WEEN at the Sound Academy (formerly the Docks, 11 Polson), Friday (October 27), 9 pm. $30. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
In the course of a crazy career breaking down the bounds of good taste, Ween have hatched their fair share of subversive schemes. But their recent signing to conservative roots music clearinghouse Rounder Records may go down as one of their finest achievements.
It could very well be that no one calling the shots at Rounder is familiar with Ween's more troubling attempts at humour. A more plausible reason for wanting to add the twisted minds of Mickey Melchiondo (Dean Ween) and Aaron Freeman (Gene Ween) to its otherwise earnest roster is that someone high up at the label really liked Ween's 12 Golden Country Greats (Elektra) disc from 1996, unaware that the Nashville recording with veteran Music City sessioneers was a one-off lark orchestrated for their own amusement.
"That's not what happened, but what you've imagined sounds a lot more interesting," says Melchiondo with a chuckle from his Wisconsin hotel room. "This Rounder A&R rep, Dave Godowsky, is a big Ween fan who's been coming to shows and talking to us for a couple of years. It's a great label that we've always respected, and because its parent company is Universal, it has all the same apparatus as any major label. Rounder signed us without even hearing our new album, and we haven't actually met the people who run the label."
Rounder has many of the distribution advantages of a major label, but there are also some disadvantages - seemingly insignificant concessions in control that may not be apparent to artists until long after the deal is signed. There's never been another artist like Ween on Rounder, and that has led to some unexpected challenges for the new relationship.
It didn't take long for a problem to arise with the elaborate machinery geared up to sell their new disc.
"How's this for a marketing plan: they send out advance copies of our new album to 100 journalists, and one of them posts it online, allowing anyone who wants to steal our music to download it for free two months before it hits the streets. That's basically what happened with La Cucaracha.
"Finding out that our album had been leaked online was one of the most emotionally painful experiences I've ever been through. It was like watching someone fuck my wife. I punched the guy in the face who told me what happened. I mean, it took us two fucking years and over $100,000 to record the album without a record label. We had to take out a bank loan to pay for it. To put all that time, effort and money into recording an album only to have it come out in this shitty-sounding MP3 format without any artwork was extremely upsetting."
Unlike many Ween albums, La Cucaracha's songs are unconnected by any thematic or stylistic concept. They range from the bouncy Euro-disco rip Friends (released in lavishly synthed-up form a couple of months ago) to the seriously blunted reggae parable The Fruit Man. Other than the demented mariachi-style opener, Fiesta, there's nothing on the album that fits with the Mexican-themed sleeve art. Ween cultivate that sort of confusion.
"One of the biggest misconceptions people have about Ween is that we sit around saying, 'Wouldn't it be funny if we did this or that kind of a song?' But we really don't discuss those things before writing a song. It might end up turning into a gay disco tune or a reggae song, but it's not something we contrive.
"A lot of Ween songs fit into one category or another, but my favourites are the ones where we accidentally stumble onto something that sounds completely different from anything else we've done, like the song Object. It's like a slow blues thing with a weird vibe. There's no other Ween song like it. Aaron wrote the words , but we can't agree on who wrote the music. He insists he did, but there's no way he'd come up with those chords. It's a very cool, fucked-up song that somehow sounds even more deranged when we play it live."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Dean Ween explains how the sound of La Cucaracha was influenced by the lessons learned during the ordeal of making the Quebec album.
Why the recording of 12 Golden Country Greats remains high on the list of Dean Ween's proudest musical achievements