A Talk with the Lemonheads
During his 10-year stint fronting the Lemonheads, Evan Dando has earned reputation as a bit of a flake. With his hunky good looks and a spontaneous goofy nature, some articles have gone as far a to label him something of a male rock and roll bimbo.But with the new Lemonheads' CD, Car Button Cloth, Dando and his record company, Tag/Atlantic, have been making pains to put the emphasis on Dando's songwriting and the band's music.But in a recent interview, Dando did little to dispel his goofy image. It may be that Dando has little interest in taking interviews seriously -- a feeling that is certainly understandable -- but deep thoughts and revealing observations were few and far between in this interview.Instead, answers frequently degenerated into giggle-filled observations on anything from the virtues of playing at Mississippi Nights (the nearby Embassy Suites Hotel makes it easy to have after-show parties), how parents in New England tend to quit giving their children money if they quit college (as Dando did, leaving academia after a short, disinterested stint at Skidmore College) to the rumor that the Rolling Stones song "Angie" was actually written for Carly Simon.And while Dando stressed that he had taken a more serious approach to Car Button Cloth, he perhaps summed up his career outlook best when a question about his ditsy rocker image branched out into a statement of purpose about being in music."I can see why people instead talk about my behavior rather than my music because it's sort of more fun," Dando admitted. "It's a pretty funny story, like I've done some pretty silly things in my life. I've made an effort to have an extremely silly life. A strong sense of fun is what's most important sort of attitude."It's bizarre, stupid, irrelevant," Dando said, responding to the attention he gets for his personality and his looks. "Look I am just a guy who likes to have a good time, a weird time. I like to do like cartwheels in public, you know, whatever."With comments such as that one, and the general light-hearted nature of the interview as a whole, it was hard to know if Dando was serious when he started talking about his approach to "Car Button Cloth," and his hope to shift the focus on the Lemonheads to the band's music."That was my corny ambition on this record, like I'm going to give it my all," Dando said. "I'm going to try to make a lasting contribution to rock, like really seriously. I really wanted to, and next time I'm going to try that much harder.In any event, it's fair to say that despite all the attention given to Dando's looks and personality, on a musical level, Dando and the Lemonheads have given fans reason to pay attention to their music on more than a few occasions over the past decade.Formed in the mid 1980s by Dando, drummer Ben Daily and bassist Jesse Peretz, the Lemonheads initially operated as a democratic unit, with Dando and Peretz sharing singing and songwriting roles. But slowly, the two ran into conflicts, and after three records released on the independent label, Taang Records -- Hate Your Friends (1987), Creator (1988) and Lick (1989) -- Peretz left and Dando took control of the Lemonheads.It was around this time that the band was signed to Atlantic Records, and the lineup began changing from album to album. The Lemonhead's 1990 major label debut, Lovey, failed to register with audiences.But that all changed with the 1992 CD, It's A Shame About Ray. A cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" -- initially recorded for the 25th anniversary of the film, The Graduate, and added to the Ray CD soon after its release -- became a hit single and propelled the CD to gold sales status.Come On Feel The Lemonheads followed in 1993. And while its lead single, "Into Your Arms," generated decent alternative radio play, the CD failed to build on the momentum established by It's A Shame About Ray.For Car Button Cloth, Dando has once again emerged with a new Lemonheads lineup -- an ironic turn of events considering how often he said he thought the Come On Feel lineup of bassist Nic Dalton and drummer David Ryan would be a long-lasting unit.This time, Dando is backed by former Dinosaur Jr. drummer Murph, bassist Bill Gibson, who played in Eastern Dark and the New Christs, two Australian bands which received little notice in America. Former Blake Baby guitarist John Strohm, who has played with the Lemonheads on occasion in the past, is also in the new lineup.The band members might be different, but sound of the band on the new CD hasn't changed much from Come On Feel The Lemonheads or It's A Shame About Ray. Like those records, Car Button Cloth features plenty of sturdy pop-rockers like "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You" and "It's All True," as well as an occasional foray into country-tinged pop on "The Outdoor Type" and "Knoxville Girl."Overall, the four releases on Atlantic have generally been considered poppier, a bit mellower -- and more commercial -- than the early Lemonheads records. Dando pretty much agrees with that assessment."When we started it's like all we wanted to do was be as punk as possible. That was our only thing," Dando said. "We wanted to be a '77 English punk rock band. We wanted to the Users or Wire, or like the Seeds. We wanted to be like the Seeds, really loud guitars and screaming. That's what we wanted to do. But we sort of lost the urge, you know. I don't know why. I got more interested in like a lot of different textures. But it's (the punk rock influence) still there on this one. That's what's cool. This record's hardened up a little bit, I'd say."So does Dando's more serious intentions about his songwriting and recording extend to his ambitions for success? On that topic, Dando maintains that he's not overly concerned about sales."Really I only ever wanted to get by and be able to rent someplace or live on the road or, I only wanted to eat through music," he said. "That was my main ambition and it remains it now, although I'd like this record to sell. I'm into it when it happens. But it's not the most important thing at all."(My main goal is) still just to have fun. It is. It is," he said. "And fun involves, lord knows, sometimes fun involves a lot work."