Sometimes you have to get out of the space you’re in, or the space you’ve been painted into. That holds true for those of us trying to hold up in the maelstrom of covid19 – I am not locked in; I’ve just reduced my horizon! - and it held true for Lemonhead, indie idol, a man acquainted with a drug or two, occasional songwriter and not the easiest bandmate in the world, Evan Dando.
In this 2003 conversation, as a new album, yet another tour of Australia and – who knows? – some clean living beckoned, Dando talked about churches, books, art, death and destruction. Surprises were felt. A dream revealed.
In the Evan Dando story there has been a lot of sinning.
There have been sins real (crack and heroin spells; being accosted by police at Sydney airport while somewhat tired and emotional; wasting his undoubted talent with patchy albums) and sins manufactured (such as a supposed affair with professional widow Courtney Love), manufactured by those who resented the looks, the easy charm and the even easier ability to write the kind of pop songs others sweat blood to achieve.
But there hasn’t been much church going. Or so we thought.
Across the road from his downtown apartment in New York, the city he’s lived in for nine years, sits the grand old Trinity church. It’s one of those relics from the 19th century, the last time we took building great monuments to one or other god seriously enough to do it with scale and grandeur and imagination. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s a Dando favourite in a city not short of monuments of one sort or another, and he’s a frequent visitor.
“We go there all the time. It had one of those mazes but they’re remodelling since the towers went down,” Dando says in his relaxed drawl. “We’re on the edge of ground zero, or whatever they’re calling ground zero now. They would never build things like that [church] now. People don’t even take the time to build proper buildings any more, never mind that kind of thing.”
His district, far enough away from the various centres of New York life to allow for bike rides in the evening and crowd-free summer nights, is dotted with grand 19th century buildings and Dando talks knowledgeably about their architectural qualities.
If you think this is odd from a musician still best known for a jaunty cover (Mrs Robinson) and some even jauntier escapades, what do you make of the news that he’s spent much of the past few years exploring old buildings, churches and museums both at home and abroad?
It used to be that if you were told Dando loves to visit Amsterdam you would assume it was because of its reputation for having good quality narcotics. But his favourite part of the city isn’t the down town drug haunts but the Van Gogh museum, which he’s visited about a dozen times now. Why?
“I always say about Van Gogh that you can see the pain in the brushstrokes whereas Picasso athletically described pain,” Dando says. “With Van Gogh, the way he went about all the layers, it’s powerful, awe-inspiring. It’s good to be close to.”
He is also a regular visitor to Oslo where Edvard Munch’s art is displayed.
“He’s pretty good too. All his paintings are about awful, gory things, people in their sick beds. I love that stuff. But there’s also this big room with huge murals, beautiful uplifting murals.”
One of the things to like about Van Gogh is that there is very little between what he was feeling and what we see. It’s a bit of an analogical stretch but like painting, the best pop music is when you feel there’s almost nothing between the singer’s feelings and your own. As much as anyone can tell there doesn’t seem to be much separation between Dando and us on his new album, Baby I’m Bored.
“Yep. I like records where it sounds natural, even down to the point of small mistakes. I like to leave in the idiosyncrasies in my recordings. It took a long time to make this album [four years] and I didn’t want to over polish any single song,” he explains. “I wanted to make a pretty raw record, not in the punk sense of the word, but raw in the natural sounding. I recorded so much and picked the ones that sounded of a piece: that sounded a little bit resigned but had something to them.”
Four years to make an album?
“I didn’t get around to reading In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell,” he chuckles. “But that’s next on my reading list.”
He is currently reading Confessions Of A Mask by Japanese author Yukio Mishima which is set during war time and is concerned with, among other things, mental instability. Hmm, Van Gogh, Munch, Mishima. See a pattern here readers? We’re talking about people immersed in pain and madness and that’s what rings Dando’s bells.
“What else is there?” he laughs. “There’s Kiss and Sabbath. But then Sabbath deals mainly with pain and madness too.”
And recently we heard that Dando had expressed interest in replacing guitarist Blixa Bargeld in Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds. Cave is not known for being a chucklefest either. Should we be worried for yon Dando?
“I would love to do it,” he says of the Bad Seeds story. “They’re one of my favourite bands. I’d do it if I was offered it.”
He pauses and then says with relish: “And imagine all the negative press you’d get.”