INTERVIEW: Evan Dando of The Lemonheads

lemonheads_evan_dando_01_gEvan Dando’s band The Lemonheads had been around for about six years by the time they released It’s A Shame About Ray in 1992. It was one of those things where the time was just right, and the album was huge. Buoyed by the success of a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson but able to stand on its own legs too, it was one of those albums that everybody seemed to have. After more than a few line-up changes, solo projects, a stint playing with the MC5, admissions of career-stalling heavy drug use, writing songs with the Dandy Warhols and working on soundtracks, Dando reformed the Lemonheads with a new rhythm section in 2005. They’re visiting Australia in November and December to perform the album in its entirety. I caught up with Dando for a brief chat about the legacy of the album.

Hi Evan.

Hey. Can we make this real quick, man? I’m supposed to go and sing a Tom Petty song in rehearsal for this thing I’m doing tomorrow. I’m real excited, but we’ve gotta make this real quick.

Okay, well could you tell us the brief version of what the time was like surrounding the writing and recording of A Shame About Ray?

Well I was in LA for the first time ever – I’d never been out there before – and it was an exciting time because I’d written a bunch of songs I’d really liked, and I flew out in my pyjamas on acid and we got there and it was like floods and riots, and it was an exciting time. The record got really big and stuff, and it was fun.

And I understand that before you went to LA, Australia played quite a role in what would ultimately become the album?

Yeah, all of the songs were written about a bunch of people down there. Generally a bunch of things happened down there and I started writing, and the stuff I wrote when I got home was also about Australia. I don’t know why but I just had a really good time there. Something sparked something.

lemonheadsWhy do you think It’s A Shame About Ray has endured the way it has?

It’s pretty simple about that stuff. I just think stuff that’s good gets kinda timeless. I think it’s just about that. It’s just a pretty good record. I like it.

You’ve been playing it live on and off for a few years now. Have you learned anything about the album in that time that wasn’t apparent when you made it? Do you see it differently today?

Nah, an album’s an album, man. It pretty much stays the same. It was fun making it and I don’t know. For me it doesn’t change much. I don’t listen to it, but for me it’s alright. I’m glad I got the demos out too, the cassette demos.

It seems like a lot of the musical production at the time was a reaction to the overproduction of stuff from the 80s. And now it seems like everything is hyper mega produced compared to the 80s. Do you think we’re in for a new wave of minimal production in response to the way things are now, or are we stuck with it?

I’ve noticed that the kids I hang out with, the kids here who are like 21, 22 years old, they don’t listen to modern music at all. Most of them just listen to 20s and 30s music, 40s stuff. And a lot of kids who are around that age are reacting very violently against modern artificialness. They listen to blues stuff, blues samplers.

Are you much of a guitar guy?

I have a ’64 Gibson SG with one P-90 pickup in it, and that’s pretty much it for me. I love that guitar. I use a JCM800 with split channels, because that’s what I was doing back then when we did It’s A Shame About Ray. And and Ampeg bass cab I have tonnes of guitars. I’ve got one from 1918!

The guitar mags back in the day were always quite complimentary towards you, even though you weren’t trying to be a guitar hero. How did you feel about that kind of attention?

I never really paid too much attention to that kind of attention, but I liked playing guitar. It was fun. It’s fun still. I’ve gotta play more. I like playing guitar. But I’m a singer basically. I’m a singer but I love playing guitar.

The Lemonheads It’s A Shame About Ray Australian tour dates:

Tuesday 30th November – The Zoo, Brisbane

Wednesday 1st December – Metro Theatre, Sydney

Thursday 2nd December – Corner Hotel, Melbourne

Sunday 5th December – Rosemount Hotel, Perth