We’ve Got A File On You: Evan Dando
Evan Dando needs no introduction. The leader of the Lemonheads (and one-time Sassy Cute Band recipient) is embarking on a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of It’s A Shame About Ray, one of the best albums of the ’90s, starting this Thursday in Lititz, PA. The album’s grungy, jangly rock has proven enormously influential on countless bands — and its heart-on-sleeve melancholy only deepens with age.
Dando’s also lived a fascinating life. He learned to surf when he was nine years old, which inspired him to seek out a profession that kept him active. It’s safe to say that’s happened, as his list of collaborations and side projects is rather jaw-dropping and eclectic.
These collaborations can be explained partly because Dando’s also a true-blue music fan with no shortage of enthusiasm for all kinds of music. During a charming and honest conversation, Dando raved about UK rockers the Only Ones, name-checked J Mascis, Fastbacks’ Kim Warnick, and Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake, and mentioned driving overnight to Michael Stipe’s sister’s house while a member of the Blake Babies.
Onstage with the Lemonheads at the Roundhouse in London in late September, Courtney Love described Dando as “one man who doesn’t have a fucking bad bone in his body.” This characterization rings true over the course of two separate interviews Stereogum had with Dando—one before the Lemonheads performed in Ireland and the UK, and the other soon after. The musician reminisced about some of his most memorable collaborations, celebrity encounters and prank calls.
It’s A Shame About Ray 30th Anniversary Tour (2022)
All of the tour dates the Lemonheads recently did overseas looked amazing. You got to connect with all sorts of old friends. For example, you performed with Eugene Kelly from the Vaselines—and performed “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You,” which he co-wrote.
EVAN DANDO: We did a lot of stuff in the past, [like] we played a bunch of shows together. It was the first [Kelly’s band] Captain America show or something; they had opened up for us when we first played Glasgow. I’ve known Eugene for years. He’s the best dude in the world.
He seemed really excited to play with Lemonheads. He said he had stage fright and you cured it.
DANDO: I know, right? Because I guess he was out of practice, like everybody. I guess he hadn’t been doing much touring. But that was great. I loved to hear that.
And then you got to do several Bevis Frond covers with Nick Saloman from the band at another show.
DANDO: That’s the best. I mean, it’s so much fun. He’s amazing. That’s kind of music I really like. He has this really, really nice way of looking at it. Like he loves the Byrds and Flaming Groovies and wants more of that kind of music, so he just does it himself.
It was really cool to see Courtney Love come out and do “Into Your Arms” with you. That was really special.
DANDO: Holy shit, yeah. it was really great. That was really nice, actually.
It was just cool, because she was like, “I hadn’t really played guitar in a while, and I got up and did it.”
DANDO: It was very actually real, and she’s the real thing. Man… Courtney, you know? She’s a very entertaining person. You know, she always gave me a laugh here and there. And gave me some shit back in the day too. But, you know, bygones be bygones.
It was cool. She came with my friend Kate Moss — we’re godparents of the same kid [model Ella Richards], Kate and I are — and the goddaughter came too.
I saw that picture on Instagram. Everyone looked really happy.
DANDO: It was really, really fun. Until I had too much fun— I lost my voice a little bit at the end. I just can’t stay up every night, like, all night. Not that I ever could, actually. I always fucked up that way.
Our first gig ever on tour, in Cleveland [in 1987], I lost my voice. And everyone was there — all these people from the punk days showed up. Les Black from the Pink Holes, a couple of people in the Dead Boys, like Cheetah Chrome was there. John [Petkovic] from Death Of Samantha. We did okay, but the wrong impression was given. Like, I don’t sing like that. [Laughs.] We tried, you know?
At least Ben [Deily, Lemonheads co-founder] could sing. And it was real exciting, because it was our first tour ever. I think they reacted to the record cover of Hate Your Friends. It was almost like, judge a book by its cover—it was almost judged better than it was, because the record cover was so good.
As a young musician, how intimidating was it that they were there to see you?
DANDO: It was really exciting. Those punk rock guys aren’t intimidating because they’re very self-deprecating by nature. They came to support us, which was really cool.
Who are some other other memorable people that came to shows over the years for you?
DANDO: [Laughs.] Tons of people, from Lara Flynn Boyle to Helena Christiansen. I would say one of the best ones was by accident: Dennis Hopper was at Tipitina’s in 1990. He was at our soundcheck, getting drunk. We sat down with him and we got drunk with him for a little while. It was amazing.
Playing In The Blake Babies (Late 1980s)
What are your strongest memories about playing with the Blake Babies?
DANDO: It was going from something that was marginal at best— which was my band—[to something that was] really together and happening. [Blake Babies] were sharing a practice space with the Pixies. What’s not to like? It was like going from purgatory to heaven, for me.
I wanted to be a sideman for a little while. I liked it so much that I quit after eight months because I wanted to do my own thing again. It was great for an interval.
