It’s a little tougher to get to the bottom of what exactly has changed about the way Dando, who is now married and living in New York, does business, whether it has to do with how he handles his personal life, or how he approaches making music. In fact, our first phone conversation ends rather awkwardly when I try to get him to talk about the process of recording Baby I’m Bored. After simply reading down the disc’s liner notes to inform me that he collaborated with producer Jon Brion in Los Angeles, with the members of Giant Sand (Howe Gelb, Joey Burns and John Convertino) in Tucson, and with Spacehog brother Royston Langdon in Brooklyn, Dando’s frustration reaches a peak and he decides to cut things short.
“Good press is way worse than bad press,” he suddenly points out. “So this is all just bullshit. To a musician it means nothing. It’s just something that you have to do to let people know your record is out there. So let’s just get this over with as quickly as possible. I mean, I’m at the end of my rope here. I’ve had enough of this shit. I’m just not in the right mood right now. I don’t want to be employed at all, and I’m being employed. And I feel like an asshole. So I want to get off the phone. I just can’t help it. I’ve been on the phone all day. I’m just not in the right frame of mind right now. I’m a joker, I’m sorry. I’m just in no state to do an interview right now. How about you give me a call back in a half an hour. I’m sorry.…When you call back I’ll be ready to talk about the record…”
Fortunately, as promised, round two goes much more smoothly. For starters, Dando’s obviously still working on overcoming his fear of revealing too much of himself, something he has certainly done in past interviews, particularly when he was open about his use and abuse of drugs. “That’s always been my downfall — being open with the press,” he concurs half-jokingly. Then, on a more serious note: “That’s why I get uptight sometimes.”
What follows is a somewhat incoherent story about a British press junket that apparently didn’t go very well. And, while Dando doesn’t explicitly blame the situation he’s attempting to describe on his use of drugs, he does end the story by explaining, “I’m not anti-drug, I just can’t take them myself anymore. I can’t even drink…”
In and of itself, that probably accounts for a great deal of the focus that’s reflected in the songwriting on Baby I’m Bored. The disc has plenty of rough edges, including what sounds like a live take of the countryish number “Why Do You Do This To Yourself”, in terms of production. But the songs all sound finished in a way that Come On Feel… just didn’t.
“I’ll tell you what the deal is,” he finally says. “This record was just the cumulative process of gathering enough tunes. I threw away way more songs than I’ve ever thrown away before. We have tons of B-sides and odds and sods and whatever. Because I really wanted to get to the point where I had twelve collections of noises that I could really stand behind 100 percent. I don’t think of them as songs. They’re just collections of sounds. I waited and waited and waited. I was spending my own money, going into studios, and waiting until I had twelve songs that I really liked and that all fit together as an album.
“The way it was always done before was just in one session in like a month or two,” he continues, “and it would all be the same studio and the same people. This one was a very nomadic experience. It was all done in fun over the course of four years in Brooklyn, in Arizona, in L.A.
“Meeting Jon Brion was a big boost for me because, well, it was like a big shock because he’s so talented. And we were able to write songs together right away, which is really weird for me. In the end, though, I looked at this record as me walking down a really, really, really long beach and finding twelve shells to bring home with me to put on the sink in the bathroom. I picked up a lot of shells and threw a lot of shells away, but I finally found the twelve that I wanted. And the twelve songs that I finally found all fit together on the sink in the bathroom of that imaginary beach bungalow that I’m talking about.”
If the album eventually came together with relative ease, it didn’t quite start out that way. And Dando is the first to say that if it weren’t for the combined influence of two “young Bens” — singer-songwriters Ben Lee and Ben Kweller — he would have had a much harder time simply starting the process of recording a solo album.
“Definitely, before I met Jon Brion, Ben Lee and Ben Kweller were my main motivating factors,” he says. “They were like, ‘Get off your ass Evan. Come to my house and we’ll write a song. It’s not a big deal, don’t worry about it so much, just come over and we’ll write a song.’ I was just by myself and maybe over-thinking things. I wrote a bunch of songs but I just wasn’t feeling it. So it took some kicking in the ass by some young Bens to get me moving again.”
Now Dando has made an album that’s good enough to buy him a second chance at, well, at what? The prospect of fame clearly doesn’t sit well with Dando, unless he’s changed an awful lot since his last shot at mainstream success. Yet he still has the looks, the tunes, and probably even the connections to be a real rock star if he wants it badly enough.
Indeed, the road to “Behind The Music” redemption almost requires an artist to come right out and declare that they’re reaching for the brass ring again. And it’s hard to imagine Dando doing anything even remotely like that, given his mindset at this point in his career.
“I’ve never been envious of what’s happening in the limelight,” he says. “I mean, look at what was really big while I was gone — N’Sync or whatever. It doesn’t matter, though, because I was never accepted as authentic. I’m just not alternative enough.”
So how would Dando like the world to see him? “Hmmm…that’s a good question. I’m a singer, a songwriter, a drummer, a guitar player, and I play some organ on this record. Oh, and did I mention bass?” You have now. Somehow, though, wherever this chapter of Dando’s story may eventually lead, bass playing probably isn’t going to be a featured role.