The sonic DNA of Ween borrows from dozens of classic artists, but Prince‘s influence on the cult duo runs especially deep. “As young kids in Ween, it was attainable to imitate Prince,” guitarist Mickey Melchiondo, a.k.a. Dean Ween, told Rolling Stone this week. “When we got better, we could actually make ourselves sound like Prince a little bit.” The band’s 1990 debut, GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, featured an outright Prince ode: “L.M.L.Y.P.,” a sprawling cover of Sign O’ the Times B side “Shockadelica,” with a rap borrowed from Lovesexy‘s “Alphabet St.” and additional lyrics that one-upped the Purple One’s trademark hyper-sexual tone. Ween continued to nod to Prince-styled funk on later tracks like “Monique the Freak,” and covers of “Kiss,” “1999” and “Purple Rain” peppered their live sets for years. True to Melchiondo’s account, as the band matured, his solos began to take on an epic majesty worthy of his late hero.
Ween, which recently reunited after a four-year hiatus, will play Bonnaroo and several other festivals this summer. Rolling Stone reached Melchiondo at his home in New Hope, Pennsylvania, to discuss the Purple One’s overlooked sense of humor, the “big sex fest” he hosted in Prince’s honor and the time Ween got physically ejected from Paisley Park.
Where were you when you heard the news of Prince’s death?
My wife woke me up early in the morning and told me Prince was dead. It was all over the news. I think I had a gig the night before and I was in a deep sleep. Sleep goes in cycles: If you get three or six hours, you’re well rested. I was in one of those in-between hours [laughs]. She told me he was dead, and I didn’t really know what that meant. I thought it was some online hoax, and I just didn’t believe it. My first thought was that maybe he was changing his name again to some unpronounceable symbol, so just the name was dead. I got up pretty quickly, turned on the TV and computer, and it was all Prince. I still don’t think I can believe it. I was completely baffled because it doesn’t make any sense.
When Lemmy passed it was less of a surprise, because I had heard he had been terminally ill for a few years. Bowie was a big surprise, but not nearly as much as Prince. People put the measuring stick up to Mick Jagger and say, “Look, he’s seventysomething and he’s still out there doing it!” Prince was 57 and he was out there every year, doing it better than ever.
Michael Jackson was very private but was exposed very publicly. Prince kept the clamps down on his personal life. There were no nasty rumors. It was all about the music. Now it feels like the ultimate violation that people are gonna start digging into his life. It’s so horrible every time I see speculation on his life now, or rumors about how he died. As a Prince lover, no one’s supposed to go there. Nobody is supposed to be in his bedroom in Paisley Park. No one is supposed to be talking about his personal affairs. It’s an awful thing. I’m very heartbroken. He was my John Lennon. I was really young when Lennon died, but Prince is someone whose records I bought the day they came out.
What drew you to Prince initially? Did his guitar playing hook you as a kid?
He simplified funk. If you listen to Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly or James Brown, you can’t attain it as a musician. Prince took funk and stripped it down. My favorite records were the ones where he played all the instruments. It’s a very four-on-the-floor beat with a steady bass line. It was funkier than anything I had ever heard. As young kids in Ween, it was attainable to imitate Prince. When we got better, we could actually make ourselves sound like Prince a little bit.
I always loved his sense of humor. Prince was laughing his ass off when he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and made all the newspapers in the world go and get his typeset. That’s genius. He wrote “Slave” on his face. That’s classic. He won every time. Everybody had his back. You go down the list: Miles Davis, Public Enemy, George Clinton or Sly, everybody would do anything for him. He was a true artist in the ultimate sense. He was Stevie Wonder. He was Sly. He was James Brown. I saw an interview with Miles Davis who said Prince was Charlie Chaplin. He was all of those things. I saw Prince over 50 times. I saw him all over the world, in Belgium, Holland, Philly, L.A., San Francisco and got to see many of the after-shows. I’m the biggest Prince fan in the world [laughs].
Did you ever get a personal moment with him?
I have a Prince anecdote that’s pretty good. Aaron and I got signed to Twin/Tone Records for our first record, GodWeenSatan. In 1989 they flew us out to Minneapolis to play a showcase at the Uptown Bar. Soul Asylum was on the label as well, and they were making a record at Paisley Park. The Ween guys from Twin/Tone took us out to Paisley. We came in and they gave us this little personal tour. We came down to Studio A, which was Prince’s personal studio, and that’s what we really wanted to see. That studio wasn’t for hire. Aaron and I snuck in, and I’m looking at all the guitars. His blond Telecaster was there, which is the one he used in Purple Rain.
Suddenly Aaron goes, “Dude!” I look over and he’s hovering over a music stand in the middle of the room with a microphone. Aaron grabbed a page of lyrics and goes, “Look at this!” In obvious Prince handwriting, there was a drawing of an eyeball for the letter “I” that said “Wanna suck you off.” I ran over to look at it, and the next thing I know we’re horse-collared by two security guards. They fucking threw us out in the snow. That day I learned you don’t grab Prince’s lyrics off the mic stand. We were 18 years old and got thrown out of Paisley Park. We had no idea where to go. As far as I know, Soul Asylum got thrown out too [laughs]. We were at the height of our Prince fanaticism at that time. If Aaron hadn’t picked up those lyrics, I would have picked up a guitar and gotten us thrown out.