Ween The Brown Remains Insane
Published Jan 01, 2006"Out of this musical vacuum came this one ray of light, and that was Ween." - Henry Rollins
This month, Ween will release its eighth or twelfth album, depending on how you count 'em. The Bucks County, NJ natives, who have built their reputation by dumping on musical boundaries, can't seem to do anything but excrete golden brownies. Even their label, Elektra, has stuck with them through constant controversy, displaying an "Explicit Lyrics" sticker on every single album they've released. On the eve of White Pepper's release, Mickey Melchionado (aka Dean Ween) takes time to laugh his way through stories of Ween-days past.
Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchionado meet through a mutual friend at New Hope Jr. High School. Deaner remembers it like it was yesterday. "We met in typing class through this guy Scott Lowe. At that time, some kids were into sports or BMX bikes, whatever their thing was. There was a few of us that were into records. When I met Aaron, we came back to my house that day and starting recording, calling it Ween."
Gene and Dean Ween, as they came to be called, spend most of their high school years recording. TeenBeat Records releases Freeman's Synthetic Socks cassette, while the first two Ween albums see the light of day on cassette via their friend's Bird O' Pray Records: The Crucial Squeegie Lip (the only release so far to feature Lean Cuisine Ween) and Axis: Bold as Boognish. Even in these embryonic recordings, Ween manage to produce a high volume of offensive song titles, including "Blow It Out Your Ass" and "Everyone's a Lesbian."
Ween compile and release two more cassettes: The Live Brain Wedgie / WAD, a "best of" from their live shows and Prime 5, which contains earlier material with a few new songs. Dean and Gene graduate from high school. Friend and future Ween drummer Claude Coleman Jr. lands them a gig at a party in Maplewood, NJ, opening for his band Skunk. Twin Tone comes to scout Skunk, and ends up signing both bands.
Twin Tone issues the first Ween CD, God Ween Satan, comprised of many remakes of early material re-recorded by "local music legend" Andrew Weiss (Rollins Band). To this day, God Ween Satan is still regarded by many as their boldest effort, with "You Fucked Up" leading the charge, as well as the Prince-inspired "L.M.L.Y.P." It still stands as one of the best and most influential albums of the '90s. As God Ween Satan is released, Gene and Dean embark upon an ambitious European tour, with their drum tracks pumped out through a cassette deck. When they arrive home, they begin their most intense period of recording to date. "At that point I was working at a gas station and Aaron was working at a Mexican restaurant. We were both living at my parents' house but then they moved, so we went and got an apartment on a horse farm called the Pod."
Ween continue to tour God Ween Satan, but get frustrated with the lack of support from Twin Tone. At a New York show, indie impresario Kramer, of Shimmy Disc, meets with Gene and Dean. Deaner relishes the perfect timing of the meeting. "We really hated being on Twin Tone; the label wasn't doing anything. So I said, 'We have all this stuff at home that we do on four-track and that's basically what we are. We don't want to go into a studio, we just want to put out this.' He was like, 'Great, give me a tape of it.' So, we gave him a tape of The Pod and he flipped ? he thought it was the shit. He gave us $3000 and took us to Jamaica on a bonding vacation to celebrate the whole thing. We just gave this record to him and never called Twin Tone back. [When Kramer] put it out, they called us and were like, 'What the fuck? You're supposed to be on our label.'" Dean laughs as he adds: "We had to settle up with them later." Recorded at the Pod while Dean dealt with hepatitis and mononucleosis, The Pod shows Ween at their rawest, with financial woes seeping out between golden cuts like "Awesome Sound" and "Right To The Ways And The Rules of The World."
An English tour with Kramer creates friction, and Ween ends their tenure with Shimmy Disc. Once again, serendipity has a hand, as Dean has a chance encounter as he's preparing drum tracks for another Ween tour. "This Elektra guy walked in; he was looking at studios to record another band's first album for Elektra. He comes in and he's like, 'I've been following your career. I really like your stuff.' So he's standing there right behind my fucking back while I'm mixing this shit down and he's dying laughing. It was all that stuff ? 'Push Th' Little Daisies,' all that stuff from Pure Guava. He's like, 'This stuff is amazing. Can you get me a cassette of this?' I really didn't think anything of it. Then we got signed to Elektra ? it was fuckin' insane. The most random thing in the world. The best part about it was that our first record for Elektra was the most crudely fucked-up recorded record. We didn't even use new cassettes; we were so fucking poor and cheap that we would erase tapes from our cars. When you listen to Pure Guava, before all the songs you hear Doobie Brothers or whatever we erased."
After a few years of touring around the world as a duo, Gene and Dene decide that Ween should become a band, a decision reflected in the recording process for their second Elektra album. "That was a really, really productive period. Andrew found a warehouse where we spent every single day. Everybody would bring in everything they had ? all these four-track tapes ? and we culled through [them]. We had 50 or 60 songs on this big list that we taped to the wall. Finally, we whittled it down to 25 and that was Chocolate and Cheese."
