Songwriter Interviews

Dean Ween

by April Fox

Share this post

I went into my interview with Dean Ween as prepared as I'd ever been for anything. I had a couple pages of questions and notes, had listened to The Deaner Album as close to non-stop as I could get, and had polled a few close friends about what I should ask their favorite guitarist and songwriter. And then once I had him on the phone, I realized that it's as impossible to prepare for a Deaner interview as it is to prepare for what's happening on his new solo album. You might think you have an idea of what to expect, but once it gets started, all you can do is go with it, listen hard, have a few laughs, and remember why it is that he's such a revered part of the music world.

I meant to talk to Dean a little more about the songs and not so much about everything else, but once the conversation turned to cake, there was no going back. In the end, what came out was a little glimpse into the heart of Dean Ween. He may be known as a guitar god and founding member of one of the biggest bands of his generation, but behind all of that, he's just a normal guy - as normal as any of us - who values his privacy, loves a good time, and has a fierce devotion to his family, his fans, and his mom's nightmare-inducing cream puffs.

The Dean Ween Group's debut record starts out with "Dickie Betts," a tight instrumental that channels the classic Allman Brothers sound with almost frightening accuracy. From there, it only gets better, with a diverse cast of musicians playing along on some of the most solid tunes the Deaner has written to date.

If you've kept up with the man over the years, you know that he's a skilled musician and a clever lyricist, and those traits shine on The Deaner Album. "Tammy" written by anyone else could have been just another mullet-rock scorned-man-on-the-road revenge song, but Dean Ween spins the story with a lyrical prowess that rivals the likes of Elvis Costello and Tom Waits, but with that touch of crude, not-quite humor that leaves no doubt as to who wrote it. "Charlie Brown" is a beautifully grungy one-man show, with Dean playing all the instruments on a song that no doubt strikes a chord with anyone who has ever been at the end of their figurative rope; it's the universal lament, with a mature stroke of hope at the very end. "Exercise Man" is straight up Dean Ween all the way, fast-paced and snarling, backed by the Meat Puppets' Curt Kirkwood on guitar and full of the kind of pure snark we've come to expect from the man himself.

The Deaner gets funky in the first single from the album, "Mercedes Benz," featuring an upbeat horn section and two bassists, including Ween's Dave Dreiwitz. The lyrics are short and sweet, consisting of only two sentences, but the message comes through loud and clear:

When I get my money again, I won't forget you, my fairweather friend
You can have a job cleaning the wheels of my Mercedes Benz

While The Deaner Album features some of the best songwriting I've heard in a while, the musicianship is just as stellar. Take "Garry," an ethereal, undulating instrumental ballad that's nearly impossible to listen to just once, or "Gum," whose lyrics are "the opposite of intellectual," according to Dean, shouted over a perfectly woven mix of guitar and bass effects and old-school shredding. His child-like inflection when he yells "My mom!", by the way, is dead-on.

The album wraps up with the psychedelic masterpiece "Doo Doo Chasers," featuring Claude Coleman, Jr. on drums, Dreiwitz on bass, Glenn McClelland on keyboards, and Michael Hampton and Bill Fowler joining Dean on guitar.
April Fox (Songfacts): Hi, how are you?

Dean Ween: I'm fantastic, how are you doing?

Songfacts: I'm great, thanks. Did you have a nice birthday [yesterday]?

Dean: I had a great birthday, thank you for asking. It was perfect. I had cake, and then the Eagles game yesterday, and it was just perfect.

Songfacts: What kind of cake?

Dean: What the hell did I get? It was one of those things where I told my wife, "Don't get me anything, please, I don't want to do anything, don't have people over," but you have to. She says the same thing, but you have to. So I think it had raspberries, and some icing, and raspberry filling, and some dark chocolate. It was delicious. And my mother made me these cream puffs - I ate the whole freaking tray.

Songfacts: It's your birthday, you can eat whatever you want.

Dean: I ate the whole tray, it's disgusting, I ate like 50 profiteroles and had nightmares all night. I dreamed I was in this castle, and there was this Satanic guy like Aleister Crowley, and he dumped these bodies, he cemented them in at the bottom of this long chimney a million stories up, and later on I had to help somebody excavate it.

This is what happens when you eat 50 profiteroles before you go to bed. It was like an archaeology site, but with Satan.

