They Won't Be Giants
Not many bands admit to the influence of inhalants on their music, or draw an income singing about spinal meningitis, or survive for 15 years without a single national radio hit. But Dean and Gene Ween (a.k.a. guitarists Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman) keep on truckin' down their own private wrong-way off ramp, with a singularly weird brand of omnivorous basement pop. Ween's material ranges from the creepy ("Mister Would You Help My Pony" is a spine-crawling child-abuse allegory) to the Zeppelinesque (the classic-rocker "Voodoo Lady"). Their best-known near hit, "Push th' Little Daisies," is a children's song about death that made it to the Australian Top 10 and could be called a Chipmunks-on-mescaline reworking of "Ring Around the Rosie."
Ween never seem to repeat themselves, lyrically or musically, no matter how base they get. During their three-hour live shows, you're as likely to hear expertly played reggae or blues as country or punk--or some unclassifiable mix of all four. Their instrumental facility is evident on the new Dick's Picks-like collection of live Ween recordings from 1990 to 1998, Paintin' the Town Brown (Elektra). And they have an easy rapport with their swelling cult of listeners. Still, like a bad commercial, these college dropouts from New Hope, Pennsylvania, have to constantly explain themselves. The duo is tired of being analyzed, says Mickey "Dean" Melchiondo, speaking over the phone from Florida. He claims Ween just want "to make some music and have a good time." And frankly, who would want to understand the minds behind such songs as "Flies on My Dick" or "Poopship Destroyer"?
CITY PAGES: So you guys are going to be playing here on the 28th?
MICKEY MELCHIONDO: Right, at the zoo.
CP: Don't you think that's like Spi¨nal Tap and the puppet show?
MELCHIONDO: I think it's pretty cool, actually. It doesn't matter to me anyway. I love playing First Ave., but we've played there like 800 times.
CP: What were you and Aaron like in high school?
MELCHIONDO: We were probably bastards, now that I think about it. New Hope has one school and it's not very big. There were maybe 70 people in our class, tops. I played sports and all, so I wasn't like a geek or a nerd. I think after we met each other, which was like after eighth or ninth grade, we pretty much lost interest in anything besides hanging out together, recording, and smoking pot.
CP: Which one of you is the dominant male?
MELCHIONDO: I guess I am, kind of, within the band. I don't really know why that is. I talk more on the phone to Ween people than Aaron, but I don't know why. I don't know how that became that way, but I have always kind of done that.
CP: Do you have brotherly spats, like Hall & Oates or Wham?
MELCHIONDO: It's really gotten a lot better. I don't think people realize that we have been together for 15 years. So if anything, it was worse when we were like 16 and 17. Now we try and avoid it. We try and look after each other. It's like being brothers in a way, you know.
CP: When you started out, did you see Ween one day playing a zoo amphitheater?
MELCHIONDO: It's funny because for all the people who have dissed us over the years, Ween has ended up in a better spot than a lot of other bands.
CP: Like who, for instance?
MELCHIONDO: Like 99.99 percent of all that's out there. Ween doesn't have a one-hit-record syndrome, you know what I mean? People don't expect anything from us, so we're not stuck doing one thing or our next record has to be this or that. We just kind of let things take their natural course, so we feel like we can do it forever. We don't have a "thing." I think that gives us an advantage over a lot of bands
CP: It's got to be really tiring always having to analyze yourselves.
MELCHIONDO: I'm tired of having to explain Ween. We have never really wanted to be taken seriously; we just want to make some music and have a good time. And that is very Spi¨nal Tap. I feel like every record is our first record, like I have to go back and explain the idea of Ween to people.
CP: Tell me about Ween groupies.
MELCHIONDO: There's a whole tape-trading thing going on right now like the Dead. We've always had an open policy, letting people record our gigs. People come to multiple shows and follow us around taping and all that crap. Largely, I think, for obvious reasons, it's a drug thing. That's basically it. I have a model of the prototype of the Ween kid in my head, and it's a horrible person, not someone I would want to hang out with much at all.
CP: Sort of like a Deadhead?
MELCHIONDO: No, not really. Maybe I'm just getting old and I don't like teenagers at all.
CP: I have to ask: Do you think without all the mind-altering drugs Ween would be the same?
MELCHIONDO: No, we wouldn't be. I'm not as much about that anymore as I was, but it definitely shaped our personality, both of us, when we were kids. I have said this before in interviews, but I would never say that drugs are something that I would endorse or whatever. It's really a personal decision. If you haven't gotten high and listened to Jimi Hendrix then there is a certain thing in life that you don't know about that you missed. It doesn't make you a lesser person if you haven't done it, but you lose that fraternity of millions of people that know exactly how it is.
CP: Maybe Ween is an outlet for people to kind of embrace the weirdness in themselves.
MELCHIONDO: Sure. We give a license to ill. At the risk of sounding pompous, we take Ween very seriously. I don't know what people think, but making records is super important to us and it obviously gives me more pleasure than almost anything I have found in life. We would do it for free even if we weren't in a position to make money.
Ween performs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 28 at the Minnesota Zoo Amphitheater; (612) 431-9200.
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