Published July 1996, The Aquarian Weekly


Willie and Waylon and Ween

Nashville cats spill the beans on '12 Golden Country Greats'

It's been a " busy-ass year" for Dean and Gene Ween (AKA Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman).

In addition to a track on the Schoolhouse Rock album ("Shot Heard 'Round The World"); a cover of Beck's "Loser" on Elektra's One Hit Wonders compilation; the heart-tugging "I'll Miss You" for the Uma Thurman movie Beautiful Girls; "Don't Know Why (You Went Away)" on the latest KoStars (with Vivian and Jill from Luscious Jackson) effort; a reunion of Deaner's side project, Moist Boyz (whose second Grand Royal disc is due out next month); the duo's pairing with Eye Yamatsuka of the Boredoms for the eclectic Z Rock Hawaii album; three-weeks on the road opening for The Foo Fighters; two shows during the recent Macintosh Music Festival in New York City; and a one-off performance in Eindhoven, Holland to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the De Effenaar club - Dean and Gene have also been readying their fifth album, 12 Golden Country Greats (Elektra) for release while working on their soon-to-be-released sixth official album.

Ween fans hoping for another "Spirit Of '76," "Voodoo Lady," "Push Th' Little Daisies," "Flies On My Dick," "Poop Ship Destroyer" or "I Gots A Weasel" may be in for a shock when they slap 12 Golden Country Greats into their CD changer.

As the melodious strains of acoustic guitar, weeping pedal steel, fiddle, brush snare, stand-up bass, honky-tonk piano and what sounds suspiciously like Elvis' old backing group, The Jordanaires, wafts gently behind him, Deaner rides the tear-jerker beat for all it's worth and croons in his best Don Gibson-on-a-bender voice something that sounds, on first listen, like a resurrected Willie Nelson classic.

Dean and Gene Ween have gone country.

A closer listen to "I'm Holding You" and "Japanese Cowboy" - the first two tracks on 12 Golden Country Greats - reveals the Ween spirit hard at work on lyrics such as "I'm trippin', writhin', and squealin' / Pukin', lookin' for someone like you" and "Breakfast at Shoney's, at $2.99 / saved me some money, and eased up my mind."

The side-splitting "Piss Up A Rope" serves as a reaffirming confirmation of the "Ween-ness" of 12 Golden Country Greats for those who somehow missed the subtle oddities on the first two tracks.

As what sounds like a crack group of Nashville's cream-of-the-crop session players [more on that later] swings into a melody you know you've heard all over country radio, Deaner breaks into his best city boy-gone-southern drawl and twangs out crazy-ass lyrics such as, "You ride my ass like a horse in a saddle, now you're up shit's creek with a turd for a paddle / I can't cope, piss up a rope" and "You can piss up a rope, and feel the pissy dribble."

Yep, it's a Ween album, alright.

And, as is the case with most Ween records, you either get it, or you don't.

A review in Spin cited Dean and Gene for affording country music, "the same respect they do Philly soul, British prog-rock, '70s bubblegum and mariachi balladeering, which is to say shitloads."

Another national magazine, however, lambasted 12 Golden Country Greats as an, " attempt at a country parody the one-joke humor is more 'Weird Al' Yankovic than Ad-Rock. [working a lame Beastie Boys comparison to death] Ween obviously labored to devise the authentically cheesy countrypolitan sound. But all they came up with was cutesy frat-house art rock "

You either get it - or you don't.

Ween "classics" such as "Joppa Road," "Buenas Tardes Amigo" and "Big Jilm" have all touched on the twang; while Gener himself was quoted as saying prior to the release of 1994s Chocolate & Cheesecake that, "We've been listening to a lot of country latelykind'a freaking out on some old country music. It's really awesome."

There've always been country influences evident on Ween records - the Ben Vaughn-produced 12 Golden Country Greats, however, takes what was a minor western influence and turns it into a full-blown obsession.

"I Don't Wanna Leave You On The Farm" finds Deaner singing warmly about life on the road and that good 'ol gal he had to leave behind while Dylan's bassist, members of Willie Nelson's, Roy Orbison's and the Everly Brothers bands, three guys named Buddy and, of course, Gener back him on a tune that sounds more country than the last two Alan Jackson albums and Garth Brooks singles combined.

