Ween Drummer Claude Coleman Jr. Discusses New Asheville Practice Facility SoundSpace & More
Words by: Kelley Lauginiger
Claude Coleman Jr. is a busy guy. He prioritizes music and joy, making time to tour with Ween, Mike Dillon Band, Dean Ween Group, his own band Amandla, and occasionally with Fishbone’s Angelo Moore. The current Asheville, North Carolina resident explained that “everywhere you look in Asheville is a musician playing an instrument,” but unfortunately, many of them have nowhere to practice.
According to a recent study conducted by the Economic Development Commission of Asheville-Buncombe County, the Asheville area’s music industry grew at twice the rate of Nashville’s between 2010 – 2016. While Asheville is outpacing Music City, the town’s infrastructure has fallen behind the rhythm.
Being the talented, community-minded drummer he is, Coleman won’t let the beat drop in Asheville. Working with partner Brett Spivey, Claude is raising money to launch Asheville’s first full-fledged music practice facility, SoundSpace. I talked to Claude about the new endeavor and got caught up on all things DWG, Ween and Amandla to boot.
JAMBASE: Congratulations on this awesome project! Is this something you’ve been working on for awhile?
Claude Coleman Jr: Thanks, yeah, it’s been a few years. That’s really because of the property boom, and the ebb and flow of property around Asheville. That’s both good and bad, depending on who you are.
Because of this, it took us a while to find not only the right spot but the right person. Someone who could be altruistic enough to support the community and what we’re doing. Because what we’re doing isn’t necessarily a billion-dollar idea to a landowner or anything. But, it’s going to be very beneficial for the community.
The way people are here is very community-focused, and there is a lot of support. But not everyone who has a property was willing to go along with us and this idea.
JAMBASE: That’s surprising! It’s considered such a musical place, you’d think more people would be on board.
CC: Oh, yeah, I mean the fact that there’s no rehearsal space in town is a total anomaly. It’s sort of a shocking fact, something people can’t really believe or understand. It’s such a musically dense, vibrant town, and it’s become sort of a musical destination. Lately, they’ve been billing Asheville more and more as that type of place and focusing on the music end of tourism.
JAMBASE: You mentioned in the campaign video that Asheville’s music scene is the fastest growing aspect of tourism. What is that based on?
CC: I believe they based it on revenue from venues around town. There is also a registry of self-declared artists and musicians, and they may be looking at earned income there too, the number of venues being built, and their ticket sales.
It’s a “little big city” in Asheville. So, for the size of the town, the amount of food, music, drinks and money generated from music here is being placed among the fastest growing music cities in the country. It’s sort of outpacing “real” music destinations like Nashville, L.A., or other major metropolitan areas. For its size, that’s pretty cool.
In my mind, it kind of speaks to the charm and beauty of Asheville. It’s an old-school place in a lot of ways, that’s come to terms with modernity. You walk down the street, and there’s a shit ton of music venues everywhere, there’s music in the bar, music in the brewery, music in the parking lot, music on the corner. It’s literally like that. It’s almost like New Orleans in that way.
So, it seems odd to me that no one has thought to put something like this practice space together. Because in every other major music city, there are like, at least two. Here in Asheville, musicians have to just work with what we have at home, and people have neighbors and stuff, you know? It doesn’t really work out for a lot of people. It doesn’t work out for me, either.
JAMBASE: So you’re not able to practice at home?
CC: Nope, I can’t. I love my neighbors dearly. I cut my neighbor’s grass in the summer and everything. My other neighbor gives me weed candies. It’s a great town! [laughs] And as much as I love them, they work at home. And, well, I work at home. I’ve tried to get down here, and have gotten reports back that “it sounds great, but I couldn’t hear my conversations on the phone.”
JAMBASE: Oh man, that sounds tough. I’m sure this is a main source of inspiration to get SoundSpace going then?
