Every month during the early ‘90s, it seemed as though a standout – and subsequently classic – alt-rock album was getting released: Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque, Dinosaur Jr.’s Green Mind, Sonic Youth’s Goo, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, and most obviously, Nirvana’s Nevermind, among other titles.
Within this stellar 1990-1992 window, Lemonheads issued their major label debut, It’s a Shame About Ray. That particular contribution to the '90s' unstoppable alt-rock scene turns 30 this year, and to celebrate its anniversary the band will be performing it in its entirety for a run of US dates before 2022 winds down.
Hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, the Lemonheads have been led since their 1986 inception by singer/guitarist Evan Dando. After a string of indie releases during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s – which saw the band at first sound quite Hüsker Dü-like, before specializing in a more jangly-pop-punk style – it all came together for the band in time for It’s a Shame About Ray.
Interestingly, the album’s best-known tune – a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson – was not originally on the album when it was first issued on June 2, 1992, but rather was tacked on afterwards by the band’s record company at the time, Atlantic. Having said that, the true heart and soul of the album are originals such as Confetti, the title track, and My Drug Buddy.
Just days before the tour’s launch, Dando spoke to Guitar World about the aforementioned album, his preferred equipment then and now, and his ‘90s alt-rock favorites.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of It’s a Shame About Ray. What do you recall about the writing and recording of it?
“If I was thinking about guitars, we did two tracks of acoustic guitar – one was Del Shannon’s old [Gibson] J-50 that [the album’s producers] the Robb Brothers had. It was from the 1950s – a really nice guitar. One with that, and one with my 1968 Gibson 200 or something. It was like a learner’s guitar.
“It was the first record I tried to get a sonic thread through, with the same sort of treatment for each song. We did two acoustic guitars and two electrics on every song. It was new and different.”
What do you remember about writing it?
“A lot of that was written down in Australia, or about stuff in Australia. I started it off with my friend Tom Morgan – we wrote some songs together – when I was down there opening for Fugazi, actually. I liked it so much there that I said, ‘Bring me back as soon as you can.’
“So, I got to open for Fugazi [who were touring in support of another early ‘90s alt-rock classic, Steady Diet of Nothing], which was really exciting, in October of ’91. That’s when we did a lot of the writing for the album, and then when I came back home for the winter in January.”
So your experiences in Australia influenced how the album came out?
“A bunch of people I met down there... people that were as into the Velvet Underground as I was, and the Modern Lovers and the Stooges – stuff like that. Not that you’d know it from the songs, but it helped a lot getting started with my friends Nic Dalton and Tom Morgan. Just an enthusiasm for the whole thing came back because I met those guys.”
Which tracks from the album are your favorite?
“I like Rudderless, Confetti, The Turnpike Down. But I like the whole record. I’m pretty happy with the record, still. But My Drug Buddy, Confetti, and Rudderless I think are my favorite ones.”
What are your thoughts on the cover of Mrs. Robinson today? Do you regret it?
“The whole Wolf of Wall Street sort of redeemed it for me [the song was included on the soundtrack to the hit 2013 film]. We didn’t do it for it to be released on the record – it was kind of like sleight of hand by the record company [who added the track to subsequent pressings of the album, after its initial release].
“We recorded it for a fee for the people that bought the rights to The Graduate [the classic 1967 film, which featured Simon and Garfunkel’s original version of Mrs. Robinson as the main song]. It was just some extra money we were trying to make – but that was it.
“And then sure enough, it was like a trick – they went and released it as a single. We were really pissed off. You’ve got to be careful. You’ve got to watch what you do with the record company – with their knowledge, anyway. Always watch it.”
How is it performing the album in its entirety now?
“It’s fun. I’ve done it for the 10th anniversary and the 20th. I never really stopped playing a lot of those songs, but there are the ones like Ceiling Fan in My Spoon that we never played. So it was kind of cool that way – it made us play songs that we didn’t usually play.”
While performing the album in its entirety, do certain memories come back from that time?
“I don’t know if memories come back anymore, but it certainly is fun to play them still. I mean, I guess occasionally memories come back but mostly memories of the tenth anniversary. All the albums blend together for me, but they’re some of the best songs that I’ve written, so it’s pretty fun.”
Who is in the current Lemonheads lineup, and how does that compare to the one that recorded It’s a Shame About Ray?
“That was Juliana Hatfield and David Ryan [who played on Ray]. We didn’t have management for a second, so I was picking everyone up every day, and my big plan was to do an hour a day for a month.
“But except for two shows before the release of the album, Juliana never really played live with us, so we never really had that lineup playing live.
“I really like the band we have now. It’s good to have different people after a while – I’ve played with Farley [Glavin] the bass player for a really long time. It’s working out good right now, with the drummer too, Mikey [Jones].”
Which Lemonheads album are you most proud of overall and why?
“I think [Ray] would be the one, because there was a sort of freshness. That one, or Car Button Cloth, our seventh one. That one has a better bass sound.
“They’re all a little bit ‘AM radio-sounding’. I don’t know how that happened, but Car Button Cloth came out a little bit better, the bass. A little tinny, but I like that sound.
“It’s just like how the MC5 complain about their record Back in the USA. That’s my one complaint – it’s not really bass-y enough. But it happens.”
What were some of your favorite alt-rock artists and albums of the ‘90s?
“I really like the Screaming Trees’ Uncle Anesthesia. I really like Dinosaur Jr.’s Where You Been. I like Mudhoney’s first album [self-titled, which was actually released in 1989] a lot. I really liked Teenage Fanclub’s Songs from Northern Britain, and Red Kross’ Phaseshifter is a really good one.”
Who are your favorite guitarists of all-time?
“James Williamson [Stooges], Ron Asheton [Stooges], Neil Young, Andy Gill [Gang of Four], and Roger Miller [Mission of Burma].”
You already talked a bit about your guitar setup from back around the time of It’s a Shame About Ray, but what about the effects and amps you used?
“I think I used an MXR distortion, and a Marshall JCM800 – it was like a Silver Jubilee model.”
What guitars are you currently playing?
“I always used Gibson acoustics – it’s a Hummingbird I’m playing live – and I just use a Les Paul and a white SG from ’63 or ’64. The Les Paul is from 1979, it’s my bass player’s guitar. Right now I use a Vox wah and a TC Electronic delay pedal.”
What is it about Gibson acoustic guitars that makes them your preferred choice?
“I’ve just always liked the sound of them, they seem like the best. I have a 1968 Gibson 12-string I don’t play live, I just bring it to play backstage. It’s good to write songs.”
What’s next for you after the tour?
“I’m trying to record a new record this winter or spring to be released in the next year. I have a bunch of songs already written. It’s not quiet – it’s more rocking.”
- The Lemonheads launch their It’s a Shame About Ray 30th Anniversary Tour on November 17. For info and tickets, visit the band’s official website .