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Gene and Dean are as hard to pin down as their music

by Matthew T. Everett

There's a photo of the Ween boys, Gene and Dean, holed up in what looks like a makeshift bedroom recording studio. Dean stands on the left, holding a microphone, his foot placed imperiously on top of a heap of miscellaneous mixing boards, taping equipment, and musical instruments. Gene's on the right, his face twisted in a heavy metal snarl, his sneakered feet entangled in a maze of electric wiring on the floor.

The photo seems like a pretty good visual approximation of the recording process for Ween's everything-including-the-kitchen-sink collage of alternative art rock. Take a bunch of equipment, throw it in a room, lock the door, get high, and use everything you can get your hands on to produce some of the most eccentric—and, in some cases, interesting—indie pop of the past decade.

It's a great image. Unfortunately, if such gleeful music-geek exuberance is part of the creative process for Gene and Dean Ween (known to their parents as Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo), it's not apparent in Gene's description of it. "We get together, and it could be a song title we work off of, or a guitar riff that inspires us. That's how most bands write," he says during a telephone interview from a resort hotel in Las Vegas, where the band is playing to support its latest record, White Pepper.

For a band whose reach has been so expansive over the past decade, Gene's answers are surprisingly literal and limited. There's nothing in his conversation to indicate any of the epic, esoteric madness that permeates the band's output. Here he is on the band's current tour: "We're pounding it out, just playing, drinking, and f—king around. Nothing to write home about." Or on recording White Pepper: "We recorded demos and compiled them, then went to Bearsville in New York and recorded them all." Or on plans after the White Pepper tour: "We'll probably settle down and make music again. That's pretty much how the cycle works."

In fact, very little of the weenness of the band's music comes out during the interview; Gene sounds like a particularly solid and upright citizen, not one of the madcap, drug-addled auteurs who wrote "Poop Ship Destroyer" or a pensive, long song titled "Waving My Dick in the Wind." But Ween seems to have abandoned its farthest-flung excesses, at least on record—White Pepper is by far the most accessible of the band's seven studio albums, full of sparkling three-minute pop songs like "Even If You Don't" and "Stay Forever"—so maybe it's not surprising if Gene and Dean have mellowed somewhat, too.

Maybe that's just what happens after more than 15 years in rock 'n' roll. Since they met in 1984 in a junior high typing class in New Hope, Pa., the Ween boys have tried just about everything (and that includes a long, well-publicized list of illicit substances, often in enormous quantities), adding, at various times, country, funk, punk, Celtic, vaudeville, and '70s prog-rock touches to their lo-fi experimental rock. The band's unofficial motto during its entire career has been, according to a recent Village Voice story, "Entertaining ourselves...We don't really care about other people."

"We never like to put what we do into any kind of category," Gene says. "We bring in all kinds of stuff, and just make the music that we want to make."

White Pepper may be the music that Ween wants to make right now, but it's not a subject that Gene likes to dwell on. "I like it a lot," he says. "But I've been so involved in it that I can't just analyze it for you. I spent too much time with it."

So, without any insight from the savants behind the music, we're left with White Pepper itself. It's not a complete departure from what Ween's done in the past—there's the Buffett-esque tale of tropical excess "Bananas and Blow," and "Pandy Fackler," an ode to groupies along the New Jersey shore, and the spaced-out, keyboard-laden psychedelia of "Back to Basom." But those songs are nothing compared to the earlier weirdness of "The Blarney Stone" (from The Mollusk) or "Pollo Assado" (from The Pod), and the ones on White Pepper are crammed between straight-up guitar pop, songs that would, in a better world, find their way to the top of the charts and give listeners an excuse to forget the lamentable novelty hit "Push th' Little Daisies."

But don't count on it. And don't count on another album like White Pepper. As tempting as it is to think of the new disc as the culmination of a slow, gradual progression toward maturity, that may be too much to expect from Ween. The only thing they've ever been predictable about is stumping the expectations of both fans and critics, and that's probably the one thing they can be counted on to do again.

July 13, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 28
© 2000 Metro Pulse