Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo, famous for his work as the guitarist for Ween, was able to chat with us about solo work, his shack, and what music not to play for a Christmas dinner. The Dean Ween Group’s debut album, The Deaner Album, is out now. Don’t miss the band performing live at The Sinclair in Cambridge, MA on Tuesday, January 17th!
The Dean Ween Group’s been around the block already in terms of touring, but now since the album has come out, are you expecting anything different from this upcoming tour?
Yeah, I expect it to be better. I think we’ve kicked ass. There’s been six or seven versions of the Dean Ween Group already. It’s rooted in the guys that made the record though. So, there’s no song that is any better with one guy, we have different kinds of instruments. The last one we did, we went for the Earth, Wind & Fire thing at the World Cafe with David Dye. We had horns, backup singers, Kidd Funkadelic up front. We went for a big band thing, like the E Street Band, or Earth, Wind & Fire, or P-Funk. So all this experience we have behind us, touring like this, really just made the band ultra, ultra confident. We have a huge catalogue of songs, and what’s so cool is, we do a lot of jamming and recording up at my studio which is where I’m at right now. I built a new studio from the ground up and that’s why so much shit is happening. They’re here all the time, and they play all these brand, brand new songs. Then that goes into the setlist. If we like it, it’s stays, if we don’t, it doesn’t, you haven’t even heard this shit. So, to me, playing live is fun. We play our record, but we play all these other songs that people have never heard and they change every night, a cover here and there if we want, it’s so fluid, the whole thing, it could be anything.
Speaking of the band, is there a solid lineup for the Dean Ween Group now?
Well there’s two really solid lineups for the Dean Ween Group. One is just me, basically, with some other guys: Claude Coleman [on drums], Dave Dreiwitz [on bass], Glenn McClelland on piano, and then Bill Fowler on guitar, or Joe Kramer on guitar, Kidd Funkadelic on guitar, or Scott Rednor on guitar. Sometimes, there’s three of us playing guitar, sometimes there’s one of us playing guitar, me, or two of us. The other people are Ray Kubian on drums, if Claude’s not doing it, it would definitely be a guy named Ray Kubian, he plays on the record, plays in the Dean Ween Group. He’ll been on this tour with us on drums for half of it and Claude for half. I look at the dates we’ve got booked and I call these guys and say, “Can you do these dates?”. Someone won’t be available, and it’ll be an amalgamation of one of these [lineups] that works somewhere.
So you, obviously, are in the front of the band. I know you’re no stranger to singing, but now, you’re the face of the band, front and center. How has that experience been for you?
It’s been great. I guess that was the hardest part to really accept before I decided to do the Dean Ween Group, like, “Do I want to be the guy up front?”. I did a lot of soul-searching and thinking before I made this decision, actually, like, “What does being the guy up front mean?”. And I looked at the material I had and what I wanted to be as the guy up front, and I was like, “Well, I’ll do some singing, you know, I sing, I write songs. I’m not a great singer, but the record’s gonna be guitar-heavy too”. The record, I think is half instrumentals, and the show is like that too, if I want it to be. Some nights, I want to just sing the whole night, other guys sing certain songs, so much is unknown. But, I had to get there, I had to get the confidence to go and have my name on the flier. I’m really into accountability, like I could play in your band. If you had a band and we had a bad gig and I thought I played well, I’d be really upset. So being the guy up front, I put max pressure on myself. Accountability is a big thing in my life, I can’t stand people that are unaccountable. If you got a problem, man, you’re usually the problem. But you have to be that way, or you’ll never resolve arguments, you’ll never succeed in life, in business, or in a relationship. I take it very seriously, the Dean Ween Group, the fact that my name is on it.
I saw your episode of Guitar Moves for Noisey, so I got a glimpse of the Shack, is that the name for the studio?
No, that was the Shack, that was a while ago. I have a really nice studio, but I still have the Shack, I will never get rid of the Shack.
So what is the Shack?
If you saw that Guitar Moves, it’s the shack behind the body shop. The guy built the whole thing first, he put in electric, heat, air conditioning, and cable TV, and his idea was that was going to be his office for the body shop. But he did it without calling the township. So when he came to get his license and all, they were like “No, you can’t just build a building and put it here!” so he moved it with his crane to behind the body shop, and I was like, “I’ll rent that!” It was a total piece of shit, it was meant to store lawnmowers in, but we just covered the walls with posters, got heat and air conditioning. I was there with my buddies until 6 A.M. talking the other night, playing the guitar. It’s the ultimate man-cave, literally a shack.
The studio you have now, you built it all by yourself to make this new record?
Yep, it’s not a rental, there was nothing here before it. Did I build it myself? I didn’t lift a hammer. My roadie, Dave built it. I’m the most unhandy person in the world. Some things I’m really good at, I can change a tire in ten seconds from growing up in garages. I can get my gear set up, like the huge amplifier, pedalboard, guitars, put strings on them, but I don’t know which end of a screwdriver to hold. But yeah, we did build it. Dave, my roadie built it. He got us people when we needed to pour concrete and shit like that. We built it, I was here, I paid for the whole damn thing. The second when this place was habitable, where we could set up a tape machine with an amp, a drum set and a mic, we were using it. So, I worked here for at least a year with it under construction, with plastic tarps. It’s been done done for seven, eight months, and that’s when we started working here all day, every day and all night, every night.
