Dean Ween Looks Ahead: “My Best Music Is In Front Of Me”

The Deaner opens up about going solo, his battle with depression, career highlights and more

Photo by Sandlin Gaither

Dean Ween is best known as one half of the brilliant, irreverent rock duo Ween. The Deaner, a.k.a Mickey Melchiondo, recently released his first solo effort, The Deaner Album, which is a showcase of his blistering guitar skills, his gift for writing songs that are alternately silly and scathing, and his influences (The Deaner Album includes songs dedicated to Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dickey Betts and Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist Garry Shider).

The Deaner Album is the sound of Melchiondo rediscovering his musical identity in the wake of a severe bout of depression (“it almost killed me, literally”) that followed Ween’s abrupt 2012 breakup. In the years since, Ween has returned to the stage and Melchiondo has reckoned with what it means to be Dean Ween (after his friend Les Claypool “got [his] heart beating again”). The outlook in 2016 is bright: Melchiondo has already completed a second solo album and says, “my best music is in front of me.”

Mickey and Dan Redding discussed going solo, Prince, fishing, Queens of the Stone Age (the guitarist says playing on Songs for the Deaf was “one of the highlights of my life”) and more during three phone conversations. The following transcript of those discussions has been edited for length and clarity.

Dan Redding: You have a new Dean Ween album out, and you already have a second album in the can. As a songwriter, is it intoxicating to go on a writing streak like that?

Dean Ween: Yes. You have to know – there’s a learning curve to it – you have to know to not get too nervous when you go creatively dry. It’s gonna happen. And you also have to strike when the iron is hot. If you’re hearin’ melodies in your head, and lyrics, and you’re writing riffs, you gotta go to the studio every day. Maximize it, you know?

I find myself listening to what people say, and finding song titles in it, and great concepts for songs. For example, last night, somebody must’ve said a thousand times, ‘It’s not about the money.’ When it’s all about the money. You know what I mean? It’s always all about the money. I wrote a song today, it goes, ‘It’s not about the money / It’s all about the money!’ [laughter]

What classically interrupts that process is a tour. You come home and you don’t even wanna look at your fuckin’ guitar for a week, you know? I amassed so much material – being self-conscious because it was my first solo album – I really, really put a lot of thought into what tracks to use. Just like every record I’ve ever worked on, I look back at what was left off, and said, ‘God, that should’ve been on there.’

If you’re a Ween fan, do you know our song ‘Buckingham Green’?

Of course.

We deemed that song not good enough for our records – for The Pod, Pure Guava, Chocolate and Cheese, the country record (12 Golden Country Greats) obviously. We recorded it for The Mollusk – I think it’s probably the best song we ever wrote. It’s just a good example of living with some material for a while….

Right now, I’m just completely on a binge again. It’s good.

dean ween interview

What is the earliest memory you have of planning – or maybe just daydreaming – of what a Dean Ween album solo record might be? Was there ever a different vision for it than what became The Deaner Album?

Yeah. A lot. Andrew Weiss – who is Ween’s sort of de facto producer – and I have a million concepts. Do you know the Ween song ‘Bananas and Blow’?

Sure do.

Well, our friend was married to a woman from Ecuador. Her father was a very powerful politician – he owned soccer clubs, maybe Coca Cola bottling, Bonita banana – as powerful as you can be in Ecuador. We went down there and we were like, ‘We should come down here and make a record called Bananas and Blow.’ Stay awake for a week. [Laughter] All of side one will be ‘Bananas and Blow,’ this song – we hadn’t written the song yet – we’ll use local musicians, a shitty local studio, we’ll just get the tapes home. Instead, it came down to a three-minute song Aaron and I put on White Pepper. But we have a million concepts like that, you know? They haven’t been realized.

So, The Deaner Album was an amalgamation of a lot of different things. The one thing I was sure of was that I wanted a lot of guitar on it. I wanted to focus on my guitar as my instrument. Because in Ween, the areas are more grey. I play drums, I play bass. Aaron plays bass… But over the years, I became the de facto guitar player and he became the singer.

So, I wanted to do this Les Paul-sounding record for a while. The guitar player Les Paul – not the guitar – some old jazzy-type shit, which I love. Some of my favorite music. It ended up being a little bit of all that: all the guitar I love. Some Hendrix-y shit, some P-funk-type shit, some Stones-type shit, some Jeff Beck-type stuff. The song ‘Shwartze Pete’ is a Les Paul joint. Sounds like one. So yeah, all the concepts sort of melded into one, but it is a guitar record.

One of my favorite songs on the album is ‘Bundle of Joy’ –

Me too. It’s funny – I gotta interrupt you – with Ween, when we signed with Elektra, they put out Pure Guava, there was no single. Obviously. They sent an eight-song sampler to radio, and radio found ‘Push th’ Little Daisies.’ You know? Like, unanimously. So that became the single. It had to reveal itself. With [The Deaner Album], ‘Bundle of Joy’ has revealed itself. That’s everyone’s favorite. I’m gonna cut a video for it. The second video for this album, soon.

I like that idea, that it’s chosen by the people.

