As guitar intensive as Ween’s solo debut is, he still puts a premium on songcraft. “Without a song, you’ve got nothing,” he says. Here, he strips his music to the essence with a Guild acoustic.
What amps do you use live?
I use a Fender Super-Sonic 100, and I use a 4x12 Fender cab. And for bar gigs I use my Fender DeVille combo. I have two or three of them. I was a Boogie guy, but after years of playing through Rectifiers and Mark IVs, I just found that it was too generic of a sound. I didn’t like the gain of it as much as I like the Fender gain. It’s more round. I’m not a gearhead, but this is a guitar magazine and this is fun to talk about!
Lindy Fralin pickups changed my life. As I cut my volume for rhythm guitar, like to 3, say, Lindy Fralin pickups help the high end stay there. You know what I mean? It adjusts naturally.
I had Lindy, for my Les Paul, take a volume and tone knob out. Both pickups are on one volume knob. I don’t know why no one ever did that. I love my Les Paul, but I can’t deal with two volume knobs onstage. When I asked Lindy if that was possible, he laughed! He was like, “Dude, you’re the only person that’s ever asked me. I do it to every one of my Les Pauls.” And he hooked me up. Suddenly the Paul became a part of my rig.
Does Fralin custom-wind the pickups for you?
Yeah. They’re expensive, but they’re worth every penny. And I would have it no other way. I don’t want free shit from someone that’s a master. He really stands behind his shit. And you hear it. Anyone that picks up my guitar goes, “Dude, I love this thing!”
How are your newer guitar-forward tunes translating to your live shows?
It’s the biggest rush in the world, man. Totally. I mean my chops have never been better than they are right now. I’ve been playing for about two years, every day and every night. I’m either rehearsing, recording, or gigging. And you know when you get to that point, you don’t want to let it go at all. You don’t want that shit to get dull.
It’s very important to not put the guitar down for too long. It’s important to put it down for a little while, if it’s a conscious decision. But to set it down for real, for a long time like I did? Well, I’ll never do that again.
I used to be real sensitive to how a guitar was set up. Now it doesn’t even matter. I’ve played so many guitars, I have so many guitars here, and I switch them up on the road to make myself play differently sometimes. Like one night, or just before a tour, I’ll say, “Bring the Paul out,” or “Grab the Strat and the Teles.”
What was it like making the adjustment from doing your thing in Ween to being the frontman in the Dean Ween Group?
It was hard, but you know, you get confident. Playing against a push-pull thing with your vocals and your guitar ... I’m getting better at it.
The best thing about that with the Dean Ween Group is that I have my whole band sing, and we really work on it. Even with the Ween stuff, it’s great. We’re covering a lot more parts that Aaron sang on the records. Since the DWG got together, I’ve noticed that it’s helped Ween immensely, with Dave Dreiwitz [bass], Glenn McClelland [keys], and Claude Coleman [drums] all on the mic. [Editor’s note: All three also perform with Ween.] And we sound good. I never thought I would say that. My voice hasn’t sounded good since I was 13 in high school chorus.
Did that fall together naturally or was it something you focused on?
Both. We worked on it at rehearsal and onstage. But we’re still getting better. I learned a million little tricks on the guitar, but you can really work a microphone, you know? There are masters of it: Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye. You get a little further back and sing something from your throat. You can sing something from your belly, and when you scream “yeah,” it should be from your toes, you know?
Do you prefer the creativity of working in your studio or the energy of a live show?
There used to be no contest. All I wanted to do is make records. I thought Ween was going to be anonymous from the start. And then when we got signed, we went on tour and found that we were a really good live band. Over the years I found that it takes a crowd to get me to the next level. We can jam here in the rehearsal room, but put me in a room full of people and I'll elevate my game. So I love them both, but it’s like choosing a favorite kid to me.
You recently built your own recording studio. What influence did that have on The Deaner Album?
Well, I started this record, like, four years ago. I brought my other band, the Moistboyz, from Austin to work on our fifth album and the Dean Ween Group record at the same time. And it was a very bad plan. There was no focus. It was like, “Whoa! What song goes on which record?” They all sounded like the Moistboyz, because we’re cowriting together.
So I put my record on the back burner and put my best foot forward for the Moistboyz. When that was done and the dust settled, I got an opportunity to build a studio in my home town. Then it was time to get serious about my record. I had a few tunes, but coming in here was basically a restart, so the studio really inspired the record, I would say.
I ended up with my dream studio. I own it. We built it from the ground up—every nail, every stud, with all the considerations you’d want. Comfort, vibe, soundproofing, big live room … you know? A beautiful control room, a kitchen, lounge, big flat-screen TVs, Pro Tools, an API console, and a tape machine—everything that I ever would want. The live room has a full PA and side fills for rehearsal. And it’s all miked up so we can record it through the API to have a studio-sounding album.
Coming into The Deaner Album, you spoke about finding a new creative place where you were really on fire.
Yeah. I still got it going, man. I’ve been writing on the road, which I never have done in the past. It’s like I’m usually too busy or I’m just not in that headspace. But when you are hearing melodies and you are writing riffs, you got to get that shit down. Because when you aren’t writing, you’re going to have this huge catalog of stuff to go out and start playing on tour. And that inspires you again. And then all of a sudden you’re back.
We actually already have a second record that’s better than the first one. It’s done. I can’t wait to put it out. And by the time we do get it out, hopefully I would have written more tunes.
Any idea when that album will come out?
Nah. I don’t want to muzzle the first one or beat people over the head with one right on its heels. And Ween is going. So I’m plenty busy.
Any plans for new music with Ween?
Not at the moment. That’s all I can say.
What is it about the guitar that still inspires you to pick it up today?
The fact that I don’t know anything. I would love to be able to play like Django. I’d love to be able to play like Eddie Van Halen. I mean, there’s so much out there. I’ve developed my style and my tendencies, and I have my influences, but there’s so much more to conquer. And you never know when it’s going to hit you.
Like, Willie Nelson doesn’t get nearly enough props for his guitar playing. The guitar playing is beautiful and singular. He plays a classical Martin, which is what I have. More than steel strings, that’s what I like to play. I saw him recently, and I came home and I just couldn’t wait to get my hands on mine.
You know Eddie Van Halen wishes he could play like Django. You got your thing, and that’s great and all. But you can never stop learning. And when you stop searching, then you’re fucked. You know?
The Dean Ween Group meets the Meat Puppets in the guitar-mad video for “The Exercise Man,” a tune stoked by Ween-esque humor and abundant hooks. The highlight comes about a minute in, when Dean, on a Telecaster, and the Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood, picking a Les Paul, trade dizzy solos as the camera zooms in on their fingers.