The Lemonheads

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The Lemonheads

Rock band

Sounded Like Replacements

Hit Cover Unwillingly Included

Melodic Wimp or Brilliant Songwriter?

Selected discography


Boston-bred alternative popsters the Lemonheads are a band, despite the fact that the lions share of the media attention awarded them has focused on charismatic singer/songwriter Evan Dando. The groups sound originated in the rough-hewn underground rock scene of the mid-1980s, but it moved toward a more accessible, folk- and country-tinged approach as Dan-dos compositional abilities matured. Numerous personnel changes ensued, but by the early 1990s the Lemonheads solidified as a trio; even so, they made use of many guest artists.

After attracting recognition for some eclectic cover versions, the band became a big name in alternative rock. Their leader, meanwhile, dealt with the vicissitudes of life as an alternahunk. Los Angeles Times reviewer Richard Cromelin encapsulated the appeal of Dandos songs: He makes his points with an inviting, tuneful buoyancy rather than withering blasts, offering economical sketches of life that in their best moments resonate with disarming mystery and evocative mood.

Dandos familyhis parents were itinerant surfersmoved to Boston when he was nine. His parents split during Evans adolescence, and the experience left him bitter. Music was always what soothed him; he ranks Motown soul classics like Heat Wave by Martha & the Vandellas among his all-time favorites. Dando wrote a lot during high school and described himself as nerdy during that time in a Request interview. He struck many of his schoolmates, however, as angry and distant. He was a snappy, angry punk, recalled Jesse Peretzthe first Lemonheads bassistto Spin. He was really sharp to tell you exactly what was on his mind even if it was kind of cruel, but he always seemed to pinpoint exact truths.

Dando, Peretz, and drummer Ben Deily began playing scrappy punk-pop together under the name the Whelps while still in school. Their influences included Minneapolis punk-pop innovators the Replacementswhose frontman/songwriter Paul Westerberg quietly became one of the most respected tunesmiths in the businessand such underground heroes as Los Angeles punk outfits Black Flag and the Angry Samoans.

Sounded Like Replacements

Indeed, Dando informed Request writer Bill Holdship, The Samoans started our career, because we loved them so much that when they came to Boston in 85, we baked them a cake with icing that had the blonde girl with the axe in the top of her head and blood coming down [a horror-movie image that the Samoans used on an album cover], so the next time they came through,

For the Record

Members include Nic Dalton (joined 1992), bass; Evan Dando (born in 1967 in Essex, MA; son of a lawyer and former model), vocals, guitar; Ben Deily (left band c. 1989), drums; Juliana Hatfield (played on 1992 album, guest thereafter), bass, vocals; Jesse Peretez (leftc. 1991), bass; David Ryan (joined c. 1990),drums.

Group formed as the Whelps in Boston, MA, 1986; released debut single Laughing All the Way to the Cleaners on Taang! Records, 1986; signed with Atlantic and released Lovey, 1990; bands rendition of Mrs. Robinson appeared on 25th Anniversary videocassette of film The Graduate, 1992; Dando contributed to 1993 Sweet Relief benefit album and appeared in film Reality Bites.

Addresses: Record company; Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019; 9229 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069.

we got to open for them. The group gave an early tape to Curtis Casella, of the independent label Taang! Records. It sounded so familiar at first, Casella related to Spins Mark Blackwell. Exactly like the Replacements. It wasnt that Dando andfriends hadnt found their sound yet, they had just neglected to erase the Replacements songs from one side of their tape. When Casella heard the original tunes, he was suitably impressed with their intense energy. Taang! subsequently released the single Laughing All the Way to the Cleaners in 1986 with the trio re-christened the Lemonheads.

The bands first album, Hate Your Friends, appeared in 1987. The group was soon part of the vital Boston alternative-rock scene that also featured such bands as the Pixies. 1988s Creator enhanced their underground following. Soon after the release of their next record, Lick which contained an attention-getting cover version of Suzanne Vegas folk-pop hit Luka at Casellas insistence and against the bands wishesthe group hit rough seas.

Deilys brother Jonno had become part of the lineup, and the two apparently fought with Dando over control of the bands direction. Dando quit briefly to play bass in the Blake Babies alongside his pal Juliana Hatfield, but returned to the group when Lick and Luka generated a buzz on MTV and on the college charts. Faced with the prospect of a European tour, Deily balked. David Ryan took his place, but the Lemon-heads new, moderate success was bittersweet: Dan-do was given to bouts of night terror, and Casella once found him howling incoherently while squatting on a sink.

Hit Cover Unwillingly Included

Despite these nightmares, the Lemonheads signed with a major label, Atlantic, and recorded the album Lovey in 1990. Dando found a new place to decompress: Sydney, Australia. The band toured there in 1991 and the singer/songwriter found a community of musical friendsamong them Tom Morgan, who would become a frequent collaborator with Dando on Lemonheads songsfar from the maddening crowds of the American record business.

Peretz left the group before the Lemonheads recorded their breakthrough album, 1992s Its a Shame About Ray, so Hatfield sat in on bass. Australian bassist Nic Dalton joined the band for its subsequent tour. The album was produced by the three Robb brothers in Los Angeles.