There’s one thing with me in the band, from 1988, from [legendary Boston club] the Rat. You’ll see a really great thing. We’re opening for Game Theory.
Sharing a practice space with the Pixies — that’s pretty amazing. Did that create any competition between you guys? To be like, “Hey I need to get better”?
DANDO: No, no competition, because we were never going to be anywhere near as good as them. [Laughs.] Everybody knew that. We knew it. It was great. Sometimes we’d just listen to them play because we were early, and we’d go, “Aw, fuck it, let’s just go home.” [Laughs.] But they were really inspiring in that way too.
Appearing As “Actor Roy” In Reality Bites (1994) And Jeff In Heavy (1995)
DANDO: The reason I got Heavy [which featured Liv Tyler, Debbie Harry and Shelley Winters] was because River Phoenix died.
DANDO: Bebe [Buell, Tyler’s mom] knew me from back in the Boston punk scene. And she said, “Get him!”
How did you end up in Reality Bites?
DANDO: Ben Stiller’s idea was that I was the perfect person for what he was trying to do.
It is funny, because you just kind of show up at the end. It’s like, I know that guy.
DANDO: I’m supposed to be a soap opera version of the main character.
That’s awesome. Was that the direction he gave you?
DANDO: Yeah, yeah. To act really badly.
Had you crossed paths with Ben Stiller previously?
DANDO: Not before that, no. I really liked him, though. He was great.
Aphex Twin Remixing The Lemonheads’ “Style” (Unreleased)
You do so many collaborations. What do you like most about collaborating with people?
DANDO: I just found I really enjoyed doing little guest lead vocals on projects. I really enjoy that. I love to be thrown into different situations. It’s fun.
I like that you’ve done so much different stuff—rock, country. You never know where you’re going to show up. It’s very cool.
DANDO: You know what’s cool? Aphex Twin did a really cool remix of one of our songs.
DANDO: “Style.” But he took out all the music, so we didn’t put it out— but they must still have it [somewhere].
How did that come about?
DANDO: It was just a thing that he would do for extra money, he says. It was a piano piece that he composed, [that] was the remix. It’s awesome. I remember listening to it and going, “This is cool,” and stuff, but I didn’t get it at the time. I wished he had used some of the song [“Style”]. But I love it now.
Hanging Out With Oasis (1994)
You crossed paths with Oasis in the ’90s.
DANDO: My friend Corinne Day said, “These guys are great. Check these guys out.” They had just put one single out or something. And we ran into them in Paris.
I went on tour with them for two weeks right before Definitely Maybe came out. My tour was ending, and I didn’t want it to end. So I hopped in the van with them. It was actually really fun.
Those guys are really nice. They’re really cool people, and the fuckin’ tour manager put up with me. She wouldn’t pay for the television I broke — which was fine [Laughs] because I had to pay for it. …My card went through, so it was okay.
And Liam — he’d call me John Boy on acid. He said, “You really impressed me, you were led down by two policeman. Well done.” It was funny. He’d been out all night, and I was in his bunk. [Laughs.] It was an unfortunate incident, but at least Liam was impressed.
That was a really fun time. But it was perhaps not advisable for me to do. But it was really cool to be around [Oasis] when it was just getting going.
That’s wild to be on tour with a band that’s just going to explode and become super popular.
DANDO: Oh, yeah. Of course, you could tell. I mean, it was happening. It was really fun to watch that. A lot of people turned up. We had a great time.
Do you have any memorable people who showed up or any memorable gigs with them?
DANDO: I opened up for them on the day that Definitely Maybe came out, at the Tivoli in Buckley. And then I started dancing during “Live Forever,” and Noel was like, “No, no, no, man. Not during our set.” And I was like, “Oh shit, you’re right.” But it was all really fun.
Covering Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” With Kirsty MacColl (1995)
How did that end up coming about?
DANDO: [Dando explains he met MacColl’s then-husband Steve Lillywhite at a “silly industry party” in London in 1993.] And he was on mushrooms, right — Steve was. We started talking, and he just really liked me. We were having fun. And he was like, “You must meet my wife, Kirsty.” I ended up meeting Kirsty and got this great friendship going. She was the best. We spent Christmas down in Australia together a couple of times. And we were really close.
I loved everything she did in the ’80s and ’90s. She was such an underrated singer too.
DANDO: And songwriter too. And certainly singer. I like “They Don’t Know About Us.” The lyrics of that one are so amazing.
What was it like collaborating with her?
DANDO: It was great. Steve’s really good; he produced it. And they got some guy who plays with Morrissey [Boz Boorer] playing guitar. It was really fun.
Collaborations With Juliana Hatfield
I’ve really appreciated all of the music you’ve done with Juliana Hatfield over the years. Do you have a favorite musical collaboration you’ve done together?
DANDO: Me and Jules — I really liked that song “The Lights” off her first record.
Why does that one stand out for you?
DANDO: Well, it’s just us.
Aww. I liked the duet you did with her on the Gram Parsons tribute, “$1,000 Wedding.”
