Ready To ‘rock2’: Dean Ween Discusses His New Album, The Invitational, Ween & More
Ever-prolific guitarist Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo is gearing up for the March 16th release of his second solo album, rock2, via Schnitzel Records. Deaner recorded the 11-track LP at his studio in Lambertville, New Jersey just across the river from the town where Ween was born – New Hope, Pennsylvania.
rock2 offers a snapshot of a period of time as it features 11 mostly new songs he laid down druing the Fall of 2016 with his Ween band mates Dave Dreiwitz, Claude Coleman Jr. and Glenn McClelland as well as members of the ever-changing lineup for the The Dean Ween Group. Deaner will support the LP with a The Dean Ween Group run that begins on March 21 in Indianapolis and also features dates in Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Washington D.C., Hamden, Allston, Philadelphia and Brooklyn. Then, Melchiondo brings a version of the project to Australia for a series of shows in support of Primus. In June, Ween returns to the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado for a pair of concerts.
Last month, Melchiondo chatted with JamBase and his happiness came through over the phone. Deaner seems to be more excited to play live than he ever has and continues to record at a feverish pace. He’s already well into the planning stages for solo album number three. When Mickey isn’t touring, he can be found on Wednesday nights at John & Peter’s in New Hope for “The Invitational Jam.” He puts together a house band for each one and welcomes musical comrades and musicians of all backgrounds and experience to play original or cover music. Deaner’s enthusiasm for The Invitational was apparent with each word he said about the event and has inspired him in multiple ways. The guitarist talked to us about bringing The Dean Ween Group back on the road, The Invitational, what lies ahead for Ween, how a discarded track he wrote with Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman will finally see the light of the day on rock2, keeping it from getting weird with fans, jamming with Kurt Vile and much more.
JamBase: Later this month, you return to the road to begin a series of Dean Ween Group dates. What’s the lineup going to be for the upcoming Dean Ween Group shows?
Dean Ween: You’ll probably never the see the same lineup twice, at least on consecutive nights. That’s the concept. I have about a dozen guys that I play with that are all amazing. They’re all great. Obviously, each guy is a badass that has his individual strengths. I keep it interesting by mixing up the lineup. You might see one lineup one month and one lineup the next month and hear different tunes, completely. I’ll be adapting it for what the essence is with that bunch of people. It’s a blast! I’m enjoying it so much.
JB: Will you perform with some of the regulars we’ve seen you play with at The Invitationals?
DW: Absolutely. Of course there’s Claude and Dave, the Ween dudes. And then there’s Joe Kramer and Kidd Funkadelic (Michael Hampton), Bill Fowler, me and Mike Dillon. Like I said, there’s a pile of us.
JB: That will make it interesting for the dates in Australia!
DW: That’s four-piece budget style. That’s me, Claude, Dave and Joey Kramer.
JB: Setlist-wise, will it be a mix of songs from your two solo albums and Ween classics?
DW: Honestly, I haven’t even gotten there yet. The very first thing I do that’s not at John & Peter’s in New Hope is I’m playing in Vail a couple of nights with Brother’s Keeper as my backing band, which is one version of the Dean Ween Group. So, I’m going to start off doing that and that’s a whole different set of songs and then I go on the American tour.
We probably won’t have one song in common with the Colorado gigs. Then I go to Australia with the Ween dudes and there’ll probably be no songs in common there. So right now I’m only thinking about Vail. But I know in my head what the master list is. That’s just how I think. I’m used to it from all those years with Ween, keeping 100-some-odd songs in my head. We’ll play what feels like the right thing to do that night.
The same logic goes into the Dean Ween Group setlists as with Ween. Is it time to go out there and rock balls? Is it a drunken Saturday night at a dive bar or a seated venue on a Tuesday night in the rain? You have to adapt on the fly. I’m not married to anything. I’m all about live music, pretty much exclusively these days.
JB: How has The Invitational been going?
DW: It’s made me grow so much, to be honest with you. As a player and as a singer and as a musical director sometimes, whatever hat I need to wear, it’s been a huge inspiration.
