Interview by Mark Bayross
The duo of Gene and Dean Ween AKA Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo, have been casually causing chaos in the music world since 1985. With eight albums to their name, including the epic double live set PAINTIN’ THE TOWN BROWN in 1998 and this year’s critically-acclaimed WHITE PEPPER, the duo have attracted the attention of the creators of both BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD and SOUTH PARK, and have written songs for both.
They have written a staggering amount of songs together, only some of which have seen the light of day on albums or on stage, and are known for veering wildly between genres, sometimes in the space of one song.
I spoke to Dean / Mickey to try and find out what the hell he’s on.
You’ve just been playing Europe – how was it?
It’s hard to judge it on the whole. The only thing that set this tour apart from previous ones was that we were playing festivals about 80 or 90 percent of the time. And I hate playing fucking festivals. We get offered festivals in Europe a lot and we usually say no – there’s no real point in playing for 40 minutes. For a start, we were burnt out cos we’ve been touring for seven months, and then we had to play with a load of fucking lousy bands. In mud. Festivals suck in general… [laughs]
What was the biggest crowd you played to?
I don’t know. After a while they all start blending together. When we played the Lowlands Festival in Holland, we played to about 15 or 20,000 people on the second stage.
Do you get a different reaction depending on the country you’re playing in?
The reaction depends on the bill. In Austria, we played between Blink 182 and the Deftones and people started throwing bottles [laughs] – we just gave ‘em the finger… I guess we’re quite popular in Europe. We played to 2,300 people at the Astoria in London and we sold out the Paradiso in Amsterdam.
Does your audience need to be ‘into’ you to enjoy your shows?
Well, we prefer them to be – it makes more sense, you know? I mean, if a kid pays 80 dollars to see us, we want to make it worth their while. It’s not like we’re going to come back to Europe two or three times a year…
It’s well known that you’ve written over 1,000 songs together. How do you decide what you are going to play?
By what gets us off. With some songs, we’ll play them out – then we’ll retire them for a little while. When we have new material, it’s frustrating playing it live – like with this latest album, we only play half of it. But I write out the set-list every night before a show. We play for three hours – that’s 40 songs – and I try to change the set every time.
How do you decide what you are going to put on an album? Do you write a bunch of songs and pick the best?
Yeah, that’s just it. We write a whole load of stuff and pick out the best.
What has the reaction to WHITE PEPPER been like?
It’s been our most well-received record in England and the rest of Europe. I mean, we haven’t sold that many records, so this one hasn’t sold any more or less than the others. We usually get good reviews – except in England.
Do you set out to create extreme reactions?
Yeah, you either love it or hate it. We don’t inhabit that mediocre zone, and I’m happy with that.
You’ve released probably the two most accessible tunes from WHITE PEPPER as singles. Is this deliberate subversion through radio-friendly airplay?
Well we don’t decide what gets released as singles – we leave that up to the record company. Back in 1994, we made an album called CHOCOLATE AND CHEESE which had a couple of songs on it that were obvious singles. There was a song called MISTER, WOULD YOU PLEASE HELP MY PONY? which was my favourite, really unique to us – I would have preferred that to have been put out as a single. But, we’re happy to let the record company decide – I mean, you shouldn’t put any song on a record if you don’t like it… The choices are always obvious: you choose the two or three with the prettiest chorus.
Are you planning on releasing any other songs from WHITE PEPPER as singles?
I don’t know. Actually, in America, we’ve only released one – EVEN IF YOU DON’T.
Which other groups do you feel close to, musically? Would you say you are more Butthole Surfers than Brian Wilson, for instance?
Actually, I’d say those are two groups that have had the most devastating effect on Ween, particularly the Butthole Surfers. Ever since I was a teenager, they have been my number one band. They were the best live band around between 1985 and about 1990. We actually played with them back then – we opened for them in Trent, New Jersey.
How did you come to meet Trey Parker and Matt Stone?
They called us on the phone. Matt Stone called us to ask if we wanted to do music for a film they were making called ORGASMO. They were huge Ween fans, apparently. Since then, we’ve worked together four or five times. We all became friends quickly – we’ll go round there, have a beer, hang out… We also did two songs for SOUTH PARK – we were on CHEF AID. So, we called them and asked them if they would do a video for us. It’s great because we’ve never had any go-betweens, no agents or anything, so it’s always been cool – it’s the best way…
Would you say you have a similar agenda to them?
I wouldn’t say we have an ‘agenda’, but we share a certain punk rock sensibility. I love it when shit hits the mainstream, and that whole show is so fucking ill… TV is such a bullshit medium…
What’s next for you guys?
We’ll start writing and recording again, then take the show on the road again for the next year. There’s a cycle to it – it’s kinda predictable. You make a record, tour for a year, then come back and try to get your mind back together. Every time you finish a tour, your mind has been going at a frantic pace, so you have to relax. Ween has gotten bigger, but it’s never become a huge thing. Sure, more people are coming to our shows and you hope you can sustain that.
If you ever come to hang up your spurs, how would you like Ween to be remembered?
I don’t think there’ll ever be a point when we quit Ween. It’s just the two of us, and we’ll always be the best of friends. We’ll still get together and hang out, and if people stopped buying our records, we’d probably still carry on. I guess we’d like to be remembered as two songwriters