Reaching Dean Ween by phone, Rolling Stone finds the guitarist and songwriter in a world of pain. “I got stung by a hornet just about 10 minutes ago,” he says. “I’ve been stung by a million bees, but a hornet is a whole different level of the game. It’s like being shot by a hot nail gun. My whole foot is swollen up. It was in my fucking shoe.”
Despite the ordeal, reminiscent of an early song by his best-known band – eclectic, offbeat, hyper-prolific cult favorites Ween – the man less commonly known as Mickey Melchiondo is in good spirits. After more than 30 years spent working with the recently reactivated Ween, five albums with side project the Moistboyz and guest appearances with everyone from Pigface to Queens of the Stone Age, the 46-year-old is gearing up to release his first LP as a bandleader: The Deaner Album, out October 21st and premiering here.
The record features 14 new songs, some of which will be familiar to fans who have seen Melchiondo’s Dean Ween Group live in recent years. In addition to guitar, Melchiondo handles lead vocals on some tunes, and welcomes guests including Ween live members Dave Dreiwitz, Claude Coleman and Glenn McClelland, Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist Michael Hampton, Moistboyz frontman Guy Heller, and Meat Puppets singer-guitarist Curt Kirkwood.
Melchiondo began the album during Ween’s hiatus, which began with bandmate Aaron Freeman’s sudden resignation in May 2012. While the guitarist had never given much thought to a solo record, he did have a general concept in mind. “I knew what I wanted to accomplish, in the event I ever made a Dean Ween record,” he explains. “It’s very simple: I wanted to focus on my guitar playing. Live, there’s a lot more guitar playing [in Ween], but Ween is very much about the songs. And whether I played a guitar solo or not, I never cared about that stuff: It’s what’s best to serve the song or the record.
“So for this, I really wanted to live my dream out of being a guitar-player guy,” he continues. “Now that I have a record done and I’m well into my second one, the focus is becoming finer. I’m finding a way to walk that line where it’s not all just guitar players at my shows: you know, a bunch of dudes in Fender and Gibson jackets. I want it to be fun and a show. I’ve got it down right now. At first I was doing a lot of Ween tunes; now I’ll throw in some Ween tunes if I feel like it, but I don’t have to, you know what I mean?”
Melchiondo will hit the road Tuesday for a two-week U.S. tour in support of The Deaner Album, with the Meat Puppets opening. Listen to the full record below and read Melchiondo’s in-depth track-by-track commentary.
1. “Dickie Betts”
“I wear my influences on my sleeve. I called the song fucking ‘Dickie Betts’ for Christ’s sake, in case there was any doubt what inspired it: the style of the Allmans. That’s a jazz thing that I’m really into. Miles Davis has these songs called ‘Billy Preston,’ ‘Willie Nelson.’ It’s sort of jazz thing and that’s why I did it. I was inspired by Miles Davis as far as the titles go. I think it’s cool. It’s old-school and it’s honest.
“I play that song live a lot in the last couple years with the Dean Ween Group. On any given night, we can play ‘Dickie Betts’ for five minutes or a half an hour.”
2. “Exercise Man”
“When my son was little, two or three years old, we were driving in the car and I would sing funny songs. I’d make them up and we’d sing in the car. And ‘Exercise Man’ was always a funny thing. I was like, ‘Mike look at this guy. …’ It would be snowing outside and some guy was riding his bike with a spandex suit on and a helmet and shades and a little heart timer and his ear buds in. ‘What is he crazy?’ He was holding up traffic everywhere jogging and riding his bike. ‘Got to get my 20 miles in today.’ So that started as improvised, made-up lyrics for a song for my son. We’d see a guy. He’d spot them before me and say, ‘Go, go, go exercise man!’
“I always wanted to play with Curt [Kirkwood]. And I felt like ‘Exercise Man’ needed a slide guitar, a Les Paul kind of sound, and he’s the master of that. So it was perfect timing. It was like when Ween used David Sanborn on ‘Your Party.’ ‘You know what it really needs? It needs David Sanborn, nobody else.’ That was the same situation with that song. Curt was on my list of people, before I die, I want to have a band with this guy. I wouldn’t be surprised if Curt and I ended up doing a project or something, especially after this tour coming up.”