I have to keep the live beast fed or something which is weird because I always thought at this point in my life, I’m talking before MP3 existed, that we’d be making records if I made it this far and not doing road work as much. And now it’s all about gigging. It’s really all I’m interested in. I love records and I loved making this album and I record everyday. So it’s not just “I like one and don’t like the other,” but the live thing…I’ve come to embrace it so much that it almost has to be experimental all the time. It has to be different all the time and if I don’t get mine on a Wednesday night I’m upset. I need to get my fix every week. Four hours of jamming, it’s awesome. It’s really been a mutually beneficial thing: The Dean Ween Group, my studio and The Invitational – they’re all tied together.
I met some of the musicians in The Dean Ween Group at The Invitational and forged musical relationships and friendships that are going to last forever. I’m kinda all in right now, which is funny because I didn’t enjoy it in my twenties by comparison. I had anxiety and butterflies and now it’s a complete fucking anarchy in a good way. It’s freedom…balls to the wall…pedal to the medal…whatever metaphor you want.
JB: Right now there’s just two Ween gigs at Red Rocks on the books, will there be more Ween shows announced?
DW: Yeah, there’s a bunch you don’t know about it. There’s a bunch I don’t know about, but I know we’re doing them. Someone told me the other day, “We’re doing a gig together!” and I was like, “Really?” I asked my manager, “So & so said we’re playing together” and was informed we were and just hadn’t announced it yet.
JB: Earlier this year you posted a little teaser of a collaboration with Kurt Vile, can you talk a little bit about what we can expect?
DW: It’s too early to say and I don’t really want to jinx it. I met Kurt at Bonnaroo and it turns out we crossed passed a bunch of times over the years and apparently did some gigs together in different bands that he was sitting in with. He gave me his CD, his first demo, years ago. I’m not a guy who throws things away, I’m a packrat and I remember seeing his name. And then when Ween played Bonnaroo he was on the side of the stage rocking out. Knew all the words to all the songs and everything.
We went off stage and someone said to me, “Did you see Kurt Vile watch your set?” We talked and it turns out we obviously have this area in common and you just know when you hit it off. You know when you vibe with somebody. I can tell right away if they’re a like-minded person, if they like the same shit and grew up on the same records and he gave us so much props in the press over the last few years. We live really close by and made this promise to hook up and record or jam or whatever.
About five weeks ago we got it happening. We were both home and not on the road. Sure as shit, man, there was no hesitancy. We immediately dove right in, it was so obvious we can work together. You might get self-conscious with someone, you can pussyfoot at first, but I’m not that way and he wasn’t that way, not afraid to embarrass yourself on the mic or try a track and fail. That’s how the real shit gets done.
We just got right to it with an amazing song on the first day where every idea we tried worked. Every single track we recorded went into the final song. It was like, “Holy fuck!” I felt it and I hoped he felt it. By the end of that night, we had texted each other 20 times. He felt it too and couldn’t wait to come back the next week. So that’s as far into it as we are, but everything we tried worked. It’s fucking great to listen to and it was so easy…I don’t know what else to say. I don’t want to hype it because that’s not what I’m all about.
JB: But you’re excited about it
DW: Absolutely. I’m excited about it and so is he.
JB: And this took place at your studio in Lambertville?
JB: Speaking of the studio, I know you record a lot and I can only imagine the collection of material you have. My understanding is this new album captures a period of time, Fall 2016?
DW: In a nutshell, I had a lot of momentum when I finished [my first solo album]. When you have momentum and you’re writing and recording, you don’t stop. Because you’ll go through a dry spell, it’s just going to happen. It might be a week, it might be a month. It’s depressing, but it’s happens. That momentum of the first one is still going through the present, a few years later. I don’t know if it’s the vibe of this place or whatever’s going on or the amount of people I’m collaborating with. The momentum just carried me right straight into the second one.
I couldn’t wait to put sort of a period on the end of the first record, because it’s nerve-wracking making your first solo record after doing Ween. There’s some anxiety, well there’s always a little anxiety. I put it out and then I feel like I got to “the real shit,” because it happened fast. And the funny thing is, now, I look at the second one that’s not even out yet, and I think the third and fourth ones that are finished are the real shit! I want those to come out now. So, it’s a really good problem to have. I’m not bragging or lying, the momentum has been great. Between the gigging and the Wednesdays, everything is in ballet or instep. I can’t wait to get back to it everyday and I’m being sincere when I say that.
By the time the shit comes out, if you’re on a label and you’re not posting online, which I don’t like to do, because I like making records still, it takes like a year to get it out on a record label. So I built this studio and things are happening…I’m thinking more in terms of weeks.