CC: Yes, definitely. It may have started out as a selfishly inspired thing, but, I know there are a lot of musicians like me down here in Asheville who would all really benefit from something like this. The need is here in a major way.
JAMBASE: It’s truly surprising no one is throwing money into this. It sounds like a no-brainer.
CC: Exactly. To be honest, until recently we were keeping it pretty hush-hush, in fear someone would steal our idea. And put a brewery there or something. We’ve been at this for about four years now, and we’re really trying to pool our resources to make it happen.
JAMBASE: That sounds like a long time to keep it under wraps. Your partner in this is Brett Spivey, how do you know each other?
CC: I met Brett through an old friend who I went to college with. They were both in a David Bowie tribute band called The Wam Bam Bowie Band. They were awesome. I sat-in with them on a few gigs. Their singer Mark was amazing, he really sounded like Bowie.
Anyway, I got to know him that way, about four or five years ago.
JAMBASE: Nice. And this money you’re raising will buy the Rabbit’s Motel property where you want to build SoundSpace?
CC: Yes, exactly. That amount we’re asking for [$70K] will allow us to buy it and build the business. We’ve worked with a few different business people in the city to determine the business plan. We have a development plan and architectural plans ready. Estimates are in place. Nothing is random in the world of business. Not so much like the world of music where there’s all sorts of creativity and magical verses, and I don’t know … you can smoke lots of herb. [laughs]
JAMBASE: So true, so true. Can you talk at all about the history of the Rabbit’s Motel property, and what you’re planning in homage to the history of the place?
CC: Well, aside from being the first practice space in Asheville, we’re also going to have the first soul food kitchen in Asheville. The combination of that actually has people in a near frenzy. I didn’t realize the demand for soul food! But it makes sense to me, I love all that stuff.
JAMBASE: But aren’t you originally from the North? Did you grow up eating it?
CC: Well, yeah, I’m from Newark, New Jersey, but my family was from the South. My mother was from Alabama and my dad from South Carolina — a town called Newberry, only about 40 minutes away from Asheville actually. So, it’s kind of funny, he moved up there to get away from the South. Then his son moves back to the South to get away from New York. I had had enough of New York.
So, on top of the soul food kitchen, we’re going to have murals on top of the buildings. One of the buildings on the property is the Rabbit’s Motel, which housed the Negro Baseball League players back in the day. Not many cities in America had a black baseball team, but Asheville did. So, we’re excited to pay homage to those athletes and the history of the place.
JAMBASE: I didn’t realize Asheville had a team. What was their name?
CC: I think it was the Asheville Royal Tigers.
JAMBASE: Whoa, that’s so cool! Better than the Astros or something.
CC: It’s cooler than the Tourists. [laughs] That’s the name of the Asheville Minor League team here now. They’re actually about a mile away from the property and it’s a lot of fun to go to the games. Like a fun, Asheville thing to do.
JAMBASE: That sounds awesome. So, in your travels with Ween, Mike Dillon Band and Amandla, have you come across practice spaces that you just loved that you’re modeling this one after?
CC: That’s a great question. And the answer is definitely yes. I’ve sort of combined all the great elements of the places that I’ve basically spent my entire life in, across the entire country. All the spaces have their own, unique vibe, so that’s something to be aware of.
We want it to be fun, with cool music-related vending machines, with cool stuff. Like strings, ear plugs, picks, or condoms. [laughs] Cold PBR’s for after a long session.
With Ween last year I was in about four of these places, and I was in another really cool one with Angelo Moore, from Fishbone, in Austin. I think Austin has about the most of these type spaces per capita I’ve been. They have a ton. I’m blanking on any of their names, but I swear, they’re awesome.
JAMBASE: That is not surprising about Austin. Are you excited about hitting Australia with Dean Ween Group soon?
CC: I’m pretty psyched. It’s always awesome to play there, but not that awesome getting there. It’s not like touring the Midwest or something where you can drive. You literally fly every day between shows to get to the next spot. But, I’m still pumped. I mean, it will be super fun to rock out in Australia. And I mean, open for Primus? That will be fun.