Songfacts: Archaeology and Satan...

Dean: And cream puffs with chocolate on top.

Songfacts: Were they worth it?

Dean: Oh yeah. But I'm going to eat a carrot before I go to bed tonight.

Songfacts: On the topic of dreams, I interviewed JD Wilkes of the Legendary Shack Shakers, and he mentioned that a lot of the time, the idea for a song will come to him in a dream. Does that ever happen with you?

Dean: Yeah, that has happened. I remember every song where it's ever happened. On the inside covers of the books that I was reading when I went to bed - I'm a ferocious reader, I go through a book every two days, I devour books - whatever it is goes on the inside cover of those books. I have these books that have the titles of songs people know from Ween and from the Dean Ween Group written on the inside of the covers.

Songfacts: What were some of those songs?

Dean: "Pandy Fackler" from the Ween White Pepper album. There's a bunch but that's the one that immediately came to mind, because we just played it the other night on my birthday.

Songfacts: Your new record is amazing.

Dean: Thank you, I'm proud of it. I like it. And I have another Dean Ween Group record that's done, that I really like.

We're playing the stuff live. I'm on a roll. Usually when you get on a writing binge, it dries up, but this one didn't. This one has been going on for a year or two, which is just incredible. Some people freak out when they go through a dry spell, but I don't. I know that's it's just the way it is, it happens. It doesn't have to happen though, and I'm working my butt off.

Songfacts: I was listening to the new album in the car with my daughter, she's 15.

Dean: My son, he's 15.

Songfacts: Yeah, and that's what I wanted to ask you about. The only feedback she gave me was, "Why does he want to go to McDonald's?" [mentioned in the song "Gum."] So I told her I'd ask you about that.

Dean: All kids love McDonald's. It's just a funny song - it's like whatever the opposite of intellectual is. It's like a kid yelling, "I like gum!" Taking your kid to the supermarket and he's grabbing shit and going, "Can we go to McDonald's?"

I'm very proud of it, though. It's just fun.

Songfacts: Does your son listen to your music?

Dean: He does. He totally likes it. I take him to a lot of concerts, so he gets to meet all of the people he listens to. I took him to meet Skrillex, Tom Morello, Kendrick Lamar, so I'm the cool dad. His friends ask him, "Can we meet Les Claypool?" Les and I are like best friends, so I'm like, "Yeah, I'll see if I can swing it." They go up there and end up sitting on the stage while I play with Les.

Songfacts: That's great. When my son was about 12, he got to go backstage at the Orange Peel and sit on the couch where the Beastie Boys sat when they played there a while before that. It's not quite the same, but he thought it was awesome.

Dean: It is awesome, that's great. And I love the Orange Peel. Yeah, my son has all the laminates - it's one of the most rewarding things.

At 15, it's hard. I try to make sure he never gets a raw deal. I'll never forget when he was little, I got called in for a guidance counselor meeting at his school. He hadn't done anything wrong, but I got called in and this fucking guidance counselor told me, "I know your lifestyle is crazy and you're probably not home as much as you want to be," and I was like, "Whoa! Shut your mouth, you don't know anything about us. You're putting my son on a scale, assuming this. Do you know that I'm around more than any other dad? I'm available for my son 24 hours a day, seven days a week, unless I'm on tour, and we don't go away for months at a time. We go for a few days. I've never missed anything, I've never missed a holiday. I tell the manager my schedule."

I pulled my kid out of that school, and he ended up skipping two grades, he's so smart. He's pre-qualified for college now, and he just started 11th grade. I want to find that woman and tell her that. How do you pass judgment on a six-year-old?

I've had a couple really bad things happen over the years. The worst, though: We had our house listed, and these Ween fans came, they found out about it, and they posted these pictures online. My bedroom, my son's room, my guitars, Ween posters... You want to talk about invasion of privacy. I've never been more upset. It was a total violation. We took the house off the market and added on instead. Can you imagine that? My little boy's bedroom, with his baseball trophies.

Songfacts: I'm sorry that happened, it sounds horrible.

Dean: It was horrible, I've never really mentioned it before. That was a low point, though. But it's okay, I'm not scarred from it.

Songfacts: That's good. Listening to your music, I've heard people say that you must be scarred in some way.

Dean: Yeah, we're all scarred from something, right?