The red-neck stalker lyrics and bouncy fiddle and banjo-fueled two-step of "Pretty Girl" would be a crowd favorite at any barn dance south of the Mason-Dixon Line; while "Powder Blue" features the mellow counter-vocals of The Jordanaires, the glorious pedal steel of Russ Hicks, droll singing and a Mohammed Ali sound bite cut from the final pressing of the album because, according to Dean, "He [Ali] made us take him off the record. We'd sent a copy of the song to Ali and his wife for clearance, but, his response was, 'Without knowing more about the background of our band and what we stand for, he really couldn't let his voice be used on the album.' Man, I'm just totally depressed and don't even feel like talking about it. It sucks, it just totally sucks."

It takes a real stretch of the imagination to picture the musicians who recorded "Always On My Mind," "Only The Lonely," "Cathy's Clown," Blonde On Blonde and "The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest" swinging on "Mr. Richard Smoker," the most controversial track on 12 Golden Country Greats, but, swing they do. The tune couples a Mummers on acid Western-swing line-dance beat with brilliant piano/banjo/fiddle/horn backing, a jazzy scat vocal hook and twisted lyrics like, "Mr. Richard Smoker, you're a poopy pokercigarettes and coffee breath, little boys on crystal methyour hands are wet, your hair is slick / you smoke big dick."

Despite, or perhaps because of, the song's complete and total offensiveness, "Mr. Richard Smoker" is nothing short of an all-out laff-riot and serves as the perfect setup for the last three tunes on 12 Golden Country Greats; the future country-standard, "Help Me Scrape The Muscus Off My Brain"; the Flying Burrito Brothers-like "You Were The One"; and a hilariously minimalist beer-weeper called "Fluffy" with lyrics that form an odd, Zen-like, circle that places the singer's dog, Fluffy, safely "back on the porch."

The Aquarian Weekly recently threw on a scratchy copy of Johnny Cash's Greatest Hits and dug out the cowboy hat and pointy boots for an interview with the men who would be Ween a few days before their flight to Holland.

Why country? What made ya'll decide to put out, more or less, a straight country album?

Dean Ween: I think we just wanted to see if it was really possible. [laughs] Besides, these days, country really blows - straight up! It's not even countryit's just this dumb, revved-up sort'a shit. It's terrible. It's real gimmicky, you know? Every song seems to have some dumb hook to it like, "everybody loves a pickup man" or, "boot scootin' boogie."

It's just bullshit, man. I think that you can mark the beginning of the end [of country music] with Alabama and bands like that from back when music turned, like, this corner in the late-'70s or early-'80s.

Gene Ween: We've both always been into good country music, you know, real country music. Not that "power western" crap that's popular now.

Dean: We're really kind of asking for it with this record. I mean, we called the album 12 Golden Country Greats so there'd be no confusion, no doubt about what you're getting yourself into when you pick the record up in the store. There are some beautiful songs on the album that are as good as anything we've ever written. And then there's shit like "Piss Up A Rope," which is, pretty much, just a really funny tune.

Gene: We haven't really "gone country" with this record. We were actually working on our other record, which should come out in Februaryanyway, we were making that record when we decided to take a break and head to Nashville to make this record. We've been writing really ill music all along and we're still trying to finish the other record and get it out so that people who don't like country have something to play by us that they do like.

What direction is Ween going in on the upcoming album?

Dean: Direction?? [confused silence] Uhmwe don't really have a direction. Ween isn't really about [laughs] any one general direction. It's just another fucked up Ween record, I guess. There'll be a little bit of everything on it.

The beauty of Ween, the thing that I'm most proud of about Ween, is I feel like we can do whatever we want to. But, just because or stuff is funny and makes people laugh sometimes, they think we're trying to destroy music. It's not that way at all.

Music is my number-one passion and I'd really like to contribute something good to history and not just make fun of shit. I don't ever want anyone to think that we're trying to make fun of music before we try to make good music.

Have you both always enjoyed country music - or is this a virgin's dabble into the genre?