3. “Bundle of Joy”
“That’s my favorite song on the record. I had help with the lyrics from my friend Adam [Weiner], with the band Low Cut Connie. Unlike a straight-up collaboration, he sent me some lyrics that inspired [mine]. I rewrote mine and ended up using a tiny bit of his. I wrote something like, ‘I’m in J.C. Penney,’ or he said something like, ‘Little, little something and the brides and the groom,’ and then I made it more offensive [and wrote, ‘And I’m masturbating in the fitting room’].
“I did something different on that song that I’ve never done on any song. I had learned to play ‘Midnight Rambler’ by the Stones and to play Keith’s part, you have to use a capo a lot and you have to use open tuning. And sometimes if you’re dry creatively, that’s a good way to sort of kickstart your inspiration: Try looking at the guitar differently, tuning it differently. So before the song was realized and the title was realized, I slapped the capo on and went for a tuning and wrote this awesome fucking riff for that song, the chorus and the bridge and all that. I was like, ‘Holy shit.’ It didn’t sound like any song I had ever done.
4. “Charlie Brown”
“Man, if I could show you a picture of my Peanuts collection, you’d be really impressed. I have a whole bookcase of Peanuts books and I bought them brand new when I was a kid, like in the Seventies. My mom would buy them for me. I would buy them as they came out. Peanuts taught me a lot about life, actually, a lot of quotable stuff in there that I still use in my vocabulary. I just think of Lucy pulling the ball away as [Charlie Brown is] going to kick it. He falls on his back and she’s giving him psychology lessons and all that. Charlie Brown never wins; he always loses. It’s losing-streak Charlie Brown. It’s that simple.
“I cut [the song] with Claude [Coleman, Ween drummer] and Andrew Weiss at [my] old studio, and it was like 30 minutes long or something. Then we formed this power trio for the Invitational and I was playing bass and Ray Kubian, my drummer for the Dean Ween Group, was playing drums. We did a little practice. We just needed five songs that we could jam on for a long time. I was like, ‘Oh, I got this song.’ I liked it so much that when they left, I cut it by myself. I played all the drums and Claude gave my drumming props, which is the highest compliment ever.”
5. “Shwartze Pete”
“Ween got asked to do the theme for this show – I don’t know if it ever went on the air – called The Oblongs. They asked us to do this theme, and I thought we nailed it.
“I love Les Paul. People forget that Les Paul is primarily one of the greatest guitar players that ever lived; they think of all his other accomplishments: designing the Gibson Les Paul, inventing the electric guitar and inventing multi-track recording. But for me, Les Paul, he’s one of the only guys I would go see religiously. I would make a trip up to New York: He did his Monday night residencies at Fat Tuesdays and then later on the Iridium. But I loved that style of recording, his pitch-shifting, layers of guitars, high up, little quick echo on them. I wrote the demo for ‘Shwartze Pete’ like that. We brought it in and made it into a piece of music and brought in clarinet players and all this. [The Oblongs] refused the demo, but I didn’t really care. I said, ‘I’m keeping that one for myself.’ So when it came time to do this record, I actually dug that one up from my 4-track and found it and transferred it and had Chris Shaw mix it.
“The other thing about it is the title. We were over on an early Ween tour in Europe. We were in Belgium and we see this blackface guy, dressed as, like, an evil elf: black hands, black face, overdone, just big red lips. Stereotypes – everything but the piece of watermelon or something. It was super offensive. I said, ‘What is up with that?’ We asked our tour manager. He said, ‘That’s Shwartze Pete.’ ‘What? You got our attention now.’ ‘You don’t have that over in America?’ ‘No.’ ‘What happens over here is that if little kids are bad before Christmas, Shwartze Pete comes, instead of Santa Claus and he puts you in a sack and he takes you to Spain and just leaves you in Spain on Christmas morning.’ I mean, how evil is that? That’s so scary. Look it up. There are pictures of him, posters. So we bought up every little piece of thing we could find with him on it, which is everywhere. So I called it that, in the hopes that somebody would ask me one day why it’s called that and I can tell them this story.”
