That doesn't mean that Coleman has pulled his fingers out of any of the many other projects he has in the works; the ubiquitous musician sports an ever-widening grin as he talks about various albums to which he's contributing (his new album with his band Amandla just wrapped up production), the state-of-the-art rehearsal space he plans to open in his adopted hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, and the fact that he's going to be on the road with Ween, "Not touring, exactly, but we're out there, doing the festival thing. We're definitely playing."
Claude Coleman is a man in constant motion, but he slowed down long enough recently to have a drink or two and fill me on what's new with Ween, how things have changed, and what he's doing to counteract some of the ugliness in the world.
Claude Coleman, Jr.: We're throwing some new tunes into the mix. There are like 120 or so tunes now in our set, and we added about 20 new ones. But a lot of them, we never even got around to. We just played three nights in Denver, three nights in New York, and in those sets, we were chopping songs off spur of the moment, just to go with the flow of the energy.
Just from the sets we constructed and the songs we chopped off, we could probably have done a whole other show. We could probably do four nights. The new tunes are great, and we're just feeding off the energy and enthusiasm and all that jazz.
Songfacts: What new stuff are you playing, exactly?
Claude: We're playing "The Stallion 1," which is one of my top five favorite Ween songs. There are some songs that are just the identity and the definition of Ween, and that's one of them.
We're playing "I Play it Off Legit," all these kind of weird, obscure new cuts that are part of the Ween identity."Pollo Asado," that's a super crowd pleaser. It's great, because we're all kind of our own fans, catering to our own desires.
There's this email thread that's been going around, like "What songs should we add?" and everyone has these songs they want to add. That's kind of the attitude we're approaching it with, really, to make it the most fun for us. There are a lot of die-hards out there, and it helps to separate them from the pack. These fans are standing around like, "Oh my God, they're doing 'Israel!'" and like 75 percent of the fans have no idea what it is. That's for those die-hards and for us - it's really self-serving.
Fast forward a couple decades, and it's clear that the Ween reunion hasn't dampened Claude's desire to play whenever and wherever he can. He continues to perform and record with his band Amandla, where he steps away from the drum kit and into the role of singer/songwriter and guitarist. He has performed with more acts than we can list here, including Eagles of Death Metal and Angelo Moore and the Brand New Step, and frequently plays with the vibes man Mike Dillon, "crushing it," as he would say, in explosive punk-jazz fury.
Songfacts: You guys have been doing this for a long time. I can see how you'd have to play some of your own favorites and keep it fun for you. Playing the same old songs over and older would have to get old.
Claude: It gets really old, and then you fall into a rut with this same batch of tunes that you recycle, and that's no fun. And I think that was part of the struggle and frustration with Aaron [Freeman, also known as Gene Ween]. There was a huge culmination of stuff that contributed to what he was going through, and I think for all of us, it was getting stale. It was frustrating, and we all dealt with it in our own different ways. Some of us needed to kind of medicate to get through it, and that's not cool at all.
When it comes to performance and music, you have to get yourself off first. That's what makes a good show, it's what makes a good performance: this band is like ripping balls, they're freaking out, they're loving it, they're killing each other like it's incredible. It's even cooler when you're doing it for nobody. Like when I play with Mike Dillon, his market is kind of up and down and occasionally there are only like five people there, and we still bring a fucking tsunami. It makes for a really cool thing. You have to enjoy it. No one, that I know anyway, plays music for money. You live with a musician, so you know exactly what I'm talking about: we are so blessed and fortunate and lucky to have earned a living from this. Like, holy cow, knocking on wood. That's not why anyone is doing it. If you're not loving it, there's no point at all.
Songfacts: If you didn't love it, it seems like you'd get burned out really fast. It takes over your life.
Claude: It really does. You have to love the music. So much of it is all-encompassing, and it's more than just the music. It's kind of fun and it kind of isn't. Touring, for instance. That's 24 hours of every day that you have to be somewhere, you have to be available. Whether you're waiting or hurrying up to wait or whatever, it's all of your life, all your energy and time. It's a big deal. You have to want to be there, you have to be cool with it. You have to like it, to love it.
Songfacts: I have to ask you how the reunion came about.
Claude: Mickey [Melchiondo] was doing all these Dean Ween Group shows. It was pretty cool, we were having a lot of fun with those, and I think Mickey was just planning on doing those forever and ever. And I think somehow unconsciously, having Mickey out there doing those shows affected the whole process of them sort of coming back together. We were starting to sell out everywhere. We did this run on the West Coast and we were just crushing it - I think that put a little insidious pressure on Papa Gene.
I'm kind of hypothesizing, but there wasn't any real concerted thing that happened. There wasn't like an instance or moment where it happened. It was a slow, gradual process with Mickey out there playing. A lot of people were like, "What is this? This is four fifths of the band. What's the point?" I think it was the natural pressure of that, and I think it sort of happened on its own.
Another thing too was the management. Mickey and Aaron's managers, Brad Sands and Patrick Jordan, worked closely together. So there's a lot of this in-family jostling around, and again it was like this insidious, subtle nudging and pressure on those two. Having the same company and managers kind of brought them together, and everything kind of fell in line. It's kind of super-insidious and super-incestuous. They did great work, Patrick and Brad are both great guys, and they brought it together.
