The Lemonheads: still giving reasons for being around – the Evan Dando interview

Three decades after their first proper breakthrough this side of the Atlantic, The Lemonheads have lined up a 17-date UK and Irish tour to celebrate fifth LP, It’s a Shame About Ray, playing the album in full.

The Boston outfit released that influential album in the summer of 1992, sole Lemonheads ever-present, frontman Evan Dando, having co-produced alongside brothers Dee, Bruce and Joe Robb, gaining rave reviews on its release and beyond, the record proving one of the defining forces of the early ‘90s, its chief songwriter rather modestly telling me he feels it’s ‘aged pretty well’. 

It took me a while to get through to Evan at his Martha’s Vineyard island base, your scribe at first puzzled by a lengthy answerphone message, one he admitted when I finally made contact was to deter unwanted callers.

“Oh yeah, it’s a long-winded one, designed to make people not leave messages!”

Not a bad idea, the Essex, Massachusetts-born guitarist and vocalist long since back in tow with the group he helped mould, and who retain our interest 36 years after Evan and initial bandmates Ben Deily and Jesse Peretz started out as teenagers. And he’s happy to be back out front, the latest dates starting at Opium in Dublin on September 22nd and running through to a visit to 1865, Southampton on October 12th.

“Oh, yes, I’m raring to go. Any touring since this annoying global pandemic has really reminded me how much pleasure and how important it is to me. I really like it, and that’s just reminded me more.”

Do you still get, or did you ever get pre-tour nerves?

“I definitely used to. The night before, I would do sleepwalking stuff sometimes, like on the first tour we ever did. It’s definitely a shift. It’s exciting and daunting to go on tour, but it’s also really hard to get off tour. Some people will stay in a hotel for four days to wind down – that’s like the Bono way … and apparently it works.”

How was the European leg of the tour earlier this year? Was that a blast?

“It was great. We were in all these places in beautiful springtime, in Vienna, over in Zagreb, and so on. It was fantastic, really fun.”

I see you have around a month beyond your dates here before a couple of dozen US shows, ending the week before Christmas in Boston. Will that be something of a homecoming for you?

“Yeah, and we added another show at the Paradise, which sold out quick, and we’re always excited to go there.”

Do the memories flood back when you’re playing on your old patch, and where The Lemonheads’ story began?

“Yeah, they do. There definitely are memories, and playing the Paradise, where I used to go see SS Decontrol, Gang Green … you know, hardcore matinee shows. So that place goes back for me, and standing outside because I couldn’t get in, listening to Robyn Hitchcock one time – I was too young and they wouldn’t let me in.”

While Boston, barely an hour from his Essex, Mass. roots, was the city where The Lemonheads formed, Evan has been based for more than a decade now offshore on Martha’s Vineyard, south of Cape Cod.  

“I’ve been here since about 2011, and I love it – it’s the best. Although there’s almost too many people now, again because of Covid-19. Everyone was like, ‘Run to the hills!’ and all the houses got bought. You can’t buy a house now. It was bad, now it’s prohibited. It’s ridiculous – I think there’s four houses under a million dollars. It’s a challenge that way, but I’m renting right now, so we’ll see.”

While you were there from day one, there have been a lot more names on the credits down the years, in the studio and in your live set-ups, playing at least a bit part in The Lemonheads’ life, so to speak.

“There are!”

So who’s in the line-up for this tour? Yourself and Farley Glavin on bass for two, I’m thinking.

“Yeah, Farley’s become a real member of the band. I love working with him. I couldn’t find a better person. He’s ideal. He’d play at a sort of ‘60s collective called Peacegate, and we had the run of that place, a basement where you cannot bother anyone if you try, noise-wise! It’s got a great vibe. We can record there. We both live on the island, and Mikey the drummer comes down a lot too.”

That’s Mikey Jones, who has also featured with Swervedriver for the past decade. And it sounds to me that this latest line-up might be making a new Lemonheads record at some point.

“Yeah, we wanted to get it done this summer, but Farley’s on a tour with Willy Mason right now. But we did do one thing for my friend, Adam Green, from New York – from the Moldy Peaches. He’s doing a tribute record for himself! He asked me, and we’ve done that down there. We did ‘Losing on a Tuesday’, which came out great, it’s got to be mixed, then that’ll be coming out sometime soon.”

Looking back, at what point did you first think you had something special with The Lemonheads? What was the song you wrote where you felt you’d properly arrived?

