.
PB: Do you have any plans to record with Juliana? Can fans expect a new solo album? A new Lemonheads album? A new lineup?
ED: Jules and I haven’t written much yet, but I would love to do a record with her. I think I am gonna make a punk/blues album. Dinner Music as the The Lemonheads on the “Death” label.
PB: The “Death” label?
ED: That was an obscure reference to Brian DePalma’s film Phantom Of The Paradise. The record label in the movie is called Death Records.
PB: Whoa. That movie is crazy. I caught that one night on network television when I was in grammar school. I found it rather disturbing. I had no idea it was DePalma.
ED: Yeah … that movie is BENT.
PB: Moving on … Does your head spin when you think about how the music industry has changed since you began your career?
ED: I think the music industry is as healthy as it’s ever been, and the more things change … the more they … you know.
PB: What contemporary artists/albums are you listening to?
ED: I like Family Of The Year and Panda Bear.
PB: What advice do you have for aspiring songwriters?
ED: Get tough, stay tough, have fun, take drugs, careful with covers — they can FUCK YOU UP!!