Words by: Chad Berndtson
Mickey Melchiondo’s been so prolific lately — so out there and seemingly ever-present — that it’s tough to imagine a time when his musical fires were barely at a smolder. But that’s what happened to Melchiondo — better known to countless Ween fans as Dean Ween, or Deaner — following the breakup of Ween five years ago.
Deaner’s been quite open about the subsequent depression followed by creative renewal, and the role old pals like Les Claypool played in getting his gears turning again. And these days, he’d much rather look ahead than back, not only to more touring with the since-reunited Ween, but also with his sparking, hard-rocking The Dean Ween Group, which released a terrific album back in October and has enough new material for another — and possibly another still. One thing that’s clear from Melchiondo after two freewheeling interviews: he believes, even at 46, his best music is still ahead of him.
Read on to hear what makes The Dean Ween Group such a potent force, the 2016 Ween gigs he found most meaningful, and what’s ahead for everything from his much-mentioned fishing show with Les to the burgeoning webcasts of his regular invitational jams, to whom he’d most like to record with. And while you’re at it, take a listen to “Orintholocide,” an all-new The Dean Ween Group track that features Deaner pal and current tourmate Mike Dillon and is exclusively premiering here on JamBase.
JAMBASE: You recently revealed you have a second Dean Ween Group album in the can? What material and what musicians are on it?
DEAN WEEN: Four or five years ago, I started on my record and a Moistboyz record, and I quickly realized I had to focus on one and not two. It was becoming too crazy, like, which riff belongs on which, and do I really want to hold on to something I like because it might be better for the other thing?
So I stopped and I did the Moistboyz record and a huge tour behind it. The other thing that happened is I moved out of the studio I was in and started to build a new studio, and it’s always a learning curve working with a new place because you have to line everything up and fine-tune it to sound the way you want it too. But it got its legs, and tons of momentum, and we made the record and it was done with this massive surplus of material. When you’re in that state, you don’t stop, you just keeping going, and you don’t want to throw things away, you want to keep recording. The day after the last song on the record was recorded – “Doo Doo Chasers” – I drew a line in the sand and I said, “This record is finished. It’s time to be done with it.” But we were dug in here, and it was just sounding better and better.
It’s a nice studio. You can stay here. There are bathrooms and a kitchen. I really call this my forever studio, we’ve planned out a patio and landscaping. It’s like owning a house. No, it is owning a house. And when you plant a tree you want to be there to see it grow. So we made a lot. I probably have my second and my third record in what we made.
JAMBASE: What pushed you to start recording with this band? I remember you talking about a long period of not writing and not playing.
DW: It really is the studio. It’s right down the street from my house and it’s not a party place, I’ve made sure of that. A lot of our studios and the places we recorded were also hangs. When you have a hang as your studio, a lot less gets done there. We clean this place up nice before we leave, every night.
Beyond that, though, there are four years I missed without Ween. I’m really making up for lost time and going back into it with a vigor. I mean, I recorded every day from when I was 14 up through when I was about 38 – anywhere, at home, in my headphones, wherever I was. And then to have a record deal and this band and the Ween reunion, I feel literally almost guilty that 2016 was the best year of my life, because it was like the worst year in history. But it’s lost time. Maybe a sense of mortality. I’ve won, I’ve made it, my son is going to college, and we didn’t starve and we didn’t go broke and I didn’t kill myself accidentally or on purpose. Everything is good. Everything. There’s no junk. There’s no bullshit. Both things are firing. Ween is doing at least 30 shows next year, and Dean Ween Group probably 150. It’s just good.
JAMBASE: Do you feel like you’ve settled into a Dean Ween Group lineup — are these the guys?
DW: I never will settle into a lineup. It says right there on our website that it’s a constantly rotating cast. I can pick any combo of players I like and have a gig tonight with no rehearsal, and they know everything, including a lot of new songs. If I want to cut a song, I can pick up the phone, find a drummer – and a great one, not just any drummer – or a bass player and we can cut it. So we’re not settling. But then with The Dean Ween Group, I won’t shit you, these are the best musicians – Dave [Dreiwitz], Claude [Coleman Jr.] and Glenn [McClelland] – I’ve ever been with in my life. I’m very lucky. We’ve been together for two-something years in this way. I’m very lucky.
JAMBASE: How does a Dean Ween Group setlist come together, and is it different than how a Ween setlist comes together?
DW: Ween setlists are fluid. I’ll write one, and it’ll be about 35 to 40 songs, and sometimes we change everything, including the first song, which maybe we’ll steal from what was written as the last song. We always take a last look at it. I change it every night. Dean Ween Group, though, is even more radical than that. We could hear a song on the radio on the way to g the gig, not even try to soundcheck it, and open with it, and then never play it again.