JB: One song from the new album that stood out, in particular, is “Don’t Let The Moon Catching You Crying,” because it’s so different from the other tracks on the LP. Can you tell me a little bit about that one?
DW: That song is a good example of a song that took 20-some years to reveal itself. Aaron and I demo’d it for quebec (Ween’s 2003 studio album) and the only good part about it was the chorus. I’m usually into the quantity before quality thing. Rather than focusing on one song, try to write five in the same amount of time and then two of them are bound to be good. That’s kinda how I still do things, that’s how Ween did things, that’s how I do things and always have. That one I felt was worth revisiting and that’s just not the way we roll, Aaron and I, we just keep going. I just said, “I’m going to do it this time, I’m going to put different verses in it, change this and that and pump it up.” And then you end up with something you could have never imagined.
To me it sounds like Bob Seger or something, or The Replacements – something I wasn’t going for at all. That’s the shit that I love, when that magic shit happens. You’re going for one thing, and you miss, but you accidentally create something else. I think that pretty much describes what I do a bunch.
JB: And what makes it so hard to describe your music to other people!
DW: You don’t even know. I was talking to an interviewer the other day and he was talking about the song “Woman & Man” from Ween’s ‘La Cucaracha.’ And he’s like, “It reminds me so much of Led Zeppelin or Santana” and I said, “I don’t know how to explain this to you, but Aaron and I wrote that song on my couch with two acoustic guitars and it sounded like ‘Freedom’ by Richie Havens.” And to me, that’s what the song is, picture it ::Deaner sings lyrics of “Freedom” and then sings “Woman & Man”:: Then, we cut it with the band, and it sounds like “Achilles Last Stand” by Led Zeppelin off of Presence. There’s nothing intentional about that, but it’s a magnificent fail right there. And I think that’s what we do, I think that’s what I do! I don’t think there’s any difference between [The Dean Ween Group] and [Ween]. Whatever works, that’s what’s going to go on [the album].
JB: I know you’ve got a stockpile of material and you mentioned a third album, do you have a vision of the next album?
DW: Yeah, of course I’m thinking about it – that’s the short answer. I have to watch so that I don’t get disinterested in the songs that I’ve done since I finished the second one. Honestly, I think I made a better record than the one that’s about to come out. And I love the one that’s about to come out! My head is so up in the studio and writing and all that I’m a permanent fixture in the studio. Since the second record [the output] has quadrupled.
This one that’s about to come out was recorded about two years ago. It just took that long to get mix, mastered and pressed.
JB: You’re always so open with fans, especially in these days of social media
DW: To a fault sometimes!
JB: Well, that’s the question, how do you keep it from getting weird?
DW: It really hasn’t, it didn’t bother me … it didn’t, bother me. It never did. My number’s on there, if you’ve got a brain. Doing my fishing trips, you know my phone number’s on there, you can call me and book a fishing trip. But then you know you get someone that calls and find out you’re talking to someone’s 8-year-old son for two hours. Then it’s not so fucking cool anymore. That’s just straight up against the rules. I just hope there’s common sense in people or whatever and decency, but it’s the internet so fucking throw that all that shit right out. It’s social media, there’s no decency about anything. But no, no I don’t care.
JB: But for the most part it’s been a good experience?
DW: Abso-fucking-lutely. I couldn’t even think of how many doors have opened, how many people I’ve met, how many lasting friendships I’ve made, how many gigs I’ve booked, how many musicians I’ve met or end up producing or jamming with. Wednesday nights, you know where to find me. I just think if you’re that way, you don’t have anything to be scared of. And I don’t mean scared like psycho fans or something, I just don’t have any secrets. If you’re like that, you don’t have anything to hide. Somethings are precious and private like family.
To me, that’s like the number one thing about being in a band people listen to: getting to travel and meet people.
JB: Are there any plans for Ween archival releases in the works?
DW: No, but that can change so fast. There’s nothing in the works, but it’s like standing in front of a mountain and staring at it. Not only don’t you know how to climb it, you don’t even know where the fuck to get on. I think that’s the big hurdle with that stuff. I wouldn’t even know where to start. And it’s hard when you’re making new music and touring. You really don’t want to reflect. I’m just happy. I’m sure one day, it could be sooner it could be later. There’s just so much fucking shit. What good is it if no one hears it?