For almost two years now, Dean Ween, aka Mickey Melchiondo, has been guiding fishing trips along the Jersey Shore and the Delaware River. You could see the business model as a Venn diagram; people who like Ween, a criminally underappreciated rock band from New Hope, PA, and people who are interested in fishing.
But hey, even if you don’t like Ween, Mickey will still take you out fishing. Probably.
It seems, though, the two worlds are mostly distinct. Sure, you can go check out Mickey’s Brownie Troop videos online and see him fishing with the Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes, but for the most part, Mickey fishes with fishermen and plays with musicians.
There are correlations between the two worlds, both populated by independently minded people who learn by experience from their surroundings. And of course, if you’re a Ween fan and you want to go on a fishing trip, you probably couldn’t think of a cooler guide.
Mickey talked about his history with fishing, how it intersects with his life, and his thoughts on a forthcoming Ween full-length.
Tell me about these fishing trips. Is fishing something you’ve always done?
Yeah. It’s something that I’ve always done. In the last ten years, I kind of stepped it up a lot more. I think as Ween has gone along further and further, I’ve gotten more intense about other things in my life. (Laughs). My hobbies, you know? And fishing is something that I started spending so much time doing it and I was fishing wherever the band was going all over the world. I was taking my stuff with me.
I always wanted to get my captain’s license with the Coast Guard, just as a challenge, to see if I could do it. We did like a year and a half of touring around La Cucaracha, the last Ween record, and I knew we were going to have a long break after it, that whole winter. So I spent the winter that year studying to take the exams. And I passed, and I got my captain’s license.
I wasn’t planning on starting a charter service or anything like that, but it led to that. And it’s fucking awesome (laughs). Get to fish like ten times as much now. And I’m getting paid for it too.
Well, you start Ween as a hobby and it becomes a job, and then you start fishing as a hobby and it becomes a job too.
I’m really very conscious of that. I wouldn’t say that either one feels like a job, really. Touring feels like a job, but not the actual playing of the gigs. The other 20 hours of the day when Ween is on tour when we’re just sitting around in hotels and driving in vans and sitting in clubs backstage. That part of it is definitely work.
I’ve always been a fisherman my whole life. Passionate about it. It’s not a new thing, it’s just a really good time in my life to step up my game. There’s enough room being in Ween for both things in my life. We have a lot of downtime.
You’re from New Hope side of the Delaware. Is that where you’ve been fishing for pretty much most of your life?
Yeah. Here and the Shore. Same thing I’m doing now. Same places. My boat is in Belmar, in Jersey, and I have a boat here on the river as well. The same grounds I’ve been fishing my whole life.
You were doing these Brownie Troop videos where you’d get Andrew Weiss or Gibby Haynes fishing. Is that how this all started, fun you would have with friends from town or from bands?
No. It’s funny, I have a couple of different circles of friends that don’t really have anything to do with one other. My fishing buddies are one of those groups. There are guys that I fish with, a lot, and I’ve never met any members of their families. Their wives or kids. But they have that passion for it. It’s kind of cool. It’s not as big of a world as you think it is, when it comes to the fishing community at the Shore, or especially here on the river. I know most everybody, the guides. You put together a network of people that share information. I think that’s one of the more important things that you get when you hire a guide. You get reliable, accurate information, because we all share. While we don’t tell each other everything (laughs), there’s a lot of that reciprocating of info.
That came to my mind when the BP oil leak happened. Oil is going into all those estuaries and everything, and the horsesense and generational knowledge among all those fishermen could be lost ostensibly for a long time. They can’t pass that knowledge down.
The whole thing’s just a fucking disgrace, and the effects of it aren’t going to be known for 50 years. Who knows, but certainly not right now do they know the effects. You can’t even get an accurate answer about how much oil spilled or where it is or whether we’re going to get it up here, you know. Certainly possible. Nobody knows the effect it is going to have. Obviously, it’s not good.
It’s funny, there’s a guy—I book a lot of bachelor parties and birthday parties and things like that. I’ll get Ween fans, ten or fifteen of them, and I work with a couple of different partyboats, and I’ll book the trips on the big boats. I usually take a maximum of three people with me. The guys that work on these partyboats, they’re out working one trip in the afternoon, and then they’re a commercial scallop fisherman at night. They know everything. They know the tuna grounds, they know how to bottom-fish, they know how to drag for scallops. It’s intense. And it is a generational thing. Some salty ass guys. (laughs) Those are the people you want to listen to. Fishing is like that. You can never stop learning doing it.
I guess being in a band is similar. Just that continuous learning.
It is similar. Sponging, sponging knowledge and shit off of people.
What is your tour schedule like this year?
