Back when Gene and Dean Ween became childhood friends prior to forming the indie rock group Ween in 1984, they benefited from the fact that their parents had eccentric record collections.
“They didn’t have a lot of records, but I found a Dead Kennedys album and Black Flag and stuff like that,” says Dean Ween, who brings the Dean Ween Group to the Beachland Ballroom
at 8:30 p.m. on Friday. “[Ween's] Aaron [Freeman] had some Beefheart and the Mothers and Laurie Anderson, and the Dr. Demento Show was huge. Devo was a massive influence. We would just turn each other on to new stuff. The ultimate is the Beatles. That’s what it always comes back to me. Nobody’s shit stacks up to theirs as far as I’m concerned.”
In the early days, Ween performed with backing tracks that it loaded onto cassette decks. At the time, digital technology was rather primitive, so the guys did the best they could with a cassette deck.
“I had these 10-minute cassettes, and each one had two songs on it,” Ween explains. “We put them in a sneaker box and lined them up in the order we were going to play the set. Getting a DAT machine was our first big technology jump.”
Somehow, the band managed to produce a radio hit in 1993 with “Push th’ Little Daisies,” a song that sounds like a fractured nursery rhyme with a child singing it.
“Not appreciating anything and assuming everything at the time, I didn’t understand that people thought it was weird,” Ween says when asked about the track. “I didn’t know it was weird or think it was as weird as the reaction and the repercussions for years of people thinking we were a novelty band. The radio stations just found it. It wasn’t even a single. It was really funky and had sped-up vocals and drum machines, and we just had a good laugh at the whole thing. We did the MTV spring break concert with [comedian] Pauly Shore and played between RuPaul and the rapper Snow and Big Daddy Kane and everyone hated us. We were these two cruds from New Jersey. We had a punk rock fuck-you attitude.”
Ween thrived on being unpredictable. For 1996's 12 Golden Country Greats
, for example, the group went in an entirely different direction and recorded with veteran Nashville musicians.
"We didn’t know that was going to be the record," says Ween. "We didn’t tell the label we were doing it. We just went and did it. We were writing songs for The Mollusk,
and we had a pile of country songs. It cost us 30 grand for everything to go to Nashville and record [12 Golden Country Greats]. We just wanted it for the car ride home. So we listened to on the ride home and decided it was too good to not put it out. The decision was made that quickly. That really pissed the label off. They didn’t know what to do with either record. They thought we were fucking with them."
When the band went on hiatus in 2012, Ween initially struggled to figure out his next move.
“I don’t want to revisit [that time period] because it sounds so awful and sounds like I’m trying to lay a guilt trip on Aaron, which I really don’t want to do,” says Ween. “At first, I lost my identity. I had been in this band since I was 14. Then, it wasn’t there one day. I was fortysomething years old. It took me a while to get started, but once I got started it was fine.”
The Dean Ween Group made its debut two years ago with The Deaner Album
. Ween says it wasn’t an easy album to make.
“It was really stubborn,” Ween says of the recording experience. “I was really hard on myself. You have your whole life to make your first album. I have never been the best editor of my own stuff at anything I’ve ever done. Since it was only me, I was very hesitant and flaky at first.”
He says the “momentum” from that album carried him into the second album, the just-released rock2
. He wrote the tracks during “a very defined period of time” and used a new studio he built on a parcel of land that his friend’s father had given him. Per usual, the album shifts from the grunge-y rockers ("Showstopper") to alt-country ballads ("Don't Let the Moon Catch You Crying"). Ween creates a rich sonic tapestry by adding horns to the mix on several tracks.
“The new album was written before the first one was even released," says Ween. "Now, I’m backlogged and I have the third and fourth one done. Everything was clicking when we were recording it, and Ween had even gotten back together. When you’re on a roll, you’re constantly hearing melodies and hearing song titles and when that’s happening, you have to take advantage of it. It might stop. You have to work when you’re feeling it. I was confident in the song choice. The band was hot from playing live so much. We just went for it. It wasn’t as awkward feeling as the first one. I wasn’t as insecure as I was with the first one.”
Ween says the Dean Ween Group has provided him with a way to get back into live performance, something Ween only does sparingly these days.
“I have the best of both worlds,” he says. “Ween has so many songs that I will never get bored of playing. We could play three-hour sets five nights in a row and not repeat any songs. I’m not bragging. We just have that many songs. The Dean Ween Group is a whole different thing. I’m the guy out front with my Stratocaster, and I’m going to try to kill you with it and get off on the guitar.”
The Dean Ween Group, Keith Kenny, 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 23, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $25, beachlandballroom.com.