Though Evan Dando is a talented songwriter in his own right, you may recall the Lemonheads’ biggest hit was a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” That paired with the fact that Evan’s a big fan of the dying art of creating mixtapes, it’s only fitting that the latest Lemonheads release is an eclectic selection of covers entitled Varshons, that features guest spots from friends Kate Moss and Liv Tyler. On the eve of the album release and accompanying tour, Evan Dando talks to RadarOnline.
RadarOnline.com: Congratulations on the new album.
Dando: There was a time when I was excited about it, but it’s been mastered for over a year. Rhino totally wimped out on us. We had just done the reissue of It’s A Shame About Ray and things were going really good and I bought a really expensive painting and I was like, ‘Alert, alert I’ve got to make a covers record,’ and they said they’ll put it out and then the same old thing happened: ‘we’ve been crunching some numbers and we want points with a hit.’ It’s so hypocritical, they want a piece of it if it does really well but they don’t want to put it out. I hate record labels.
Radaronline:It seems like a lot of artists feel that way right now.
Dando: I feel more sorry for them now, but there was a time when I hated ‘em. I remember when Keith Richards said to me once ‘there’s no such thing as a good record label,’ and it turns out he’s right. Right now the situation with the label I’m on [The End Records] is okay. There’s no such thing as a good label, but there are good times at labels, there are good situations, there are good people that work at labels, so that’s the best you can do.
Radaronline: You were once tagged the King Of Covers because you always throw in a cover at your live shows. What made you decide to release a whole album of covers?
Dando: It was just because I bought this painting that I needed to put it into some kind of budget because it was sort of expensive. It’s the cover of the record. It’s a contemporary thing that this guy in Brooklyn did. So I was like whoa, I should make a record and I was like, Gibby [Haynes, who produced the album] are you in, and he was like yeah and so we did it really quickly and then it took forever for it come out. It’s really ridiculous you wait that long and then put it out at the absolute worst time you can put a record out, June?
Radaronline: What’s the key to creating a good cover?
Dando: It can’t be something like Modern Lovers or the Stooges or the Velvets or like the Beatles or the Stones, you can’t do any of those bands, you can’t do any stuff that’s really untouchable, and you can’t cover songs that are perfect. You can’t cover songs that you’ve loved since you’re 14 that are your favorite music because it’s just too much, I wouldn’t want to do that. I like to stick to the ones that are first off really obscure maybe, and not that they’re not perfect in their own way.
Radaronline: How did you and Gibby choose the songs you covered on the album?
Dando: Gibby really picked most of them. I wouldn’t have chosen some of them myself, but I enjoyed getting out of my comfort zone. But I picked the Gram Parsons and the Townes Van Zandt and I picked the Leonard Cohen one for me and Liv [Tyler] because I was trying to think of a good one for me and her to do and that was a good one to do as a duet I thought.
Radaronline: What made you decide to cover Leonard Cohen? That seems like quite a daunting undertaking.
Dando: I mean, it’s quite foolhardy, yeah.
Radaronline: And Gram Parsons?
Dando: But the Gram Parsons one was just a throwaway song he wrote when he was 17 on a break from Harvard. It’s just him trying to do a Dylan song.
Radaronline: Isn’t Gram Parsons one of your favorite artists?
Dando: Yeah since like ‘88. I wrote this song called “Ride With Me” and my friend said you know that reminds me of Gram Parsons, and I had never heard of him, so I got into him in a backward sort of way, which is cool. So it had a natural affinity.
Radaronline: How did the collaboration with Kate Moss come about?
Dando: We were just sort of thinking let’s get some interesting guests in on it. And we were already set on doing, “Dirty Robot,” and we thought it would be perfect. And I think she sings it better than the original, it sounds better with like a London accent, it sounds more mean or something. We just thought she’d be perfect for that song and that mean kind of singing.
Radaronline: Was she nervous at all?
Dando: She’s totally into it. Kate’s pretty together as far as stuff like that, she’s confident, from the outside.
Radaronline: And then how about the duet with Liv Tyler on Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye”?
Dando: We’ve done stuff before, she sings back up on a couple songs with me, and she really loves singing. She’s good, so I wanted to get her involved in it too. She’s really excited about it. She reminds me of Marilyn Monroe singing to JFK or something.
Radaronline: Which song on the album is your personal favorite?
Dando: “Yesterlove” because it’s the most of a departure from what I’ve done before. It’s the most incense like weird, tripping for four days, sort of hippy weird song. I like it, I like it, the sitar, I like that.
Radaronline: Which song are you most curious to hear the original artist’s reaction to?
Dando: I’m most interested for Lemmy [Kilmister, of Motorhead] to hear because he sang that song “Yesterlove” originally. It was his first band, he must have been 17 or something when he sang it. His version is so great. I think he wrote the lyrics and stuff so I’m most interested in hearing what Lemmy has to say about it.
Radaronline: So you’re not going to send Christina Aguilera a copy of your version of “Beautiful”?
Dando: No, no, I mean, I respect her as a singer, she’s a great singer and stuff. I just never really liked that song that was all Gibby, that one.
Radaronline: Were you reluctant to do that song initially?
Dando: Very, very, very, very. I was like no, no, no. I think it’s alright to do it, I think it came out ok. You hear the hook a little better without all the crazy vocal gymnastics.
Radaronline: What are your plans for summer?
Dando: We’re gonna tour a little. Just June, don’t want to tour in July and August because that’s just crazy. We will be doing a little in September I think too, and then I hope to be recording again really soon, a real record again.
Radaronline: Have you written much new material yet?
Dando: Yeah, yeah, a lot of music and it’s gotta be melded, it’s on the way, it’s maybe half done.
Radaronline: What else are you working on as of late?
Dando: I’m doing a book but I can’t really give it away because it’s kinda based on like a gimmick thing I thought of. But that’s my thing I’m doing now, it’s kind of a children’s book with pictures that my friend in Australia is doing.
Radaronline: What was the last great new album you loved?
Dando: Like in 2001, Beachwood Sparks. I like Eminem and I like some stuff around the turn of the century but since then I haven’t liked anything. I hate Arcade Fire. I just hate anything that sounds like U2 and most things sound like U2 again now, what’s that stupid band, Kings Of Leon? They sound like U2 now. I just don’t like music—I only like old music.