Some side projects emerge at this time. Dean collaborates with Calvin Celsius, playing all of the instruments on the Moistboyz LP, released by Grand Royal. Ween flew in Eye (Boredoms) from Japan, and together, they recorded Z Rock Hawaii (released in 1997 on Nipp Guitar), to which the rest of Boredoms added weirdness, back in Japan. Deaner begins his obsession with the internet, building the official Ween web site at chocodog.com, and Ween begin to upload RealAudio recordings of live shows, interviews and unreleased songs on the site for their adoring fans.
Gene moves. Aaron moves. Finally, after a long break and a little "falling out" with long-time collaborator Andrew Weiss, Ween regroup and start four-tracking again. They rent a beach house in Holgate, NJ and start work on what is to become The Mollusk, but get a little side-tracked. Deaner still laughs at the memory. "While we were writing for that record, we started doing all this country stuff. Rather than leave all that stuff off our record, we thought, 'Let's write five more songs and we'll go to Nashville.' We realised, the time is gonna come when these guys aren't around anymore. No one else would do it. No one else would even bother thinking of it. We had to do it." After a six-day stint in Nashville with such classic country studio musicians as Bobby Ogdin (Willie Nelson, Levon Helm) and Charlie McCoy (Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison), Ween completes 12 Golden Country Greats. After not having contacted Elektra for over a year and a half, they drop the bomb. Dean elaborates, "Our lawyer calls up Elektra and says, 'I have the new Ween record in my hands. It's a Nashville country record.' We sent it in and I think they were really fuckin' confused. They were like, 'What the fuck is this?' We told them, 'That's our new record. We're working on this other one too.' So, it was really brown. It was really fuckin' brown. After all this time off, that was our big comeback." Ween tours their 12 Golden Country Greats record with Bobby Ogdin and the Shitkickers, feeding them hallucinogens and plenty of Jack Daniels along the way. The band also makes notable appearances on the Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks compilation ("The Shot Heard 'Round The World"), the Beautiful Girls soundtrack (gorgeous love ballad "I'll Miss You") and Yoko Ono's Rising Mixes ("Ask The Dragon" has a loop running throughout where they're heard saying "I am the stallion… I am the stallion… I am the stallion… Papa Zit!").
After Ween salvage tapes and equipment from their flooded beach house ("The pipes had frozen and burst, and they could have been running for a few weeks. The whole house was wet like an aquarium on the walls"), recording is done in six other locations, and The Mollusk is finally completed. The coastal effects surface throughout the ocean-themed album, and display, at times, a surprisingly more mature Ween sound. The powerful "Buckingham Green" stands out as one of their best tracks to date, as does the closing opus "She Wanted To Leave." Predictably, "Waving My Dick In The Wind" and "The Blarney Stone" spit in the face of this maturity, and remind us that we're not listening to an old prog LP after all.
Ween continue to storm the internet with songs and releases, dumping two four-track works in '99: The Pandy Fackler Tape and Craters of the Sac. Both are widely available and free for all to download, and include such gems as "Makin' Love in the Gravy" and the Claude Coleman Jr.-sung "Put the Coke on my Dick." Dean admits that the expectations are a little high on the band. "It's starting to become too much pressure on me. Now, everyone just expects us to dole out music non-stop. They're so on our ass. They pick up all these subtleties that we don't even notice." Ween plan to drop an internet-only live album as well, but Elektra steps in and releases Paintin' The Town Brown (Ween Live '90-'98) in mid-summer. The double album covers the best and worst of Ween shows throughout their career, including a Hendrix-esque killer solo on "Voodoo Lady," an overbearingly long version of "Poopship Destroyer" and the 30-minute take on "Vallejo."
White Pepper is the name of Ween's sixth album for Elektra. Like The Mollusk, it showcases a more serious approach to songcraft, and is Ween's slickest album to date. Still, they refuse to deal a predictable hand, offering tracks like the ridiculous steel drum-tinged Jimmy Buffett/Elvis-like "Bananas and Blow." Dean giggles and admits, "It's like the worst song Bob Weir ever sang." An older song, "Flutes of the Chi," which they had been trying to record since before Chocolate and Cheese, finally makes the cut with some help from the fans. "I encoded it as an MP3 and put that out online [in 1997], and everybody started saying that was a great song, it should have been on this record. People online gave us confidence. We always knew it was a great song, but we had always gotten burned on it. When it came down to do this record, we re-overdubbed the Mollusk version [and used it]." Ween continue to have instrumental tendencies; "Ice Castles" would be the perfect tone-setter for an old NFB animation short. "We've started doing a lot of animation stuff. We just did something for Nickelodeon, for the cartoon Spongebob Squarepants. The guy that does the show told us that The Mollusk was a huge influence on him." Their relevance as one of the most influential and daring groups of the last decade continues to grow, and not even Scotchgard seems to be able to slow the New Hope duo down. Thank the Boognish for that.