Yeah. And the major – I wouldn’t call it a misjudgement, but the major learning curve, I think, of this record was, I wanted it to be a lot of guitar and some singing. So it wasn’t like going to see Jeff Beck, where it’s a bunch of dudes that play guitar in the crowd. It’s like half and half, I think – my record. But the songs that everyone has gravitated to are the songs with choruses that I sing: ‘Bundle of Joy,’ ‘You Were There,’ ‘Exercise Man.’ I learned a lot. I learned a lot from that. Because I had those songs. I just – not underestimated, I mis-estimated what people wanted. They wanted to hear me sing and write songs. [Those songs have] gotten all the attention, and I’m very proud of that. I’ve gotten a lot of props, and pretty great reviews of this record so far. The props I get are for my songwriting. It’s like, well obviously, all along, [people are] thinking, “He plays guitar and Aaron sings.” But, you know, it’s kind of obvious that – no, we wrote the songs, too. Aaron and I split [Ween songwriting] fifty-fifty. A lot the songs that Aaron sings were written by me, and vice versa, but because he’s singing, they assume that he wrote it, etc.

First of all, just for the record, I have always thought of Ween as a classic duo. 

Put it this way: if a stranger asks me what I do in the band, I say, ‘We’re a duo.’ Two of us play guitar and sing. That’s my answer. That’s how I see Ween. So that means that’s what Ween is. [laughter] If I see it that way, then it’s that way. In my mind.

So here’s my question about ‘Bundle of Joy.’ I wanna try to get into your mind as far as the thinking behind the songwriting– 

It was a co-write. Which is cool.

I know, that is cool. So this song is sneering and sarcastic, it’s about living hard and not taking any shit.

Yeah…. There’s a lot of that on the record – there’s a lot of self-deprecation. I didn’t realize that til later. It’s subtle, but it’s everywhere.

I have another question about that – but let’s get to the bottom of ‘Bundle of Joy’ first. Where did the idea behind that song emerge from?

It started off with the music. I was looking for something that was different. I was listening to a lot of Stones, going through a Stones phase. I’ve been a Stones fan since I was twelve. You come and go with shit like The Beatles and [The Rolling Stones]. You’ll go on a binge, you know? So, I put the capo on my guitar and I started playing around with the open tunings that Keith Richards uses. It opened up this whole other – if you can do something like that and get one good song out of it, then it was worth it, you know? So I was kinda playing this great riff, that song, I had some words, and I asked my friend Adam from Low Cut Connie to help me with the words. It was really funny, because he did this on some other songs that we didn’t release – it was his image of me.

I made some changes to what he did. But he sort of inspired me to write a song about myself through his eyes. So that’s where it comes from. It’s really interesting that way, it’s like his vision of my vision of myself. His image of my image of myself, rewritten by me! [laughter]

It’s like a reflection of a reflection of a reflection. So, you mentioned the self-deprecation theme, The Deaner Album has songs about letting people down, and then this song is like a nasty ‘fuck you’– 

It’s both. It’s righteous and self-deprecating.

What’s interesting to me is I think your fans think of you as someone who’s jovial, good sense of humor–

I am!

I know – but I wonder if what we’re noticing is that maybe you expressed part of yourself on this record that fans haven’t seen before. 

Well, it was a really unique period in my life. My band was broken up. My identity as it had always been was gone. All I had known in my life was Ween since I was thirteen years old, and all of a sudden it wasn’t there.

I’ve said the same thing a million times, but I’ll keep sayin’ it again: when did Johnny Ramone and Dee Dee Ramone and Joey cease to [be Ramones]? It’s when they died, you know? I was going through a major, major crisis. A spiritual crisis: am I Dean Ween still? How do I talk about Ween? Present tense? The past tense? … I didn’t think it was over, I refused to grasp the fact that it was over. These were hurdles that I had to overcome to be able to make a record with confidence. So that was the context in which those songs were written. There was no Ween reunion impending. Dean Ween Group was on tour in the fall and the winter of last year, about a year from now, maybe a little longer, and I found out during that tour that Aaron wanted to do shows, and my record was pretty much in the can at that point.… The songs were written from that context, is what I’m saying. I was at a different place in my life than I am now. I was in a new, unexplored territory which hopefully I never revisit again, because it was not fun.

I hope so too.

A severe bout of depression. It almost killed me, literally. It almost physically killed me, and the fallout it still lingering around me. There’s friendships I have to repair, there’s debt that I accrued. There were things I just left unattended, because I couldn’t get out of bed and eat, you know? Very powerful. And I have empathy for anyone that suffers, now. You know? I didn’t know how crippling that was gonna be. And I hate talking like this, because it feels like I’m trying to lay some guilt trip off on Aaron – but I’m not. I’m not. I know why we – Ween needed a break. It was probably just the perfect amount of time. We hadn’t stopped since we were thirteen. We never reflected at all. Which can be a dangerous thing, too – I didn’t wanna reflect when I felt like I still had songs to write. I wasn’t nearly ready to hang it up, but I had to realize that.

I feel like my best music is in front of me. Anyone might tell you that, but I believe it, I see it. Ween live – we just played the Capitol Theater – it’s the best we’ve ever been. And we should be! It’s been thirty fuckin’ years, you know, of being in Ween. Why wouldn’t we get better? We don’t have some elaborate stage production and background singers and playing to a click or a midi track, you know – we just go out there and set up our gear and we just kick it.

Continued on page 2…

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