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Early years (1986–1991)
Evan Dando, Ben Deily and Jesse Peretz formed the Lemonheads as teenagers at the Commonwealth School in Boston. The band was originally called the Whelps, until inspiration came from a brand of candy, which Dando noted was “sweet on the inside and sour on the outside.” The band recorded and self-released the 7″ EP Laughing All the Way to the Cleaners. The band’s first show was played on August 19, 1986.
After high school, Dando enrolled at Skidmore College but could not maintain his grades and dropped out to pursue a musical career. Having signed to local label Taang! Records, the Lemonheads released the albums Hate Your Friends (1987), Creator (1988), and Lick (1989) with Deily and Dando sharing lead vocals and songwriting duties. The band enjoyed a good deal of college radio airplay and were popular in the burgeoning indie rock scene, up until Deily left the band in 1989. Dando then recruited David Ryan on drums, signed to major label Atlantic Records, and produced the album Lovey in August 1990. Straddling punk rock, country music and heavy metal, Lovey was released a year before the commercial explosion of grunge.
Breakthrough and height of fame (1992–1997)
Dando cut his losses and flew to Australia to write some songs with friends Nic Dalton and Tom Morgan. These songs formed the basis for It’s a Shame about Ray, the Lemonheads’ breakthrough album. A cover of “Mrs. Robinson” (recorded to promote the video release of The Graduate) was released as a single and got them the most exposure they had had so far. This cover was also used in the film Wayne’s World 2 and in Martin Scorsese‘s 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street. When the Ray album was reissued, the track was tacked on to the end. The band enjoyed some success on college radio, and mainstream exposure. During 1992–1993, Dando’s face graced many magazine covers, and he was included in People‘s 50 Most Beautiful People list.
The band officially renamed themselves from “Lemonheads” to “The Lemonheads” prior to the release of the Come on Feel the Lemonheads LP. A breakthrough single still eluded the band as they released Come on Feel the Lemonheads in October 1993. The band continued to tour featuring various lineups including bassist Mike County and guitarist Bill Peterson. This was a successful album with tracks such as “Big Gay Heart” and “It’s about time.” The band enjoyed modest mainstream success, this time with the single “Into Your Arms” (their highest charting UK hit to date). Writer Robyn St. Clare made the first recording of this song in 1990 as part of Love Positions with Nic Dalton.
Dando befriended Oasis and appeared at the band’s live shows. The cracks were beginning to show, and after one particularly disjointed interview with Dando almost unable to speak, having lost his voice after smoking crack cocaine, he admitted to having a drug problem.
In 1996, Dando re-formed The Lemonheads, featuring John Strohm and Murph (ex-Dinosaur Jr), as well as bassist Bill Gibson of the Australian band The Eastern Dark, a long-time associate of previous bassist Nic Dalton. This band produced another Lemonheads album, Car Button Cloth. While featuring jangly guitar songs such as “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You,” this set also showed off the darker side of Dando’s writing.
The band contributed to Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks, a 1996 tribute album for Schoolhouse Rock! creator Thomas G. Yohe, which contained remakes of many popular “Schoolhouse Rock!” songs – The Lemonheads offered their take on “My Hero Zero.” Previously, the band had contributed to a Kiss tribute album, recording Kiss’ 1977 song “Plaster Caster” for Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved (1994).
The band toured successfully in 1997 and played a final gig at the UK’s Reading Festival. Following a cameo line in the BBC‘s all-star cover version of Lou Reed‘s “Perfect Day” (which reached number one in the UK Singles Chart), Dando continued to play live solo shows.
Atlantic released The Best Of The Lemonheads in August 1998. Through 1998 and 2004 Evan Dando undertook some solo tours performing the band’s songs but an official reunion was never confirmed. During this time, Dando released a live album Live at the Brattle Theatre in 2001, and a solo album in 2003, titled Baby I’m Bored. He also co-wrote the song “The Last High” with Courtney Taylor-Taylor of The Dandy Warhols for the album Welcome to the Monkey House by The Dandy Warhols.