by: Jennifer S. Doktorski

The story of Ween's beginnings is a familiar one. It all started at the lunch table in junior high. Six or seven pre-teens convening daily to swap records and talk about their favorite bands. It's the story of how a lot of guys begin their life-long passion for rock. Only if two of the people at the lunch table happen to be Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo --the musicians who would some day become Gene and Dean Ween --the story doesn't end when the bell rings.

NBU: What is Ween up to now?

MICKEY: We have something like nine shows coming up, three of which are festivals -one in Lawrence, Kansas, one in Budapest (Hungary), and one in Hamburg. Hamburg is supposed to be like hundreds of thousands of people, it's pretty heavy with the Beastie Boys and the Foo Fighters. We play after the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

As far as recording goes, we have a track on the X Files soundtrack that we did a few weeks ago. It's also in an upcoming episode of the TV show.

NBU: Did you write the song based on the fact it was gonna be on the X Files?

MICKEY: David Duchovny was saying in interviews how he is a Ween fan, and it was good cause the show's so popular, and the movie is supposed to be a big summer movie. As for the soundtrack, the labels bid on it and Elektra got the bid, and it was a good opportunity because we knew he was a fan and it was gonna be on our label so through whatever channels it happened -through the actor or director or whatever -they asked us to do something so we wrote a song and recorded it.

NBU: What's the song called?

MICKEY: It's called "The Beacon Light." It rocks, anyway. We did that and then the South Park guys have a movie coming out this summer -it's not animated. It's this movie they made called "Orgasmo." We have a song in that movie. And then there's also a South Park album coming out which is kind of like a soundtrack for the show -the labels bid on the right to put out a South Park album, so we were asked to do a song for that, which we haven't done yet. We already did the song for "Orgasmo." And then there's obviously our album, which we're gonna record in Maine starting in July. We're renting a house up there on the rocky Maine coast to sort of lock ourselves in and work on new songs for a month or two.

NBU: Was the experience of recording on the coast good enough to want to do it again? (Ween recorded The Mollusk while holed up at the Jersey Shore during the winter of 1995.)

MICKEY: We always like to go to the water. We live on the Delaware here in New Hope and I've always lived on the Delaware -Trenton, Yardley (PA), and in New Hope...I've always lived right by the river. There's something to that. I don't know what it means, but we dig the hell out of Maine. Aaron and I drove around there the summer after we got out of high school in 1988, right before we started God Ween Satan, actually. We had a van and we just drove around through Maine and Vermont that summer and then came back and started on that record.

NBU: Were you and Aaron friends and then started the band?

MICKEY: No, actually we started the band pretty much the day we became friends in 1984, in junior high. We had mutual friends -this guy Scott Lowe -and he introduced us. We were all starting to dick around with home recordings. We were like 13 or 14 years old, and I had a guitar and a drum set and Aaron had a little Casio keyboard, and so we started doing it together and trading records that we each had. We had this little lunch table scene. We all sat at the same lunch table and we were all really into music. I knew about punk rock first. I had like the Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys and Aaron's father had a really psychedelic record collection cause he was like a hippie in the Sixties. Anyway, there was like six of us at our table. We would all turn each other on to records that we each had, and we just sort of developed it like that. And then I got really close with Aaron and we started Ween.

The music was really bad at first, but we really loved doing it and so we would just get together after school. He would come over and we would just sit in my room and make up songs and record them. It's kind of still the same thing, in a way. We go over each other's houses.

NBU: What are the chances of finding someone like Aaron? It's kind of like getting married and finding that right connection. You guys seem to have morphed.

MICKEY: It's pretty wild, actually. I think we developed and learned together cause once we met each other we were pretty inseparable after that and neither of us were really ahead at that point. I had a guitar and a drum set but I had no mastery of them -and I still don't -but we learned together how to play and we learned together how to write and then we moved in together pretty quickly after that. It was like if I discovered something then he was into it too and it's still kind of the same way. We listen to a lot of the same things and our tastes don't really differ. The list is endless. Aaron turned me on to Prince and I turned Aaron on to the Dead Kennedys and then I turned him on to Bowie and he turned me on to whatever. It was constantly a trade-off between the two of us. We developed our tastes together and we developed our songwriting together with Ween.

A lot of people want to start a band and they put up a flyer or something, and that decreases the chances of some magical connection. With us, we got an early jump on it. And we're close and we love each other and we have that. I do feel really lucky, though. I see the way a lot of bands operate and you see people on tour. We've never had a work ethic cause we enjoy it. We've never had a rehearsal schedule. We don't have a songwriting schedule where we get together on Tuesday nights and work on shit. Not to say that would hurt a partnership or band but we try to have fun when we do it and if we're not we generally don't get much done and we'll just bag it. We'll do somthing else... go out to eat, maybe.

