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Dean Ween on fundamental changes to the recording industry and pot-smoking hippies

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When La Cucaracha came out in 2007, you complained about how quickly it got leaked online before the official release.

That was a heartbreaker for me, not to sound like a pussy. But I never saw that coming, which is totally naive because that's what happens now. It's another thing you have to figure out. The typical way that things go down is that you make your record, the record company gets a copy of it and they send it to journalists two months out in advance, you know. You can't do that shit anymore. It's going to take it about five seconds to get on the web; people will be racing to put it up there. It's frustrating.

So has it forced you to take a different approach?

I think we're kind of old-school. I know for a fact that Aaron -- I can speak for him -- and I are both more comfortable with the typical model that we always have worked within, where a record company gives you money, you make the record, you give it to them and it's their job to sell it. It's out of your hands. I don't want to pioneer; we don't have the energy to do something like Radiohead. I don't want to own a record company. I don't want to be that involved beyond just making the music.

Will it go in the opposite direction for the next record? Do you think you'll try to keep it even more safely guarded?

Yeah, yeah, definitely. I don't think we would make that mistake again. I don't want to trailblaze. I don't want to start a music subscription service. I'll leave that to someone with the energy to focus on all of that nonsense. I want to do the parts of being in a band that are fun: recording, playing concerts, writing songs, playing guitar. I talk to our manager enough every day without having to bring on all those other decisions. You would have to be involved at every step to present it in a way that's consistent with the rest of what your fans are used to.

If you're Prince, then the rules don't apply. I think Ween has carved out its own niche, but if you're Prince and you've had records that have sold five million copies before, it's a lot different from Ween. We're used to selling 100,000 records. We take that hit a lot harder. We have less flexibility to be creative in a way that's still lucrative.

How has the creative process behind putting an album together evolved in the past twenty years?

Every record is the same, to be honest with you. We aren't going to work any differently than we did on The Mollusk or White Pepper or anything. Aaron and I will get together. We'll rent a house, we'll move our equipment in there, and we'll work on the record until it's done. We did White Pepper up in a house in Maine, not the recording of it, but the writing and the demos. The Mollusk was done down on the beach.

Whatever else has changed in the way the music industry is structured now, we're not going to change. We have a system that we're married to that works for us. It's kind of funny, because it's the same exact thing we did when we were sixteen in Ween. We still work the same way. It's only the two of us that are there with a tape recorder.

You've spoken a lot about how you and Aaron work together, but I'm curious about the rest of the band -- drummer Claude Coleman Jr., bassist Dave Dreiwitz and keyboardist Glenn McClelland: You've had the same band lineup for some time now. How are they involved?

Yeah, it's been about fifteen years with the five of us. They're definitely involved. I mean, White Pepper was a band record when we got into the studio. There are tracks on our records that we cut as a whole band, but I'm talking more about the writing end of the process.

That's just Aaron and I. I play the drums and the bass, he does the same. We kind of have to be alone for that part of it. Some tracks we cut as a band. On La Cucaracha, I know we did "Woman and Man" that way, "Your Party," "Bare Hands." There are always a handful of songs that are better like that.

White Pepper was really cool, because a live record came out that summer [in 1999], and we went out on tour. We played all the stuff from White Pepper on that tour, then we came home and we went into the studio and cut the album.

I think that's why I love that record: We went in and we had our thing completely organized and together. We knew exactly what overdubs we were going to do. We cut the whole record as a band. I think that record stands out for me because of that.

Elektra put out a live record, Painting the Town Brown. We toured that summer that that came out, playing all that stuff from White Pepper, every single night, "Bananas and Blow," "Exactly Where I'm At" and "Even If You Don't."

How have some of the older tunes from the early albums like GodWeenSatan and The Pod evolved in a live setting during the past two decades?

It's pretty funny. I don't ever hear Ween records. Like ever. Usually after the mastering session, that's the last time I hear them. We have a song on Pure Guava called "Big Jilm." It's written about a guy worked for my father, this old black guy who had a car detailing service when I was growing up, this nice old guy, Jim Lemons.

He just died, so we posted something online saying, "Rest in peace, Jim Lemons. He was the inspiration for 'Big Jim'" with his picture. One of our fans responded to it and put up a YouTube video of a version of "Big Jim" from Pure Guava. I think it's been like seventeen years since I heard it. It took me a second to even realize what I was listening to. It's like no similarities at all to the live versions.

So is that a process that just happens organically?

Yeah. As I said, it used to be that the live thing and the album thing were two completely different experiences. Gradually, the focus has become more on the live thing. When La Cucaracha came out, within two weeks we'd played to more people than had bought the record. Like, how does that add up? One out of every thousand of these people is buying our new record and coming to see us? But they know all the songs and the words?

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A.H. Goldstein

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