Formed Boston, Massachusetts, 1986.
Formed while at school in Boston, The Lemonheads originally comprised Jesse Peretz (bass), Ben Deily (vocals/guitar) and Evan Dando (vocals/guitar). Dando -- the only survivor from those beginnings -- drummed on and co-wrote the band’s self-financed debut single, “Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners” (1986), which introduced a harsh sound strongly influenced by British new wave. The boys then headed off to college, although Dando soon dropped out, and instigated a record deal for The Lemonheads with Taang!, an independent Boston label. Over the coming year, he was also to play bass with BLAKE BABIES alongside his girlfriend Juliana Hatfield, while the Babies’ John Strohm did sticks duties for The Lemonheads -- one of a sequence of short-lived Lemonhead drummers.
The Lemonheads honed their guitar sound on a trio of Taang! releases -- HATE YOUR FRIENDS (1987), CREATOR (1988) and LICK (1989) -- slowly establishing themsleves on the US college circuit. At the same time, Dando gradually moved centre stage, both in performance and in the songwriting, where he and Deily became bitter rivals. This resulted in increasingly schizophrenic records, until Deily left in 1989, with the threat that he’d issue a lawsuit if Dando played a note of his material.
LICK -- the last album with Deily -- had already begun a move toward softer sounds, exemplified by a romp through Suzanne Vega’s “Luka”, which was furthered on their debut for Atlantic Records, LOVEY (1990). Released as a single, “Luka” drew promising press coverage but Dando’s frustration over a creative dry patch led to a temporary band split. With the help of sidemen, he recorded an awful solo EP called FAVOURITE SPANISH DISHES (1990), which even featured a cover of New Kids On The Block’s “Step By Step”.
After spending time in Australia, Dando re-formed The Lemonheads, recruiting David Ryan (who had drummed on LOVEY) and JULIANA HATFIELD (on bass) for IT’S A SHAME ABOUT RAY (1992). Recorded in LA with a string of heavyweight session acquaintances, this was a snappy country-tinged record with an accessibility that stemmed from Dando’s affection for the mellow and unpretentious Australian music scene. His more relaxed approach shone through on the album’s narrative songs, many of which were co-written with Australian Tom Morgan. Another friend from Sydney, Nic Dalton, soon joined the band on bass.
Despite good reviews Atlantic failed to push the record and it hovered in the low 60s in the US and UK charts. Within months of its release, though, the label issued an enjoyable, if slight, guitar-heavy cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”, which charted worldwide and revived the band’s fortunes. The Lemonheads had by now become a headline attraction on tour, and Dando’s hippie-ish good looks had made him both a teen pin-up and the media’s favourite ‘slacker’, epitomizing the perceived mood of laid-back twenty-somethings across the world. He hung out with young Hollywood stars, appeared in the ‘Generation X’ movie Reality Bites, and contributed to the SWEET RELIEF (1993) charity album.
The band’s next LP, COME ON FEEL THE LEMONHEADS (1993), however, was delayed by Dando’s spiralling personal problems. Critical and commercial success in Britain -- where a cover of The Love Positions’ “Into Your Arms” became their biggest hit single -- was counterbalanced by poor sales in the US, where Dando was seen as a lightweight ‘bubblegrunge’ star, an insult which infuriated him. His substance abuse continued to worsen, and the group’s future was cast into doubt, though Dando cleaned up by the year’s end and played a solo acoustic tour of the US while writing material for a new Lemonheads album, including collaborations with Iggy Pop.
Dalton departed in early 1995, and Dando spent much of the year trailing Oasis around the festival circuit, hitting a low point at that year’s Glastonbury Festival in the UK, inspiring boos and jeers from an angry crowd with an appearance some ten hours late. Several visits to various rehab clinics followed, their regimes followed with varying degrees of devotion. Dando’s accumulated experiences from this period were honed into the sharpened beauty of CAR BUTTON CLOTH (1996). Titles such as “Hospital”, the truth-laden “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” and the cathartic, Kurt Cobain-tinged yelling behind “There’s Something Missing From My Life” illustrate the many miles of bad road that he’d trodden since the quirky, happy days of “Mrs. Robinson”.