Did you approach the creation of the Deaner Album differently than Ween or Moistboyz albums in the past?
Yes and no. Everybody has a system for writing songs, every songwriter has a system. Everyone that interviews you, they want to know your system, even the fans, and there is none. I guess there might be people who sit down with their notebook and guitar and maybe pen some lyrics that mean something to them. You know, “I had a bad day today” and you play some chords. I’ve never written a song like that in my life. With my best songs, I think, Ween’s best songs, you hear somebody say something and it’s just like, “Aw man, that’s just a song, that has to be a song,” and you’ll start playing with the essence of the words, like, “What does it really mean?”. The first thing that comes to mind is on the third Moistboyz record, we were flying in, we were making the record in the desert, and the last thing we heard before we got off the plane was, “Welcome to the Valley of the Sun”. I was like, “Wow, that’s such a romantic idea,” it’s like a cowboy thing almost. We did that record in the desert, out in Twentynine Palms, California. We were going to this environment, the desert, and so we wrote “In the Valley of the Sun,” that’s just the way shit happens. The master of it was John Lennon. He played with the language lyrically, like in “I Am The Walrus”: “Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye” and “Boy, you’ve been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down”. It doesn’t really mean anything, dissect it all you want, but he’s having fun with the language, he was the best at it. I think that’s what the Dean Ween Group and Ween do, write things that are funny, that you hear people say. I had a million band names, man, I should do that for a living. People should be hiring me to come up with good band names.
One thing that I think is interesting about you is that you have always stayed true to your hometown of New Hope, PA. So, I was just wondering what’s kept you there this whole time?
It’s a curse. I’m ready to go now, out of New Hope. You know, Ween traveled everywhere, I’ve seen a million places. There’s a few places I’ve found over the years, but nothing compares to New Hope. Here, we live on the Delaware River, we live in a river town. That’s very important to remember because the river defines the town. It’s a big river, the Delaware River and it comes right through. It’s a small town, so the river is a constant presence in our lives. And then the Jersey Shore, where my fishing business is, is an hour away. Philadelphia’s forty-five minutes away and New York is sixty-seven miles away. So you can be here and experience the best of what would make you want to live in the Northeast. Because someone who loves New York does not love LA. You put a born and raised New Yorker, a forty-five year-old, in LA all of a sudden, they’re gonna kill somebody. Someone from LA is gonna kill themselves if they have to be in New York all the time. It’s important where you live. Yeah, so we have the best of the Northeast right in this little river town. It is cool to see musicians everywhere. And then, other than those cities I named, you also got New Brunswick, Trenton, Princeton, they’re all right here, only five miles away. There’s a lot here, man, we got a huge music scene.
You run your own jam nights right? Every Wednesday in New Hope?
Yeah at this little, tiny bar. It’s like 70 people.
You have such a great music taste, so I was wondering if you could offer any recommendations, anything important that people should know about?
Yeah, I would say music is the most important thing in my life. I’ve dedicated my entire life to it, as a listener and a player. So there’s nothing closer to a religion that I have, than music. It’s a religion to me, it’s important. Everytime I play in front of people, I want them to never forget that they saw me. Music is incredibly powerful in a good way. You can make people happy for a night or a lifetime by making a record or a career. I’ve found that the bands that do that for me are the Beatles, P-Funk, Prince, Stevie Wonder. There’s a reason you want to stick with time-tested music with integrity, it’s very, very important. Those bands, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, I’d beat the shit out of you if you told me you hated it and not have an argument why. That’s how strongly I feel about my loathing for bad music too, which I try to not bring up because I don’t want to be negative about it. Maybe it works for some people, they listen to it and it satisfies whatever they’re looking for when they put on a record. But I feel so strongly about what I love that it bothers me when I hear somebody say it’s junk. Or like at Christmas, my mother-in-law, she has about as much music knowledge as an Idaho baked potato, she put on this CD, blasting it, it was the rudest excuse for music, it was like “Live Performances from American Idol of Holiday Classics” or some shit. And it was blasting, it had commentary, I freaked out. I took it off and everyone at the party was like, “What’s wrong with you man? Where did that come from?”. I wanted to throw it and smash it, it was too loud and I was trying to talk, it was on for like the nineteenth time. I was like, “What’s wrong with everything!? This is what’s wrong with music! These are people from American Idol that didn’t make it! What the fuck!? This is not music, this is something you put on during Christmas dinner, man”.
Thank you to the Deaner for taking the time to interview with Spencer LaChance of WRBB, and thank you to Howard Wuelfing at Howlin’ Wuelf Media for coordinating.
Listen to The Deaner Album here:
Be sure to catch the Deaner and the rest of The Dean Ween Group on tour!
Jan 17 | The Sinclair | Cambridge, MA (tickets)
Jan 18 | The Met | Pawtucket, RI
Jan 19 | Brooklyn Bowl | Brooklyn, NYC
Jan 20 | Toad’s Place | New Haven, CT
Jan 21 | Soundstage | Baltimore, MD
Jan 22 | Mr. Smalls Theater | Millvale, PA
Feb 01 | Tipitina’s | New Orleans, LA
Feb 02 | Walter’s Downtown | Houston, TX
Feb 03 | Emo’s | Austin, TX
Feb 04 | Granada Theater | Dallas, TX