Evan Dando: The Lemonheads' frontman comes clean

'You're only young once, I made the most of it.' After one of rock's longest lost weekends, Evan Dando and the Lemonheads are back - in style. Fiona Sturges hears the story

Tuesday 26 September 2006 00:00 BST

Evan Dando is the first to admit that, by rights, he should be dead. Following a 20-year career marked by musical triumph and wilful self-destruction, the leading light of Nineties grunge stars the Lemonheads is one of rock's most notorious burn-outs, a man who had it all and very publicly threw it away.

Dando's descent into drug addiction and mental illness reached its nadir a decade ago. Weeks after a catastrophic show at the Glastonbury festival, at which he appeared two hours late after an all-night heroin binge and was ignominiously booed off stage, he set off for Australia. At Sydney airport Dando was set upon by five policemen and arrested for possession of drugs. He was high on heroin and LSD at the time and, word has it, was found feeding coins into pavement grates and handing flowers out to strangers.

"At the time I didn't care," Dando recalls in a slow deep drawl. "Everything I did, I did on purpose. I didn't want to sell 10 million records straight out of the box. If you do that, you either die or your music starts to suck. I had a strong perverse streak back then. I didn't want it to be safe, I just wanted to blow the whole thing out of the water - and I succeeded."

Now Dando is at a very different stage in his career. After spending the best part of a decade out of the spotlight, he is making a comeback. Yesterday saw the release of a new self-titled Lemonheads album, after which Dando will head out on a tour of Europe and the US. Far from being fearful about slipping back into the rock'n'roll abyss, he is brimming with optimism.

"When I started I was young, I was punk rock and I didn't care. I just wanted to mess around and have fun. You're only young once and I made the most of it. When I made it past 35 I thought 'Actually, I kind of like being alive'. So that was when I started to change things. Now I'm about to turn 40 I want to do something good. For me, making a record is its own reward."

Given the excesses of the past 20 years, Dando is remarkably fresh-faced and youthful; the only signs of permanent damage are his shaking hands. Butwhere many rehabilitated rock stars dismiss their old life and drone on about the joys of abstinence, he is gloriously unrepentant.

"I've had a lot of fun and now I'm not worried about much," he smiles. "I had a good time with drugs and I've been to rehab once. I have no regrets. I've learned not to drink and do everything else in moderation. Don't get addicted to anything, that's the key. Now I just want to get better at my craft. I've think I've got a couple of years left in me yet."

The new album is Dando's first Lemonheads CD since 1996's Car Button Cloth. His last record, 2003's Baby I'm Bored, released under his own name, was a deliberately low-key affair before which he hadn't set foot in a studio for seven years. Not that he didn't keep busy. "I got back into skiing, which was fun, and I went fishing. I became an alcoholic and then quit. And I got married. I basically did life things. I had done all I could do for a while musically and I was no longer feeling inspired, so I just stopped. I travelled and I went back to reading a lot. I basically did the stuff I wasn't able to do before."

It wasn't until 2001 that Dando began to think seriously about getting back to work. He was in New York in September and witnessed the attacks on the World Trade Centre. "We lived two blocks away, and we really felt we were going to die. That made me think hard about what to do with my life. I decided if I gave up the thing that was holding me back, which was alcohol, I might be able start writing songs again. It worked too. I actually lost my taste for booze, which was weird. Tasting orange juice without vodka in it was a real revelation."

Dando credits his wife, the Newcastle-born model Elisabeth Moses as the person who really helped him restore his sense of purpose. "You can only be creative if you feel OK about yourself, and she taught me to feel OK about myself."

The idea of resurrecting the Lemonheads had been floating around Dando's mind for some years, although he had to be convinced that anyone would be interested. It was word of a Lemonheads tribute festival in Brazil last year, an event in which bands performed nothing but Lemonheads songs all day, that finally decided it.

"I realised that a lot of people still care" he remarks blithely. "We put so much effort into it over 20 years, why not keep the name alive and out there. I'm very conscious that I need to leave a decent legacy for the Lemonheads."

Not surprisingly Dando first chose Brazil to test the water, playing a series of live shows last summer. In the autumn he brought the band to the UK as part of All Tomorrow's Parties' Don't Look Back season in which he played the album It's A Shame About Ray in its entirety. "The response was amazing," he recalls. "It really reinforced the fact that there were people out there who wanted to hear Lemonheads stuff."

A galvanised Dando returned to New York and went straight into the studio. The result is a propulsive collection of punk-pop songs, a far cry from the introspective numbers on his solo record. The difference, says Dando, is in the sound. "My solo work has a more acoustic feel. It's much quieter. When I started writing the songs for this album, they came out much louder. The songs dictated everything. I knew instantly that this was going to be a Lemonheads record."

Dando is now at pains to point out that reforming the band isn't about nostalgia. "The idea is to go where we haven't been before," he declares. "I never feel we got all that far with our music anyway so there's a lot more that can be done. The songwriting was fine but I always thought we could do better in the studio. I don't care what people think about it, or how many copies it sells. I just want to keep on doing it for its own sake. As long as I can pay my rent, I'm happy."

The album 'The Lemonheads' (Vagrant) is out now. The Lemonheads play Norwich UEA on 5 October. www.thelemonheads.com

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