by Adam Gold
If you're in need of some convincing, check out my feature on the band in today's edition — dead-tree and otherwise — of the Scene. Or check out the Q&A from my interview with guitarist Mickey Melchiondo Jr. (aka Dean Ween, aka Deaner). As you'll see, he's "fuckin' " hilarious (no surprise there), still hates Pearl Jam, thinks The Flaming Lips "fake the funk," kinda misses the '90s, wishes he had more money and proclaims himself a good DJ, among other discussion points. Fun stuff.
Nashville Cream: So, this Nashville show is going to be the first of this tour. What are you guys planning on doing this time out? Anything out of the ordinary, besides your usual out-of-the-ordinary show?
Dean Ween: No, just the usual stuff [laughs], we have nothing special planned. We’re just going to [play] our songs.
NC: Since you guys are such a diverse band, how would you describe what you do to, let’s say, my 94-year-old Grandmother?
DW: You know, I find it easiest to just not tell anyone I am in a band (laughs). That’s my system. But if they force me into it, I tell them that we are a rock band, which never satisfies them, and then I say that we are more into writing songs, then I just try and tell them we are not a metal band or something like that, I just try and frustrate people until they let the subject drop [laughs].
NC: But the thing is, when you guys decide to play a metal song, you will be a metal band for those couple minutes.
DW: I don’t know, we listen to all kinds of music. I love all kinds of music. Like I said, honestly I don’t even tell people I’m in a band. Ever. Like, ever, in any situations.
NC: Do you get recognized often, when you’re off the road and whatnot?
DW: Yeah, we do a lot. I drink at the same bar every night. We’re in a tourist town so people sometimes [do]. It’s good. They buy you free drinks. But even if it’s to my advantage to tell somebody I am in a band, I usually don’t even tell them.
NC: You’re one of the only bands who have managed to put a sense of humor and irony at the forefront of your material but you always managed to be taken seriously and to never become a novelty band or a joke band. How do you manage to do that and transcend those pigeon-holes?
DW: By staying around [laughs], really. By staying around for 27 years. That’s really it. I don’t know, I’m pretty harsh — I don’t know if I would give Ween a chance if I heard about us or something. I mean, I don’t know, maybe … people need to put a label on something, they need to identify it with something, so the humor in our music is usually the first thing that they target, and that might turn some people off from checking it out, it might turn me off for checking it out, but that’s just a dimension to our music, that’s not all there is. We don’t sit around trying to be funny all the time. We’re just trying to make good records.
NC: So you would say it’s just a natural part of the band’s personality?
DW: Yeah, it’s part of our personalities, you know? It just comes across. We have some records that do really have that element to it. I think our last record, La Cucaracha, was a lot of fun, [but] there’s a difference between fun and funny. I would say our record Quebec wasn’t really a lot of fun.
NC: Yeah, that was a pretty dark record.
DW: Yeah, it’s just a dimension to our personalities, and it comes across in the music based on how we’re doing at that place and time.
NC: Do you ever encounter people thinking you’re joking when you’re not, because of that reputation?
DW: I don’t know. I don’t pay any mind, I stopped caring. To be in this band you have to have thick skin, I learned that really fast.
NC: Why is that? Why do you have to have thick skin to be in the band?
DW: I think because you can’t believe what people say about you, whether good or bad, you can’t let it go to your head. Especially around the first record — we were getting a lot of press and coverage and people missed the point a lot. They loved us, but they still missed the point thinking it was some kind of comedy act. You can’t read these things whether they are good, whether they are great and they love you, or whether they think you totally suck, you can’t buy into it one way or the other — that’s what I mean.
I learned it all on our first record, after reading press and being all excited that people were writing about us. I would get so angry and frustrated, feeling like people were completely off the mark in estimating what we were all about. It’s one thing to say it, but I actually live it — I really don’t care what anybody thinks about Ween, and I don’t care what labels they stick on us, if they think we are a novelty band or whatever. But we have managed to stay around for 25, 26, 27 years.
NC: Were you expecting the band to last this long?
DW: Honestly, yes, yes we were. I remember, like, way back when we were 15 years-old we used to joke about being in the place we are now. Like, having beards and divorces and wives and kids. And how we wanted to be lame at this point. I wouldn’t say I ever expected it [to last], but I’m not surprised. It’s like being sentenced to death being in this band [laughs].
