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StoneMtn

Weird - Even for Ween

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I just saw Ween play. I've seen them quite a lot, but tonight was even weird for Ween.

Basically, I'm pretty sure that Gener pissed off the rest of the band, so they walked off and let him play on his own. He screwed around with a guitar for awhile, singing and even trying to play some semblance of guitar-solos. It was ridiculous. (Frankly, I thought it was comedy relief.)

Eventually he said, "I'm hoping the band comes back and joins me on this one."

They didn't.

So, he said, "Well, thank you Vancouver. Goodnight!"

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WEEN: At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Monday, January 24

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall of the Boognish’s lair this morning.

Based on the complete shitshow that was Ween at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Monday, it’s pretty much guaranteed that guitarist Mickey Melchiondo was weaving an impressive tapestry of profanity. And the object of his no doubt considerable ire? Well it wasn’t Ween drummer Claude Coleman Jr., bassist Dave Dreiwitz, or keyboardist Glenn McClelland. Like Melchiondo (a.k.a. Dean Ween), they were all total pros, ripping through everything they tackled with devastating precision, whether it was an extra-eerie “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)†or a greased-lightening cover of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spadesâ€.

No, the dude with some explaining to do would be one Aaron Freeman, better known to the good people of New Hope, Pennsylvania as Gene Ween. Freeman hitting the stage with a hairdo that was a bizarre combination of Edward Scissorhands and Christopher Lloyd in Back To Future was the first hint something was amiss. Clue number two came during the set-opening “Fiestaâ€. As his bandmates nailed every stop-and-start note, Freeman stood there like a drunk simpleton who couldn’t, despite his best efforts, figure out how to keep time on a tambourine.

Things didn’t get any better when he stepped up to the mike. Early numbers like “Mister Richard Smoker†and “Transdermal Celebration†were advance warning that Freeman would be spending the night singing in a voice that was a weird, high-camp cross between Ethel Merman and the Heat Miser from A Year Without Santa Claus.

The ship was temporarily righted when Melchiondo commandeered the mike for the shitkicker classic “Piss Up a Ropeâ€, and the awesomely brown “Can U Taste the Waste†was just fucked up enough to make it seem like Ween was a fully functioning unit. Except, on this night, no such luck.

Things went from bad to beyond-weird quickly. To the visible dismay of Melchiondo, Freeman totally blew the lyrics right after the epic guitar solo in “Buckingham Greenâ€. And he decided it was easier to sit on the stage than to stand for “Mutilated Lipsâ€.

Halfway through the show, it was obvious that all was far from good in Ween land. At one point, as Freeman futilely attempted to tune a guitar, Melchionado turned the singer's amp down when he wasn’t looking and then took assumed vocal duties for “My Own Bare Hands.â€

An otherwise blistering “Reggaejunkiejew†was torpedoed when Freeman lay down on the stage mid-song, the other members of Ween subsequently getting their revenge with an extendo-instrumental version of the Carpenters’ “Superstarâ€. It was after the latter number where things arguably came to a head. A completely out of it Freeman finally bounced up to slur “Sorry if your panties are in a bunchâ€. He then proved himself utterly incapable of hitting almost every note during “Freedom of ’76â€.

Obviously having had enough, the rest of Ween retreated to the back of the stage while Freeman again attempted to tune his guitar, a task he eventually abandoned. Subsequently, there was a certain irony to a watching a totally out-of-it waste case serenade the crowd with a solo “Birthday Boyâ€, mostly because of the lyrics “Help me now, I’m going down/And I don’t know if I’ll be aroundâ€. It was right around then that Melchiondo flat out up and left the stage with the other members of Ween.

What followed was funny, and sad, as Freeman finished up a sloppy, lone-wolf rendition of “Tender Situation†by looking over his shoulder and then slurring “Hey, where’s the bandâ€. Shortly thereafter, he walked off alone and the lights came up, leaving the audience angry and pissed.

As anyone lucky enough to have Ween at the Starfish Room on the Chocolate & Cheese tour knows full, once upon a time, getting fucked up was a regular occurrence for Ween. But that was playing for 400 people in shitty dive bars. On this night, Freeman—and Freeman alone—blew it in front of nearly 3,000 fans who’d paid $50 a ticket. And you didn’t have to be a fly on a wall to realize that the Boognish and the singer’s bandmates weren’t the only ones not amused.

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Ya. I wasn't going to speculate, but he did spend about 15 minutes lying down while the band kept trying to jam their way out of Reggae Junkie Jew, and whenever they almost did, he would reach over, grab the mic, and yell "Jew!"

It was actually hilarious, and I got covers of Ace of Spades and Let's Dance, as well as a My Own Bare Hands, so I'm happy.

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They played (together) from 8:15 to about 10:05. Then they abandoned Gener, who bumbled around until about 10:30. The venue would have wanted them done by 11, and would have let them push an encore for maybe another 15 minutes after that, so I figure we missed 45 minutes; tops.

