Evan Dando is not a fan of his band’s biggest hit. “I don’t really like that song ‘Mrs Robinson’ at all,” he grins at the irony. “How sad is that?”
But the sole constant member of The Lemonheads is not one for regrets. When the band he formed with friends in 1986 hit it big six years later, Dando’s photogenic looks helped him become, alongside friend Kurt Cobain, one of the poster boys of the indie music scene. But even as People magazine put the singer on their “Top 50 Sexiest Men of 1993” list, a 20-something from Pennsylvania began self-publishing the magazine ‘Die Evan Dando, Die’.
Now 41, he laughs off all that attention levelled at him in his mid 20s.
“It was funny — I knew what it was, the whole thing was kind of ironic for me, it was just ridiculous,” he offers in his laid-back drawl.
“I don’t care,” the unfazed Dando continues, “really, I don’t care,” brushing aside suggestions that the media attention took the focus off his work: the landmark ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ and its hit follow-up ‘Come On Feel The Lemonheads’.
“Luckily I’m still able to play music — that’s all I ever wanted to do. So I don’t know whether the whole thing hurt me or not. I don’t think it did — I was just doing what my management told me to do.”
But it was clear that the public were tiring of Dando and his well-documented (drug-fuelled) extra-curricular activities: the “high-profile personal meltdowns”; kissing Courtney Love in a hotel room, hugging the backpack containing Cobain’s ashes; almost overdosing on heroin while bedding a singer and a supermodel when he should have been on stage at Glastonbury.
“People were getting sick of me and I was getting sick of it too, all that overexposure and stuff and pictures and People magazine,” he recalls in his stoner mumble.
“I really wanted to take a long break from all that.”
When touring for the underrated ‘Car Button Cloth’ ended in 1997, the burned out pop star turned on, tuned in and just dropped out of sight.
But the self-imposed exile didn’t last long — within a year he was writing songs again.
“I got myself into a good situation, I got married, I started to feel good, and I started thinking: ‘What do I do?’.
“And I remembered: ‘I make music’,” he chuckles.
But he felt no urge to rush it — and is clearly still happy with the results.
“I started making my solo record in 2000, but it didn’t come out until 2003 ‘cos I was just recording it whenever I felt like it,” he explains.
“I like that record a lot — ‘Baby I’m Bored’, that’s one of my favourite records I’ve ever done.”
He’s equally proud of the most recent, self-titled, Lemonheads album; a collection of crunchy but effortless songs that perfectly explain why the group are named after candy that’s “sweet on the outside and sour on the inside”.
“It’s what we were trying to do when we started. When we started in ’86, we wanted to do this pop-punk thing, like The Jam, the Buzzcocks.
“We definitely nailed it, I think, with the last record. I like it a lot too.”
But the quiet, even humble, Dando is quick to credit the musicians — idols of his — he recruited when regrouping the band.
“They’re great players. Bill Stevenson was in Black Flag and Karl Alvarez was in the Descendents. So it was my dream band, what I thought the Lemonheads should be, making the ultra-Lemonheads album.”
Currently touring alone and with the band — his South African shows are followed by a trip to Croatia — the follow-up is done. Called ‘Varshons’, the late-August release is a collection of cover versions, continuing a Dando tradition. In the past he’s tackled everything from New Kids on the Block’s ‘Step By Step’ to Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ with the late Kirsty MacColl (“I love that one!” he exclaims). So it’s clear the Lemonhead knows a thing or two about reinterpreting others’ songs.
“Think about Elvis — he didn’t write one song. And the Stones’ first hit was Lennon and McCartney’s ‘I Want To Be Your Man’. So there’s songwriting and there’s also the learning to sing other peoples’ songs.
“I’ve never minded doing cover versions — I just like songs.”
Which brings us right back to ‘Mrs Robinson’. Despite his feelings about the Simon and Garfunkel song, he doesn’t linger on the negative.
“Paul Simon hates our version and that was our aim, we played it to make him hate it,” chuckles Dando conspiratorially.
“So we achieved our goal.”