“It would be things like ‘Stove’ and ‘Ride With Me’ from Lovey. And maybe ‘Mallo Cup’ and ‘A Circle of One’ on our earlier stuff {from 1989’s third LP, Lick}. Even something like ‘Don’t Tell Yourself’ from Hate Your Friends {the 1987 debut LP}.

“It’s one of those things where we weren’t fully formed when we were making records. We made records just to get gigs, paying for it with our high school graduation money. We came at it backwards, whereas a lot of bands are at their peak when they make their first record, and it’s really hard to beat that.

“Luckily, we kind of stumbled into it, so we’ve still got room to get better. We ought to make a real mind-blowing one this time. The stakes are high! And it’s so much fun.”

It’s been nine years since I caught Evan live, seeing a pared down but still powerful one-man Thursday night set at the University of Central Lancashire’s 53 Degrees venue in Preston, Lancashire in June 2013.

“Wow! Preston, yeah!”

I mentioned that you were off shortly after to play Glastonbury Festival, and wrote at the time (with my review here) that on the evidence of that performance you still had so much to offer.

“Ah, and my friend Nigel Mogg was there, from the bands Nancy Boy and this other metal band … The Quireboys. Nigel was my tour manager on that. But yeah, I remember Preston. A nice place. I enjoyed that gig.”

He was a man of few words that night. We got little more than the odd ‘thank you’ between songs. But it wasn’t an issue. The bulk of the songs came from the LPs that turned so many of us on to his band, It’s a Shame About Ray, and even bigger follow-up, Come on Feel the Lemonheads (a No.5 hit in the UK on release in late 1993). And he managed to get through 30 songs in barely an hour and a quarter.

“Yeah. I do a tantric thing where I don’t like to stop. I just keep going. It builds up better that way. Sometimes you’re talking, sometimes you don’t, and it’s better not to sometimes.”

Are you still avoiding playing the cover version which proved to be the band’s second biggest hit over here (peaking at No.19 in the UK over Christmas ‘92, the following year’s ‘Into Your Arms’ reaching No.14 the following October), and soon tagged onto later pressings of It’s a Shame About Ray – your splendid, shambling take on Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs Robinson’?

“Oh no, if we’re in a good mood, we’ll play that.”

On that occasion in 2013 we at least got its quirky, country-flavoured B-side, ‘Being Around’ (as included on the following album).

“Ah, that’s pretty much like a mission statement. That’s a very important song to the band … a theme for the whole thing.”

Your choice of covers suggests you wear that heart on your sleeve at times, from takes on Gram Parsons to Lucinda Williams, Neil Young, Nick Cave, John Prine … even The Eagles.

“Yeah, The Eagles one was one my girlfriend at the time was insisting on … but it came out more scary than anything else. It could be in a horror movie, it’s a sort of pale, weird, brittle performance! But yeah, don’t be afraid to state the obvious, come out and say those things, and wear your heart on your sleeve sometimes. I definitely go for that.”

Was that love of Americana, country, or whatever you want to label it, always beneath the surface? Or is it something that’s come out more in recent years?

“I’m always thinking maybe I should just move to Nashville and really kind of get into that, however sleazy and weird that is. I may go down there and try that. I really love it. My ancestors are from South Carolina, so there must be something in that. I think so.”

Listening back to It’s a Shame About Ray, I now clearly hear Elvis Costello in your delivery and songcraft, not least on the title track and songs like ‘Kitchen’ and ‘Alison’s Starting to Happen’.

“Please, yeah! Oh, come on! Even trying to hide it, I was onto myself! I was too into that. Even consciously trying to hide it, it came through anyway. I guess, using the name ‘Alison’, you’re gonna get that anyway, you know!

“When you think about it though, Elvis Costello, for me, is a cross between Doug Sahm and Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, the way he sings and the way he writes songs. I’m reading his autobiography. I haven’t come to that part yet, where he admits that his delivery is a mix between those two!”

With that, Evan starts singing, giving me a quick burst of, ‘Little Orphan Annie and Sweet Sue too, they’ve been coming around …’ from MC5’s ‘Shakin Street’.

“And Doug Sahm’s ‘I Don’t Want to Go Home’ – if you hear that … Anyway, Elvis Costello I have massive respect for.”

Another good call from Evan, that. And how much of an influence would he say some of that music we offered on this side of the Atlantic was? For there are further clues, like the inclusion of his take on ‘Fragile’ by Wire on Varshons (2009).