I don't care what anyone says. That was awesome! Totally worth the trip down to Vancouver.

hahahaha

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Two years after he laid beloved band Ween to rest in troublesome fashion, spiraling into substance abuse and then sharing news of the breakup with Rolling Stone before he told his bandmates, the artist formerly known as Gene Ween is opting to step outside of its shadow.

Aaron Freeman, as his family calls him, has relocated to Woodstock, New York, where he has spent time sobering up and teaching at a music school for kids. Out of those experiences emerged Freeman, his first LP of original post-Ween songs, slated for release in July. It’s a disarmingly sweet set, full of lush vocal harmonies and emotional pleas that bear much of Ween’s melodic gift but none of its juvenile smirk. It’s also unflinching in its lyrical concerns. The first and best track, “Covert Discretion,†addresses a 2011 onstage meltdown in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Freeman was effectively too wasted to perform, and exorcises a flurry of other Ween-related demons. In it, Freeman affirms his decision to shutter that book: “Man, you’ve got to end this / Just walk away / Your money or your life.â€

In a recent phone conversation, the artist shared how Freeman came to be and slowly discussed the Ween breakup, explaining his only regret in ending the cult rock group’s 25-year run.

I opted not to tell him about Demon Sweat, the Ween cover band I briefly fronted in college. This was probably the best choice.

I’ve read several things that talk about this record in the context of your newfound sobriety. Do you think getting sober affected your songwriting?

No. [laughs] Not at all. The songs are the same as ever.

Did it influence some of the lyrics?

No…

The first song, “Covert Discretion,†pretty directly references your time in Ween and an onstage incident in 2011. Can you tell me about that?

It’s like, there’s this whole new thing with music now. I think it’s great how the Internet works, but it’s like, do I really want to explain these songs two months before it comes out? That is just a song that kind of goes over some things, and I’m excited for people to hear it. I’m excited for people to hear the whole record. I don’t want to go over each song. I think it’s all f**ked up.

So let’s talk about the album. Were these songs all written recently or were any of them written when you were in Ween?

The song “Covert Discretion†actually I wrote a week after I played this show in Vancouver. I actually forgot about it. I wrote it in a hotel room. I revisited it and listened to it. I was like, Oh s**t, this should definitely go on the record, this is a great song. I hadn’t written anything in like a year and a half. I came up to Woodstock, and I started working at this place called the Academy of Rock. It’s sort of similar to the School of Rock. Founded by a very close friend of mine, Paul Green. So we moved up here. I was ready for a change. This is basically kids 7 through 15.

Like the movie School of Rock?

It’s exactly like the movie! I think it’s really based on Paul. He’s such an amazing teacher.

So anyway, long story short, I came up here and started working there, teaching vocal lessons and guitar lessons. And what happens is I’m sitting there and I found myself singing all day, teaching these kids. These kids have no frigging idea who I am or where I came from. Suddenly I’m sitting there singing all day and playing guitar every day, and it was like, Oh s**t, this is what I do.

After a few months of that, it broke through to me that I’m a musician. I can write music, and I can sing. Shortly thereafter, I’m sitting on the porch, it’s July, and bang—these songs start coming to me. They’re really simple. I didn’t worry about the content of them. In about three weeks, I had the whole record written. We didn’t have any money to record the record, but eventually I got nine days in the studio. So we had 14 songs to do in nine days, which I certainly never did anything like that.

Not even the early Ween records? The ones you recorded in your apartment?

Nah, man. We’d take like a year. We had studio time for a few of our records because back in the ‘90s there were still major labels and they dumped a ton of money to have their artists record. Now it’s a whole different thing. You get like a five-minute window.

So with Paul’s help, we scraped up the money to get nine days in a really nice studio. I got Chris Shaw, who’s a really legendary producer. He recorded that record White Pepper with us. I was like, “Chris, we can’t afford you, but I would really like you to produce this record and record it and I can give you like a quarter of what you usually get.†And he agreed. So we went in there and pounded out 14 songs in nine days. They were all written and we had them well-rehearsed and ready to go. It was like 15-hour, 12-hour days. There’s no overdubs.

No overdubs with those layered vocal parts?

We recorded the basic tracks and then I went into the vocal booth for about two days in the end. So basically what you’re getting is a basic band and you’re getting a s**tload of my vocals, which is what I wanted. I’m very proud of it.

Some of those harmonies remind me of [2003 Ween album] Quebec.

I’ve heard that before. And that’s awesome. Quebec is probably one of my favorite records. That record was pretty much all me anyway [laughs]. This is how I’ve always written. And I’m a huge fan of harmonies. On this record I was clear-minded, I was on my game. That made me very comfortable, all these harmonies and layered vocals.

And then your vocals on “I Couldn’t Play My Guitar Like a Man†sounds like a Ween throwback.

