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

Continued from Page 1

dean ween interview

Photo by Jenny Lee Baniszewski

Absolutely, you guys seem like you’re at the top of your game.

I think so too. But even after thirty or some years, I’m letting it go slow and I actually am enjoying it now more than ever and I think it’s showing for both of us. It’ll reveal itself.

You told Rolling Stone that you included the song ‘Gum’ on The Deaner Album because it represents “the brown waste factor.” If you were speaking to someone who wasn’t an initiated Ween fan, how would you explain what you mean when you say ‘brown waste factor’? 

I can’t really explain ‘brown’ except to give examples… Ween opened for The Ramones in 1991. The Ramones showed up in a Country Squire station wagon that was smashed on one side, and missing a window. Dee Dee, Joey, and Marky. That’s brown. The beautiful side of brown. That is brown – that’s real. That’s brown. It can be really bad, it can be a horrible thing, when you get browned out by some band. A band shows up and they’re brown – none of their equipment works or whatever. But it’s a strength. You know you’re getting the real thing.

Ween is nothing else but brown. It has been our asset – our principle asset – our whole lives. It means that we show up at the festival, and we’re playing with Nine Inch Nails or whoever the fuck it is, and we don’t have any guitar strings with us, because nobody thought to bring them. So we had to borrow them from the other band. That’s what makes Ween great, is our brownness. It’s a total setback for us, but it’s what makes Ween Ween, is the brownness. It’s fuckin’ brown. It’s so fuckin’ brown all the way through: bad punch-ins, punch-outs on tapes. Dean Ween Group: bad guitar cable left on the master recording [makes loud feedback noise] halfway through the solo. Brown can’t be faked. If you fake the brown, people will figure you out.

Ween is just brown. The harder we try, the browner we are. The more legit we try and pretend we are, the more it blows up in our face. That’s what I’m saying – ‘Gum’ represents the brown. For every one of those ‘Gum’ songs that’s out there, there’s a trillion more that occupies most of our catalogue. It had to be represented. So just let it fly. It doesn’t belong with the respectable songs, like ‘Mercedes Benz’ or something – which is tight and nice…. At the core of it, we are brown, we are the worst. In a way, not the worst – we’re the best! You know?

Iggy [Pop] is brown. He’s out there still at ninety-nine years old or whatever he is, and fuckin’ crapped his pants or something. Literally. [laughter]

Brown has nothing to do with poop – that’s the thing I wanna clear up. Brown and poop have no relation. People think because of ‘Poop Ship Destroyer’ that Ween is scatological or whatever. I don’t like poop. I don’t like talkin’ about it, I don’t think it’s funny!

Brown, they misunderstand. They think it’s poop – ‘Poop Ship Destroyer.’ The song is brown, but not like when Ween does a rehearsal and somebody forgot to tell two members of the band that we had a rehearsal. [laughter] You can’t fake that shit, you know? No matter if we get better management or whatever, it’ll never change, you know? It’s brown.

“Brown can’t be faked. If you fake the brown, people will figure you out.”

You’re an enormous Prince fan. What is one skill of Prince’s that you wish you could have?

Um… Dancing, his guitar playing obviously… I copped a move from him recently. He did this move that was incredible, a lot. He did it at the Super Bowl. He would take his guitar – after crushing your face with a solo – and throw it into it into the abyss… back, by the black curtain, over the drummer. It was a guitar that you saw all the time, so it’s not like he disrespected it. [Someone was there to catch the guitar], but if he didn’t catch it, he knew that he’d be done, he was fired. I started stealing that one recently: whipping my guitar over my head into the abyss, the crowd can’t see what’s back there. A guy catches it.

You have guys waiting behind–

No, no, not guys – we’re browner than that. It’s my guitar tech. But I know how to throw a guitar. You don’t throw it like a Frisbee, so it’s spinnin’ around… You throw it horizontal, you know – wham! It’s a one-second move. Not pre-planned either. I look at [my tech], like, ‘I’m fuckin’ throwin’ this thing.’

How often does [the guitar] get caught?

Uh, I don’t care. If it breaks, fuckin’ figure it out. But I don’t disrespect my instruments. I used to, but I don’t anymore. The good ones are the good ones.

You’re an avid fisherman. What’s one quality that you find in fishing that makes it an indispensable experience for you? 

Same things as music – and I’ve been answering that same question, and trying to put a spin on it to make it different, but there’s only one answer to it: it’s the loss of self. I’ve only found three things in life – or four things, maybe five – where you’re in the moment. When you’re not thinking at all. The obvious one is music. When you’re onstage, it’s scary sometimes: you’ll wake up and realize that you’re standing in front of all these people, and you forgot for a long time. When you realize it, that means that you were there. You’re terrified at that second – I was gone, and here they are now.

When you fish, you are that way – if you’re good at it, which I am. I stare at the rod tips – there’s no cellphones, there’s no anything – I am there. You have a hundred percent of me. I am looking at the rod tips and I’m looking at the birds, I’m looking through binoculars, I’m looking everywhere for bait – any signs of life. The sonar. Nothing exists then, until it’s over.

The other thing is golf. Golf does that. If you’re good at it, you’re lost in it. You’re concentrated, for four-and-a-half, five hours. Like a concert, you know? You’re lost in it, you’re there, in the moment. And the other is sex. When it’s great, you’re not exactly gettin’ down if you’re thinking, ‘how many strokes did I push in or out,’ you know what I mean? You’re just feelin’ it, you know!

I guess that between music and fishing, you probably get to spend a lot of time in that blissful place. 

I do, but of course never enough. I wanna live my whole life that way, you know? I wanna live my whole life that way. That’s what it’s about right? Being in the moment? Anxiety has always been a thing with me honestly – worrying about shit that might, but probably realistically never will happen.

