Looking Ahead To Lockn’: Dave Dreiwitz On Headlining With Ween, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead & More


Words by: Kelley Lauginiger

With the 2016 Lockn’ Festival on the horizon, bassist Dave Dreiwitz – who will be headlining with both Ween and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – will be busy all weekend long. It’s been a crazy year for him since Ween got back together, and this is the first time the two bands will perform at the same event. Dreiwitz is as thoughtful, playful and witty as everyone says he is in conversation, and he is not shy of a hard day’s work. Touring and playing festivals with Ween, JRAD, Marco Benevento’s band and previously with The Dean Ween Group and Crescent Moon (when home in Brooklyn), he is truly an expert at making it all work.

But what was it like before all of this? And how have things changed? Last October, before the second night of Marco’s two-night-stand at Tonic Room in Chicago, I was able to get a bit of background from Dave on how it all began.

JamBase: So you play in a bunch of bands. You play a bunch of instruments. What do you love to do most?

Dave Dreiwitz: You know, I love the music that Ween made. And that’s my band. Marco ‘s amazing, and you know — what a monster piano player he is. I love playing with him. But at the end of the day, Ween is my band. That’s it. That’s my Beatles. Maybe that’s our Beatles? Maybe that’s too egocentric to say that. I don’t know. Or overzealous – something.

JB: I don’t think so. That’s your baby. How did you first get started playing with Ween?

DD: So, that song we played, “Enabler,” is from my old band, Instant Death, with my buddy Scotty Byrne who has since passed on. When Ween made the Chocolate & Cheese (1997) record we did some local shows together with them. This guy that booked one of the shows, he puts Instant Death after Ween. The whole place clears out after they finish, and nobody is left there besides the bands. Maybe a couple other people, but they’re already my friends. We basically play for like, 10 people; five of them are those guys (Ween). Well, I guess it was four of them actually.

Afterwards, Aaron [Freeman aka Gene Ween] comes up to me and is like, “You guys are my favorite band. Let’s go.” So then they took us on tour with them. And that was it, we went on tour with Ween and did 18 shows. Right when they started to get really big. Theaters and big crowds.

At the time, it was Andrew Weiss on bass, who produces Ween records, and produced Instant Death, too. He used to be with the Rollins band. They (Freeman and Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo) originally toured as a duo with a tape deck. Then Chocolate & Cheese came out and they wanted to flesh it out and make it a real band. So they had Claude (Coleman, drums), and Andrew, Mickey and Aaron. I saw that band 20 times, they were the greatest band ever. Like my Led Zeppelin. They’d play three-to-four-hour shows, and it was so good.

So you know, we’d play our little show as Instant Death. Then after, we’d just sit there off to the side watching them, like, almost in tears, it was so good. Drinking and cheers-ing because we got to see this awesome band. Occasionally we’d have Instant Death open for Ween, but I didn’t like doing that. It was kinda tough for me doing both. At the time Scotty was living in Pittsburgh, so I’d do both there, but that was it. I didn’t want to do the whole tour that way. It was just too much.

It seemed poignantly funny that when I later talked to Dave it was about headlining Lockn’ with multiple bands. I can sum up the rest of that conversation by stating: the members of Ween wanted to get back together, and were just hoping Aaron would someday be ready. After Ween had broken up back in 2012, it seemed the rest of the guys still wanted to play together and they pretty much did that, as the rest of the band members performed during the hiatus in The Dean Ween Group.

The last show Ween had played together before splitting was in Denver at The Fillmore on December 31, 2011. After releasing two solo albums since, Marvelous Clouds and FREEMAN, it seemed Gener was ready to take on his old persona again and get the band back together by the time he reached out to the Summer Camp production staff in early 2015 to form what would later be known as Godboner. The Godboner set last year featured Chicago-based jam rockers Umphrey’s McGee fronted by Aaron in his Geen Ween persona playing classic Ween tunes.

Umphrey’s McGee/GodBoner keys wizard Joel Cummins explained how Umphrey’s played a role in the Ween reunion:

Joel Cummins: I want to say it was probably in about December 2014 or January 2015 when our manager Vince [Iwinski] told us that Aaron was looking for something else to do at Summer Camp. The idea had come up for him to sit in with a band to do some Ween songs, and he immediately thought of us.

JamBase: So that was his idea, and Aaron wanted to do this? He was just exploring which band to play with?

JC: Yeah, he was doing a Freeman set there, too. But, I think he was looking to do another set of Ween stuff too. And between our teams and the [Summer Camp organizers Jay and Ian] Goldberg’s, this kind of came to us. The Summer Camp team has always been creative in letting us try different things, like when we did that thing with moe. about ten years ago now, where we swapped half of each band and made two new bands with each other! That was fun. Or that time we brought out Huey Lewis.