6. “I’ll Take It (and Break It)”
“I’ll cop to it: The idea of it came from … the Meat Puppets actually have this song called ‘I Can’t Be Counted On.’ That idea I could totally relate to. That’s on an old record. It might be on Huevos. He says, like, “Something in the kitchen/The eggs are in the pan/Something needs doing/You know I’m not your man.” I could totally relate to that. If someone asked me to help paint their house, I’ll come over and do a shitty job on purpose, so they never ask me again. I took his raw idea and I put it into the context of my life. They have nothing in common, the two songs, musically, lyrically, whatever. Except the sentiment hit me so hard. That’s me. Now that I know Curt, I know that he’s the same way: ‘I don’t want to do that.’ It’s a lazy sort of stoner slack.”
“Funkadelic is my favorite band of all time, other than the Beatles. Funkadelic actually wins that one, ’cause I got to see them live all the time. That’s a huge influence on my style. It’s kind of my voice; I grew up playing along with those records. So that, I didn’t write it so much as a tribute, and it sort of developed into what it is on the record. When Garry [Shider, Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist] passed. I was thinking, ‘I have to dedicate this to Garry Shider’ – I figured people were going to compare it anyway, so let’s fucking say it.”
8. “You Were There”
“That song is inspired by this joke I have with my fishing buddy Nick Honachefsky, lyrically anyway. We would see, like, four frat boys going by on a sailboat drinking wine, rubbing lotion on each other’s shoulders. And while we were watching it, I was like, ‘Yeah, Nick, I saw this sailboat go by, and you were there, man.’ All these bad scenarios, any bad scenario: ‘Some dude got caught jerking off in the bathroom stall at the airport. I heard you were there.’ ‘Yeah I was there, I was there.'”
“I stole from myself for that song. I’m going to let you figure it out. You have to go through every recorded note of every record I ever made. …
“That song rules. It’s another self-deprecating song. I like it; it just really fucking rocks. [Drummer] Chuck Treece is my old longtime friend from the punk band McRad. He was in Body Count, Bad Brains – he’s been with everyone. He’s a famous skater. … Really amazing dude. Part American Indian, part Haitian. Just this crazy, beautiful man. So Chuck was, like, couch-surfing at the time, and I had the studio set up. And Chuck was never available till late. So I would flesh out these songs, and I’d have Chuck over. We laid ‘Bums’ down and it was a really wicked track. Then I had him overdub playing the hi-hat, as fast as he can, and I put flanger all over it, so it’s got this swirly fucking thing to it. And we made this really unique rock & roll out of it. Lyrically, though, I love that tune. It basically sums up my life in a nutshell. We’re bums! When you’re waking up, we’re fucking in our prime [laughs]. We’re working. It’s about night owls.”
“‘Gum’ I was very torn about. I’m still torn about it. ‘Gum’ is one of those rare songs, like with Ween or Dean Ween Group or whatever, where it doesn’t even rank in my top hundred songs we’ve wrote for the record. But it was a thing that needed to be represented, like the brown waste factor, where only we could do it, you know? I have no excuse for that song [laughs].
“It’s exactly like [Ween’s] ‘Candi.’ I didn’t want to say it. … ‘Candi’ and ‘Gum.’ But that song, I think of as, whenever we’re trying to verbalize, like, the dumbest, simplest thing ever, I’d just be like, ‘I like gum!’ Dumbing it down. The record wouldn’t be the same without ‘Gum.’ But it’s one of those songs that I think I might skip. That’s me, if I was listening to my own record. But it has to be on there. It takes up valuable real estate on the record for a reason. It’s like, ‘OK, do you think we’re not capable of making the same kind of music we did in 1990 or ’89?’ ‘Cause if anything, I’m just as pathetic in 2016 and still make sad-ass tunes like this.”
