The Lemonheads have been around pretty much forever. They never got as big as their peers, but ask someone knowledgeable for a quick primer on American indie rock, and they’ll be mentioned. Evan Dando has led this troupe for almost thirty years (there was, of course, the eight-year break from 1997 to 2005) and have churned out interesting tunes, both originals and covers, and have pretty much positioned themselves as one of indie rock’s luminaries. Tonight they’re performing at Whitespace in Makati (with support from Ciudad, Ang Bandang Shirley and the Itchyworms) so, well, here’s one of our usual crash courses, because I also need to know. [NB]
“Luka” by the Lemonheads | The band’s three original members – Dando, Ben Deily and Jesse Peretz; all three went to the same high school – formed what was then called as the Whelps in 1986; the name change came after Evan tried out a piece of Lemonhead candy. The band signed to Taang! Records (an accidental reference to the candy, I’ll say) and released three albums that made them popular in the college rock scene of the time: 1987’s Hate Your Friends, 1988’s Creator (where their cover of Suzanne Vega’s classic first appeared), and 1989’s Lick. The three records had a more punk sensibility, but slowly transitioned to the sound of the blossoming alternative scene. Ben left the band after the third record to finish his studies, later working in the advertising industry.
“It’s A Shame About Ray” by the Lemonheads | After hiring David Ryan on drums, the Lemonheads signed to Atlantic Records and released Lovey in 1990. It suffered from a bit of bad timing – grunge would explode a year later – and didn’t perform as well as expected. After Peretz left the band to pursue a film career, the band released a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”, used for the film The Graduate; it would be the first most people know about the Lemonheads. Their fifth album, It’s A Shame About Ray – partly written in Sydney – was released in 1992, and became a moderate success on the back of the Graduate cover. As for Evan, well, people thought he was hot, and his face was in every newsstand.
“Into Your Arms” by the Lemonheads | The band’s sixth album, Come On Feel the Lemonheads, was released in 1993; it still wasn’t the breakthrough they were hoping for, but it was a bigger success than their previous record, reaching number 56 in the Billboard 200. Now they’re benefiting from timing, from Dando’s poster-friendly notoriety and the boom of alternative music (and the reactions against grunge); “Into Your Arms”, a cover of the original from Aussie band Love Positions – their bassist, Nic Dalton, was also with the Lemonheads – stayed at the top of the Billboard Modern Rock charts for nine weeks, a record they shared then with U2. Success was catching up with the gang, though, especially to Evan, who struggled with a drug problem.
“If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” by the Lemonheads | Evan’s writing shifted towards more grim territory on their next record, 1996’s Car Button Cloth, which also featured a new line-up. It wasn’t as successful as the two records that preceded it, but it would later become a bit of a cult hit thanks to the songwriting. Evan also collaborated with Eugene Kelly of the Vaselines for “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You”; a collaboration with Noel Gallagher would’ve also made the cut, if not for the Oasis man asking not to be part of it. But things were slowing down for the Lemonheads: after one last gig at the Reading Festival in 1997, the band would go on a hiatus. Evan would release a solo record, Baby I’m Bored, in 2003.
“Become the Enemy” by the Lemonheads | The Lemonheads would return in 2006 – again, a new line-up save for Evan – with the release of their eponymous eighth record. The band’s roster has fluctuated since, becoming a bit of a who’s-who of the indie rock scene: J Mascis contributed to The Lemonheads, while Juliana Hatfield has become part of the touring band. Ben Deily even got back on the act – the now Harvard graduate is reportedly working on the band’s ninth record, which has been announced for many years now, without anything concrete in sight. They did release an album of covers, Varshons, in 2009.