“Well, we were crazy for Slaughter and the Dogs, The Adverts, X-Ray Spex … We loved all that stuff. Satan’s Rats {who became The Photos} … we really loved that punk rock. My friend Jesse {Peretz} eventually eclipsed everyone else, and we just let him buy all the singles. He had them all, and we would tape them.

“We were really into the English punk thing … super into it. We’d also play The Users’ ‘Sick of You’ … and Jesse’s helped me with this book I’m trying to do, with photos. He’s a real gifted photographer, and a director now, makes movies. And I still hook up with Ben {Deily} as much as possible.”

Speaking of past personnel, going on to that next key stage of The Lemonheads from your beginnings with Ben and Jesse, did you see the addition of Juliana (Hatfield) and David (Ryan) as the real turning point?

“It was really good. It was something about going to Australia and meeting those people in June 1991, a little before Nevermind and everything was about to explode. I went with Fugazi in October, I loved it, met people that inspired me, and it was from there that myself, Juliana and Dave would practise for an hour a day for about a month and a half.

“That was it, an hour, so your ears don’t get too badly hurt. They say the ears give up and get really harmed after that, but you can pretty much be loud for an hour. It was very serious but fun, moving out to LA to make it. That was definitely a coalescing moment.”

For that 2013 Preston show I mentioned, your 2003 solo LP, Baby I’m Bored also got a strong showing.

“Yeah, I was super-proud of that record. I think of that as my Some Girls. You gotta dream, you know! Because Some Girls was so important for the Stones. They really needed to sync then and work, and that record does it for me every time. They had so much extra stuff when they made Some Girls that they had two more albums from those sessions. They re-recorded ‘Start Me Up’, which was a reggae song.

“I used to go to Jamaica to Keith (Richards’) house, back around ’95, and there was a big cabinet full of about 150 cassettes, with weird rough mixes of those three records. I would just sit there all day, get stoned and listen. I never had so much fun!”

I can’t believe almost 20 years have passed since Baby I’m Bored. Where have those years gone?

“It is crazy!”

And it was 25 years over the August bank holiday weekend since The Lemonheads’ Reading Festival date that marked your band’s 1997 farewell.

“Yeah, the long goodbye! I have no idea. It’s funny. That’s just as weird as how fucked up things are now – the time passing. Put them together and it’s time to go on tour, I guess.”

My most recent outing for It’s a Shame About Ray was on the afternoon of our early evening (UK time) interview, and it was good to be there, transported back down the years. I reckon it’s as fresh today as on my first spin.

“Nice. Yeah, I think it’s aged pretty well. I’m happy about it. The funny thing is that the 2006 record which got reissued (The Lemonheads) sounds even better than it did when I first recorded it.”

Maybe I should return to that next. And going back to ’92 and It’s a Shame About Ray, I’m invested from the moment Evan, Juliana and David burst into ‘Rockin’ Stroll’, the cracking ‘Confetti’ followed by a rack of fine tracks that continue to prove the trio’s melodic worth, the title song followed by ‘Rudderless’, the beautifully crafted ‘My Drug Buddy’ and ‘The Turnpike Down’, before the band step up a gear for the wondrous ‘Bit Part’ and ‘Alison’s Starting to Happen’, the reflective ‘Hannah & Gabi’ then leading to a mighty finish with ‘Kitchen’ and ‘Ceiling Fan in my Spoon’ before a gear-change encore on Hair’s ‘Frank Mills’. Wonderful stuff.

And that LP marked the beginning of a highly productive period for Evan, Nic Dalton added to the mix (although Juliana was still very much involved on the vocal front) for the next big LP, another winner. On many an occasion, the peerless ‘It’s About Time’ sneaked onto my compilations around then … and beyond. But I’ll save all that for another time, other than finishing by asking Evan if he’ll be back again next year to mark 30 years of Come on Feel The Lemonheads?

“Well, that is the big question. We found the really good cover we wanted to use. Like the Blind Faith thing where they couldn’t have the pubescent chick on it, we get to change the record cover. So you can judge the record by its cover next time. And then we’ll be there, yeah!”

Tickets for The Lemonheads’ It’s a Shame About Ray 30th anniversary shows are available now. For more information, head to the band’s website and check out their Twitter and Facebook links.

  • For Jason Torchinsky’s August 2022 story behind the Evan and the Scimitar pic, try this link.

About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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