Songfacts: Definitely. Tell me about "Exercise Man." I'm pretty sure I know that guy. Was there a specific incident that inspired the song?

Dean: Everybody knows that guy. I am so bummed, because we shot the funniest video in the history of videos, and it's done, but they're doing this color correction today. It should have been up today - it's going to be up tonight probably, or tomorrow, and it's going to go viral. Everyone I've shown it to has made me replay it five times.

I'm the exercise guy with the smoke in my mouth and a beer, on the bike. I almost got arrested. I held up traffic for miles, and Curt Kirkwood from the Meat Puppets flew in to be in it. He plays on it, and we're all in Spandex and our yellow US Postal - it's so funny.

I'm on the bike, jogging, I had traffic stopped. I live in a tourist town and I did it on a Sunday afternoon at like 3 o'clock. There's people flipping me off, I'm taunting them, trying to get in a fight, and it's all real. I made my point.

Songfacts: Who is Garry [From the song "Garry" on The Deaner Album]?

Dean: Garry is Garry Shider, from P-Funk. It's a song that's in the vein of Parliament Funkadelic, and like the song "Dickie Betts," where it's very much in that style, I just figured screw it, I'd put his name on it.

It's a beautiful song on its own merit and that's kind of how I play anyway, so it wasn't really a stretch. He could be alive and I still would have put it on the record and called it "Garry."

Songfacts: I have to ask about Moistboyz. Do you have anything new coming out with them?

Dean: No, Moistboyz are on hold at the moment, but we'll be back. We did have a record done, which is so crazy, but it was just too soon. It was finished, but the same thing happened: I was on a writing binge, and so was Guy [Heller], and it was a really fertile writing period for us. And when that happens, it'll dry up, so you have to keep at it. So right after the fifth album was done, we cut the sixth one, which was even better. The fifth one is my favorite one, and the sixth one is really good. And then life got in the way, and right now we're sitting on a great record, but I don't know. Right now I'm plenty busy with everything.

Songfacts: One more question before we're kicked off the phone: when I talked to Claude [Coleman, Jr., the drummer for Ween], we talked about how crazy the world is, with all the bad things happening, and how music kind of brings people together. Is that one of the things that motivates you to keep making music after 30 years, or is that just a fortunate side effect?

Dean: Yes. Yes, it does. The music means so much to so many people, and I think that when we got back together this year, the realization of it - I was getting the love, and Aaron [Gene Ween] was getting the love, solo, but nothing compared to the love we got when we started loving each other again.

The anecdotes we hear, it's not normal. I think we might have the best fans in the world, or the most dedicated fans. I honestly believe that. I don't think any band gets the level of love that we get. The stories people need to tell you, they need you to hear it, and if you have the time, it's your job to listen to them. I get a lot of sad stories too, and I react accordingly, but it's awesome. It's just fantastic. Every band thinks this about their fans, you know? "Our fans are the best," but they're not. Not like Ween. It's just not possible.

Songfacts: It's like a family.

Dean: It is. It really is.
More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 3

  • Jenny Lou from Vancouver Bc CanadaAmazing interview! Dean you are such a good guy! What a treat to read.
  • Rizzo from OmahaI love Mickey more and more every day. What a great guy and a great interview.
  • Andrew from CaliforniaFantastic interview. I love Ween and I can't begin to tell you how amazing Deaner is to his fans. The level of access he grants us to his thoughts on a semi-regular basis really makes us feel more of a family than a group of strangers that listen to the same band.
see more comments

Stan RidgwaySongwriter Interviews

Go beyond the Wall of Voodoo with this cinematic songwriter.

Adam Young of Owl CitySongwriter Interviews

Is Owl City on a quest for another hit like "Fireflies?" Adam answers that question and explains the influences behind many others.

Danny Clinch: The Art of Rock PhotographySong Writing

One of rock's top photographers talks about artistry in photography, raising funds for a documentary, and enjoying a County Fair with Tom Waits.

Psychedelic LyricsMusic Quiz

Whoa man! Do you know which band came up with these cosmic lyrics?

Tony Banks of GenesisSongwriter Interviews

Genesis' key-man re-examines his solo career and the early days of music video.

Mike CampbellSongwriter Interviews

Mike is lead guitarist with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and co-writer of classic songs like "Boys Of Summer," "Refugee" and "The Heart Of The Matter."