‘Classic Rock Guy’ Dean Ween Talks First-Ever Solo Album
Way back in 1984, equipped with a shit-fi-grade tape recorder and junkyard guitars, schoolkid pals Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo birthed Ween. The mind-bending trailblazers of “brown” fuckery-turned-rock ‘n’ roll eclectics thrived until their sudden breakup in 2012. Improbably, the Boognish rose again as Ween reunited earlier this year, playing marathon, career-spanning sets to adoring throngs of fans. But for Melchiondo — better known to fans as the beloved Dean Ween — the blindsided (albeit temporary) split of the band he’s known since he was a teenager was a difficult stretch. After Ween’s demise, he was down in the dumps, unable to play guitar for a six-to-seven-month period.
Yet, prodded by his jamming buds, Melchiondo was pulled out of his doldrums and went on a creative tear, forming the Dean Ween Group; writing ridiculous wads of songs; testing out riffs at his New Hope, Pa. hometown watering hole John & Peter's; and building his own studio from scratch.
That spurt of productivity has resulted in the release of his first ever solo joint, simply dubbed The Deaner Album, and its genre-smashing batch of songs (all 14 of ’em, with four instrumentals) have the unmistakably classic Dean Ween stamp. Not only did Melchiondo bang out a bulk of The Deaner Album himself, he also brought along a star-studded cast of misfit friends along for the ride. Along with Ween band vets Dave Dreiwitz, Claude Coleman, Jr., and Glenn McClelland, Melchiondo enlisted the Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood, Funkadelic guitarist Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton, punk rock drummer Chuck Treece and Moistboyz bandmate / vocalist Guy Heller to help realize his vision.
On the stylistically diverse Deaner, Melchiondo runs the classic rock, funk, backwoods country and scuzzy punk gamut, proving he’s one helluva tunesmith / solo-spewing godhead. There’s brain-frying, Southern rock-flavored jams (“Dickie Betts”); hilarious acid rock boogie-downs (the Kirkwood-led “Exercise Man”); lewd and crude bar-metal stomp (“Bundle of Joy,” “Charlie Brown,” “I'll Take It (and Break It)”; Ween-like ape-shittery (“Gum”); alt-country gems (“You Were There”); and top-down highway songs (“Tammy”).
CLRVYNT phoned up the frazzled Melchiondo in the midst of a day-long string of interviews at his Pennsylvania home to talk about The Deaner Album, his classic rock roots, his bucket list of collaborators, loving the Meat Puppets and the hilarious “Exercise Man” video.
How has the Dean Ween Group evolved since you started the band?
The Dean Ween Group is always evolving — from different lineups to small changes, like a different drummer one night to a whole bunch of different guys on some nights. That is the concept of the band. Or was. Now [that] I have a record to promote and a tour to do, I have a solid touring band. Recently, I played Asbury Park and Ray [Kubian] was on drums, Scott Rednor was on guitar. Well, other than that, it was pretty much the same.
Do you ultimately want to make the DWG into a solid lineup and not a revolving door-like policy?
I think we’re there already, to be honest with you. The touring band is Dave [Dreiwitz], Claude [Coleman, Jr.] and Glenn [McClelland] [laughs], and Scott Rednor and Bill Fowler on guitar, so it’s really not much of a stretch. But we’re not playing Ween covers; we do some Ween covers, but not any in particular. I’m sure this tour will reveal lot as far as ... I love doin’ set lists and I love the spontaneity of showin’ guys songs at sound checks and in the dressing room — some riff I just wrote that day or somethin’ like that. It’s great and really, really cool to have a new record out and go do a tour behind it and have that flexibility to just do whatever you want at a given time.
Did doing the “invitational jam” at John & Peter’s help bring the concept of the DWG off the ground? I know you get a bunch of your friends together and jam out riffs, covers and originals.
Yeah, sort of. It gave me a place, every Wednesday, to try out new riffs that might have been six hours old or less, or songs recorded the night before, to see if it works or sticks. Then I also met a bunch of musicians there that ended up permanent fixtures in my band. It had a huge influence. [Laughs]
Joe Kramer is one of the other guitar players in Ween, so he’s all over [The Deaner Album] and the Moistboyz record, actually. I met him through the invitational. Ray, the drummer, and I played a little bit with Chris Harford. But during the invitational, that’s when I realized Ray and I could be in a band together.
The DWG song “Pussy on My Pillow” rules, but it didn’t make it onto the record. Why not?
That’s one of my only regrets, actually, that I didn’t put it out on there. But it’ll come out on something. I have so many songs and can’t remember them all. I just have to make little notes that I shove in my pocket before I do the set list, like, “Let’s play 'Pussy on My Pillow' tonight." Everybody knows it.
