FOREWORD: It’s always a blast doing a High Times interview at a downtown Manhattan location – especially with real life bohemians like Ween. This time it’s a wooden studio near Chinatown where me and the boys drank expensive beers and cooked some herb.
Ween is the long-time New Hope, PA duo of Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman. Friends for life, they carved out a niche crafting some of the best obtuse rock novelties since the mid-‘80s. Using aliases Dean and Gene Ween, these deconstructive lo-fi home recorders were DIY five years before it became fashionable. ‘90s well received The Pod was their big leap forward, deliciously smug in its salacious drug-indulged snicker. ‘92s Pure Guava featured Ween’s biggest non-hit, “Push Th’ Little Daisies.” ‘97s The Mollusk was a thematic seafaring marvel and ‘07s La Cucaracha may’ve topped anything they did in the last twenty years.
Growing up in New Hope, Pennsylvania’s bohemian hamlet gave Ween vocalist Mickey Melchiondo (a.k.a. Gene Ween) and guitarist Aaron Freeman (Dean Ween) the freedom to become serious rock ‘n’ roll junkies and weed freaks. As teens, the maverick duo gained popularity with punk-influenced four-track home recordings, earning cult-like status with the sludgy, dope-encrusted The Pod. Their first commercial radio exposure came with the geeky ditty, “Push Th’ Little Daisies,” a wacky parody from Pure Guava.
“That song is about Guatemalan cherry,” Melchiondo jokingly quips. “Big, bad stinky weed.”
“Actually, it’s about not trusting a girl you just started dating,” Freeman counters.
Though no longer obsessed with smoking up all the ganja the world has to offer, the whimsical twosome still likes to party. But as we throw back a few beers at a newly renovated photography studio on New York’s Bowery, Ween seem more serious-minded and ambitious now that they’re settled down and married.
That maturity enhances the dynamic White Pepper, a diversified follow-up to their gloomy oceanic prog-rock opus, The Mollusk. Recorded in a proper studio by Public Enemy engineer Chris Shaw, White Pepper balances ‘60s psychedlic surrealism with the kitsch-y Beatlesque pop of XTC.
As a young child, Melchiondo was turned on by songs he’d hear while living on the road. “My father was a big hippie with an extensive record collection who’d drive me to countercultural ‘60s demonstrations,” he explains. “That’s how I discovered Jimi Hendrix and the Stones. But he never admitted to experimenting with drugs.”
While Melchiondo was attending protest rallies, Freeman was being urged by his mother to be a hockey player.
“I lost interest in sports when I started smoking pot and listening to music,” he says. We don’t smoke as much as we used to. When I was younger, it was like a religion. I’d smoke from the morning until the time I went to bed. It really twisted my brain.”
“I never had to buy a bag,” Melchiondo exclaims. “Then, it became less of a lifestyle thing. It peaked when Chris (satellite band member, Mean Ween) assembled a nitrous bong featured on the cover of The Pod. We’d fill up a gas mask with smoke and inject nitrous into it. You’d be in the mask covered with smoke, eyes burning, and the nitrous would clean out the pot smoke and force it into your lungs. That was the pinnacle. I felt I was permanently stoned for the rest of my life.”
On the issue of legalization, Melchiondo rationalizes, “I never really cared if they legalized it. “No one has trouble finding weed. It has been following us around forever. But alcohol is infinity more evil. People don’t smoke pot and go to the bar looking to kick someone’s ass. It’s kind of silly.”
“It’s not legal because the Mobil Corporation would have a hard time with it, and that’s the hub of America,” Freeman contends. “They don’t want anything to compromise oil fuel, like hemp fuel.”
Though they agree politics and music should be kept separate, Ween received negative publicity from anti-abortionists when they played a Rock For Choice benefit in San Francisco with the Foo Fighters.
“I want the listening experience to be more like a happy James Brown shake-your-ass experience,” Malchiondo admits. “But a pro-life Website warned parents not to buy our records because we supported the killing babies. So by being tied to a cause, we were misrepresented.”
Narrow-minded conservatives probably won’t be any happier about Ween’s Jimmy Buffett lampoon, the cocaine-laced “Banana & Blow” on White Pepper.
“That song started like a movie in our heads,” Melchiondo offers. “Our friend is married to a woman in Ecuador and her father owns a hotel. He was talking about the concept of recording an EP called ‘Banana & Blow” in the islands. A guy gets stuck in South America and spends all his money on coke. It’s “Margaritaville” times twenty.”