Ween are hard to pin down, not only musically, but even for an interview! But I was finally able to catch up with Gene and Dean Ween in the midst of their current tour, in support of their newest release, The Friends EP.
Out on their own Chocodog Records label, the five song CD is in anticipation of a full release scheduled for the Fall, but it’s definitely no less intrinsic to the Ween catalog than their full albums. “These five songs are by no means ‘throw away’ tracks from our album,” they explain. “We worked on the EP as its own separate record. It’s a real ‘summertime record.’ It has lots of beats and stuff, a party record in a way.”
The group has long been known for its eclectic musical variety, and the ability to replicate many musical styles, sometimes even a number of them in the same song. They’ve done heavy rock and country, pop and progressive, funk and easy listening, but all with a cynical, drug tinged sense of humor that makes it all palatable to the listener. The Friends EP is no different. In fact, it even harkens back to the early Ween days. “It’s really not very different,” they relate. “We basically re- worked our first LP, changing some melody lines here and there. I’d say it sounds more like ‘God Ween Satan….2007!’ Updated versions of the true classics.” As far as fan favorites among the new songs, it’s too early to tell. “It’s hard to pick a favorite when all five songs are so terrible in the first place,” they laugh.
The tour is hitting some great venues around the country, including the Webster Theater in Hartford, CT; the Metropolis in Quebec, Canada; the Hampton Beach Casino in Hampton Beach, NH; the Palace Theater in Albany, NY; the Water Street Music Hall in Rochester, NY, and then a featured set at the famed Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, TN.
After the Bonnaroo, Ween come back to Jersey for a special show outside Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park, as part of the School Of Rock Festival. Officially called “The Paul Green School of Rock Festival,” it was organized by the Paul Green School of Rock, the original performance based rock music school. In addition to Ween, the festival will feature Bad Brains, The Bouncing Souls, The Adrian Belew Trio, the Mike Keneally Band, and the School of Rock All-Stars with Vernon Reid and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, among others. A percentage of the proceeds will go to the school’s scholarship fund, established in 1999. For a complete lineup of the bands performing check out sorfest.com
The festival runs both June 23 and June 24, from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m.- 10 p.m. on Sunday. Ween will be hitting the stage at 7:30 on Saturday and will have plenty of time to experiment, with no act scheduled to perform after them.
Ween consist of primarily Gene and Dean, but their touring group includes some stellar musicians. “Our touring band is Claude Coleman on drums, Dave Dreiwitz on bass, and Glenn McClelland on keys,” says Gene and Dean. “All three guys also play on some of our recordings, but we do most of the recording ourselves. The guys in our band are our friends. This current lineup was put together in 1997 to tour for The Mollusk.”
Claude is well known in the area, not only for manning the skins with Ween, but as singer and guitarist in his own band, Amandla. Dave also fronts his own group, Crescent Moon, and Glenn has logged time with Blood, Sweat And Tears, as well as the legendary Bricks Mortar, who featured guitar virtuoso John Bushnell, renowned drummer Charles Collins, and sometime Jersey Shore Rock & Soul Revue vocalist Ricky Collins.
After the Asbury Park show, Ween will head to Texas for dates in Houston, Austin and Dallas.
Besides their varied sounds, the group is known for prolific songwriting, with literally hundreds of hours of music recorded for each album. “We both write the songs. Some individually, some together, just like you would guess,” they say. As far as any particular influence, which would be hard to discern from the group’s collection of recorded musical endeavors, they have a hard time pinning any down also. “There are too many to mention. The Beatles were pretty good,” they add.
As you might expect, the future doesn’t seem to hold fascination or particular goals for the infamous duo. “For me, just getting my ass out of the crack shack sleep dreamer was step one on my way to professionalism,” they laugh. “That and the situations that tend to recant all that was middle class to begin with!”
Ween have always been musically adept. Even from their earliest released recordings, such as GodWeenSatan: The Oneness and The Pod, to the produced, polished major label recordings of Chocolate And Cheese and 12 Golden Country Greats, there was obviously musical integrity behind the lyrical revelry. While detractors might call it a musical mish mosh, critics and fans have called it the perfect blend of goofy and slick.
Based out of New Hope, PA, and creating most of their storied musical history there, they write and record in a 200 year old, rumored to be haunted, dilapidated farmhouse. “All our new tunes were recorded in this old farmhouse we’ve been renting, which is pretty much uninhabitable for anything other than bats and mice,” they enthuse. “Maybe the scummiest place to be creative since we lived at the pod. Every day we spend there takes about a year off our lives because the mold in the house is so thick that you hack up black goobers for days after you leave.”
New Hope is the perfect environment for Ween to create the body of work that’s been referred to as everything from unlistenable to pure genius. The artsy, musical capital of the area contains clubs such as John & Peter’s, Havana, and the Triumph Brewery that have a great collection of rock and roll, blues and folk. New Hope is also the home of Chocodog Records, which has a few other artists besides the Ween brothers’ efforts. Although a warning on the website should scare away any aspiring Ween types from sending demos their way, aided in that effort by a nude photo of Dean working at his computer!
One of the classic Ween albums is actually just now being re-released. Chocolate And Cheese will come out in the UK and Europe through Schnitzel Records, and in Australia and NZ by Shock Records. It will be available both on CD and as a double album on vinyl, for those of you who still have the means to play a “real” record. The vinyl version will also be available through Chocodog and in music stores throughout North America who carry vinyl.
Ween will be performing at the School of Rock Festival in Asbury Park, NJ, on Saturday, June 23. For further information about Ween, The Friends EP, the re-releases, and tour dates, check out ween.com, chocodog.com, and ween.net