It’s my favorite guitar solo I’ve ever played on any record. … Gabe [Monago] came in – he’s my roadie, my best friend, studio manager, guitar tech, sound man, van driver, everything – and I was doing it and he goes, ‘You should call this “Nightcrawler.”
“Then my friend, his name is Dylan and he writes poetry … he’s never written a rock & roll song, as far as I know. Dylan came over and I was like, ‘Dylan, I’m tasking you with a job. The song is called “Nightcrawler.”‘ And I played it for him. ‘Make it about a worm eating a dead body. That is your visual. Go off of that.’ He nailed it. He fucking totally nailed it. His timing was beautiful, the cadence of the lyrics. I tried singing it and it didn’t work, and Guy [Heller] sang it and it worked.
“I think I had Sim Cain replay the drum part on it and he’s not credited on the record, which I feel really awful about. His picture is on the record, which means that he played on it and that’s the song. That song went through a lot of overdubs and trying different people on different parts and so I’m pretty sure that’s Sim. It sure as fuck sounds like him.”
12. “Mercedes Benz”
“‘Mercedes Benz’ is kind of a high point for me. I’m very insecure about putting funky music on records, ’cause you never wanna fake the funk or tell lies on it. And I’m such a lover of funk, but my favorite kind of funk, if I’m going to make funk, is the Prince-style funk where the drums and the bass are doing the simplest thing in the world, like ‘Controversy.’ Four on the floor, we call it, and the funk comes from a combination of the overdubs. A little rhythmic thing on the guitar and the rhythmic thing to the vocals and it just kept getting funkier, and I think that song is the closest I’ve ever achieved to the Parliament thing that I love so much, but it’s a hybrid of Prince.
“And then I got all the funkiest people I know in the studio: I got horns; Michael Hampton, Kidd Funkadelic; Carol Brooks, a great singer and a wonderful woman to sing on it. We were all singing on it. The whole band sang on it and there are a bunch of basses. … I should send you the rhythm tracks to that record, just the rhythm tracks. You’d be blown away. The synth is a total “Flash Light,” Bernie Worrell thing, and one bass is holding down the [sings bass line] and Dave Dreiwitz was playing up real high with an envelope filter doing the Bootsy pops and stuff like that, Larry Graham shit. That tune live takes on a whole other life. Plan on hearing like 20 or 30 minute versions of that.”
“‘Tammy’ stands out, because ‘Tammy’ is the only song that I ever truly cut live, totally live. I had a trio. I wrote the song. It was about our roadie, Gabe, ’cause he drives everywhere. He doesn’t like to fly. So if we have a gig in Denver, he’ll drive from the studio here to Denver, rather than fly. I call him the Lonesome Driver, and he’s a coffee addict. So I wrote this song and he doesn’t believe in technology. He’s got a CompuServe account, and he’s got a flip phone that doesn’t get group texts or take pictures or anything. I started writing about Gabe and then I decided to go for the classic country death song: A woman cheats on you, so you kill her and then you bury’ She cheats, you kill her, you bury her yourself and you’re sad. So it was that.
“But we cut that live. It was Ray Kubian, Lucas Rinz on bass and it was real simple. It’s like a G minor blues: G minor, C minor, D minor. So this is how it goes and those guys can both sing. We set up the mics and just blasted it out. I overdubbed their solo on it and maybe a tambourine and that’s it. So I love that tune. That’s going to be a big closer, I would imagine, for us.”
14. “Doo Doo Chasers”
“That’s a Funkadelic B-side. On the album version, I think it’s on One Nation Under a Groove, it was called the ‘Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad.’ And George is, like, reciting over it and people are repeating after him. But [One Nation Under a Groove] came with this 45, this EP of a live version of ‘Cosmic Slop,’ a live version of ‘Maggot Brain’ and then the instrumental version of that. When I do covers, they’re not covers. They’re things, like … no one’s ever heard them or we take it and just turn it inside out, so it’s not recognizable. So we were rehearsing that at Ween practice, and Michael Hampton came over, who played the guitar on [the original].