A rare chat with Ween
Courtesy of Ween
Despite last year’s joyous release of an incredible live show from 1992 [Live at The Cat’s Cradle, 1992, Chocodog Records], all those early years when Ween consisted of Dean and Gene—two young, talented and hilarious Pennsylvania kids—and a drum machine seem like ancient history. Seeing a Ween show without drummer-extraordinaire Claude Coleman behind the kit has been impossible for the past 15 years, but that could change soon: Rumors have been spreading all over the Internet this summer about Coleman—a multi-instrumentalist who also leads the band Amandla and teaches at the Paul Green School of Rock in NYC—taking a break from Ween to make sense of a life that has perhaps appeared too fast and fun since his near-fatal auto accident. He even confirmed it in a heartfelt statement. However, when asked about Coleman’s departure, Dean Ween (born Mickey Melchiondo) told the Alibi, “Claude is still in the band the last time I checked.” In a follow-up e-mail, Ween’s manager Greg Frey told the Alibi, “Mickey's answer regarding Claude is spot on. Anything else is hearsay.”
“We actually only plan the first two hours of every gig; our three- and four-hour shows occur when everything is firing on all cylinders and the crowd is with us.”
Similarly, seeing a Ween show without watching singer/guitarist Gene Ween (born Aaron Freeman) down a bottle of Jack Daniel’s seemed impossible until just recently, but the band is being somewhat facetious about life as Ween without their notoriously hard partying. It’s common knowledge that Ween’s 2007 release La Cucaracha was recorded after Freeman made a much-needed trip to rehab, although that didn’t stop fans attending his first-ever solo tour this past spring from throwing bags of weed at Freeman’s feet during his sets. Nor did Freeman’s admirable recovery from addiction squelch Melchiondo’s trademark sadistic humor, as evidenced by our conversation.
I remember you blogging years ago about not enjoying festival gigs. It seemed like you guys literally helicoptered in and out of your first Bonnaroo performance for fear of exposure to hippies, but now you seem to be playing tons of festivals every year and really enjoying them.
I have actually had a really good time the three times we've played Bonnaroo. I don't think that the "hippie jam festival" thing is as prevalent anymore. More and more festivals offer variety—Bonnaroo now has headliners like the Police or Bruce Springsteen [and] I just saw a festival where Public Enemy headlined. Regardless of how we feel about it, a large part of our audience also enjoys [“hippie jam” music] and it has brought more people to our gigs. Some festival highlights for me were getting to hang out with Art Neville and watching the original Meters from five feet away on the side of the stage at Vegoose and chatting with Bob Weir at Bonnaroo; lowlights are always the poorly organized festivals and rain, crappy catering, no backstage areas, and porta-potties when you have to take a crap with no dignity left intact.
It seems like your shows get even longer and “browner” with each year you’re a band. How do you map out every night and keep every show different?
We actually only plan the first two hours of every gig; our three- and four-hour shows occur when everything is firing on all cylinders and the crowd is with us. I have always written the set lists, but it has gotten to be too much, so now Aaron and I have started doing them together this year. We try and not play the same songs every night and we work songs in and out of the set list when we get tired of them. Some songs I like to play every night and others come in and out.
Aaron’s gained sobriety and taken on a remarkable solo tour. How has touring, writing and recording as Ween changed since the partying mellowed?
Oh man, it's awesome. Every night the five of us have a nice dinner with angel hair pasta and apple juice and a nice, strong, black cup of coffee after dessert. We then do our sound-check and have a group prayer session followed by band therapy with our touring psychologist. Then we give each other blow jobs and Prozac enemas and write the set list. It's so much better now than before.