What about “Finger Bangin’”? That’s another keeper.
Yeah, “Finger Bangin.’” I can’t imagine that would be very compelling on a record for the rest of your life, listenin’ to it. But live, that song rules. See, I’m making notes right now. [Laughs]
Glad I can help put together a DWG set list.
I’m digging The Deaner Album, but I was wondering why you didn’t plug in any covers. At DWG shows, you guys are always pulling out the covers.
Our covers are the covers that I do; I don’t even pick them as covers. I try to put our stamp on them and own them. Live, we play “Superstar” by the Carpenters and, you know, things like that. I don’t think of them as covers because they have nothing to do with the original. But it’s nitpicking. I mean, if you are to go through Electric Ladyland by Hendrix and say, “Well, this is an old blues song," I’m not comparing myself to Jimi Hendrix. But “All Along the Watchtower” or something — it’s a cover, but is it a cover? You don’t know. That’s the version of the song. If I play around with covers, I don’t do them very loyally. [Laughs] It has to work for me on the guitar and the band.
Your classic rock influence really comes out on The Deaner Album, seemingly more so than on a Ween record. Were you always a classic rock kid?
I am classic rock guy, all the way, 100 percent. It’s never changed. I wear it on my sleeve. As a guitarist, my love [is] for Santana, Hendrix, Jerry, fuckin’ Prince. Jimi, obviously, is number one. Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, or Dickie Betts, rather. I listen to music every day, but it’s older music — very classic tastes, very mainstream as far as rock radio goes. I’m a big Bowie fan.
So, you’re driving in the car and have the classic rock radio station tuned in?
I will probably listen to somethin’ that I recorded. I like whole albums. I just got Sirius recently, and that has changed my idea of radio completely. I’m constantly putting on SoundHound or Shazam and finding out what this is. I listen to a lot of Little Steven’s "Underground Garage." He’s into trashy rock. And that’s what I listen to. [Laughs]
You did that song “Liquid Sunshine” as a tribute to Bernie Worrell when he passed away. What did P-Funk and Bernie mean to you?
Everything, everything. It changed the direction of my life, the same way the Beatles did or anything that stands the test of time that long. P-Funk, to me — when I started getting serious about the guitar when I was in my early teens, it was Hendrix and nothing else. I’m not the only guy. [Laughs] There’s a million, billion guys before me and after me who are gonna feel that same way. But I never realized there was another band that I could actually go see, 'cause it wasn’t dead where the guitar playing was just as rad. I could go see it live, and that was my introduction to Funkadelic. I love funky music just about more than anything: James Brown, Sly, P-Funk, Prince. I wear it on my sleeve. I’m proud to be friends with Michael Hampton. We’re very, very close. Kidd Funkadelic — he’s all over the record and we jam together all the time. He’s my friend, and I don’t use that word loosely. We’re tight, you know? I hang out with him all the time. We jam together all the time, record together all the time, play live together all the time. That’s what P-Funk means to me — it means everything. It’s never lost on me that I’m sitting there with a guy whose records I grew up playing along with.
You just dropped the video for “Exercise Man,” a killer tune off The Deaner Album.
That video is so fuckin’ good. They nailed it. I’ve never made a great video that I was really proud of. The only one is Ween “I Can’t Put My Finger on It.” But it was the same thing. It was so simple and cheap, like, “Here’s what’s gonna go on in the video: Aaron’s gonna be in a gyro shop, choppin’ up meat with these Lebanese or Syrian motherfuckers, and then I’ll be on the beach during the seagulls parts, and then it goes negative so it looks Satanic.” And that was it. You can make that video for a thousand bucks. “Exercise Man” was the same thing. It was like, “Oh, man. We’re gonna make a video for this song.” I was talking to Monica [Hampton], the director. She’s got a lot of cred in the biz — very famous producer, director and very accomplished. So, I was like, “I wanna do this video and half of it is gonna be me on a bike smoking butts, holding up traffic, and the other half is gonna be the band playin’ the song. Get Curt Kirkwood in here from the Meat Puppets, who plays guitar on it.” So, we just did it and we just banged it out. I’m gonna say it goes viral with the hope that it does. I’m gonna self-actualize. [Laughs]
I love that song.
I love it, too, but you’ll never hear the song again after you see the video.
Speaking of the Meat Puppets, DWG is going out on tour with those guys.
Yeah, for like the fifth time.
That’s awesome. When did you first get into the Meat Puppets and meet them?
