STILL CALL AUSTRALIA HOME
WITH A KILLER BAND AND A RUN OF GIGS FOR A DAY ON THE GREEN ON THE CARDS, WILL AUSTRALIA BE ANOTHER RENAISSANCE FOR EVAN DANDO AND THE LEMONHEADS? BY ANDREW P STREET
The relationship between Evan Dando and Australia – more specifically, the inner-west of Sydney – is a long and storied one. First up, the Lemonheads’ 1992 masterpiece It’sA
ShameAboutRay is basically one big love letter to the Sydney music community that Dando fell into after retreating from the US following yet another band dissolution. When he and Juliana Hatfield sing ,“As the cars fly up King Street, it’ s
enough to startle us” in a narcotic undertone on “My Drug Buddy”, they’re referring to Newtown’s main drag (although as an inner-west resident, I can verify that cars don’t “fly up” King Street so much as “crawl along”).
Want more? Two of the The Lemonheads’ former bassists – Plunderers/Sneeze/Godstar mainstay Nic Dalton and The Eastern Dark’s Bill Gibson – were Australians. Smudge’s Tom Morgan co-wrote It’ s A Shame About Ray’ s title track( and his bandmate Alison Galloway is supposedly the subject of “Alison’s Starting to Happen”), before co-writing just about all of 1993’s ComeOnFeel TheLemonheads.
Not enough? Fine: “Into Your Arms”, one of the band’s biggest hits, was written by former Hummingbirds bassist Robyn St Clare for her old band Love Positions (her duo with the aforementioned Dalton), while It’sAShameAbout
Ray’s spirited opener, “Rockin’ Stroll”, was about Milo, St Clare’s son with Hummingbirds frontman Simon Holmes, while Ben Lee collaborated on Dando’s 2003’s solo album, BabyI’mBored. But perhaps even better known than Dando’s love of Australia is his love of hedonism. He’s spoken candidly about his struggles with drugs and self-destructive behaviour in the past, and the way that every breakthrough – their international hit version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” in 1993, the critical plaudits for 1996’s CarButton
Cloth – seems to be followed by a plunge into addiction and the disintegration of yet another Lemonheads lineup. So what has this legendary hellraiser been up to over the past weekend? “We just laid low. – We watched this new show,
The End of theF***ing World. It’s really good! It’s based on a graphic novel, I think. I liked it a lot – there’s way too much good TV these days, it’s been really dangerous. There’s always a new one to demand your attention.”
Yes, even as society crumbles around us, we live in a golden age of television. “That’s true! Well put.”
He will, however, be unplugging Netflix for the upcoming Day On The Green shows with fellow ‘90s alt-rock stars Veruca Salt and contemporaneous Australian indie heavyweights The Fauves, Tumbleweed, Spiderbait and The Living End. It seems like a pretty sweet excuse to tour, even if Dando does pop down with some degree of regularity.
“I do so with alacrity!” he laughs. “I do tend to come to Australia a lot, although I don’t always play. But this time we’re doing this fun thing – some sort of winery thing? I just know we’re playing some cool shows. I’m really looking forward to it. I remember a couple of years back, we were playing the Corner Hotel [in Melbourne] and Chrissie Hynde [singer/songwriter and guitarist of The Pretenders] came by with [Blondie drummer] Clem Burke, and they were doing the same thing, so it’s good to be a part of that tradition. It sounds civilised – that’s the theme of this interview, isn’t it?”
In fact, Dando credits Australia with being the reason there’s still a Lemonheads to be touring with. When the original punk-infused lineup (featuring filmmaker Jesse Peretz) acrimoniously fell apart in the late ‘80s, Dando manfully continued under the band name to diminishing returns, before decamping to Australia to lick his wounds. The result was It’ s A Shame About Ray.
“There’s quite a bit of romance on that record, which is not necessarily always a good thing. But it’s an Australian record; there’s lots of Australia in there. It was basically my response to being there: it was so inspiring, as were the people I met and worked with, like Tom Morgan and Nic Dalton. They were responsible for getting me into the band, really. They were a breath of fresh air.”
The current lineup of The Lemonheads has a couple of other figures of ‘90 salt-rock royalty: along with bassist Farley Glavin, the band sports guitarist Chris Brokaw, late of Come and Codeine, and drummer Todd Philips of The Juliana Hatfield Three. Basically, it’s early ‘90s community radio come to life.
“And it’s a great lineup,” Dando adds. “I mean, two guitars, bass and drums – you can’t go wrong. I mean, you can, but it’s a tried and true formula.”«