Interview: Dean Ween talks new studio, album and tour
Mark Adams / Hog Island Press

Mickey Melchiondo’s creative faucet never seems to run dry.

As one half of Ween, Melchiondo—aka “Dean Ween”—turned his bedroom four-track recordings into zany, scatological mini-masterpieces whose mischievous measures evinced his love of rock, funk, R&B and heavy metal. Joined by childhood pal Aaron Freeman (aka “Gene Ween”), Deaner unleashed six-string electric fury (and acoustic guitar grace) on 1990s gems like GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, The Pod, Pure Guava, and Chocolate and Cheese.   

The duo eventually expanded into a proper “band” of ace musicians who helped Gene and Dean stage incendiary, unforgettable live concerts while touring behind 1997’s The Mollusk, 2000’s White Pepper and 2003’s Quebec. Quirky single “Push th’ Little Daisies” was a bona fide MTV hit (as featured on Beavis & Butthead), and nautical track “Ocean Man” won over younger listeners in The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.   

Gene stepped away from Ween in 2012 to record a solo album, leaving Dean to jam with his own Moistboyz side project. But the partners in musical mayhem continue to book occasional reunion shows: They’ve got another Red Rocks gig set for June 5.

Dean’s also broadened his horizons by building a dedicated studio facility in the New Jersey sticks. He finished sessions for 2016’s The Deaner Album at the secluded site, and recorded just about all of the new rock2 there with his pals in The Dean Ween Group.

AXS rang Deaner last week to discuss the new album, his upcoming North American tour and the creative freedom that comes with having one’s own happy hideaway in the woods.

AXS: Did this new record piggyback on The Deaner Album in the studio, or had some time elapsed before you got back into the cycle of writing and recording?

D.W: By the time that first one came out, this one was done, too. I did the first half of the first album in a bunch of different places before I got into my new studio. And just when I got to the new studio and was hitting my stride, and hearing all these melodies and riffs in my head, that record was finished. So for the second one, the momentum carried me into it. I’m still going to this day [laughs]! I’m backlogged for a couple records, so that’s great!

AXS: How does working in the new studio differ from your time in other studios, or even from your time doing four-tracks with Aaron?

D.W: The studio’s in Lambertville, New Jersey. In Ween, we always did everything ourselves. The Moistboyz, too. I think 99% of everything I ever played on, I handled all the recording and engineering and production. It could’ve been on a four-track in my living room or bedroom or whatever, and the few times we were in a “real” studio, the process didn’t change that much, except that when you’re paying whatever it is--$1,500 bucks a day—you can’t afford to be too experimental! So having this is great, because it’s a high-fidelity studio with a Neve console and everything. Beyonce could make her next record with the same gear I have!

AXS: So you get the best of both worlds, with state-of-the-art gear and a down-home vibe to keep you inspired.

D.W: Yeah, it’s way better! That’s the thing. It affords you…if you could see what I’m looking at—I’m walking around while I’m talking to you—you’d see all this stuff taped to the walls. Pictures and leaflets and whatever. Everywhere you look there’s something compelling to play or read or grab. So if anything there’s way more of a license to be experimental!  

AXS: So now you’re the proverbial kid in the candy store!

D.W: Whatever metaphor you want to use! Totally! Kid in a candy store…or a shopping spree! That’s exactly what it is. It’s great because it’s so relaxing for my friends and family to come in. You can sleep here or shower here, whatever you need. A friend of mine, his father had a lot of acres, so we built on a plot of his land. We put in everything; we did all the plumbing and electrical and cable.

AXS: Could you talk about the musicians on rock2?  Who’s in the band these days?

D.W: We have a huge posse here in Jersey and P.A. We live in a little river town, and there’s this dive bar called John & Peter’s. It’s a place that’s been doing live music…there’s a rumor going around that it’s been the longest continuous club doing live music in the United States. Forty-seven years, or something. The whole place only holds like 70 or 80 people. I’ve played there a million times. I still play there every Wednesday night! And the guys on the record, that’s my core band. They’re like the “house band” on the record. They’re the Ween guys—Dave [Dreiwitz], Glenn [McClelland], Claude [Coleman], and me. And then there are all my friends that I tour with and jam with all the time. I could pick names out of a hat, like ten bass players or drummers or guitar players, and have a great lineup any night! I kind of change the lineup on every run, every tour. It’s always changing.

AXS: The new album kind of stays true to the Ween tradition of embracing eclecticism.  Rock2 covers all kinds of styles.

D.W: I could go through my record collection all night, listening to Master of Puppets [Metallica]. Or I could listen to Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Ravi Shankar or The Beatles! Anything tucked in there is probably something I grew up with, which influences what I do. And I have this really strong opinion that your musical influences are over by the time you’re seventeen or eighteen. You’ll discover new stuff your whole life, but by that point, it’s all ingrained. Whatever made you want to play music can probably be found in whatever it is you’ve been listening to all along, you know what I mean? The only bands I go to see anymore are the same ones I’ve always gone to see! Prince is dead, but I’ll always go see people like Neil Young or P-Funk or Carlos Santana.

AXS: You gotta see ‘em while you can! Some of them—like Prince—are aging out and dying on us!

D.W: Yeah, it’s like seeing some antique from a museum! I’ll go see Willie Nelson when he comes around, too! Yeah, all the ones I like are disappearing. I’ll go see Stevie Wonder, too, because you know it’s going to be amazing! I don’t like when musicians talk about their kids, but my son is seventeen, and he’s got great taste in music. He takes me to shows! He’ll ask me to take him to shows, but he’s also turned me on to stuff I never would’ve heard of, and that I absolutely love, and which I might not have given a chance! I’ve seen LCD Soundsystem twice, and I’d go see ‘em again! It’s the best show I’ve seen in a long time!

AXS: You’ll be hitting Australia after the North American tour. I presume you’ve been “down under?”

D.W: Oh, man! This will be my fifth or sixth time. Ween is f@cking huge in Australia! We’ve got like, a top ten hit there! It’s the only place where we’re like, recognized at the supermarket or post office by middle age people [laughs]!

AXS: Any fond memories of writing and recording The Mollusk, now that it’s been twenty years?

D.W: I’m a heavy-duty fisherman, and I take people fishing. I live by the Jersey shore, and I have a couple boats, and I’ll take people fishing. It’s really got nothing to do with the band at all. Aaron and Ween, we always had this thing since we were teenagers about how much we loved the beach during the off-season. It’s so conducive to creativity. For lack of a better word, it’s romantic. We always wanted to do a record about it, and back then when we got the advance for that record we decided to do one. And we’re still doing it! That’s my happy place! A lot of people don’t realize that while that record was called The Mollusk because it’s about the ocean, and you’ve got the sea creatures on the cover. But we went back for the next three records, and they weren’t about the ocean. We didn’t call the next record like, The Scallops [laughs]! But that environment inspired us for a long time. It was like, eight years in the same house!

Visit The Dean Ween Group website for rock2 album info and tour details.