Thanks to all of the touring we did in 2016, I would say half the material in a Dean Ween Group set can be brand new, not even on the record. We could cut a song tonight, and it’ll be in the set tomorrow.
JAMBASE: So 150 shows, will you guys be all over next year?
DW: We’re going everywhere, yeah. And I’d like to take The Dean Ween Group overseas, probably first to Australia and New Zealand. Europe I don’t like as much and probably because of our tours there with Ween. [laughs] Ween and Europe are like Spinal Tap in America.
DW: Oh yeah. We haven’t been back there in a long time, and we swore we would never go back since the first tour we did over there in 1990. We were on a bus in England and the bus driver called the police on us and threw us out. There were a lot of unpleasant things that happened to us over there.
JAMBASE: You’ve just started webcasting The Invitational, your weekly jam residency in New Hope. It’s been a hit, but I’ve been curious, are there times at The Invitational where you have to remove a musician who just can’t play up to the level you guys need?
DW: Yeah. The house band I lead is five really reliable guys, and many of them are guys in my band. How we do it is someone has to vouch for you before you get up and play. And by those five guys I really mean about 50 guys that could make up those five guys. So we know a lot of people, and it might be a different drummer week to week, but one of my drummers might say, “hey, my friend Kevin is here and he can play sax.” That’s all I need to hear. Occasionally you get some drunk girl who wants to sing “Me And Bobby McGee” and she knows the first verse and then collapses, and I’ve learned to raise my hand gracefully and say, you know, “Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Linda! Now, fuck off, Linda.”
We get open mic dudes who swear to you they’re great players, and they want to play “Gimme Shelter,” and they’re wearing, like, Gibson t-shirts and then they get up there and they don’t even know how to plug in their guitars. You’d be surprised how often that happens. But then other times, there’s just some dude who’s in town, and has no idea there was anything going on, and he comes up and he’s humble. I’m a real good judge of human nature, and a guy like that says he plays drums and is wondering if we could play some Hendrix or Santana or Funkadelic, and I’ll just call it and say, “OK, you’re in,” and 90 percent of the time, I get it right. That’s a guy who can play, and he’s going to come back the next week, and by the Wednesday after that, fuck, he’s in the band.
We’re soft-launching the webcast just to make sure we get it right at a technical level, and then we’re going to start promoting it. We’re going all in, maybe we’ll try to get someone to sponsor it. I want to do something really special. I want to do it really fucking right. I love social media. I love streaming audio. I love YouTube. It’s like the worst thing that ever happened to musicians in terms of making big money, but there are also huge upsides to it. I have an option to do this now, too. I don’t think that a band of 18-year-olds would be able to. I mean, who would watch? So I’ve been blessed with this privilege.
I’m trying to play with everyone on my bucket list. I started with David Sanborn on the last record, and expanded to Curt Kirkwood, Kid Funkadelic, who I’ve played a lot with, and others.
JAMBASE: Who else is on that bucket list?
DW: My goal in life – and I hope you read this, you dick – is to make a rock and roll record with Mark Lanegan. A rock record, a true rock record. I love Mark, and I he and I get along so well, and the music we’ve made together, I’m super proud of. But I want to get him alone, away from Queens Of The Stone Age and the other stuff, and I want it to be him and me like Aaron and me. He’s the best lead singer I can think of. I gotta do it.
JAMBASE: Jumping around here, what’s the stage of the fishing show you put together with Les Claypool?
DW: It’s totally on hold. I’m just doing music now, and nothing but. I’m very happy with the way things are going now, and I have my older years to fish. Right know I don’t think I can get up at 3:30 in the morning to face that fucking boat. I love my boat so much, and it’s just sitting, and somedays I think I should sell it.
JAMBASE: What do you think is the biggest misconception about you? About the music you write, about Ween, about anything you’re known for?
DW: I don’t know, I don’t know if there’s a misconception, but I don’t think anyone has dedicated their life to music as much as me or the people in the band. I know musicians, and I look for people that are all in. All of us have that in common. Katy Perry or someone is probably all in – dedicated her fuckin life to it – but I think if it’s anything that feels like work, then we have the foresight just to kill it. I’ve dedicated my life to this as a musician but also a listener. And I try to get every single thing across to anyone who will listen to it.
My son is 16, but he’s never had a minute of bad music in my presence. I remember the first song he ever reacted to was “Ring Of Fire.” He was 3 or 4 and I took him and my wife to Niagara Falls and we went to an arcade and that was playing and I knew that he knew it was one of the greatest songs ever. I’m so opinionated about the music I love and am passionate about. And I can’t fucking stand when people talk during music I’m trying to play to them or play for them. I will yell at you, and berate you, and put you on a shit list where I never do it again, especially if it’s music that I put a lot of work and love into. A lot of people’s music is stuff you play in the background when you’re out to dinner. I don’t want anything to do with that.