Songfacts: How are things different now than they were before?
Claude: It's a little more formal now, for us. Backstage is really tight. It's a dry backstage, and there's a lot less nonsense now. I think that makes the whole thing more professional, sort of formal. Another thing that's lending itself to that feeling is that we're rehearsing a lot, which we never really used to do because Mickey and Aaron hated rehearsing. Now they love it because they can see the benefits of it. For the Denver shows, we rehearsed seven days straight, every day, in the afternoons before the shows, in the arena, and I think it really showed. We just crushed it.
So that makes a difference: We're into rehearsing. It's a given now that we have to rehearse. And when we get together, there's this new revived energy about it all. It's pretty badass.
We'd been doing it for so long, you know? Then we took three-and-a-half years off and when we got back together, it was just like, "Hey, what's up?" and then we were playing again. It wasn't much different than that, just the way we went about it was a lot more careful, more considerate and thoughtful. It's a more purposeful thing now, and it's good. It's a great thing. That's not to say that we take ourselves seriously, but we take ourselves a little more seriously now.
Songfacts: Are you all writing any new songs?
Claude: Mickey's writing a ton. He's got a record coming out on his own and he's writing more music for that, for the Dean Ween Group. I don't know what Aaron's doing. I think maybe in another six months or so with all this playing, it might spark some kind of creative fire for them and maybe they'll start making some music again. I can't say that they're not writing new stuff for Ween, but I don't think it's there yet. That's a longer process. Us coming back together and gigging is where we are now. Those two being in a room together day after day, there's a little rekindling that has to happen. It takes some time.
Songfacts: So no plans for a new Ween album anytime soon?
Claude: No, I can't really say that, but I'm not the first to know this stuff. Not that that's a bad thing, but if there are any plans, I don't know about it. I'm pretty positive there's not, though.
Songfacts: My friend Mike started this campaign a while back, trying to get Ween to make a Christmas album. What are your thoughts on that?
Claude: There's a huge market for that. Yeah, a Christmas album, and a kids' record, we should do that. Around Christmas we should do a Christmas and a kids' record. One for the family, one for the kids.
Songfacts: Do you think a kids' album would work? Ween kind of has that silliness already, that off-the-wall sound that kids seem to love.
Claude: Kids love Ween. I don't know the percentages exactly, but it has to be at least 5 percent kids at most of our shows. There are always like one or two infants, and a lot of kids. So yeah, why not?
Songfacts: So aside from the shows with Ween, what are you doing these days? Have you played with Eagles of Death Metal at all recently?
Claude: No, I haven't played with them in a while. I think they have a new record out. They've been touring, and for the moment, I'm okay with not being there. The stuff that happened with them in Paris was sort of like a near-death experience. It was weird, it was oddly traumatic for me. Our sound guy for Ween, Kirk Miller, also does sound for them, and he got offered that tour. He didn't do it, he had another engagement.
It was scary as fuck. That's the first time that's ever happened to me, in our world, in our context. The world feels kind of unsafe, and it totally upped the ante in terms of anxiety. That could have been anyone - anyone you know, any band. I was in that venue a few years ago. I was in France with the Eagles [of Death Metal] two years before. It could be anybody.
It was super scary. Those guys are so dear to me, the guitar player, Dave [Catching], I was getting minute-by-minute updates on his whereabouts, his status, and finally when I heard from him he was like, "You know, this is the first time I was really thankful you weren't with Eagles of Death Metal."
The band made it out, but it was scary as hell waiting to hear.
Songfacts: It was terrifying. And I keep hearing, keep saying, that with all the bad stuff happening, we need to keep the music going. It gives us a place to focus on the good. How do you think the music you create helps make the world a little less scary?
Claude: I think that's definitely true. We need to keep that focus on what's good, the music and the art that's out there. One of the most common things I keep hearing about us coming back together is like, "The world is terrible, awful things are happening, but Ween is back, so it's all okay." Or, "Thank God Ween is back, I can handle this now."
It's like all this stuff is surrounding us, let us at least have this context of joy and of coolness, a little humanity in this cauldron of chaos. It's really sad out there sometimes. Let's just rock hard and do it. Keep the good stuff going.
Claude: It's a beautiful song. Beautiful, yeah. I've done a lot of work this past year that I'd forgotten about, and that was one of them. I think I've played on like eight records and they're all popping out now, one by one. I did a record with a guy named Mike Savino and a band called Tall Tall Trees - they're from Brooklyn. I did one with a band called Skunk Ruckus here in Asheville. But yeah, the Angelo stuff is beautiful, and I just want to get more out. I want to get my stuff out. I feel like I'm fighting, in battle, to get the part of me out that I feel needs to be out. But I'm having fun, I'm playing with Mike Dillon a lot - he's the next person I need to make a record with. Playing with him is the most fun I've ever had. His shows are insane - it's like punk jazz, super energy, a lot of drums. I play a lot of notes. What's not to like about it?
July 1, 2016
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