Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo is a busy man these days. For starters, he’s back at it with Ween, the popular—but never mainstream—-alternative rock band he co-founded with Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman. 2016 saw the band return to the stage following a four year hiatus, but it also saw the release of the debut album from Melchiondo’s newest project, The Dean Ween Group.
Dubbed The Deaner Album, the record is a sometimes-goofy, sometimes-glorious, but always-carefree trip down a proverbial rabbit hole that proves Melchiondo’s approach to music hasn’t changed much since Ween’s heyday. That’s all good news for fans of the famously subversive rockers, who would probably approve of The Dean Ween Group’s live output as well. Much like the band that shares one-fourth of its name, The Dean Ween Group has a penchant for riding Melchiondo’s considerable guitar prowess into uncharted territory. It’s a style that was on full display when the project headlined the annual Megalomaniac’s Ball at the Howlin’ Wolf during Jazz Fest last year.
The Dean Ween Group will return to New Orleans on Wednesday, February 1 when they bring their fearless take on rock and roll to Tipitina’s. I caught up with Deaner himself to talk about the new album, why New Orleans is the greatest fucking music city in the world and the mysterious fate of the fishing show pilot he filmed with Les Claypool.
You’ll be coming down to New Orleans with the Dean Ween Group. Is this a solid band, or is it a rotating cast of characters that join you?
There’s a rotating cast of characters, but there’s still some pretty core members, I would say. It’s mostly been the Ween guys: Glenn [McClelland], Dave [Dreiwtiz] and Claude [Coleman Jr.]. Then my buddy Bill Fowler, who I’m looking at right now. Kidd Funkadelic [aka Michael Hampton], Joe Kramer, drummer Ray Kubian and others. All of these guys played on the record. I’m fortunate. I have like 20 guys that I play with regularly that are all awesome in any combination. I think most of them could pick up the bass and cover for a bass player.
What is it about playing with these guys that’s so special for you? Do you just gel as a group?
Yeah, they’re the best. It takes a lifetime to find people to play with. I mean, the chances of meeting Claude Coleman are pretty fucking rare. Get what I’m saying? A guy of that caliber, that amount of talent? And Aaron. There’s something about our area. I met Aaron from Ween here in New Hope [New Jersey]. Something about our area breeds great musicians. I don’t mind sounding righteous because it’s true. All the guys I play with are basically from Jersey.
Can you tell me a little about the recording process for The Deaner Album? I hear you dove into a new studio for this one.
Yeah, that’s where I am right now. The idea came—it’s got to be getting close to four years ago—to make a record. And I wanted to do like 20 things at once. I wanted to do a new Moistboyz record with my other band, my punk band. We have five albums out. It’s with my friend, Guy Heller. So we were trying to do both of them at once, and it wasn’t working. It’s tough to do two records at once because you got to put your best foot forward on records. That’s the way I work, anyway. So I put my record on the backburner and did the Moistboyz record, which turned out to be amazing. I think it’s our best record and we did a national tour behind it. Then I came back and just didn’t do anything for a while. Then I built this studio and I resumed working on the record, the one that had the false start four years ago. So that record was really done both in places, but the best half of it—the second half of it—was done here. Since I’ve been here in the studio, we’ve made a couple more records worth of material because it’s right up the road from my house. We built it. It’s really nice. I love being here every day. So we’re generally here every day and every night playing and recording, jamming, rehearsing, getting it all down on tape. It’s a new phase for me that I’m really enjoying.
So you noticed a pretty big difference in having your own studio that catered to your needs as opposed to going somewhere else and banging out a record?
Absolutely. All the Ween and Moistboyz records were done in places that I either owned or rented. Ween must have rented 30 houses to do all our stuff over the years. We never had a permanent place, but this is permanent. A friend of mine’s father owned all this land and he let me build the studio on this land. I made it nice. So now I have my forever studio. We built it, from the ground up. From a bare spot on the ground to digging the trenches and putting in the electricity. So everything I’ve ever owned is in here and then some. It’s just a great vibe when you come in here. You get to see the love and the cool equipment in one spot, all set up to record at any time. You’re just always inspired, every time you’re here. You just pick something up and start playing it. There’s usually people hanging out and then bam, we’re recording a new song.
Other than the new studio, how was recording this Dean Ween Group album different from recording a Ween album or a Moistboyz album? Just in terms of the process.
It’s not really that different because I’m the producer and the engineer. I have a way that I like to work. Every artist has a way they like to work in the studio. Some people are really particular and anal about it. I’m the opposite way. I have the mentality that you just set it up and go to work with what you’ve got. We always joke and have this motto that it’s quantity, not quality. Seriously. If you’re good at it you just keep doing new songs for a few days and one of them is bound to be good. What I’m saying is that I work really fast. To me, there’s no difference at all in the process, except here there’s more real drums. I haven’t really touched the drum machine in a long time That’s because with the places we rented before, you couldn’t have a drum kit. The neighbors would complain.
I’m listening to this album here and the two songs that bookend it—the opener and the closer—one is “Dickie Betts” and the other is “Doo Doo Chasers.” The last one is a fairly straight cover of the Funkadelic song [“Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doo Doo Chasers)”] but the first one, “Dickie Betts,” I can’t quite pin it. It does sound a lot like [Allman Brothers Band guitarist] Dickey Betts, like a “Blue Sky” or a “Jessica” or something. But what is it?
That’s what it is, dude. I mean, that’s why it’s called “Dickie Betts.”
I got that, but is it just a straight rip of a song or are you riffing on an idea?