Your song ‘Exercise Man’ originated from silly songs that you sang with you son in the car when he was a toddler. Do you remember any other songs that you sang together? 

Oh god, man, there’s a bunch of ‘em! I wanted to put ‘em out as a children’s record. I remember all of ‘em. We had this one, it’s called ‘Gay Homosexual Bakery Man.’ It went, [singing] ‘Gay homosexual bakery man / bake me a cake as fast as you can / put on icing, but not too much / but give it that gay homosexual touch!’ There was another about a dog called ‘The Poopy Little Puppy.’ It said, ‘What’s that smell comin’ from our kitchen, doesn’t smell like chicken at all / he’s cuddly and fluffy, but he’s a poopy little puppy / and I gotta wipe the poopy off his paw!’

[laughter] And you said you don’t like songs about shit!

I know, but that’s a children’s song. So we had ‘Gay Homosexual Bakery Man,’ ‘The Poopy Little Puppy,’ ‘Exercise Man,’ there’s a bunch more.

One thing I just learned about you recently is that you played guitar on the classic Queens of the Stone Age album Songs for the Deaf

Oh yeah, it’s one of my prouder things, man…. Ween got signed in ‘91 or ‘92 to Elektra. We were very young, you know? And [Josh Homme’s band] Kyuss got signed. They were younger than we were, which I couldn’t believe! Josh Homme is like eight months younger than I am or something like that.

They put us on tour together, this metal band [Kyuss] and Ween. When I tell you – lasting friendship, the brotherhood that was forged immediately. Mutual respect. It was just incredible. It was like two bands touring as a gang. We were just so in love with each other’s shit. We’d sleep on their bus, partying. They’d sleep on ours. It was like one big crew – it was like a gang mentality. If they got thrown out, we wouldn’t play. If we got thrown out – you know – we’d trash the club. It was great.

Josh went ahead and did Queens. We took ‘em out on tour with them opening, when Rated R came out. Nick [Olivieri] and that first lineup, which was incredible. And then they made Songs for the Deaf – Josh called me and said, ‘Come out and play.’ Dave Grohl, Mark Lanegan, Nicky – I was like, ‘Holy shit, I’m fuckin’ there.’ I went out, and everything they played for me was just incredible…. I was like, this is the best rock record since [AC/DC’s] Back in Black, you know? …

And then Lanegan – Jesus Christ man, the best singer ever! I mean literally, up there with Freddie Mercury and Paul Rodgers. Mark Lanegan, Nicky, Josh. I mean, Dave Grohl – the whole thing was just firing. I did it, and it came out, and it was fuckin’ great. It’s one of the musical highlights of my life…. I knew immediately [that it was great]. It’s very rare that you know immediately.

Ween’s The Mollusk was that way. I was like, ‘This is the best thing we’ve ever done.’ I just knew it. I couldn’t wait for the day that it came out. Normally, you have trepidation, even if you think it’s the shit. That record was one of ‘em, the second Moistboyz record is one of ‘em, The Pod was one of ‘em. Most of the Ween shit, really. I’m talkin’ righteous big-dick-swingin’ attitude. The Mollusk was that way. It was like, ‘This is the best thing we’ve ever done. If you don’t like it, fuck you, you’re an asshole.’ I played the tapes of the rough mixes for anybody and everybody and counted the days til it came out.

But the Queens record – I don’t really play on other peoples’ shit very much, but I couldn’t tell Josh enough, ‘You guys are onto something really, really special here. This record is the best rock record of the modern era.’ And it really is. … That’s one of my proudest things. ‘Cuz I actually contributed to it. I didn’t just play little frills and shit. When I heard it, I knew I was gonna have to give it up, give it up to my max, dig as deep and hard as I could. To do my little part on it. I play a very, very small part on it. But yeah, man, what a record….

I don’t have any confidantes in music. We lived in New Hope, PA our whole life – not New York, not LA. Ween doesn’t take out opening acts. We don’t open for anybody – very, very rarely. Count it on one hand, the times we’ve done either. Josh is one of [my confidantes] – he would call me for advice, and I’d call him for advice. We’re the same age, we were in the same spot: weird bands signed to major labels, and really young. I feel like we’ve both been vindicated, you know? I’ve stayed at his mom’s house, and his dad’s – they made me breakfast, when he wasn’t even there. And the same on my end. That kind of tightness. I only have a few friends like that that aren’t in a band called Ween. There’s a thing there, there’s a special thing.

I think I was the only guy after the Paris [shooting] that Josh picked up the phone for. Phone was ringing off the hook, and I called him and he picked up my call. And we went through it, and he told me everything he knew at the time. And it was still going on at the time – he wasn’t [in Paris], you know? He was in California. It was heavy. It was heavy as fuck, man.

I wanted to ask another question about another one of your friends, which is Les Claypool.

That’s funny, because there’s a similar thing there.

What’s that?

The trust. He is a great, great, friend to me. Different than me, but a great, great friend. A really all-the-way down-the-line motherfucker.

In 2014, you wrote a Facebook post on Dean Ween Group’s page thanking Les for helping to encourage you to play music again after that dark time. 

He really did.

What did he say that boosted you?

When things go down, you find out who your friends are. I felt like a pariah, in a way. He would not let it stand. He wouldn’t have it! He stayed on my jock. He was like, ‘You’re Dean Ween. Here’s what I did. I went out and formed Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, I did Frog Brigade, I did all this stuff. I got my friends and we got in an RV and we just played music.’ And I took him at his word, and I did it, and he was right.… He got my heart beating again, basically. And I owe him forever for that. Because he was really the only one. I mean, maybe not the only one, but the first one for sure.

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