NC: Has the reality of beards and divorces been better than fantasy?
DW: Yeah, absolutely. Honestly, I wish we had more money, I feel like, [given] the amount of time we’ve put into Ween, I wish we had some money, but we don’t have any money. No, really. Honest to God.
NC: Even though you guys have always been a huge live draw?
DW: Yeah, but everybody’s got their hand in the fuckin’ pot though. It’s really expensive to tour, and as you do it more and more you become accustomed to these creature comforts, like having 12 guys in your crew — a fucking lighting guy, a monitor guy, a guitar guy, a drum guy, a fucking bus driver, a merch guy. Then you’ve got a manager and a booking agent, everyone is working for commission or salary. But, anyway, we are still in the band and all that. I wish we had more money though.
NC: I wish you guys had more money too. I always come to Ween as an example when talking about better times in the music business, relatively speaking, when major labels could take chances, it’s always amazed me that Pure Guava was a record that came out on a major label. Were you surprised when that happened?
DW: No, I am like a music historian, like a huge music fan. It wasn’t lost on me. I was really honored — it was really a great day when I got a Ween CD in the mail that had the Electra logo on it. But looking back now, that was a really pretty cool time. It’s really easy to mark a bad time and say shit was so much better 20 years ago. But that was actually true in that era. That was around the time when bands like Pearl Jam and The Red Hot Chili Peppers were right up on the top of the charts next to the Mariah Careys and Janet Jacksons — names that you normally wouldn’t think freaky bands like Nirvana or whatever could share space with. It was a lot better then than it is now. It was really cool, we went up to Elektra and Elektra still had Bob Krasnow as its President, who is last of the great record guys.
He had us in his office, and he was the big record company guy. He had all this museum-type art in his office, like Picassos and shit up in the Time Warner building, and he was smoking big Cuban cigars, and he had produced Funkadelic and signed them to Warners in the mid ‘70s, just the history of this guy. He liked us. It was his call, and it was neat — he spoke intelligently about Ween. You could tell he listened to our record pretty thoroughly, or at least someone gave him enough knowledge to where he could speak about it. He made all these comparisons to stuff we really liked — like Beefheart — and it was flattering. Could it happen now? I don’t know. It was just different then, you know?
Now, it’s like bands are kinda more lazy, they’re not as driven as we were. I think technology is so cheap now that everyone has an opportunity to be in the game. With the Internet, you could start a website and make a video. Recording software is free. We had to really work to do our thing. We had to learn everything. But we put all our energy into the right places — trying to get better at writing, better at playing, better at recording, better at performing. We were kind of old-fashioned that way. We didn’t just pop out of nowhere, we had been in Ween since eighth grade by that time. We had almost been in Ween nine years, 10 years before we were signed to Elektra.
Your question, though, was, was I surprised? I don’t know if “surprised” was the word, but it wasn’t lost on me, I felt like it was the greatest thing in the world.
NC: How did you feel when you saw yourself on Beavis and Butt-head?
DW: I don’t remember. Being on MTV back then wasn’t a big deal — we were on MTV a lot. They did that Sunday night thing, 120 Minutes, or whatever it was called, and we played spring break between Ru Paul and, like, Motley Crue with Pauly Shore [hosting] and shit. It was a weird time. Like I said, you had, like, the Chili Peppers next to Janet Jackson on the charts and Nirvana blowing up the world. There was just a lot of shit going on. It’s pretty cool looking back on it now, although at the time I was a first-class hater of all that stuff [laughs] — I hated Nirvana and I hated Pearl Jam and I hated all that. [Now] I love Nirvana, but I still hate Pearl Jam.
NC: Well, I guess Pearl Jam can’t win ‘em all. You talk about getting better at writing and recording and all that, a lot of people who know those early records know the band as this lo-fi, bedroom-recording-style thing, with a drum machine and all that. It’s really gotten a lot more sophisticated over the years, especially with the live show. Tell me about how that all evolved?
