Interviewing Lemonheads singer and guitarist Evan Dando feels like administering a final exam in, say, economics to a graduating student who can’t wait for school to be out. Dando is a whirlwind of short-attention-span theater: He talks on the phone, reads Melody Maker while answering questions and kids around with his friend Epic Soundtracks. It’s all just so slacker, a label that Dando simultaneously embodies and transcends.
Marrying pop charm and punk attitude with a natural grace, the music of the Lemonheads appeals to fans of college radio and teeny-boppers alike. Dando ranges from being sweet and – if only momentarily – attentive to giggling at his own jokes. He proudly displays a metal plate engraved JIMMY SWAGGART MINISTRIES.
How did you get that?
We were playing a gig on his PA in New Orleans.
He rents out PAs as a sideline to his ministry?
The Killer’s cousin is a bit of a rocker himself. Isn’t that cool? I’m putting it on my guitar, right here. [Dando proceeds to play an entire song on said guitar. The instant his publicist leaves, Dando mimes beating me to death.]
I am being killed by a guitar. . . .
Death rattle. [He plays a power chord.]
But then you’d get even more publicity, and you already hate it.
I’m not into it. Luckily I don’t do interviews anymore.
Has the business end of music changed? Looking back to the ’60s?
I have this feeling record companies used to have more music lovers working for them. Rather than all bankers the way it is now – mostly bankers.
Did that change the music any?
I went and bought this the other day. Forty-eight pencil sharpeners. [He shakes the box.] I’m into pencils. What do you need when you have pencils? Pencil sharpeners. I got into the country with hash oil in my pencil. . . . my method for smuggling drugs is: Forget it’s there. I fold my clothes really carefully and put my coke in my hairbrush. And when the customs officers open my bag, I . . . well, I used to have hair, so I’d start combing my hair out with my hairbrush. [Deadpans] . . . it works.
What attracts you to vinyl?
You can hug an album, have physical interaction with it – CDs, it’s done by other magical electronic things.
You think it’s coming back?
It’s alive and well, and it’s very selective. Wouldn’t you say that the U.S. government is a satanic cult?
No, you said that.
Oh, that’s right. [Into the phone] So, come over. I’ll call him. What’s the number? Keep going.
Do you ever listen to the stuff your parents listen to?
That’s mostly what I listen to: Talking Book by Stevie Wonder, all the early Isley Brothers stuff, Marvin Gaye, the Beatles, the Stones, Eddie Kendricks’ solo records, jazz. My parents were establishment hippies. My dad was a lawyer, but he was very into the fact that Massachusetts didn’t vote Nixon in. He was very fringey, and I don’t mean buckskin jackets. My room was like a model. She, like, traveled around being a ’60s pseudo-glamorous person. Susan Dando.
Since you had cool parents, do you feel less separate from that generation, or is there still a difference?
They’ll still be your parents. You still feel separated from them.
Even though you listen to the same music?
Yeah, there’s connection there. So – less separated. But they still made me, so they look at you funny. [To Soundtracks] Could you just answer some questions as me? But she’ll expose us, won’t she?
Where were you 10 years ago? Where was your life at?
I was still a punk rocker. I was 17. That seems silly, doesn’t it: 1984, I was still into punk rock? I had dyed blue and white hair, I went to high school, and I’d just staged my band. It wasn’t called Lemonheads yet. We played Black Flag covers and Angry Samoans and Minor Threat covers. Just generally tried to play fast.
What’s the main way you’re different now as a person?
I’m less cool.
What haven’t you done yet that’s real important to you?
More PCP. Seriously, I’ve only done it once, when I was, like, 16. I did it by accident. I took a hit off a joint, and it was minty tasting. Weird.
How do you feel about the fact that your band kind of made it on a ’60s song, “Mrs. Robinson”?
Our hearts were in the right place because we did it not ’cause we like the song particularly, but because we like the movie a lot. We just did it to he released with the videocassette – it wasn’t meant to be a single. And then our label thought, “Hey, this is a hit,” and they released it. So at least it was by accident. [But] I know if I was a Lemonheads fan, I’d go, “Oh, no, why’d they do that?” Good thing I’m not a Lemonheads fan. [Laughs.]
Nah. I prefer Killslug.
Do you ever feel like changing your music radically?
Every time I go into the studio, I try to make a record that’s closest to what I would someday want to make: music that I’ll really be proud of. It’s hard for me. I feel I’m still working toward something.
Does that imply you weren’t proud of the stuff you did before?
Yeah. I don’t mean to say that, but it does imply it. [Giggles] Yeah, it’s true. [My old stuff] wasn’t developed. It was very sophomoric.
Do you ever think that what happened to some ’80s bands – double platinum, then a total bomb – will happen to you?
Like Poison and Warrant? They had it coming to them, but I loved them. I loved Poison and Warrant.
No, you didn’t.
No, I got into them.
No, you didn’t.
I did! [Dando gets another phone call and turns off the tape recorder.]
What’s the worst thing a reporter ever asked you?
I hate it when they ask for the worst album of 1993. It’s so stupid to dis other bands. I have this theory about music: Whenever people get together, rehearse something and play it in front of an audience, it’s always sort of heartbreakingly beautiful even if it isn’t very good.
Do you resent that people take this as a competition?
It is. To the death . . .
Like Death Race 2000. Who do you measure against?
Billy Corgan. I just get pissed off ’cause he’s better looking than I am.
What’s the worst part of the business?
I did it, like straight for so long I was buying the whole program. Maybe I was insecure or something. I thought, “This is great I get to travel around the world and play music for people.” So what? That I have to yammer on the phone all day and have my picture taken? OK, I can deal with that. And then I realized, “This isn’t [helping] me. It’s getting in the way of my own fun.” So I stopped.
What’s fun for you?
I like roller coasters and swimming in the ocean. I like girls. What an evil thing to call girls: fun. I like flirting.
Does it bother you that it’s sort of become politically incorrect now? Flirting?
Fuck ’em. I don’t care. Flirting’s harmless. If you have to follow a code of political correctness, you’re not being politically correct anyway. It’s gotta be spontaneous. You just gotta be, like, cool and a good person. Once you get worried about what you’re doing, you’re just a robot.
Is there anything in politics that you feel strongly about?
I think the way the government handies drugs in this country is really hypocritical. It’s a natural human impulse to want to try them. Why deny that?
What else would you like to change if you could be God for a day?
I’d drive into the next town on my dune buggy and kill everyone who isn’t beautiful.
This story is from the November 17th, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.