I interviewed Curt Kirkwood in the '80s when Up on the Sun came out, the third record. I’m a huge fan. Meat Puppets II before that had me, and [Up on the Sun] iced it. I think they’re the Allman Brothers of punk rock: Curt’s guitar playing, their harmonies, everything. I just love that band, more than anything. I don’t care if people have come to see me 20 times with different bands and lineups and they’re always the opening band — I hope it’s like that 'til the end of time. That’s another person [Kirkwood] who’s a real good friend of mine. Curt’s not the kind of guy who would slide across the country to be in a video, but it’s testament to he’s a believer in the music and just a great guy, great friend; love him and I respect him so much as a musician. I have a bucket list of people who I’ve always wanted to play with, and Curt was number one on the list. I’ve gotten that done and Michael Hampton from Funkadelic.
Who else is on your bucket list?
Mark Lanegan, who I adore. Mark, again, is a really good friend of mine, and I have played on his records. But I want to make a record with Mark — a rock 'n' roll record where I play all the instruments and he sings. I’ll say it right here. I talked to Mark last night. That’s always been my dream. I played with him on the Queens [of the Stone Age] record [Songs for the Deaf], I played with him on his records, but I’m a mega-fan, in addition to the fact [that] he’s a brother of mine. Man, I’ve gotten to live out a few. I’m playing with Kidd Funkadelic a lot, but Mark, Curt Kirkwood and the Funkadelic guys are my dream guys, and I’ve gotten to do all of it, so I’m blessed. I can’t think of anyone else. [Laughs]
Why didn’t your bud Matt Sweeney play on The Deaner Album? I thought for sure he’d make a cameo.
Oh, Matt doesn’t live as close, and the guitar role in the Dean Ween Group — there’s so many of us playin’ fuckin’ guitar. I mean, the band is on tour and there’s three of us playin’ guitar on the tour comin’ up. We added Curt Kirkwood. He’s probably going to be sitting in, and there’s going to be four of us. It’s such a guitar-heavy record, but Matt … [Laughs] First of all, you gotta be around. And Matt — I don’t know if he’s in L.A. or New York. Everybody in the world knows Matt Sweeney — you gotta know that. Everybody. You can be a in a pub in Austria at 5 o’clock in the morning and they’ll go, “You're friends with Matt Sweeney? Me too.” Jesus Christ, Matt is everywhere.
Heavy-guitar cuts like “Charlie Brown” and “I’ll Take It (and Break It)” found on The Deaner Album are Moistboyz-ish kind of punk ragers.
You know, people say that, and I just laugh. Moistboyz is … me. [Laughs] Of course it sounds like that. There’s Ween songs that compare to the Moistboyz. That’s me playing all the instruments. It’s really not a stretch. I produced, recorded, engineered and played all the instruments on both. [Laughs]
And Guy Heller, the Moistboyz vocalist, appears on a track on The Deaner Album.
Oh, yeah. “Nightcrawler,” yeah.
Will there be another Moistboyz record?
We have one finished. It’s really fucked up. It’s just like this Deaner record, man. When we were finished with [2013's] V, we were still in this fertile writing period. The stuff was coming out and it was getting better. So, we drew a line in the sand, put it out, and the best stuff hasn’t been released yet; and it’s really a big leap up musically, and rockin.’ I think the fifth record is the best Moistboyz record, but the sixth one is deep, man. It’s like our Led Zeppelin version of Presence. It’s like really, really fuckin’ awesome. But I got busy with Dean Ween Group, and there was a lot of different circumstances going around, so we just stopped. We have songs that go back a couple of years that should go on Moistboyz VI. We even have the artwork done.
On the Deaner record, there’s a country vibe — like on “Shwartze Pete” — and with Ween, you’ve certainly explored that genre.
It’s all a huge part of … it’s just me. I’m the writer, and it’s all in there. I don’t think about these things. When it’s time to finish a record, as far as the point in the process where you choose the songs, [it's] like, “These are the ones that made it; these are the ones that don’t.” “Pussy on My Pillow,” it’s straight-up country. You pick the songs that work the best together, and those are your favorites and you just put them on there. I don’t care if people say, “It sounds like this,” or "It sounds like that.” That’s my favorite song, and it’s going on there. If you divide up what I listen to, a huge part is Willie [Nelson] and Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash and George Jones and all the classics. Just like with the Ween country record, you know? It’s the same inspirations; these aren’t new inspirations. These go back to childhood.
The instrumentals “Garry” and “Doo Doo Chasers” off the Deaner record have that “A Tear for Eddie” Ween vibe going on.
Very Funkadelic for sure. All the way Funkadelic, actually. But, yeah, “Mercedes Benz” — can’t get any more P-Funk than that. I’m really proud of the record. I cannot wait for it to come out.
The Deaner Album is out October 21 via ATO Records.