We’re trying something different this summer. So far it’s worked out pretty good. Rather than go out on two trips that are three weeks at a time or whatever, we’re going out every week and a half and doing three or four shows in a row without any days off, then coming home. So we’ve done about six or seven of them since the spring, and I like it. We’re getting the same amount of work done, if not more, than we normally would, but we don’t have to rehearse all the time, our stuff kind of stays in the truck. (laughs) We’re getting the same amount of gigs in without being away from our families.
I think some Ween fans were expecting a record this year.
We’re going to make another record, probably this winter I guess. But one of the biggest things I’m struggling with right now being in Ween is the role that records play in the music industry these days, and how completely unimportant they’ve become. It’s my favorite part of doing it, making albums.
I don’t ever want to sound bitter, but the making of the last record and the whole process was really disheartening for me. I was really disappointed, because I thought it was a great record, and we put a lot of work into it. And people just don’t buy CDs. They download the shit, get some tracks or whatever. And it’s everybody.
That’s just the way the industry is going now. I remember being bummed that CDs were becoming the primary format over vinyl and how upset that made me, because aesthetically, the whole thing is a record. Sequencing. Side one, side two, side three, side four.
It feels like to me, our last record, is just this fucking piece of product that enables us to go on tour and make a living that way. That’s the part of it that always interested me the least. And the irony is after being in Ween for 25 years now and touring for 20 years, that that’s what it’s come to now. The point that I thought we would be at now is making records and not touring as much. And now it seems like we’re a fucking touring band all of a sudden.
And it changes the focus. There were always two different versions of Ween. There was Aaron and I, who do everything in making the records, I play the drums and all that, and there was the live version of Ween that was a totally different experience.
The rules have changed now. The whole game has changed. And I’m still figuring out where I want us to fit into it, so to speak. I’d like to make another record, but we put a lot of work and a lot of love and time into our records. We really do. We’ll spend about a year writing it. We’ll demo 60 or 70 songs typically and then whittle it down to an album.
To do all that the way that we’re accustomed to doing it and the standard we’ve set for ourselves, and I have to ask myself if it’s fucking worth it. Like I said, I’m not trying to do anything else but be honest with you, but it sucks. It’s totally fucking upsetting to me.
And I’m part of it too. I don’t remember the last record I bought. I don’t have an iPod or anything like that. I just don’t buy records anymore. Whose album is worth going to get? I buy the same old records by the same old people that I always used to buy. Prince and Meat Puppets and Neil Young.
But really what it is, I’ll just go see them on tour when they come around. And I wouldn’t expect them to play much off their new records. I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about it, but it’s not good (laughs). It used to be, Elvis Costello would make two records a year, three records a year. That was the standard. We made a record every year for the first five or six records. The part that I enjoyed was being in the studio and making records. It was a hobby and it was also what we did and it was fun and now, like I said, I feel like it’s fodder.
It’s not moving the culture anymore, it’s not what people care about.
It’s not. We obviously were never a singles-oriented band. We don’t have a song that defines us. We never had any commercial success of any significance. So, I consider us to be totally an album band. You remove that from the equation and now Ween is like this live band.
It looks like you guys are having fun when you play live.
We have a great time. I love being in a band. I love the whole thing. I’m not complaining. That’s why I preceded all this by saying I’m not bitter. Because I’m not.
Only an asshole would complain about being paid to play music for a living. I hate people that do that, and I’m not one of them. I totally recognize what a privilege it is to do what we do. But that’s just the way it is now. Touring is very taxing. It sucks the life out of you. It’s hard to have a life if you’re on tour all the time.
You could just do fishing trips for a living and make records on the side.
I’m very happy with where my life is right now. Where it’s been for years now. But you always try to make it better.
I don’t think I’ve ever caught a fish. Tried to do it, didn’t catch anything, and moved on. Wasn’t a culture in my family.
I’ve converted a lot of people into fishermen. I have. Not only my charters, but friends too. It’s a very healthy hobby to have. Like playing golf or something. You’re outside, it’s quiet, you’re outside for half of a day in the sun, with nature, if you enjoy it, it’s a very healthy hobby to have.
I’ve had charters where I take them out and they’re novice fishermen and I hear back from them for months after asking me to help them pick out rods and reels. They end up loving it, not realizing how much they were going to enjoy it.
All it takes is to catch one really monstrous fish. That’s sometimes all it takes. People just are gone from that point on. Fishermen for life. That’s what happened to me when I was a kid. When you’re out there doing it and doing it, and all of a sudden through perseverance or luck, you hook into a huge fish, and that’s it, there’s no looking back.
Do you remember your first fish?
Me? No. I don’t remember my first fish. But my dad was really into fishing, so I did come from a lot of fishing. My folks lived at the shore, and I was on a boat on the salt water from the time I can remember. He passed off the rod to me on a bluefish one time. Bluefish have converted so many people, because they’re just all fight. That’s what it was for me. My first alligator bluefish.
Ween perform at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park on Sept. 17. Info on Mickey’s Fishing trips can be found at Mickeysfishing.com.