JAMBASE: Have your listening habits changed much over the years?
DW: I listen to a lot of stuff. I listen to a lot of shit out there. I’m a sports nut, too, and I listen to a lot of sports radio, but one guy I really listen to is Little Steven; he is and his DJs play a lot of doo wop, soul, punk rock, and old singles that I’ve never heard of. I discovered Bob Dylan when I was 15 and there’s still stuff I haven’t heard. My ears are always open. I’m not really a Kanye [West] fan but I knew there was something about him that made him famous, so I’m sort of fascinated. I bought one of his records and listened to it for an hour and a half each way on the way to fishing, with no interruptions. Man, he was like the Trent Reznor of rap – it’s very depressing shit, not all just bitches and money. It was more like Nine Inch Nails. It’s hard to find new stuff that’s great sometimes because there’s a much bigger playing field now, but there’s so much that people put out there that blows. The cream always does rise to the top, but the landscape right now makes it harder for things that are subtle to get noticed. Meat Puppets, for example, are an acquired taste, and you really need to see them live. That’s a lot to ask from somebody nowadays. But when you’re in, when you’ve discovered them, you’re really in. I don’t think there’s a middle ground anymore.
JAMBASE: Is there anything you listen to that you think would surprise fans of you or Ween?
DW: I guess if Britney Spears releases a new single and it’s awesome, I’ll say it’s awesome. Or if it’s some bull shit country dude – although that won’t happen because all that music blows now – I’ll say it’s cool if it’s cool. A lot of people are too hip to do that, but I like diverse tastes. I like all kinds of music. The stuff that I really love is old time, like Les Paul and Duke Ellington. That’s what I go back to the most. The writing, and the song … there’s nothing to hide behind in that stuff, no Pro Tools or anything covering it.
JAMBASE: Going back to this idea of you getting back to productivity with The Dean Ween Group, I know you’ve talked in other interviews about your depression and how Les helped you come out of it, and …
DW: Yeah, and it’s not something I want to keep talking about. Any time I’m talking about it it feels like I’m laying some guilt trip on Aaron, and it’s not like that. I don’t really want to talk about it, except to say that Ween had to stop. It might have gone on a little longer, but it needed to stop. Ween was not always great. We were usually great, but sometimes we were not. There were only a couple of reasons that Ween should ever have a bad gig, and that’s bad sound or someone got the flu, but we were good enough to overcome anything. We started to have gigs that were really flat and bad, and that was heartbreaking and unacceptable.
However, in whatever way it needed to, it stopped. That’s why I don’t like talking about it. We were not completely busted, but we were spiritually wounded – wounded birds. But Ween is a joyous thing. Music should be joyous. Ween without that love and joy is not Ween. To have even one show that’s flat, that isn’t because of food poisoning, the vibe just sucks. But that’s behind us. Listen at our tapes now. I’d rather hear a Ween tape now than an old Ween tape, and that’s just my opinion, but I would.
JAMBASE: Do you have a favorite night from the 2016 Ween shows?
DW: Yeah, probably the Saturday night of the Port Chester run, the second show. I can even tell you why. I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing things, but I thought that was so good, we could release it. At the beginning of the Ween reunion, I think we felt like we couldn’t afford to play a bad note. I felt that way, and Aaron must have felt that too, because it would be like, “Are they under-rehearsed? Are they fucked up or something?” But by the end of the year – and Port Chester was really symbolic of this – we got our attitude back. There has to be a little bit of fuck you, fuck the crowd, not in a bad way, not to hurt the crowd, but that’s Ween!
As the year went on, we got that swagger back, so we had both our chops and our spiritual part. That was Ween firing on all cylinders. All three of the Port Chester shows were like that. On Saturday I felt like we could have stayed up and did 35 more songs had we not had another show to go. I leave a gig like that thinking, why do the best years of Ween have to be stuff we’ve already done? No, we can do this better, and we have this much more experience. We’re not old enough where we’re physically incapable of doing it and we have to just relive some past victory.
JAMBASE: The last time you updated AskDeaner.com, you caused a bit of a stir. Think you’ll do that again?
DW: [Pause] I don’t even remember what that was. I mean I’m all over the Internet. I love the interaction. Ninety-nine percent of the mail I get is from Ween fans. I write them back. My phone number is on the fishing website. Call my house. I don’t make any bull shit about it. I turn the ringer off sometimes.
JAMBASE: People do call, eh?
DW: Are you crazy? Yes, it never stops ringing. It’ll be someone who’s like “Ween sucks” and then hangs up, or they’ll hang on for a second and be like, “Is this really you?”
JAMBASE: And you don’t mind it?
DW: Well, I mean some of it I mind. But I’ve gotten a lot of really cool gigs and met a lot of really cool people, too. I like to be out there.