So this idea came up and of course we were very interested in it. But at the same time, we also didn’t want to get in the middle of something between these guys because we look up to them so much. It’s actually funny to look back on now, but in 2012 there was a quote from Gener saying: “I didn’t want Ween to turn into some sort of Umphrey’s McGee bullshit.” [laughs]

After, Mickey actually wrote us saying, “Hey, I wanted to get in touch with your band and let you know I think you’re great. I really doubt Aaron has even listened to your music. He probably just pulled your name out of thin air because he remembered it.” So that was really cool, basically saying not to take it to heart. We ended up exchanging some emails back and forth, and he just seemed like a super solid guy. We first met Mickey back in 2007 or so in Vegas. As we were finishing up our show and heading off the stage there was Deaner backstage tuning up. He goes, “Hey, you guys don’t suck!” So, to us, that was an awesome compliment. Now we’re emailing. So yeah, it’s kind of funny. Really my response to the Aaron comments was simple: “I could have never dreamt I’d get slandered by Ween!” [laughs]

It ended up connecting us more, maybe. We’ve had these few experiences with Ween, we’re huge fans, and have this really cool opportunity, but don’t want to seem like we’re taking sides, or get in the mix of anything between the guys in the band. At this point there were not even rumors that they’d get back together, so it was sensitive. But, once we got the OK from all the guys and their management to do it as a one-time thing, we went for it. And we really went for it. We scoured the Ween catalog, and came up with about 15 songs or so that we thought would really work well for the Summer Camp setting. We sent them to Aaron saying, you know, these are the songs we think we’d do well with. He picked 10 of those, and then we were off to rehearse so that by the time we got together, we were tight. We wanted to make sure that when he sat down with us, he was confident with us as his band, playing his songs.

JB: That makes total sense. How did it go when you first met up to play together?

JC: Well, we actually gave him a ride to the show in the van. So, first thing he says when he walks up: “I’m really sorry about what I said about you guys. I was trying to think of another band and I couldn’t think of their name … and yours was the name that came out.”

We all kind of just laughed and said it was fine, and said what big fans we were. That we were honored to be slandered.The best part about it all, was when we finally get there to practice, we’re in this little rehearsal trailer at Summer Camp. Tiny guitar amps, practice drum kit, you know. When we got into the Ween stuff, his eyes just kinda lit up and you could see how happy he was. Like maybe it gave him that inkling. That reminder like, “I really do love these songs. Maybe they can come back again.”

So to even be a little cog in that process of getting the train back on the tracks is a huge honor. For us to have been up there on stage and playing these great songs that they wrote together. When we were driving down, Aaron told us he was getting offers to do cartoon voices and that he might move to L.A. So, instead, I guess Ween got back together. [laughs]

Now that Ween has been back together for a few months, Lockn’ will be the first time Ween and JRAD’s shows occur at the same festival. Dialing in from a Vermont landline, Dreiwitz and I touched base recently to discuss how maniacal his schedule his been.

DD: I’ve been crystal mining all day. I was hunting by the moe.down zone, in Herkimer, New York. Hopefully I don’t get pulled over. I have this small jar of silver crystals nicknamed Herkimer diamonds. It’s cool looking, but it also looks like it could be … something else. [laughs] Truly, it’s a lot of fun. You just kind of smash rocks with a hammer and a chisel all day.

JB: Sounds metal.

DD: It is! It rules. Anyone can do it. You should go. It’s kind of like what it would be like to be in the chain-gang, but in a good way. And you know, biking through the woods, and hiking and stuff. I’m trying to soak up the couple days off in a row I’ve had before hitting the road again in a few days. I have the Peach [Festival], then Hot August Nights, Philly and Boston andthen Lockn’. But then I also fly across the country to Oregon the second I finish at Lockn’ for a festival. It’s going to be crazy!

JB: That does sound crazy. Do you ship your equipment or how does that work?

DD: Yeah, well, my crew does. They’re the best. I don’t have to worry about it much. But I did forget to book a flight to Oregon, so thanks for reminding me.

JB: I do what I can. So, how are you feeling about playing with JRAD and Ween at Lockn’?

DD: You know, I have played so many times in two different bands, normally Bustle In Your Hedgerow and JRAD, or Dean Ween Group and Marco. It’s never been Ween and something else. Ween is my band. It’s the first time I’m kind of sharing that with another thing I do in a night. I’m excited though.

JB: How do you feel your playing has been since you’ve been back together?

DD: I feel like I’m playing the best I ever have in a way. It feels super [and] natural to be back playing with Ween – with my band. But also, overall, I feel like I’m playing a lot of music I love, with a lot of great people, and that is all I could ever want. To be honest, I’ve always known the Ween stuff. That is my stuff. But, what really kicked up my abilities and my playing was learning the Dead stuff. It was like going back to college. But going back to music school was much more fun and for me, it was easier than I thought because I love it.

Claude’s been killing it with the Mike Dillon Band. We’ve all mostly been doing the Dean Ween Group, Aaron was doing Freeman, we all kept busy doing our own thing for the last four years. And now that we’re back it’s not just the honed skills or whatever, it’s also a fresh perspective. About who we want to be as a band. It feels like progress. It’s also still comfortable and organic which is important.

JB:And how has it been to juggle all your other projects with Ween?

DD: Honestly, if we can plan it out across my management and make it work, I’ll do the work. I’ll fly back and forth across the country. Adding in is when it gets hard.

JB: That’s a good point. You’ve had to have some replacements for Marco’s band, where they have used bassist Karina Rykman.

DD: Yeah, that was not just winging it. She has been super awesome. Once I knew there were some conflicting dates, I knew Karina from Crescent Moon, and knew she would be perfect to fill in. We worked on the songs together before I took off to get the groundwork going, but she took on her own thing with it over time. It’s great. Then there was a show when we were both in town, so Marco had us just do double bass, same chords, same music. Just all in the family. That’s how it should be. It was awesome.

We’re looking forward to seeing it all go down at Lockn’. In the spirit of collaboration that the festival is built on, and with Umphrey’s and Ween both playing on Thursday night, anything seems possible.