I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Claude Coleman, drummer for Ween and all-around musician for his own band Amandla. Being a fan of Ween I'm quite familiar with his drum work, but upon hearing Amandla's Falling Alone it instantly became a favorite. Based on Falling Alone I knew I had to see the band perform. It's a great feeling when a band exceeds your expectations on CD and then takes it to another level live.
Considering Amandla is mostly Claude, I was surprised how well they came across live, and how many people became instant fans that night.
So Claude and I sat down at a local coffee shop in his new hometown of Jersey City, NJ to discuss a bit of Ween, some Amandla, and a little about himself, including his near encounter with death.
David Weintraub: So before I get into Amandla and Ween, tell us a bit about your health. How are you feeling these days, and if you're comfortable with it, tell us exactly what happened to you.
Claude Coleman: (laughter) I got dinged up pretty bad about two years ago. Story goes, I was rear ended by a tractor-trailer on Route 78 (Jersey), heading westward. Then what happened was the tractor-trailer slammed into my car and catapulted me across the highway's median into oncoming traffic, where I got completely crushed by two or three different cars. The car was a heaping mass of smoldering metal and they had to cut the top off the car to get me out.
It was a pretty disgusting and violent ordeal. Fortunately, I have absolutely no recollection of it, and the last thing I remember was eating a slice of pizza three hours before that. I think that's proof there is some sort of god (laughter).
David Weintraub: That was the night of a gig with your band Amandla?
Claude Coleman: No, no, I was hanging fliers for a gig in Hoboken that morning. The last thing I remember was being at the venue hanging fliers. Then I woke up four or five days later.
David Weintraub: This was slightly more than two years ago?
Claude Coleman: Yeah, that was the beginning of the ordeal. So I shattered my pelvis, fractured my jaw, had severe brain injuries, clotting of the brain. I had constant vertigo and dizziness for about six months. Then I was in a wheelchair for two months, after that I had to do nine months of rehab to regain my strength, and then came a period of cognitive therapy, started to relearn language skills, memory skills and how to be a nice guy (laughter).
So does this currently hamper your drum playing?
Oh yeah, totally. In effect I'm playing with a handicap. I still have a lot of deficits on my left; still not properly feeling everything over here (puts hand on shoulder and arm). So, I am definitely dealing with this. I have to think harder, and player harder, and focus harder than I used to in order to get through it. It's less of a natural experience for me, unlike before where I could rock out, have a sip a tea, do my thing. Now I feel inhibited, so that's what changed a lot. My attention to it and my concentration is completely different. But it's no less enjoyable at all.
Claude Coleman from Dave's MarginalHacks
Two years removed from that, you have left Lambertville to reside here in Jersey City. How is the transition away from a place where so much of your music has been rooted?
It's fantastic. I'm a child of the city, born and raised in Newark (New Jersey). There are a lot of city elements in my character, as well as country elements. I've bonded with it, I identify with it. I really love the convenience of being in the heart of what's going on. Artistically, creatively, and politically, it's been great. Being close to many old friends, and new ones, has also been great.
In terms of the music, I've transported my whole operation with me, so it's not up here. I don't really feel any separation from the music which has been great. I just moved my studio down the street to my buddy's place, which has really worked out, at least for me! (Laughter) He's kind of putting up with me, working until three in the morning. I've got the headphones on while he's watching CNN. It's all worked out pretty great. I love being in this area. It's beautiful.
You're working with Ween, you have your band Amandla, so let's start with what most people know about you. Where's the collective head of the band Ween at right now? What ventures should we look for?
I'll give you the PG-13 version of the story. Basically, we're taking a little break from the last round of touring, and we're poised to start the new record. We're going to do some dates in October to keep our juices flowing.
Is the band close? I ask because here we are discussing your side project as well.
Oh, of course. We're family. Absolutely close like family. When you're in a band, and you have this close relationship, it's more like polygamy than a family (laughter). We are totally tight, and the best of friends.
I'd keep the polygamy thing off the record.
Yeah, totally. Well, you know how it is. Don't take it so literally, alright, pal? (laughter) We don't talk to each other every day, but we don't need to. We've spent the last 12 to 13 years of our lives together, so now it's just there. We are at arm's length away at all times, which is nice.
One more thing on Ween before we move on. I've seen the recent Ween DVD from the Vic Theatre in Chicago, and I must say, it's outstanding! It's one of the best live concert videos in my opinion. What are your thoughts on seeing yourself and the band in that setting?
I think it came out really wonderful. In fact it's really the only Ween I can sit down and enjoy, watch, and stomach. (laughter)
Why is that?
Usually, I have no interest in hearing our band live, on tape, or videos. I just have no interest in it. Not to disrespect the band, or anyone else, I just have no interest. I'm in the heat of it. I'm the guy on the stage. My approach to it is I want to keep the recollection of most shows in my heart and mind, not so much on a recording. And the fact that I've been playing those songs for a billion and a half years, I'm sort of indifferent to it. It's not like I am going to hear a song and be blown away after all this time. However, the DVD is a total triumph for our band. It came at a time when we were totally cruising on tour, and playing really well. It made me see Ween in an entire different light. I never realized we are as hilarious as we are! (laughter)
You mean hilarious between audience and band, or between band members?
I never realized how much hilarity, and rock moments, cream rock moments. It kind of overwhelmed me.
Well, you are a rock band!
I play the drums, and have been playing the drums. Then I go get drunk. I'm a purist about it, and I don't realize all the other things going on sometimes.
Why did the choose Chicago? Just curious, being from Pennsylvania and New Jersey in a sense?
Not really sure. Maybe because of the size of the venue? It was somewhere in between a large and small place. We sold out three nights there, but then again, we've done two nights in this area as well. You know, I'm not really sure. The Ween works in mysterious ways.
It came off great, regardless. Now you have your own band, which is Amandla. The first question, where did that name come from?
It's an African word from the Zulu language meaning "the power."
The Zulu language. Are you well versed in the language?
Not that familiar, but I know that word. It's a popular word. It was part of a politically used word of the African National Congress.
Which I think is disbanded, actually? It's now the Organization of African States, maybe?
Right? There's a whole bunch of political and criminal turmoil over there. Who can say what's what? (laughter)
Who knew this interview would focus on the problems in Sudan?!
Yeah, right? What's going on in Africa?