Profiles

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

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Speaking of the fans, how has the relationship changed over the years? Are you guys still as connected?

I think you can write to every single guy in the band from our website. I moved away from it a little bit because I started our website and I actually ran the server out of my house for awhile in the mid to late '90s. It got to the point where now that everybody has high-speed internet in their house and just the growth of the web, it became too much responsibility for me to keep up with.

It was like, now we're selling shirts and there's the sale base that's up there. All the shit needs to be updated and I'm fishing for four days ... Finally, it took me years to be whittled down. I held on to it, I was very protective of it. I used to field every single e-mail from the website. When it started to get to the point where it was, "I ordered a T-shirt and you sent me the wrong size," I was like all right, I better hand this off. But we're very, very in touch with our fans. I get e-mails every day. Shit, my phone number's on my fishing website.

Does that ever create problems with over obsessive fans?

We've had a lot of that kind of stuff happen, but nothing scary, no Mark David Chapmans. I can put up with most of the kids; young kids road tripping, you know, thinking it's a good idea to come to New Hope.

You guys have stayed in New Hope since the beginning. How has it been balancing life in a smaller town with working a day job as a rock musician?

I don't have anything to compare it to -- it's great. Where we live is awesome, it's not the sticks. It's a very artsy, creative little town. There are a lot of famous musicians and painters and sculptors that live here and that have lived here. James Michner is from here, Leon Redbone lives here. It's a beautiful town. We're forty minutes from Philly, 67 miles to New York City. We're not hicks [laughs]. But we were never city people, neither of us. I think that staying here has helped Ween, it's had a lot to do with how Ween has been shaped over the years.

We're not touring now like we used to. We're not gone eight to ten weeks like we were in the early days. This summer, we basically toured from Thursday to Monday every two weeks, and did as many shows as we would have had we done two or three six-week runs. It's a lot easier that way. If you've been doing it long enough, you have to find how much you're comfortable with and how often. There's no getting around touring.

Have there been any parts of the songwriting process or the live approach that have changed since you and Aaron were in junior high?

No, honest to god. Everybody finds their method. I guess it can change. I don't know enough people in bands, but I've gotten to observe firsthand how other people do things. It's different for everybody. I think typically if you had a four- or five-piece band you go in and you do demos. Because we're not structured like that -- it's just the two of us. Most of the time, somebody brings in a song title. That's a big way that we write. Very rarely is it a riff. A lot of times, we get together and we just turn all the equipment on and just start experimenting.

The best stuff happens really, really fast and I know Aaron would tell you the same thing, the best songs that we do is when he and I collaborate on them. I think our best songs are written by both of us. We both write a lot on our own, but all my favorite Ween tunes were written by both of us; they were done in like forty minutes.

That whole Mollusk record, that's my favorite Ween record and I think it always will be. He and I went down to the shore. We didn't have anything written and the first seven songs that we wrote ended up on that record. We were writing like one or two songs a day, the first week or two there. When we drove home, the best parts had been written and recorded. It just happened really, really fast.

There's a lot of stuff on that Shinola record that's from The Mollusk. We didn't tell people what is from what record. We weren't allowed to because of Elektra records. If you write a song for a record and it doesn't make it, in a traditional model, the record company still owns it. But because we never had any contact at all with them, they didn't know what the fuck we were doing. [Laughs].

There's a definite feel on The Mollusk, a sound that goes back to old Irish drinking songs and sea shanties. Did that have a lot to do with the setting of the recording sessions?

Yeah, it was definitely because of the setting. We had talked about that forever and ever and ever. Since we started the band, we always said we have to go down to the shore in the winter when there's nobody down there and all the traffic lights are turned off. It worked. That was the first time we went down and did it. We went back and did it for Quebec and a couple of other records, it was very productive also. There's something about that environment -- it's total isolation. You can always just stop and take a walk along the beach.

Do you think you'll opt for that environment on the next record?

No, not unless it goes later than next year. It's only good down there through October and November. When you get into the real winter down there, it becomes suicidal, like shooting heroin kind of shit. It's so dark and evil it's like beyond isolation. Nothing is open, no restaurants -- you feel like you're the last man on earth. That might be fun for two days.

Can you talk about the idea you had for the Halloween show at the 1STBANK Center in Denver and why it didn't end up working out?

I was sitting at home with my son, my wife was out. They had the Guinness Book of World Records at his school and he was telling me about it; I said let's see if they have a website. They had a public gatherings tab ... They had the largest gathering of people dressed as gorillas. It was in London and it was like 1,000. It all just clicked for me. I knew that we had a Halloween show coming up in Denver, and I knew that we were one of the few organizations in the whole world that could easily break that, maybe quintuple it. It was perfect.

I told Aaron and our manager. Everyone was psyched about it; we set the process in motion. To apply for a Guinness record, it takes them like a year unless you pay $750. That's how they know you're serious. They got back to us, we had everything all lined out. Then they called us and said, "Just so you know the record on the website has since been broken ... It was broken on Halloween last year in Denver, Colorado by this organization doing a thing against animal research."

I was like, Jesus, what are the chances of that? The same town on the same day? It just added to it, we said we'll just bust that record open this year. They didn't beat the record by a lot. Guinness called back two days later and said, "Just so you know, the same organization is doing it again this year." It just completely killed our buzz. They're doing their thing for charity pretty much on the same night in the same town. It's just too scummy. Maybe there's another we can break, but the air had gone out of the balloon.

Do you know anything about the venue?

MM: I don't. I thought we were playing the Fillmore, until I did another interview. I don't know anything about it. My friend just played there. He said it's awesome.

Do you see the show as having any special significance for the band?

We just did Central Park. That was the one I set in my head as the milestone show, because there's just so much pressure associated with it. It's a hometown gig for us. I'm really, truly excited for the Halloween show in Denver. There's no way it can't be fun. [Laughs].

We've played Halloween a million times, obviously, since we're called Ween. We always get offered Halloween gigs. I know what to expect. We'll get in costume and you get away with a lot more than normal. It won't be a gorilla costume, unfortunately. I won't be a gorilla staring out at 5,000 other gorillas, which was my fantasy. We've already done chicken suits. I've got to come up with something soon.

Do you want to give any hints about your costumes?

No, I can't tell you.

Ween, 8 p.m. Sunday, October 31, 1STBANK Center, 11450 Broomfield Lane, $38.50-$45.00, 866-461-6556.

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A.H. Goldstein

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