Yeah, man. You’re definitely going to hear Ween in there. Everything you hear on this record is very much my writing style and the way it’s always been.

There’s also a spiritual side to it. Two of the songs reference Jewish texts.

I’m Jewish, but I’ve never been too practicing about it. I read this book called The Source by James Michener, and it’s all about ancient Judaism. It takes place probably 2,000 years ago. And that stuff just really spoke to me. I guess one of the songs on there is about that.

And then I got into this book [The Essential] Kabbalah by this author Daniel Matt. He writes really interesting basic stuff about the Kabbalah. There’s a lot of just free association as there is with all my music. The s**t you’re hearing is just stuff in my subconscious that’s coming out on paper. It’s a very spiritual record. I think. I’m very spiritual [laughs].

You’ve cited Paul McCartney as an influence on this record. Were you listening to any newer artists as well?

Not really. I’m not really into the solo voice/guitar dude with his acoustic guitar who is chock full of wisdom about the world. It seems like there’s a lot of artists like that. I love all the mainstream stuff. Miley Cyrus is awesome, and all those guys. When I need something in particular, like comfort food, there’s a few people I turn to for that, who always make me feel good and get me out of my own head, which is what music should do. That’s why I make music. And it doesn’t really matter who it is as long as it has that effect on my brain.

Ween was known for having an obsessive fan base. Are you worried about how Ween fans will respond to this stuff?

I don’t know. And I can’t think about that. With Ween, there was always a process of weeding out the weaker ones. That’s a part of my personality. But I still feel really confident about this record. It’s all honest. There’s no f**king around. It’s very vulnerable. It’s not a smash-out rock record. And that’s what I wanted to do. I think a lot of people are going to love it. I’m hoping to garner a new audience, too.

Fans are going to be in for a very, very pleasant surprise when they see Freeman live. I am f**king ready to play. I’m itching to play. We’ll probably play for a couple hours. There’s going to be smoke machines involved. There’s going to be other Ween songs. I got a lot of s**t to pull from.

Which Ween songs will you be playing?

Eh, I’ll probably do mostly songs that I’ve written. I haven’t really decided. It’s going to be a rock show. It’s going to be a beautiful rock show, which is kind of what I do.

Will you be playing with members of the Gene Ween Band?

It’s not really any members of the Gene Ween Band. It’s these new guys. And my manager, Dave Godowsky, collaborated with me on this record. He lived in North Carolina and knows the three guys that played on my record. Brad Cook played on the studio record. When we play live, unfortunately, he’s not going to be able to do it. So I’ve got Joe Young, who plays guitar with me acoustically. I’m going to have to de-program a little bit. And they’re very willing to de-program to get down with the program a little bit more. They’re just the musicians that fell into my lap. They’re really good. And I can’t wait.

You released covers album Marvelous Clouds as Aaron Freeman. Are you dropping the “Aaron†now?

Yeah, that’s my new thing. I thought calling myself Aaron Freeman was a little too pretentious and singer-songwriter-y. We’re doing a band. And I think Freeman is a lot cooler. There’s a little dot between “Free†and “Man†[on the album cover], which gives it a little logo thing. My friends have been calling me Freeman since I was f**king 10 years old, so I’m very acquainted with being called Freeman.

Are you still in touch with Mickey [Melchiondo, also known as Dean Ween] these days? Do you think you guys will collaborate again?

Ah, man, I don’t know. I feel really good about things. I know he’s doing great. And I’m doing great. So, you know. We did a whole ton of music. And you know, I believe in rounding things off.

It seems like you’ve both moved on.

Yeah, absolutely. And that’s what I intended when I left Ween. It’s kind of a funny story. When I left in Rolling Stone, it wasn’t my intention to make everybody surprised and come at it like that. I actually had this Australian interviewer who said, “So you’re taking the Gene Ween mask off to do Marvelous Clouds?†And something hit me. I was like, “F**k that. I’m never putting the Gene Ween mask on. I’m leaving!†And I’m thinking, Oh s**t, I gotta talk to Mickey about this. We gotta formalize this. I know he knows that the end is coming. I know the end is coming. So hey, I have at least two weeks to talk about this. It’s got to get from Australia to America, which is first off going to take at least two weeks to cross the Pacific Ocean.

I’m sitting there thinking it’s going to be on a boat, and suddenly it’s 24 hours later, I get a call, it’s all over the Internet, it’s on CNN. I’m like, F**k! And that was that. I didn’t really get a chance to explain. It was a total Homer Simpson thing. I seriously thought it was going to be on a boat from Australia to get here. So that was kind of weird for me. I haven’t regretted a single day. No matter what anybody says or does, I think it was the best decision. The only thing I would apologize for is taking the Ween fans off guard. That was a little intense. Personally, I don’t like surprises either.

No more surprise scoops?

No more giant scoops. I’m pretty sick of that, to be honest. I don’t really give a s**t about interviews and reading about everything. I just like listening to music.

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