LIFE AFTER LEMONHEADS “In the back of my mind, I was always thinking, ‘Once this becomes inconvenient you’re going to drop it and get on with real life,’ ” says Ben Deily of Varsity Drag.
As it turns out, not everyone longs to be a famous rock star. After co-founding the Lemonheads with Commonwealth School friend Evan Dando, guitarist/drummer/vocalist Ben Deily went on to leave the band following their third record. He closed the door on that chapter of his life just as the major labels began knocking — and he regrets nothing.
"It certainly wasn't anything that I ever intended to be serious about," says Deily. "The voice in my head really enjoyed it, but in the back of my mind, I was always thinking, 'Once this becomes inconvenient you're going to drop it and get on with real life.' I was getting serious about school, and I remember the final thing was the Yeats symposium in Sligo, Ireland. I had gone to great lengths to get into this program. All of these rock stars of the literary world were going to be there. But it conflicted with our first European tour." Yeats won.
While Dando commandeered the Lemonheads into worldwide fame, Deily went onto college, a Harvard PhD, and his dream job in advertising. "Persuading people of my point of view was no more possible then than it is now," he says. "The idea is that every red-blooded American wants to grow up to be a rock star and the idea that I didn't want it then and I don't want it now — people don't believe it."
Deily continued making music on the side, first in the early '90s in Boston with his brother Johnno as Pods, and then in the later part of the decade as Varsity Drag — a band born on the West Coast that went through a few permutations before eventually landing back in Boston.
"The first stirrings of Varsity Drag came after I moved to San Francisco when these Lemonheads fans, Will and Greg, found me on AOL — which is where people found each other back then. There were chatroom windows popping up asking 'Is this the Ben Deily?' We started playing together and that became Varsity Drag 1.0."
For years Varsity Drag's debut record lay dormant on Deily's hard drive. He left San Francisco, bounced around the East Coast, and eventually found himself in Los Angeles where he met his wife, Lisa. He began receiving calls from Aston Stephenson, founder of the UK indie-punk label Boss Tuneage, who wanted to release his almost-forgotten album. After Deily dillied and dallied for more than a year, the record became a reality — For Crying Out Loud got released in 2006, and Deily received his first opportunity to play Europe since turning down the Lemonheads tour 17 years before. He bought Lisa a bass and taught her all the parts, and she would eventually become Varsity Drag's permanent bassist.
In 2007, Deily's travels led him back in Boston. The couple now live in the house where the Lemonheads used to practice. Varsity Drag self-released their second record, Night Owls in 2009, and talks of a Lemonheads reunion show with Dando and Deily are in the works.