Indie-pop act Ween is serious about its buggy creations
Ween's new CD, "La Cucaracha," scurries in many different directions - simple whimsy ("Blue Balloon"); lilting romance ("Sweetheart in the Summer"); hillbilly stomp ("Learnin' to Love"); murderous meditation ("Object"); psychotic rant ("My Own Bare Hands"); economic parable ("The Fruit Man"); self-help lesson ("Shamemaker"); even brassy ethnicity ("Fiesta," a mariachi-style instrumental).
"We have been making albums since 1990, and one thing we've learned about Ween records: A song can go wherever it wants to, sound like whatever it wants to," says Gene Ween (aka Aaron Freeman), who is on a bus in western Canada heading north to Edmonton from Calgary. "It is whatever it is. ... Is it a cool song? Well, let's record it."
Still, guitarist-vocalist Freeman and his musical brother in cheekiness, Dean Ween (aka Mikey Melchiondo) are not permissive parents, even though adjectives such as quirky, bizarre and iconoclastic are often attached to the New Hope, Pa.-based indie-pop act's creations.
"We take Ween records seriously," says Freeman. "A Ween record is sort of a compilation record, the best stuff we've written over the last year."
So is he pleased that "La Cucaracha," which was released on Oct. 23, entered the Billboard chart at No. 69, the highest debut in the band's lengthy career?
"It's cool. Great," he deadpans. "I know that sounds lackadaisical, but yeah, it's cool. I could jump for joy. Wooo-oo!"
Both "La Cucaracha" and Ween's tour have received a few nasty notices. But they don't seem to have affected record sales or attendance at concerts, where Dean and Gene are backed by bassist Dave Dreiwitz, drummer Claude Coleman Jr. and keyboardist Glenn McClelland.
So is Ween, as one writer recently suggested, critic-proof? "I hope so," says Freeman, "because of the (long) time we've spent doing this. Critics don't make or break a record at this point. People just buy it. Actually, I think they download it for free, which sucks, and I hate it. People should pay for it."
"La Cucaracha" was recorded last March and April in Brillman's Farmhouse in New Hope. "It used to be nice, but now it's plagued by black mold," says Freeman.
Freeman and Melchiondo, who are both 37, write alone and together. Asked to pinpoint some of his contributions he mentions the Robyn Hitchcock-like "Blue Balloon" and the `80s synth-pop-sounding "Friends." The former is "sort of a free association. It wrote itself in 10 minutes." The latter is Freeman "trying to finish the phrase `a friend is a friend' in a poetic way." And the gay overtones detected by some critics? "It just kind of worked out that way," he says innocently.
Freeman also was largely responsible for the acoustic/electronic track "Spirit Walker." With its high vocal, sweet synth and synthetic oboe, is Ween twitting trippy mystical love songs?
"No," Freeman replies. "It's a real love song, written about the woman I'm with, my fiancee, Leah Ben-ari, a Jersey girl. We have a child, who is 2."
Freeman also refutes the send-up factor in two other "Cucaracha" tracks. The nerdy, new-wavey "Shamemaker," where Freeman is in "a very defensive place" battling "the yellow worm with teeth" in his belly, is "a culmination of things I've learned from my therapist over the last few years," says Freeman. "It's literally what he teaches."
And "Your Party," which features a slick '70s hipster vibe, sax work by smooth-jazz star David Sanborn and Al Stewart-like vocal phrasing?
"It's about going out to a party and for once not having war tales to tell when you're done," says Freeman. "You just have a nice drive home and then duck under the covers with the wife."