Ten years after Varshons, The Lemonheads’ Evan Dando returned on Feb. 8 via Fire Records with another collection of eclectic covers entitled—you guessed it—Varshons II.
“I’m going for the Underachiever of the Century award,” Dando laughs. “It was one thing [composer] Jon Brion said, ‘Everyone should stop making records for 10 years.’ And I did. I put in the effort for 10 years. I think there’s something cool about not putting stuff out. I really like making music, though. I feel like I do my own thing.”
Dando has indeed made music on his own terms. The first Varshons was created due, in part, to an impulse-buy of a Mark Dagley painting. Budgeting it into an album as the cover art assuaged his buyer’s remorse. “I think I’m actually the real deal, as weird as that sounds,” Dando states. “I’m really proud of my career. I am myself. No one else is like me.”
Between writing or recording or touring, Dando escapes to Australia. “I’m in the coolest place in the world right now,” he says. “It’s called Hibernian House; it’s very artsy and awesome.” Founded in 1913, it’s five levels of art spaces for creatives of all sorts, hidden in plain sight in Sydney.
“And then there’s me, annoying everybody,” Dando interjects. “Australia is a very special place for me. They’re very frank here, to the point,” he says, then launches into his best Brisbane accent: “‘Goin’ dawn ta surfah’s paradise.’ Melbourne is more English. It’s more tasty, more pungent, more pungent vowel sounds. I’m such a wannabe Australian; it’s ridiculous.”
The first Varshons was based on mixtapes that Dando and Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes traded over the years. Haynes produced that effort, and the combination of the two bizarre characters resulted in a mix of psychedelia, a GG Allin murder ballad, touching songs from the likes of Wire and Leonard Cohen, and lots of personality clashes.
“There was no ‘I’m not doing this fucking song,’” Dando says. “Gibby was like, ‘You’re doing this.’ He had an opinion about everything. Then, he was like, ‘Don’t sing it like that, either.’ We got in all these arguments. It was really fun. He’s really opinionated, and so am I.”
Varshons II also features cover art by Mark Dagley, but it was ultimately created as an excuse to tour. “I really like playing shows. It’s an excuse to go out,” Dando explains. “We have the European tour coming up, and I get to play the old stomping grounds. It’s so awesome to be able to go to a place like Zurich. I’ve been to every big city in Europe. It’s a good composite view of stuff; it’s a really good way to see things. The casual observer sees more.”
Most of the album was recorded with Matthew Cullen at Old Soul Studios in Catskill, New York. “I love Matthew,” Dando says. “He’s friends with my girlfriend, Marciana Jones, and Nina Violet, my girlfriend’s sister,” both of whom are part of this current iteration of The Lemonheads. “Marciana sings the harmonies and Nina plays bass,” he adds, “but Nina can do anything. If we had this difficult part, we’d be like, ‘Hey, Nina!’”
Without an expensive painting to justify purchasing or Haynes laying down the law, the process for Varshons II was more an exercise in staving off destructive boredom. “It was a dark patch, actually. I was going through a rough time,” Dando shares. “There was a snowstorm. Kinda have to have something to do. It really helps me.”
Dando hints at the process being less than ideal, though the final product is anything but. “I wouldn’t get out of bed and shit. We were late getting to the session. We missed the first three days, me and my girlfriend. Really bad. Anyway, here’s to professionalism in the future,” he laughs.
The album was recorded in a relatively short time span. “Twelve days or so,” he notes. “I wish we had more time—but then again, you can’t get that. You just go crazier. So, you just do it quickly-ish.”
Songs on the album range from obvious influences like John Prine, Paul Westerberg, and Nick Cave to obscure cult favorites like The Bevis Frond and The Eyes, to offbeat choices like Florida Georgia Line and Eagles. “I wanted to find ones in the pocket, though, not songs that were etched on some scroll or tabula rasa, but awesome songs that are a little obscure,” Dando says. “I wouldn’t want to do, like, [The Stooges’] ‘Search and Destroy.’ I did what came naturally and tried to keep it in my range.”
Though his song choices are steeped in harmonic storytelling, there are some heroes he’s reticent to touch. “The Velvet Underground or The Stooges, the sacred things. I would’ve liked to do ‘Hospital’ by Modern Lovers, but they’re another one that’s too—too something,” he hesitates, “too sacred. The Stooges, Velvet Underground, and Modern Lovers are too untouchable. Black Sabbath too. Untouchables.”
Lest fans think that getting more Lemonheads means waiting another decade for a new batch of covers, Dando says he’s writing original songs and plans to put out a full-length. “Yeah, I’m gonna do a real one,” he assures. “I’ve been saying this now for five years or so—you know, ‘It’s comin’ this fall!’—but I’m definitely doing it soon. It’s time.”
Look out for The Lemonheads on tour in support of their new record soon.
SOUTHAMPTON, UK – ENGINE ROOMS