DW: Just like you said, it just evolved. We had a couple big transitions; one was going from a duo to a whole band — we used to play live as a duo with a tape deck. A lot of people at the time thought we had sold our souls, that it was never gonna be as good, that it wasn’t as pure. When Chocolate and Cheese came out I remember being really, really afraid because it was a more proper multi-tracked record than a four-track record. I thought it was the worst record in the world at the time, and I thought we were going to lose all our fans, and they were going to hate it because we made this slick record. And then the country record, I was pretty sure everyone was going to hate us for that. It’s just evolution, and as long as you don’t second-guess yourself to the point where it effects your decision making, you’re probably doing the right thing. If you’re going to miss, miss big, if you’re going to fail, do it all the way.
It’s funny, I’ll meet somebody and they’ll find out I’m in a band and get, like, The Pod or Pure Guava and just be absolutely horrified. I don’t know what picture they get in their mind, like, “God, that guy travels around the country and does this?! Who the fuck would listen would listen to that?!” Like, my plumber, or my electrician, you know? “Oh, you play in a band? I checked your stuff out”, “Well, what did you get?” “Uh, it’s called Pure Guava?” “Listen, go get a different record, that one’s pretty noisy.” That’s how I describe [that stuff] — “It’s noisy.”
I love that stuff. I’m not poo-pooing it. It’s just [that] trying to vindicate yourself in the eyes of a traditional music listener (laughs).
NC: But, of course, most of it is accessible. I mean, I took my mom to a Ween show once and she loved it.
DW: [Laughs.] Yeah?
NC: Yeah. But, you know, go to one of your shows and you’ll see college kids or see, like, hippies or you’ll see punks, or maybe my mom. Is there anything in particular you think really does unify those people?
DW: Probably the love of marijuana that unites them [laughs]. Other than that, I don’t know, it’s fun — the concerts are fun. I think we’re pretty dynamic; we take people on a ride — it’s not just all heavy, all the time. We do quiet sequences and then really rocking sequences, so it naturally builds to a conclusion. But I wont back away from my first statement, it’s probably the love marijuana, and alcohol or drugs, in the overall way — that’s probably the common denominator anyway. It’s not the only thing, but I bet it’s a big thing.
NC: In terms of how you go about deciding the set lists, is it like DJing at a party or something like that?
DW: It’s exactly like that, I do the set list — and I’m a really good DJ also. I have gotten good at it over the years. I take everything into account, I look at what we played last time we were in town, whether it was two or three years ago, to make sure we don’t start with the same songs or play the same songs. It’s like making a mixtape or something.
I have to take a lot of other musical things into account too, like Aaron [Gene] having to take his guitar on and off, I try and keep it around his shoulders for six or seven songs in a row so he doesn’t have to keep taking it on and off and tuning it. And then there are the keys of the songs. But mostly, it’s the dynamic of the set — you don’t want to come out every night fully fuckin’ [out] with all guns blazing, you want to take people on a ride.
I [also] take into the account the mood the band is in. It’s really weird — without sounding all fuckin' cosmic and shit like a hippie — it’s really weird how much synergy there is in a band if the five of us all eat together, and eat the same thing at the same time, after being together as long as we have, how much I recognize these things now, how much sleep we all got. If we were all out the night before drinking until 5 in the morning, I’ll take that into account. I recognize these things, and I will know what page everybody is on before I start making the set list, so we’re not out there faking the funk, we wont come out and pretend, like The Flaming Lips do every night, like ”We’re the happiest guys in the world!” You can’t fucking feel that way every night — balloons, and fuckin’ stuffed animals and shit. Anyways, don’t get me started on that.
NC: Correct me if I’m wrong, but a few years back you guys prematurely halted a tour to take a break from the party, so to speak. Have you managed to keep it tamer these days?
DW: That’s Aaron’s deal, and his business to tell you that, really. He’s very open about it, he’ll tell anyone about it. but it’s not really my business to talk about his business [laughs]. He’s been battling with substance abuse for a long time.
It’s not easy being in a band. There’s a reason why all of us are fucked up on drugs and alcohol. Being on tour is rough and it’s really boring more than anything. The three hours a day that we play is the best part of the day. But the other 21 hours are spent in Holiday Inns and, fuckin’, out on Route 1 by the TGIF, or waiting for a fuckin’ flight at Gate 7 that’s delayed three hours. It really sucks. And the best way to make it interesting is to do a lot of drugs and drink. You get really good at it [laughs]. You get really, really, really good at it — you can out-drink and out-drug anybody. But you can’t live your life that way, you know? Eventually your body says, “Fuck you.”