DANDO: Yeah, that was fun. I threw up on the way, in Harvard Square. [Laughs.] I took some ecstasy someone gave me on the way to trying to find where we were recording, and I barely got through that. [Laughs.] You can hear I’m kind of shaky, but it’s pretty good. It was Glyn Johns; it was so much fun, and Benmont Tench was there.
Dando, [Ben] Lee, [Tom] Petersson, [Jason] Schwartzman, “Dead Or Anything” (2002)
You collaborated with Tom Petersson from Cheap Trick at one point.
DANDO: He’s the best. Me and my ex-wife started going to [see] Cheap Trick a lot when we first started going out. They were doing all their albums [in full] at like Irving Plaza. We’d go and hang backstage.
We met them in a really bad way. My friend was prank phone calling the top of this hotel, and it was Cheap Trick and fuckin’ mini-Pearl Jam. You know, that band that sounds like Pearl Jam? [Back and forth debating this point trying to ID the band] With Scott singing?
It wasn’t Stone Temple Pilots, right?
DANDO: That’s the one. My friend [called them] up. [Dando describes the prank calls, which involved asking the floor if they were doing satanic rituals and telling them to do things like “put down the tarot cards,”] My friends are really good at it. The cops came, but we weren’t there. That was a close one. In Portland. So that’s how we met them. [Laughs.] Later we gave we became friends. They’re really cool people.
Did they know that you were the ones pranking them?
DANDO: Yeah, they did. We all had a big laugh about it in the morning, because they’ve seen it all before. But the hotel was not impressed. That was like — you know, you just go really crazy and just do too many drugs and hang out with local ne’er-do-wells. You know how it goes. Amazingly, got out of that in one piece, really.
Touring As Co-Frontman For The MC5 (2004)
DANDO: Oh God, please, that was so much fun. That came about because [Mark] Lanegan and then Brother Wayne Kramer got into a big argument right before the tour. So Lanegan quits the tour before it started, and so they got me. I’m all enthusiastic. I call Wayne — and my manager at the time shared an office with Wayne — and so they were like, “I guess we’ll take you.” By enthusiasm alone, I got on there. And it was great. Me and Mark Arm were the singers. Really fun.
Were you a fan of the MC5 back in the day?
DANDO: Fuck yeah! It really made me more of a fan, I will say, being in the band. [Laughs.]
I found video of you all on one of the late night shows doing “Kick Out The Jams.”
DANDO: Craig Kilborn. That was the most fun I’ve ever had in music.
What was the highlight of this tour?
DANDO: [Bassist] Michael Davis was my favorite member of the band, and then [drummer] Dennis Thompson was right in there. But Michael Davis, we had a special relationship. Wayne can be kind of a fucking asshole, but I respect Wayne, and I wasn’t being that easy to deal with anyway at the time.
I got kicked off [the tour] for complaining about a song on the way to New Zealand. I complained about “Let Me Try” and Wayne heard me. And of course they fired Michael Davis [and] they made Michael Davis fire me. But I had done 41 shows; that was enough shows for me anyway.
Recording The Lemonheads And Touring With Bassist Karl Alvarez And Drummer Bill Stevenson From The Descendents (2006)
DANDO: That’s why I didn’t give it a title, that record — because I always wanted that kind of rhythm section [for the Lemonheads]. So that’s why I called it just The Lemonheads. I love playing with those guys. It was the best.
Appearing On The Goldbergs (2019)
DANDO: Oh, man, that’s such a weird story because it’s like a little version of a Wes Anderson movie. This guy that made The Goldbergs [show creator and executive producer Adam F. Goldberg] loved my cousins, the Kremps. He idolized my family.
[My cousins are] really cool people. They had a florist; they had like a jam spot upstairs. And I would come and play at the weddings. And so [Goldberg] put that all into this thing. It’s just from real life. So strange. That’s just real life coming back to bite me in the ass.
11/17 – Lititz, PA @ Mickey’s Black Box
11/18 – Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Theatre
11/19 – Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
11/20 – Bloomington, IL @ The Castle Theater
11/21 – Omaha NE @ The Waiting Room
11/23 – Billings MT @ Pub Station
11/25 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox
11/26 – Portland, OR @ Revolution Hall
11/28 – San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
11/29 – Sacramento, CA @ Harlow’s
12/01 – San Diego, CA @ House Of Blues
12/02 – Santa Ana, CA @ Observatory
12/03 – Las Vegas, NV @ House Of Blues
12/04 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex
12/05 – Denver CO, @ Bluebird Theatre
12/07 – Kansas City, MO @ Madrid Theatre
12/09 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
12/10 – Chicago, IL @ Metro
12/11 – Detroit, MI @ St Andrews Hall
12/12 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
12/14 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
12/15 – New York, NY @ (Le) Poisson Rouge
12/16 – Jersey City, NJ @ White Eagle Hall
12/17 – Boston, MA @ Paradise
12/18 – Boston, MA @ Paradise