Dean: [laughs] I was raised on the old-school of country music by my dad. You know, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon JenningsI've always been into it. This album was a great chance for us. We got the idea to do it and wanted to see if it was possible to do it. When we realized that it could happen, we had to do it. And, when we were done with it, it just didn't seem like something we could leave on the shelf. We wanted to put it outI would hope that you could still do things like that, you know?

Gene: We just got the word yesterday that Elektra is going to try to push 12 Golden Country Greats in the country market, which is pretty cool. [chuckles] The next thing you know, we'll be playing, like, state fairs in Oklahoma and stuff.
We'll see what happens. But, speaking for both of us, I think we'd both like to be superstars. Totally rich, you know? With paparazzi up our fuckin' asses all the time - I think we would both definitely appreciate that. [laughs] It would be nice to be making millions of dollars. Alanis Morissette is probably a multi-millionaire by now, which really sucks. We'd like to be multi-millionaires, too. Alanis has, like, absolutely no excuse to live. She's the worst. I'd really like to sneak up behind her and pull her upper lip up over her head.

I'd really love for us to be as big as that. I'd definitely sell outI'd sell out everybody. [laughs] I'd start doing Coca Cola and Budweiser commercials - like, immediately.

The studio credits for guys like Charlie McCoy, Bobby Ogdin, Hargus Robbins, Pete Wade and the three Buddy's (Harman, Blackman and Spicher) reads like a veritable "who's who of country music." How did these grizzled studio veterans take to performing Dean and Gene Ween songs like "Piss Up A Rope?"

Dean: We were really scared going down there, but, I don't think our session players really noticed anything too unusual about us. I mean, hell, these guys've worked with some real characters, you know? Jerry Lee Lewis, Jerry Reed, Elvisone of the guys was telling me about the time Jerry Lee Lewis shot a guy from his band in the legso, I don't think they even found us to be mildly eccentric after working with people like that.

Gene: They just came in, played the living shit out of their parts, packed it up and went home. I think those guys may've actually had fun doing our record because it was something different and we let 'em just burn. We just turned 'em loose and let them play as much as they wanted to. I don't think we phased those guys at all. They even laughed at the lyrics and thought they were pretty funny - they were just a great bunch of guys.

Dean: It's funny, you know, we meet all these alternative bands out on the road touring behind their MTV single hit and they've got, like, 10 people tending after 'em and they think they're God - and then we meet, like, some 60-year-old motherfucker who's played on 50 number-one hits - and he's pulling his drums out of the back of a beat up Pontiac 6000 and inviting us to join him for breakfast at Shoney's!

The playing on this record is just amazing. I mean, here's 10 guys in a studio working on new music that they've never played before - and they generally nailed each song on the first or second take. It's kind'a funny, because if I got 10 rock guys together right now for a jam session, everybody would be playing all over each other and it would be a total mess.

But, these guys managed to play without ever stepping on each other and never crowding the song. That's what amazed me the most about working in Nashville - that 10 people could play together and sound so unified.

What sort of reaction have you been getting from people who've heard 12 Golden Country Greats?

Dean: Wellsomeone recently told me that Ween, in the past, has been about alienating everybody but a core group of hardcore fans who'll love us no matter what we do. But, that now, with this album, we've managed to alienate every single person that's ever listened to us. [laughs] I really hope that's not trueas that wasn't our intention.

Gene: It'll definitely alienate a few people, absolutely! But, I hope our fans - you know, our true fans - have come to expect as much abuse from us as possible. It's totally off-the-wall as far as Ween albums go, but, it's also a really great record and if we didn't put it out, it would, I think, be a real shame.

Dean: I've encountered some people who really, really dig our records. I've also encountered a few people [from the Ween fan base] who just hate country music - and that's where it ends. They don't like the sound of a lap steel or a banjo or a fiddle, you know? And this record, well, this record is pretty relentless in that, from the second it starts to the second it stops, it's all country.

Gene: The new album is straight-up country with really fucked up lyrics. It is what it isbut, I don't really know what it is. It's just all fucked up. [laughs]

Dean: Honestly? The whole idea behind 12 Golden Country Greats was for us to have something to listen as we drove home from Nashville. Something we could listen to, laugh at and say, "we did it!" [laughs] We were in my car on the way home listening to this record we'd just finished making with these legends of country music - and it was totally cool.

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