Song Writing

Claude Coleman, Jr. of Ween

by April Fox

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Ween aren't exactly one of those bands that "burst on to the scene," as they say. They sort of crept up on the world from some basement in New Jersey, expanding like a weird fecund sonic blob, gathering musicians and spawning fans as they went, until the two-guys-and-a-drum-machine thing was a full-blown band, playing to packed arenas and massive festival audiences.

One of the musicians they scooped up along the way was drummer Claude Coleman, Jr. He's been there since Ween moved beyond Gene, Dean and the drum machine, providing the diverse and driving drumbeat to the band's vast catalog of songs. While not their primary songwriter, Coleman has some unique insight and entertaining stories about the songs that Ween is known and loved for.

We caught up with Claude on his front porch, and over a light breakfast of coffee and energy drinks, he shared some of those stories with us, along with a little bit about where he's been, where he's headed, and what he's doing now, since Ween went to that great brown gig in the sky.
April Fox (Songfacts): What are the most challenging songs you played with Ween? You played a variety of things, from thrash metal to country.

Claude Coleman, Jr.: They're all a challenge to me. I don't take any songs for granted. A song that sounds simple is usually really complicated, it has a lot of subtleties to it that a lot of people don't see or hear immediately. Even a song that might not be the most technically complicated sort of thing to play physically might be challenging on another level.

It can be challenging to get the vibe right, the groove right. A slow song can be difficult if you're too amped up for your show. Also, a lot of them came from a drum machine originally, so I'm replicating that, as a human. That's not to blow off your question at all, it's just that they're all challenging in their own right, and I take them all seriously.

Songfacts: Are there any that stand out, that when you played them for the first time, you were like, "I totally kicked ass on that?"

Claude: Yeah, we did the White Pepper record as a full band; I think it's the only record that has every member of the band playing on every single song. It was a real group effort, and so on that one, since I was playing every tune, I got more chances to step out and explore what I could do, as opposed to just playing the demos.

I like what I did on "Even if You Don't," and "She's Your Baby" I'm really really proud of. That's one I did with brushes, and I'm really proud of the subtlety and the style I put to it. I love that style of drumming, the sort of invisible transparent kind you can kind of hear but don't really hear. You're not really paying attention to it, they're just part of the fabric of the song, and they just disappear into this loveliness, you know? That song, I'm pretty proud of.

"Even if You Don't" is a pretty rockin' performance, on my end. Every time I hear it, I'm always like, "That doesn't even sound like me, man, that's cool. It's pretty badass."

A Brief History of Ween

1984: Ween is formed in New Hope, PA. The band consists of Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman, performing under the names Dean and Gene Ween, and an electronic tape machine.

January 1990: GodWeenSatan is released on Twin/Tone Records.

1991: The Pod is released on ShimmyDisc Records.

1992: Claude Coleman, Jr. starts playing songs with Ween.

March 1994: Claude Coleman, Jr. joins the band full time.

April 1997: Dave Dreiwitz and Glenn McClelland join the band on bass and keyboards, respectively.

2000: Ween launches the internet station WeenRadio.

2001: Ween creates their own record label, Chocodog Records.

August 2002: Claude Coleman, Jr. breaks his back and pelvis in a car accident. The band organized several benefits to help pay his medical expenses.

December 2002: Coleman returns to the stage, playing an acoustic show with Freeman.

2003: Ween sign to Sanctuary Records and release Quebec, considered their darkest album.

May 2012: Aaron Freeman announces that he is "retiring Gene Ween," with the intent of focusing on his sobriety. Mickey Melchiondo forms the Dean Ween Group and continues to tour, while Freeman performs solo until 2014. Coleman continues to play in a variety of projects, including his band Amandla. Dave Dreiwitz continues to perform in several bands, including the drum and bass duo Crescent Moon. Glenn McClelland currently performs with Blood, Sweat and Tears.
Songfacts: I saw you play about a month ago, and before you came out, the people next to me were screaming their heads off, screaming your name. Obviously, what you do resonates with fans. Are there any songs that you feel like the fans really connect with, more than others?

