When Aaron Freeman, better known as Gene Ween, is reached by phone on a recent afternoon, he's in his native Pennsylvania and driving to rehearse with his band, Ween, and says he can't talk. Less than an hour later, Mickey Melchiondo, aka Dean Ween, answers his cell phone while at the aforementioned rehearsal. He can talk because, apparently, the practice session is already over.
As far as interviews and the arrangement thereof goes, this is strange, but for Ween, the band that made strange a career, this is probably business as usual. But still, a question remains, what happened to that rehearsal?
"Our practices are a travesty. I mean, we've been in Ween for like 25 years and have had the same band for like 13 or 14 years, so it's not like anyone forgets how 'Fat Lenny' goes or anything like that. We just get together to make sure we haven't forgotten how to rock. I don't know, as the years go by we do less and less practices and they're shorter and shorter and shorter. I think we played for about 40 minutes today," says Melchiondo.
A lot of bands, and a lot of good bands, don't really rehearse for tours, but to know that Ween can deliver their shows, which often clock in around three hours and hit on every genre this side of polka, this is remarkable. The band's last record, 2007's La Cucaracha, bounces from mariachi to techno to reggae to arena rock to the quirky and faux-sexy lounge sounds of the album's wrap-up track, the cult favorite "Your Party." They can really play anything - as evidenced by the fact that they recorded a full country album in 1996 and also recorded songs for episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants.
Melchiondo insists the almost impossibly diverse collection found on a Ween album isn't calculated. In other words, the band's records aren't intentionally schizophrenic.
"We write a lot of songs when we do a record, like a hundred. Then me, Aaron and Andrew Weiss, the producer, make a 'definitely yes' list, and then a 'maybe' list and then we'll record maybe 16 songs," he says, "But no, it's not conscious. We don't say like, 'Oh, country needs to be represented.' That would be just f**king lame, ya know? Whatever the best songs are make it."
But here's where it gets even more impressive, Melchiondo says he captures, almost always impeccably, the conventions of these genres without really ever listening to modern music.
"To be completely honest with you I don't listen to f**kin' music at all anymore. I play the music trivia machine at the bar and any question after like 1991, I have no idea who the hell they're even talking about. There's bands that I've still haven't ever heard, like the Pixies or the White Stripes," he says.
That's right, the co-leader of a high-profile rock band has never heard the music of the Pixies or the White Stripes and he doesn't seem to be bothered by this fact one bit, fitting perfectly with Ween's longstanding reputation as an outsider of sorts in the rock and roll world. In fact, when the band plays festivals, as they will at Outside Lands in San Francisco, two days after kicking off a West Coast Tour here in Bend, they don't stick around and shoot the shit with other bands. They show up, play their set, and move on, hopefully back to a headlining show in front of the devoted legions of fans that Melchionodo showers endlessly with a reverent style of praise during this interview. When I mention the Ween logos spray-painted in various spots around the greater Bend area, he takes a moment to applaud Bend as "beautiful and totally happening" and recalls how the last time the band played the Les Schwab Amphitheater, fans came out in droves.
So it seems that Ween, two and a half decades into existence, doesn't especially care about its standing in the realm of popular music, which currently reads something like, "The Most Bizarre Band in Rock" even if Melchiondo finds nothing... at all... bizarre about his band.
"I don't think of it as bizarre," he says, "I just think of it as music I would want to listen to."
5pm doors, 6:30 show. Friday, August 28. Les Schwab Amphitheater, 344 SW Shevlin Hixon Dr. $33. Tickets available at the Ticket Mill or ticketmaster.com.