We haven’t been down there forever, but Australia was one country where Ween had a Top 10 hit, for “Push the Little Daisies.” I believe it’s the only place on the planet where they were Top 10 darlings.
JAMBASE: Well, that’s amazing. Since you’ve been back from the reunion, do you have a favorite run or show you’ve played with Ween? I know that’s kind of generic, but I am curious.
CC: [laughs] Yes, it is generic, but I’m happy to answer. My stock answer is that it’s great from one show to the next. They’re all kind of my favorite in different ways. But having said that, we had a lot of fun in San Francisco at Bill Graham. We did a three-day-run, and it had a particular kind of potency about it. It was really palpable. For us to be doing this for so long and actually step back and all kind of say we feel something, it is pretty incredible. That feeling where you feel invincible.
JAMBASE: And what about a song? Is there a favorite Ween song you like to play?
CC: Well, I’m a singer/songwriter. So, my favorite songs are the real songs. Not necessarily the ones with the craftiest or most complicated drumming. I like anything off the country record (12 Golden Country Greats). It really brings me amazing joy to play. Actually, let me retract that shit. “Stallion 1” I think might be my hands-down my most favorite Ween tune: to play, and to listen to, and be a fan of.
JAMBASE: Good pick. Do you listen to your own music?
CC: I definitely went through a phase where I was soaking up Ween just as much as any fanboy would. All this amazing music was being created, and to be inside all of that, in the band, was kind of amazing. But now I hear it more critically, I guess. I don’t avoid it when it comes to Ween, put it that way. I listen to Amandla more.
JAMBASE: Makes sense. How was your Amandla tour with Mike Dillon Band?
CC: That was really fun. It was a challenge for me to do both sets every night. I wasn’t fully prepared, physically — or emotionally. It beat the shit out of me.
When I do Mike Dillon tours on their own, I need time to recuperate. This tour was also the longest tour I’ve done in 10 years or something. Not only that, but I was in both bands! So, that was tough. Every day was six to seven hours bumping in a van, then being on stage for four hours every night. Then, drive, repeat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a total blessing. But, toward the end, I started to get a little mopey. But, I’m proud of myself for getting through it and know I’m a better person for it and a better player. And my group is better for it too. I really need to be sharing our new record more.
JAMBASE: You know, I had a hard time finding it. It’s under Marshall Hotel Records on Soundcloud, but I found it on the Amandla Facebook.
CC: Yeah, that’s my fictitious label. I’m unsigned, so I make up a new one every record. Back in the Harlem Renaissance, there was a hotel called Marshall Hotel in New York that was a meeting place for black intelligentsia and creativity. So, I named the label after the idea of the richness of black culture, and everything surrounding the Marshall Hotel.
JAMBASE: I had no idea. Thanks for sharing about that. When you mentioned about the tour being tough on you physically, it made me think about your accident. Do you still deal with pain, and do therapy, from the car accident you were in years back?
CC: I do. I still deal with a lot of residual stuff from that accident. I have brain injuries that affected my left side like a stroke victim with paralysis. With that, whatever you’re left with after six to seven years following the trauma, it’s pretty much permanent. But, I don’t place too much stock in that. I’m forever in therapy, and I’m hoping to get incrementally better over the years.
I have methods and medication that’s really great for the physical pain. Yoga helps. Meditation helps. And, yeah, the driving is harder on my body than it would be for someone else. But the act of driving isn’t like that.
I actually have no memory of the accident at all. I was in a coma for about half a week. When I woke up, my memory was erased to the day before the accident. The last thing I remember is eating a slice of pizza the day before the accident. That to me is just proof there is a god or something out there, you know?
JAMBASE: That’s amazing. Like, yes, we don’t want you to remember anything bad. Just have this slice of pizza, OK?
CC: Exactly! I feel blessed by that all the time.