Claude: Everyone connects to the tunes in their own way, and when you get a huge group of people, you have these little pockets of people who are connecting to particular songs. As far as the songs that appeal to everyone, across the board, that have the whole house singing, "Blarneystone" is a good one. All those anthemic jams that we do that are just like crowd sing-alongs, there are lots of them.For some reason, "Piss Up a Rope" is very popular. It has a strong cross-appeal to it for some reason. What's interesting now is that we're doing these Dean Ween Group shows, without Aaron. Mickey's singing a lot of Aaron's songs, but then the crowd for the most part sings all the rest of them, which is really great. It's really great for Mickey, he really likes that, so then he doesn't have to sing too much. It's almost like every tune really resonates with people.

Not to brush off your question, but we could play song after song after song and have everyone singing along, right up to the guitar solo, and then singing the guitar solo. That speaks to Mickey's guitar playing. It's pretty amazing.

Songfacts: Are there any songs that you're just sick of playing?

Claude: Yeah. "Poop Ship Destroyer" I got really tired of playing. It seems to always go on too long, no matter how short it is. I kind of grew weary of it, even though I enjoyed it for the most part. I can't remember ever looking at the setlist and going "Argh, I don't want to play that." If anything, I was always eager to get on to the next song.

I was lucky like that, you know? Ween was the greatest thing to be a part of. It was a dream come true: we were self-sufficient, we were successful, sustaining ourselves as musicians, as a career, but to be doing it with them, the most creative people in the world, making record after record after brilliant record, it was just so much fun. It was so fulfilling on so many levels, especially to earn a living doing that. To be part of that creativity and part of that energy, it was killer, you know? It was an amazing experience.

Songfacts: How did you hook up with Ween? I know at first it was just the two of them, so where did you end up in there?

Claude: I dropped out of my first year of college. I was in music school, and I was always in four or five bands, like I still am today. Some of them were signed, some of them weren't, and one of the bands was called Skunk. We got signed to Twin/Tone Records, and our producer was a man named Andrew Weiss, who used to play with Henry Rollins Band. Andrew was putting out all the Ween tapes - before they were signed, they put everything out on cassette, and they were like local cult darlings.

So when we got signed to Twin/Tone Records, we had a showcase party in the basement of our bass player's house, who lived with his mom in Maplewood, New Jersey. It was just us, our A&R guy, and we had Ween open up for us. When we finished up that show, Twin/Tone signed them, pretty much on the spot. Skunk made a couple records, went on tour, and then when that band broke up, I just found myself hanging out a lot with those guys [Ween].

I had nothing to do, I was like 22. You know when you're like this nomadic, lost transient, trying to figure it out, thinking you know what you're doing but you have no clue, no plans, no future that you know of at least? I was just aimless, hanging out with those dudes. They did that one record, God Ween Satan, and then they went to a label called Shimmy Disc, run by Mark Kramer. It was his idea to make Ween a band. He convinced them to make a band, instead of just being these two principal players or whatever, and I just happened to be a drummer, hanging around their house, so I just fell into it. It was as simple as that.

Songfacts: I read something that said there are a lot of Ween songs that reference different members of the band, and one that it said made reference to you is my favorite Ween song, "Waving My Dick in the Wind." What's that about?

Claude: As far as I know, that's about absolutely nothing at all. It's complete nonsense. A lot of Ween songs have very shallow meanings. Mickey will tell you himself, it's all very low-brow shit. You can look for a lot of depth and meaning and purpose behind all that stuff, just because it's kind of confusing and off-kilter, but most of the time it means absolutely nothing.

"Waving My Dick in the Wind" to me is just sort of silly, goofy nonsense. Having said that, as long as I've known Aaron, and all the songs he's written, every once in a while I'll ask him, "Dude, what's that shit about?" and he'll be like, "Oh, well that's about God." So I'm guessing that it doesn't mean much, but it could have come from some experience that they had or someone they were thinking about that inspired them to write it.

