Yesterday, the Dean Ween Group unleashed their debut album under the direction of founding member and frontman Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo). Formerly of the notorious American alternative rock band Ween (begun in 1984) – and still pulling inspiration from past work – Dean Ween has brought a new flare and energy to his catalogue with this new work. A rotating cast of incredible musicians finds their home with the musical project, various talents displayed on the recordings that were created in the incredible new(er) space that Dean Ween built from the ground up.
Shortly before the release of The Deaner Album, we got to sit down and speak with Dean Ween himself. Here’s a little bit from one of the most influential alternative musicians of our time.
Tell me about the studio you’re working from today.
Sure. I’ve ran it – and no exaggeration – over 25 buildings since when we started. It’s very hard to find a place where sound is not an issue, you know, privacy, security, neighbors, all that. So finally after being at this for 32 years, my friend’s father owns 200 acres and offered to work with me on my own spot. He’s a younger father, like only in his 50s. I’m 46 as of today. Yesterday was my birthday actually.
Oh wow, happy birthday!
Thank you. So, he said if you build a nice place you can have it. So I did, and sunk about $150,000 into it. Borrowed and built this beautiful place that I call my forever studio. It’s in the woods, I’m here all day everyday and all night every night. Every instrument, cable, amplifier I’ve ever owned is all here, it’s all set up. It’s very hard to force a studio into a vintage house. You know, we’ve had to do that – use the living room as a recording room, control room. So, I have everything perfect. It’s a gigantic live room for a band to play in, everything is mic’d up. Then there’s a giant control room with monitors, talk back, kitchens and showers and bathrooms. Musicians can stay here. You could blow up a bomb in here and you wouldn’t hear it outside since its soundproof.
We built it with being a studio in mind. We made it totally perfect and right. It’s so relaxing when you come here. It’s like a second home. We’re so respectful of it. I do not- a lot of time over the years, studios were too close to the bar, and the place turned into a hang, after hours. So it was very important to me that never happen here. So the couple years I’ve been here I respect it, and we keep it very clean. It’s very relaxing when you walk in. It’s all esthetically fun to look at and play with. I tell people don’t bring your junk here. I’ll put it outside if you do. I don’t want your broken amps or guitars. No I don’t want that poster. Take it with you when you leave.
Every time we move out of a place we end up throwing out half the shit- it’s like stuff that doesn’t work or will never get used. Some junk someone left while crashing there.
Well it’s cool to have your own space and establish your own rules.
Yeah. It’s really gorgeous.
Before all this happened, Ween, The Dean Ween Group… what’s the first album or song you remember listening to, and who introduced it to you?
Wow. That’s going back too far- I can remember pivotal things. Radio was a huge thing for me. Just seeing that radio isn’t as important as it used to be. That’s where you went. Even MTV doesn’t show videos anymore – it’s like reality shows. The local station would play the top 5 at 5 every night. The 5 most requested songs. So the fans were actually choosing them. I remember buying the 45s and taped the songs at 5, and would use my tape decks to edit out the announcer talking. Which was really hard.
I remember watching Teen Tot with my babysitter on Saturday Night Live – Steve Martin doing it – and she worked at like Gimbles the old department store. She bought it for me and the next time she babysat me she brought it and I was so happy. I listened to them and I still have it actually.
Musically, my babysitter had a bad brother. He was a bad kid, same age, and had his older brother’s record collection and A-tracks. I remember going over there and hearing Sleeper and Ziggy Stardust. The first *record* record I got on my own that I really coveted and wore out was the Beatles Red Album 1962 – 1966. Then they put out The Blue Record, 1966 – 1970. They had the lyrics with them. That was the thing that changed it with me. Reading the lyrics you know, “Yellow Matter Custard”, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, all that. Just the visuals that went along with the lyrics are just so freaking great. I wore that record out until the needle went out the other side of the record.
Was that around the time that you decided you were going to pursue music?
I didn’t really know that until later. My father owned a car lot. There was a music store across the street. And I’ve learned this as a father, I don’t want to buy expensive stuff if I think it’s going to be a passing thing. And I want to be there to support him, but want him to appreciate it. So, my father bought me this guitar, it was probably unplayable. But I made it playable, made it look cool with stickers, painted it. Kinda sounded like a chord when you belted all six strings. I would play it with myself. Which meant I couldn’t play minor chords or you know, too much with it, but I was off to a start.
Then I really wanted a drum set after that. I had two cassette decks, so I would record the drums first, the foundation, I was like 11. And then I’d put the guitar on it. Of course I needed a bass but it was all cheap stuff. And then my father realized that I was really, really into this. And I started taking lessons, and at Christmas one year, I was like 13, he got me a real guitar, a Fender, and I started taking lessons, learning how to play without just that one chord. I was recording every day, starting to see concerts. I wanted to be that guy really badly. Not a singer, but a guitar player.
Yeah, my drumming was really good, still is. I played drums on the Ween records, people don’t realize that. You know I remember an interview once where Kurt Cobain said he wanted to be as big as Sonic Youth. That was his goal. And that really stuck with me. Because, it was the same thing with us, except, we wanted to be the Butthole Surfers. As big as the Butthole Surfers. I mean, that was my goal. I thought if we could get to that point, then we were really famous and really good.
