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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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