It's not really about me, though. Jimmy Wilson is just a name. Jimmy is what we call all our friends, like "Hey, what's up Jimmy, how's it going, James?" So [for the song] they just gave Jimmy a last name, and since Jimmy's doing the dance and I'm the drummer, I think the misconception is that I'm Jimmy Wilson. But it's not really about me, it's not because of me. As far as I know, anyway. It might be. I do know a couple songs that are about me. There's one beautiful tune called "I Don't Want to Leave You on the Farm." It's on the country record, I believe [12 Golden Country Greats], and Aaron said he wrote that song about me. We left on a tour and I was miserable because I left my girlfriend back home, so he wrote that tune for me. I can't remember the others, but not "Waving My Dick in the Wind."

Songfacts: So what are you up to now? You're in Asheville [North Carolina] now, how did you end up here?

Claude: Well, Ween sort of broke up, I got divorced, and I made the decision to leave New Jersey, where I had grown up. Asheville was on my short list of places to go, along with Cali and Austin, Texas. I decided to come here, to make this my home base, so to speak.

I've had friends moving down here for the past 5 or 10 years, so I decided to try it out. It's totally my speed, and it seemed like the perfect place to regroup and find my grounding again. I also came here to do my group Amandla, because I had just finished the record that I had been recording for the last year and a half. My guitar player lives here; Asheville has a pretty excellent crop of players.

Songfacts: You don't play drums in Amandla.

Claude: No, I play guitar. I'm a singing guitar player, which is a lot of fun for a drummer. I think we're going to have a really great record.

Songfacts: Is there anything else you want to say about the songs? Any that you wrote?

Claude: Yeah, there's a song called "Put the Coke on My Dick." Ween were making The Mollusk, and what they used to do when they made records is they would rent houses and put themselves in these isolated environments. So for The Mollusk, they rented this house directly in the sand on the water in the wintertime in New Jersey, so there was nobody else there. Late one night, I was down there and Mickey had that jam going. I wrote the lyrics to it and played the guitar - I played the guitar solo on it.

I don't know how I came up with the lyrics "Put the coke on my dick," but it seemed really obvious for the music. I remember singing it. They put me outside on the back deck, just to isolate it. So I'm outside on the water in the middle of winter, the wind is blowing like 30 miles an hour, it's like minus 10 degrees, and so I did it in one take and got the fuck off the deck. That's the story of that. It doesn't come from any real experience, or any kind of fetish.

Songfacts: Any other good stories?

Claude: Yeah, there's this song called "Candi," off the record Chocolate and Cheese. Mickey put Aaron in the trunk and drove around the parking lot, and he's screaming and he's singing, and if you listen to that tune, that's him screaming and being bumped around in the dark trunk.

Songfacts: Didn't you record something recently for Angelo, from Fishbone?

Claude: Yeah, Angelo Moore has this project called the Brand New Step. They're making a record, and I was lucky enough to play on a tune that they sent me. I did a pretty cool thing, but I want to do it again, try another approach. It's just such a great song, I want to give it another shot and see what happens.

And then I have to record some other stuff, with someone else. I've been really busy, I've been blessed like that. It's been getting busier and busier which is great. I just love music so much, I love being here, and loving music as much as I do, this is such a perfect fit for me. I do five to six projects at once; I have to, just to feel normal, especially now that there's no regular Ween.

Ween was like every band in the world, so when Ween broke up, when that ended, I need like seven bands to make up for that. I need a country band, I need a heavy band, I need my soul funky jazz band, I just need it all. Hopefully when Amandla gets up and running, that's going to take over that purpose for me and will satisfy me on a bunch of different levels. I'll probably always play in like five different bands, but hopefully when that gets going, I won't feel like I have to.

Songfacts: Ween were good like that. Whatever you were in the mood for, they had it covered.

Claude: Yeah, they were good like that. It was a full service meal. Definitely a full service meal.

July 2, 2015
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Comments: 1

  • Jimmy from Hamilton OntarioWhy has no one commented? Claude is such an interesting f--ker, always seems to be smiling and joking between and during songs on stage. What a lucky bunch of guys to have each other. I will be going to check into Amandla. Thanks for the insightful interview, I bet it was fun.
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