NBU: When I listen to your songs, I just have this mental image of the two of you doing stuff that cracks each other up.

MICKEY: It's a little harder now, not to attain that, but just to get ourselves in those kind of situations, which is why we go away. We've never managed to get a studio together in New Hope where we could go to work and now there's a lot of distractions. We'll get together and go to the bar instead. So in order to really get back the vibe of when we lived together, we have to go away and live together. It's very personal that way.

NBU: The songs in your set now -is it mostly the last album or have you mixed in anything new?

MICKEY: We really haven't done many [live shows] lately. After The Mollusk came out, we went on tour for like seven months and we played two to three hours a night and we played all of our songs including the songs off The Mollusk. We were supposed to be done in February but we've been getting these offers for shows so we're doing them. The whole creative thing is totally different. We've never been able to make the two worlds meet -there's the live show and then there's recording. Recording is such a different experience. I think we're good at both of them but I prefer recording good music to playing a good show because it lasts longer.

NBU: In particular, on the last album it seemed that the two of you really got into the studio aspect of it and that maybe some of the stuff would have to be different in a live performance.

MICKEY: Really, playing live to me has always been kind of a weird experience. It's always kind of fucked up my head. I know that we're good at it but when you record a good song it's there forever, especially in our situation where we have a recording contract. If we make something we're really proud of we have the advantage of being able to release it. And in a way you make yourself immortal -in the smallest kind of way -if you get to share it with other people, and that can bring you satisfaction later. Whereas the good feeling from a live show lasts until the end of the day and you go to bed and you wake up the next morning and you're asked "How was the show last night?" and you say "Well it was good," and that's it. And if you go back and listen to a tape of it, it sucks. So I've always gotten way more satisfaction out of recording. It's a totally different experience. If we were a band in the traditional sense that developed the songs as a band and everyone wrote their own parts, that would be different. Whereas we only get together when we have to do shows.

NBU: I read an interview with Liz Phair where she said that painters are allowed to paint on a canvas and create and put it out. Why can't you just do that with music and why do you have to tour to promote it?

MICKEY: I guess you don't have to but you'd be denying yourself the experience. Don't get me wrong, touring is different than just playing live. When you tour, you've obligated yourself to these companies that you work for and it has very little to do with the creative process, and you kind of get lost and if you let it, it can become a drag, playing like 100 shows. Only a real professional, someone like Frank Sinatra, can call up the emotion -well he didn't write any songs -but really concentrate on the lyrics. Most people are poseurs -you see a lot of shit like someone up there being all dramatic, it's just posing out, trying to be intense. You write a song, on the other hand, and you record it instantly, and you get the vibe of what you were feeling when you wrote it. When you're in like Akron (Ohio) and you've played 64 shows in two and a half months, it can fucking suck. But I dig it.

NBU: Are there any bands you've toured with that you think you might have gained something from the experience of being out with them?

MICKEY: I think you sponge a little bit from a lot of people, but we haven't really opened for a lot of bands on tour. We opened for the Foo Fighters for a couple weeks. I've seen a lot of bands but we don't take opening slots cause we like to play too long, and no one has ever asked us that is any good. I always wanted to tour with the Butthole Surfers cause I've always been a fan, but we never have. We did the H.O.R.D.E. tour and got to see Neil Young every night, but I'd already seen Neil Young about ten times before that. I think we sponged a lot from P Funk in the length of our shows. Anyone who's a P Funk fan knows that when you go to see them, the real shit happens about two hours into the show, after a lot of people have left. That's when it gets real funky and they get it going. Copped a little bit from that, I think, just in that aspect. And anyone like the Dead or whoever, you know, we like to play really, really long shows. It's the only way to justify being on tour, also. If you tour and you have to drive 400 miles a day and do these boring ass phone interviews with college radio stations...

NBU: With people like me, you mean...

MICKEY: No, but then go do a lousy sound check and eat some shitty meal. And then the end of the day it comes time to play and the only reason you did all that bullshit is for that time you're allowed to play so I don't understand how people can only play 60 minutes. And people like it too, they payed their $12 and we played three hours. But that's the only way I think it really makes any sense is to make sure you've gotten yours. Cause even on a bad night if we suck we can redeem ourselves somewhere along the line. In three hours you've got to have a couple magic moments. And on a good night it's great for three hours.

NBU: There's a lot of local bands around here who look up to Ween. They go into the studio and want to do what you do. You just run the gamut on song style from track to track on an album. Is that something that you set out to do or does it just happen?

