REDUX: Dando is releasing his first album under the name Lemonheads in 10 years.
Evan Dando lives in a high-rise apartment building in Lower Manhattan whose rooftop patio affords an intimate view of the sprawling construction site where the World Trade Center once stood. Five years and one day after terrorists flew two airplanes into the Twin Towers, Dando is standing on the patio pointing out where he was when the second of those two planes passed directly over his head. “The memory is seared into my brain,” he says, the tone of his voice reflecting the horror of September 11 but also the awe with which a stoner describes a laser-light show. “But I think seeing it so closely actually helped me make sense of it.”
Dando’s been doing a lot of looking back lately, most of it happier than that. The Lemonheads (Vagrant) is the first album in 10 years from the group he formed in Boston in 1986. He recorded it in Colorado with the rhythm section of the Descendents, bassist Karl Alvarez and drummer Bill Stevenson, and though it’s a little harder-rocking than the Lemonheads’ early-’90s folk-rock stuff, it suggests that his knack for perfect little pop songs hasn’t dimmed with age. He’ll spend November and December touring American clubs — the band hit Avalon on December 16 — and playing stuff from The Lemonheads as well as gems from his extensive songbook.
Here’s some of what he had to say about the Lemonheads’ return.
Despite a rotating cast of band mates, the Lemonheads have always been your show. Yet you released an album of songs under your own name in 2003. Why resurrect the Lemonheads for this one?
This thing happened in Brazil where all these young Brazilian bands got together and did a tribute to the Lemonheads. And I thought, “If that’s happening in Brazil, I might as well get the band back together.”
But the current Lemonheads are a totally different band from the one on the last Lemonheads album. You’re the only constant.
Well, I mean, it hasn’t been the same people since 1989. On Lick I played all the tracks on the first song, you know what I mean? So I felt quite justified in taking the name over a long time ago. This has been happening with every Lemonheads record since Lovey. I think I finally found people that I think are really up to snuff as far as musicianship goes on this one, and I wanna stick with them for the next one too.
Did you and Karl and Bill, who also co-produced the album with you, share an instant rapport?
Absolutely. I met Bill 20 years ago and I met Karl 10 years ago. I know I learned a lot working with them, and Bill said to me that he learned a lot doing the record.
What do you think Bill learned?
It was a different way of recording for him — he’d never played slow.
The Descendents happened a little earlier than the Lemonheads. Do you think of Bill as a sort of punk-rock elder?
Bill was part of the first wave, you know? They’d sleep on Ian MacKaye’s sofa when they were in DC; they were really in there when he was with Black Flag. He always says there was 250 people that were in the first wave of hardcore. He was one of them. He’s not a lot older than me, but he’s more experienced and certainly a master at his craft. He’s a really great songwriter, which not that many people know. A lot of the best Descendents songs were written by Bill — a lot of people’s favorites.
As a producer, did he create a different experience in the studio from what you’re used to?
He’s really quick — so quick that I was kind of like, “Whoa, it’s sunny out. Can’t I just wait five minutes?” But we worked that out eventually. I’m more leisurely than him. He really just wants to work when he’s working and not work when he’s not working.
Do you respond well to that kind of whip-cracking?
I do. Sometimes I need a kick in the pants. I also like having a creative partner. In a way, this record is a product of our vision; it was a real collaborative effort.
The new music seems to reflect that recording process. Most of it’s loud and up-tempo.
It was sort of getting back to the earlier Lemonheads stuff, but played better. We used to take five days to do a record. And we took maybe a month and a half over a year and a half on this one. Which was lucky, because I didn’t have all the songs done until then anyway. But the recording process wasn’t anything like the old days, really, except that we cut the tracks live.