I didn’t think about what I was going to do after high school. I wasn’t going to college, I knew Aaron wasn’t going to college, we figured we were just going to work. We wanted to get an apartment together, so we did the day we graduated high school. We made music there pretty much 24/7. We had been doing that in my parent’s bedroom for like 6 years already. So we had a lot of experience recording ourselves. We got a multi-track recorder, a 4 track, instead of just dubbing two tapes back and forth. I knew we weren’t going to go to college, I didn’t know where Ween was going to go, but as it turns out, we had put all our energy in the right places, and we got signed that summer.
So there was never really any guesswork to it. So that was in 1989, and our debut record came in 1990. It was a double record. It was almost to me like a greatest hit, of like 7 years of Ween. We had that much experience. So we got that one out of the way, the second and third ones were almost done already. The second one came out and we got signed. Then we were on Warner Brothers all of the sudden. So I never really had to think about it much. Like I said, we put our energy in the right places. We worked really, really, really hard on being good.
You know, it seems like a whirlwind thing, but it’s not. When Ween started out, it was very experimental and noisy. And it sounded like two twelve year olds, you know. But within a few years, we were happening. We were writing really clean songs. Choruses that you could remember, that were catchy, my parents were hearing it, they loved it. You know, I was still doing the same exact thing, it’s incredible. Really nothing has changed on the front end. I still work exactly the same way I did back then, you know, but with better music.
I heard there was about a year after Ween where you didn’t work with your guitar, really?
It was more like 6 or 7 months, I don’t really think that much about that. I’ve suffered from anxiety my entire life. Depression is something that was never in my vocabulary. I’ve never been depressed but when Ween split up, I lost everything. All I’d ever done was that. I mean, I’ve told you how long I’ve been at it, I just knew I couldn’t get out of bed, eat, shower, go out. The guitar was just another thing that got ignored during that 8 months. I didn’t mow the lawn either. I just didn’t do anything, just ran up debt. Only battle with depression I ever had. I was stuck. I really empathize with people who have it now.
If it weren’t for my friends, my friends saved my life, they were like, “You have to start playing again. You have to force yourself, even if you’re not into it. Go out. You don’t realize how much you miss it.” So I started and it didn’t feel right. But it took, and they were right. I got a band together, called it the Dean Ween Group, said “fuck it I’m still Dean Ween.” And when does Johnny Ramone cease to be Johnny Ramone? He dies, that’s the answer. Even when the Ramones broke up he was still Johnny Ramone. And with Ween being a duo and all that, I didn’t know who I was. Hard to explain, I lost my confidence, my career, my identity, sense of worth. Love. Hobby. Passion. I’ll never make that mistake again.
You’ve been working on The Deaner Album for a hot second. Any fun anecdotes from the recording process?
Yeah, it took a while to make, and then it happened like a tornado. When I got it going I really got it going. Up until that point, I had like two songs from like a year before and then it just like caught. I ended up replacing those songs with newer ones, when I was like totally back, when the group was happening and touring. People were commenting and fans wouldn’t go away, and good stuff like that. So the anecdotes have more to do with building the studio, and watching it go up, and really just visualizing it. Fantasizing about how long I was going to be in the studio. I swore I would come here every day, and do a song a day. All day, every day, all night. And I have for a couple years now. So I have this enormous catalog, just ready to go. The second Dean Ween record is done. It’s ready to go. It’s better than the first one, and I can’t wait to get it out there.
But for the touring, we’re playing everything. I don’t have to play Ween songs unless I feel like it. Which, I do, they’re mine too.
“Exercise Man” is pretty witty. What inspired that song?
I sang it to my son when he was like 2 or 3 in the car every time we saw some idiot jogging or riding his bike in the snow at 6 am. i would make up lyrics to songs and we’d sing them. Ironically enough I’ve recorded a few of them, he’s 15 now, they were just funny ideas. A lotta people say ween makes children’s music and I guess that’s partially true. evidenced by how many kid’s shows we’ve been involved in—especially spongebob.
Do you have a favorite song off of this album, by chance?
YES. “Bundle of Joy” is my hands down favorite. It was one of the last songs I wrote for the album too.
You have a pretty extensive tour coming up.
Yeah, that’s the first leg of it. We’re going to be out all of next year. We might even go overseas.
What are you most looking forward to about getting out on the road?
The food. I eat much better on the road because normal people need to eat a few times a day. The restaurants where I live totally suck. Honestly, the music and the camaraderie, read the lyrics to Willie Nelson’s “On the Road again”, Willie has a way of summing things up perfectly and that song is about touring. traveling will always represent the epitome of the American dream, especially for a young man. Getting to meet people and play music for them, the road is where u get all the love back from the people you’re hoping to reach with your music.
You have a fishing charter business? HOW do you find time to do all of these things?
I am very busy, just leave at that. even having a few spare hours feels like a victory. I took some time off to go fishing two nights ago and I enjoyed every second of it.
The Deaner Album is out now.