MICKEY: We follow things through to their natural conclusion. For one, we don't come into the studio with a record written and then record it. We really only did that once -with Chocolate and Cheese -we had most of the songs written and then listened to them and decided what we were going to add to them and then redid them. Usually, like with The Mollusk, we come in with nothing. We just go away somewhere with our equipment and we sit down and just start recording whatever. You start track by track. Maybe someone has an idea laying around from the past, but you follow through on everything. If anyone has any idea then you just start right there, you know? And if Aaron gets bored then I'll just sit there and I'll dick around till he hears something. It's kind of a free for all. That's how it goes for us, anyway, and when it works, you can hear it on a record. There's a lot of spontenaity and it sounds pretty fresh.

But we don't set out to do anything. We have no plan. We never have. We don't really know what we're doing. You just go with it and try to bring every idea to its logical conclusion. If you hear something in your head you should just lay it down because your instincts are usually right on the first shot.

NBU: I know you guys have done shows at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick and sort of stole their soundman...

MICKEY: Yeah, Kirk. I think he started mixing us there. We used to play there a lot and he did a really really good job with us. He was really creative as a soundman and we liked that. I think the first time he mixed us was like '89 or '90. The first time he went out with us was like '91 or '92. He's still with us. He's a lifer on the ship. I have no idea how many times I played at the Court Tavern with Chris Harford. Way too many, probably. Mick Preston is on the road with us too now from Bad Karma. We also got him from the Court. And then Dave Dreiwitz (ex Tiny Lights) is our bass player. But yeah, we have roots there for sure.

NBU: Many of the articles about you have included the words "surreal," "weird," "absurd." I don't think they're criticisms at all but rather they're meant as a compliment. What do you make of yourselves being linked to the offbeat?

MICKEY: The only thing that really bothers me -and I've gotten so used to it cause it has been written about us since our first record -is when people think we're trying to make parody or comedy records. I guess we kind of deserve it in a way, cause we've never ditched that entirely on a record. Not all of our songs are like that, but we have a lot of fun when we do it, and it's just the price you pay I guess. But as far as being weird, I guess it is weird in a way, but it's hard... all we're trying to do is make music that we would enjoy listening to ourselves, and I have pretty extreme tastes... so I guess we deserve it. It doesn't bother me, though. The thing that bothers me is when people think its a joke or that we're making fun of music. More specifically, people accuse us of trying to make fun of this or make fun of that when the fact of the matter is that we actually listen to these things. It's what we love. People interpreted our country record (1996's 12 Golden Country Greats) like we were trying to make fun of [country music]. We're just fans and having fun with it.

NBU: Did you have any preconceptions when you started in a band about what level of success you wanted to achieve? Did you ever think about where you wanted to be or where it could go?

MICKEY: Not really. We didn't know that we were going to be doing it the next day when we first started. But it was getting better and better. When we first started, we were just trying to entertain ourselves and our friends, and then it got pretty good towards the end of high school. We had extreme confidence back then. I was positive that we were the best band in the whole world even though nobody knew who we were. But we were both extremely confident that we were the shit. And it was getting better and better. And I probably had set my goals like I hoped we'd be as big as Lori Anderson some day. But I'd never thought that we would be doing it or anything, you know? But I never thought that I blew a college education to be in Ween. I had no real goals. I never said I wanted to do this or that with my life. I just wasn't worried about it. Neither of my parents went to college. They didn't put any pressure on me to do anything and I was into Ween and I was pumping gas.

NBU: Was there any moment when you got the kind of outside praise that affirmed your belief in yourselves?

MICKEY: When we got our first deal, I guess. We were hippies but not in the traditional sense. There was no peace love -that sort of thing. But we were totally into drugs. This was like 1987 or '88. We were spending all our time at our apartment just getting high and making music and listening to music. And then we got signed to Twin Tone to make the first record and we knew that we were going to get to go on tour. And that was what we really wanted, to get out of New Hope and just travel. And our first tour was going to be of Europe. So I guess that was the most excited I ever got. And the first place we played was Amsterdam...

NBU: You landed in heaven...

MICKEY: That was kind of the payoff. That was when I could tell my friends and my parents, "Guess what? We got a record deal and we're gonna go tour Europe." If we had never done anything after that it would still have been huge. But I still can't believe we get paid to be in Ween. Every day of my life it just cracks me up in a certain respect. Beause we would do it anyway, the fact that we get anything to make music is great.

This interview was originally published in Issue #2 of the NBUnderground 'zine, in June 1998.

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