It’s not a direct rip or anything like that. It’s funny. As a guitarist, I have this joke that I have two modes that I play and most guitar players will know what you’re talking about right when you say that. Happy mode and then the other mode: bluesy. It’s almost like a major key versus minor key. The way I learned to play guitar was that mode that Dickey Betts and Duane Allman play in, that whole sense of melody. I had this thing and the harmony, the beat and all of it was undeniable Allman Brothers. Rather than try to pretend it’s not, we called it “Dickie Betts.” We call it “Dickie Betts” and it’s like the ultimate tribute to him. I think he would fucking love it if he heard it, to be honest with you. But that was something that I got from Miles Davis. Miles Davis used to do these songs that would be called “Sly Stone” or “Billy Preston” and he’d play in the mode, or whatever he felt the essence was, of that artist. It was a tribute. He has a song called “Willie Nelson,” actually. It’s a jazz thing. So rather than have people say, “that sounds a lot like Rambling Man” or whatever, you just call it “Dickie Betts.” That’s the point of it.
I saw you guys, The Dean Ween Group, at Howlin’ Wolf during Jazz Fest last year and that show was a heater. There were some really big jams that night.
Yeah, I remember that. That was a really typical one, we’re better than that now. That’s what we do every night and we’re way even better at it now because we’ve had the whole year to tour since then so it’s more realized. We have more songs, more experience on stage together. I remember that was a pretty good show. We had Mike Dillon sitting in with us. He was actually just out here recording in my studio. We did a song that’s going to be online soon, I think. It’s an 18 minute song.
When you’re writing these songs, do you have the live sets in mind? Are you thinking, “we’re going to jam this one for 20 minutes” or does it just happen?
A lot of my stuff is like that and it just happens. It happens in Ween, too. Ween does a song called “Poopship Destroyer” that’s like two and a half minutes on the record. I had no idea that was going to become an hour-long song 25 years after we wrote it, but it is. So no, we don’t keep that in mind, but we know. I’ll say something at the end of a session like “man, I can’t wait to get my teeth into this on stage.”
You’ll be at Tipitina’s, which is another pretty famous New Orleans venue. Does this city mean something to you as a musician?
Yeah, of course. It’s the greatest fucking music city in the world. It means something extra. There’s New Orleans and there’s everything else. It’s funny because I just did an interview with a dude from Austin and I told him the same thing. There’s three music cities in the world: Nashville, New Orleans and Austin. Being from there, you better fucking play your ass off. If you’re in a band and you’re saying you’re from fucking Nashville, I expect greatness out of you. You better be able to fingerpick and burn some guitar. You’re from New Orleans, you better fucking have your shit together.
My favorite New Orleans artist that’s alive, other than The Meters, is my buddy, Alex. Alex McMurray. I’ve been friends with Alex since his band, Royal Fingerbowl, opened for us on the Mollusk tour in ’96 and we became brothers for life. That was the most fun fucking tour. Ask him about it if you ever see him. Alex knows his music. It’s all in there and it’s his own, but it’s New Orleans music. I don’t think Alex could exist if he lived anywhere else. And that’s an example of the quality of musician that I expect to come from that town. So when we come and play there, we are definitely on holy ground and we know it. It doesn’t matter what club it is, in that city, we’re bringing our fucking A game. There’s just no doubt about it. Bullshit walks in that town, musically, as far as I’m concerned. If I walk into a bar in New Orleans and there’s a shitty band playing, I am out of there because there is no excuse for it. You should see great bands all the time.
A couple years back when I was writing for jambands.com, we wrote about a TV show that you were working on with Les Claypool about charter fishing. Whatever happened with that? Can we expect that sometime down the road?
That’s really weird that we promoted that so heavily and then just never followed up on it to tell the public what happened. We shot a pilot episode of it and it was really, really good. And then I got busy with the Dean Ween Group. Ween got back together, and I just got really busy. Les does a lot of shit, man. He’s a hard-working dude. He’s got a line of bass guitars. He’s got a vineyard. He’s got a soda company. He’s got Primus and all the other bands that he plays with, but he’s just one of the busiest people. But we did it, and we knew we could get our own fishing show without even filming anything. NBC Sports Network or Esquire, whatever. Some station will do it, but we don’t want that. We want to be next to Anthony Bourdain. That was our goal. If we’re going to do this, we want to be on a real network and then we’ll do what we’re going to do because following us around on tour is not going to work. I don’t want to do a TV show now, touring is fucking hectic enough. You know how much work goes into that? To have to do that every day on top of touring? And with fishing you have to get up at 4am. It’s impossible.
It was funded by Matt Stone from South Park, so we had everything going for us, but we just chose not to do it. We saw the reality of it, to do it the way we wanted to do it. But it was perfect on paper. It would be incredible to watch. We would do all the music for it. We’d jam on every episode in the local dive bar in the town we’re fishing in. But it’s a tremendous sacrifice, especially when you have new shit going on. If I was doing nothing else, I would do that show with Les, but both of us are plenty busy without it. So I do have one episode. I’m sitting on it. I never got an answer, but I asked, because we have the same manager, I said “ask Les if I can put this thing online? Are we done with this?” And the manager was like, well I wouldn’t just completely give it away just yet. So, we did it. We did it, and it was great. We did the music for it. We jam on the boat and catch fish, but we just sort of deep-sixed it.
The Dean Ween Group will perform at Tipitina’s at 9pm on Wednesday, February 1. Tickets for the show are still on sale.