Evan Dando is in Purgatory. It’s one floor above Hell and one floor below Heaven, the middle level of an Atlanta club called the Masquerade. His band, the Lemonheads, will be headlining here later tonight. Meanwhile, Dando, long flaxen hair characteristically hanging in his face, is yawning and trying to remain alert for the sound check, and for this interview. The 26-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist is that rarity in the rock world: He actually likes to do interviews, exhausting even his publicists in his enthusiasm for schmoozing the press. Exhausting himself, too. This morning he had been 2 hours late for the interview — one of a dozen he’s given in the last 24 — because he fell asleep on the floor of the lobby of his Atlanta hotel while his roadmanager went off to check the band in. The manager kept apologizing for Dando’s tardiness — “He’s never been this late” — before finding him dozing beatifically behind a pile of luggage.
Dando has become something of a media phenom — alternative rock’s poster boy, if you will. Consistently portrayed as a garrulous free spirit who floats through the music world with a childlike openness, Dando is actually more reminiscent of Taxi‘s Reverend Jim in his loopy eccentricity, ricocheting from buoyant confidence to fragile despondency. “I’m very moody,” admits Dando.
“Evan gets a lot of attention for being a dippy hippie — too nice and a little naive,” says drummer David Ryan, who with bassist Nic Dalton completes the Lemonhead lineup. “But there’s a melancholy (Continued on page 63) (Continued from page 59) edge to him, some emotional turbulence that his best songs capture. I think music is about all he has for dealing with that sadness. It’s his salvation.” Media attention does tend to focus on Dando the flake, at the expense of his exceptional songwriting. “He’s a real musician — a songwriter in the old way, and a real music nerd,” says Ryan. “I’ll bet he’s memorized about 10,000 songs — everything from show tunes to Billie Holiday. I’ve never met anyone like him. It’s almost a form of autism.”
The Lemonheads’ just-released sixth album, Come On Feel the Lemonheads — which debuted at 56 on Billboard’s pop chart and is already in the top 10 of the college charts — showcases Dando’s facility with a lyric. Like the band’s last album, 1992’s It’s a Shame About Ray, this one continues his foray into folk-tinged rock after four albums of mostly hard-core pop. The songs — which Dando likens to short stories — have an introspective sensitivity driven by easy melodies that flirt outrageously with mainstream accessibility.
Music defines the man — especially the flirting part. Dando is a chick magnet, the unattainable loner on whom every high school girl has a secret crush. It doesn’t hurt that he churns out the most quirkily infectious love songs in pop (“If I was a front- porch swing, would you let me hang/If I was a dance floor, would you shake your thang”-from “Being Around”). Or that he was voted one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People in the World for 1993. “I guess that makes me the Michael Bolton of alternative rock,” he says with plenty of irony.
The gawky hunk claims he finds the whole pop-stud aspect of his fame “a good laugh,” but there’s no denying Dando plays into it, doffing his shirt for photographers time and again or seriously answering questions like “What’s the most number of girls you’ve slept with in a week?” (Seven, he told Britain’s New Musical Express.) “Evan is really caught up in the stardom thing,” admits Ryan. “He’s one of those guys who always knew he wanted to be a pop star.”