Although Ray marked the full-fledged emergence of Dandos more intimate, poppy style, it was a rowdy cover version of Mrs. Robinson, a Simon and Gar-funkel song from the 1967 film The Graduate, that helped the band make its biggest waves. Originally recorded after Ray s release for the 25th-anniversary videocassette of the film, it was added to later pressings of the album. Once again, the band objected: See, I try to choose my cover songs very carefully, Dando explained to the Detroit Free Press, and theres noway Id choose that one. Even so, Mrs. Robinson and the freewheeling, low-budget video that accompanied it made the Lemonheads alternative-rock stars almost overnight.

Ray itself benefitted from the attention, but reviewers were clearly more smitten with the original songs. The secret recipe, reasoned Danielle Dowling of Reflex, seems to be Dandos ability to create songs that easily slip in and out of these genres [folk and punk] without abruptly alerting the listener, exemplified by the title track, a catchy piece both in its pleasant acoustic stanzas and bass-driven groove refrain. People favored the groups less alienating, almost folky feel over the anger and bombast of alternative heavies such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

The success of Ray also engendered the Cult of Evan; Dandos sleepy good looks graced scores of magazine covers, and interviewers worldwide ignored the group to focus on its leaders spacey charisma. This attention threatened to backfire when Dandos anxiety over recording the follow-up to Ray led him to admit to the press that hed resorted to heroin and crack for a brief spell.

Ultimately, however, the Lemonheads emerged in 1993 with Come on Feel the Lemonheads, an expansive album that further explored the country influences that had become part of Dandos sound. With the help of his friend Mac MacCaughan of the band Superchunk, Dando told Option that hed begun to see that country was valid, viable American music.

Songs like Big Gay Heartwhich employs veteran pedal-steel guitarist Sneeky Pete Kleinowshow how country has infiltrated his approach. Hatfield contributed vocals to numerous songs, and vocalists Belinda Carlislefor whom Dando had originally intended the song Ill Do It Anywayand Rick James also put in appearances. The album was again produced by the Robbs in L.A. Id prefer to be just about anywhere else, Dando explained to Rolling Stone. But I wouldnt want to work with anybody but the Robbs, and this is their place. So here I am.

Melodic Wimp or Brilliant Songwriter?

The Lemonheads, bolstered by extensive touring, were a tighter band in the studio. The album was an immediate smash in the United Kingdom, and the first single, Into Your Arms by Australian friend Robyn St. Clare, made a strong showing on MTV. With The Great Big No, the Lemonheads promised to get some attention for an original song for a change. Even so, reviews of the album were mixed. With each album, Dandos writing, singing, and guitar playing have grown steadily wimpier, commented Entertainment Weekly. But at least hes a melodic wimp.

The Rocket, meanwhile, praised Come on Feel the Lemonheads as a charming pop record that establishes Dando as a brilliant songwriter. While Details felt the album delivers on the shambling promise of Ray, J. D. Considine of Musician poured vitriol on it, reflecting a backlash in some circles against Dandos fashion-model status: all Dando shows in his songs is smug superiority. So fhim.

The Lemonheads, having solidified at last as a band and having cleared the hurdle of follow-up to a major label success, seemed at last to have found their stride. Rolling Stone referred to Dando as a first-rate songwriter, a worthy heir to the Paul Westerberg estate. The singerwho had been doing some film acting and drumming for the band Godstar with Dalton and Morganexplained to Musician, Its all about learning to relax, for me. Its really hard for me to relax in the studio and get a good performance.... Someone might even tell you how to do that, but you wouldnt really learn it until you figure it out for yourself. Thats what I did, and Im glad I came through it. You know, thats usually my style. In the last minute, I come through.

Selected discography

On Taang!

Laughing All the Way to the Cleaners, 1986.
Hate Your Friends, 1987.
Creator, 1988.
Lick (includes Luka), 1989.

On Atlantic

Lovey, 1990.
Its a Shame About Ray (includes Mrs. Robinson), 1992.
Come on Feel the Lemonheads (includes Big Gay Heart, Ill Do It Anyway, Into Your Arms, and The Great Big No), 1993.

With other artists

Frying Pan (Dando solo) Sweet Relief: A Tribute to Victoria Williams, Thirsty Ear/Chaos, 1993.


Billboard, November 6, 1993.

Circus, December 31, 1993.

Creem, February 1994.

Details, July 1993; December 1993.

Detroit Free Press, November 13, 1992.

Entertainment Weekly, October 15, 1993; November 19, 1993.

Los Angeles Times, November 7, 1993.

Musician, December 1993.

Option, November 1993.

People, November 30, 1992; May 3, 1993.

Raygun, November 1992.

Reflex, November 10, 1992.

Request, December 1993.

Rocket, October 27, 1993; November 10, 1993.

Rolling Stone, February 1,1993; April 1,1993; June 10,1993; September 30, 1993; February 10, 1994.

Spin, August 1992; December 1992; April 1993; December 1993; February 1994.

Us, November 1993.

Vanity Fair, October 1993.

Additional information for this profile was provided by Atlantic Records publicity materials, 1993.

Simon Glickman