The Core: Dean Ween on Solo Work, Album Construction, Phish and More
With Ween reunited and his personal studio operational, Mickey Melchiondo fully embraces his musically fertile forties on his sophomore solo release, Deaner Rock 2.
A LIFETIME OF IDEAS
When Ween went on break in 2012, I didn’t do anything for a while, which actually turned out to be a blessing. I had never really taken a break from anything, never known a life where there wasn’t a bunch of tour dates on the schedule. It’s really weird when you come home from a tour, no matter who it’s with—Dean Ween Group, Moistboyz, Ween—and you know you’re going out again in six weeks. You’re never home, man. You’ve got one foot out the door the whole time. I imagine it’s like someone who is about to be deployed to Afghanistan—you know you’re going back. So while it was the furthest thing from a blessing, it was also a good thing because of the process that I had to go through. Now, I’m loving it.
Rock2 came so much easier, compared to the first record. That was my first record as Dean Ween, the one guy from Ween, and that would make anybody insecure. But I had so much fucking material for it. And then, by the time it came out, I had this one done; and now I have the next one done. In fact, I’m recording with Kurt Vile today. So I have this tremendous backlog of music that I’m really enjoying. For the first time in my life, I’m starting to feel like I am getting close to where I’ve always hoped to get some day, even if it took me a lifetime. I have my own studio, I’m writing and recording every day, I’ve got great players all around me—everyone’s down for everything. We have “The Invitational” at John & Peter’s [in New Hope, Pa.] on Wednesdays, where we can go try out our ideas live. So things are really good.
LETTING THE CURTAIN DOWN
The number-one difference between the first [Dean Ween Group] record and this record is that I have a permanent studio now. It’s mine, it’s forever—I own it, I built it. The first record was done in a bunch of spaces, and then we got on the roll that we’re still on to this day three or four years later. This record was entirely written, conceived, conceptualized, executed and mixed here—its 12 out of a thousand songs I wrote in six months in 2016. It’s totally uncharted territory for me, and I’m loving it. Basically, the first 46 years I was alive were leading up to this. I was always waiting for my wife to go to work to then start four-tracking in my bedroom. Even before that, I was waiting to get home from elementary school or high school to record in my bedroom at my parent’s house. Then, we got our own apartment—“The Pod”—and we started renting places to go on writing retreats. I’ve finally gotten to the point where there are really no excuses to let the curtain down, unless I just become totally uninspired.
With the internet, there’s no reason to let the shit go unheard, but I don’t want to release everything. Elvis Costello made a record every year when I was growing up, and once a year is just about enough. Prince is one of my favorite artists who ever lived, if not my favorite, and when Prince got his freedom from Warner Brothers, there was too much fucking music. I couldn’t keep pace. He was putting out four CDs every month, and I’m coming from that old- school thing where a record should be something special. It shouldn’t be treated like a chore—a throw-away thing you drop on a Soundcloud page and say, “Dig it.” I’ve always been very proud of all the albums—all the Dean Ween records, the Ween records, the Moistboyz records—because, really, all you can do is put love and time into them. You get into that Soundcloud shit and all that, and it just cheapens it.
I saw someone wrote a book about Chocolate and Cheese, and my son put it in the bathroom. I was reading through it. What people were saying about me and Aaron [Freeman, aka Gene Ween] was that there was all this thought that went into this shit. It’s total bullshit. We wrote a lot of material—it was good, we knew it was good—we picked our favorite songs and we put them out on the record. That was it. [Laughter.] And that’s been true of every record I’ve made, from the first Ween record to the second Dean Ween record. I write a bunch of songs, I record a lot, and, at the end, I pick the best ones. And the only considerations are: “How well do they fit together?” and “Am I willing to sacrifice a song that I might like more than one that adds to the record as a complete thought?”
I don’t think people think in terms of albums as much anymore, but I like whole albums. I like the consistency and continuity. I like picking the best songs and seeing if they can all flow together; I think this album has that. It has the vibe—you can tell they were written in a more contained time period. And that’s why The Mollusk is my favorite Ween record; we went down to the shore with nothing, we wrote an album based on our environment and it’s all in there. You can hear it. It’s got one continuous vibe, more than any other Ween record. And it has my favorite songs on it.
DEAN MINUS NOTHING
Dean Ween Group is a constantly rotating bunch of musicians. It just so happens that, when it came to recording this album, the best musicians I knew were [Ween live band members] Glenn McClelland, Dave Dreiwitz and Claude Coleman Jr. People wanna make my band “Ween minus Aaron,” but it’s not that at all. That really bummed me out when we first started doing this. People were calling it “Ween Minus,” and I thought that was just disrespectful. I didn’t start that shit, and that’s not right and it’s not fair. Aaron’s the baddest motherfucker I’ve met in my life. Dean Minus Nothing—I talk with guys like Dave and Glenn every day, socially. We’re all friends. After playing together nine nights in a row—live, in a rehearsal studio, in a recording session—I would go see Dave, Claude or Glenn’s bands play during my downtime on the very next night. There’s just that mutual respect and love. When we’re working together on my stuff as Dean Ween Group, it’s just a no-brainer.
There’s also a stable of badass motherfuckers that are my really good friends who play together every Wednesday night at John & Peter’s—guys like Kidd Funkadelic [Michael Hampton]. But I wanted to make this record a little bit tight and who better to do that than Claude, Dave and Glenn? But everybody’s on it—Mike Dillon, Billy [Fowler], [Joe] Kramer, Kidd Funkadelic, Ray [Kubian]. They’re all up in it and they’re all in the touring band. If you come see Dean Ween Group on one leg of a tour, and you come to see us two weeks later on another leg of a tour, if there’s a break and we went home, it’ll be different guys. Somewhere in there, subconsciously, probably [the freedom of my recent work has allowed Ween to be looser onstage and more adventurous with their setlists]. Maybe it’s time or just total fearlessness onstage. Matter of fact, I’ve been down in the dumps because it’s been cold in the Northeast. I feel more comfortable when I’m onstage with a guitar than just sitting at home watching the TV.
CRATE-DIGGING WITH PHISH
Our fans like to create this whatever between us and Phish, but that’s about them; it’s not about us. When I think of Phish, I think of 1991 or 1992, being at Elektra Records in New York, and those guys were there. They weren’t as huge as they are now, obviously, and no one had heard of Ween. And we were raiding the record closet together, stealing the entire Doors catalog and the Stooges and shit. We were taking Linda Ronstadt—anything that was on Elektra. They’re my bros—they’re our dudes. We have history, we have tons in common and now we’ve got the same management. There aren’t a hell of a lot of bands that have been together for as long as either of us, and there’s a kinship there. And there’s also a competitive little fun thing. It’s funny to watch people freak out on the internet. We didn’t have any plans to jam together [at Lockn’ in 2016], but I’m sure if things lined up and all the gear was set up and we were all hanging out, it would happen. Fuck it, I fucking love jamming with anybody. I love jams.
This article originally appears in the April/May 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.