Ween: Weird as Ever with 'La Cucaracha' Dean and Gene Ween are two of the oddest characters in alternative rock. Whether singing about a Mexican restaurant menu or the drudgery of spinal meningitis, the duo has compiled a discography of music that leaves some confused, others enraptured. Their latest is La Cucaracha.
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Ween: Weird as Ever with 'La Cucaracha'

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Ween: Weird as Ever with 'La Cucaracha'

Ween: Weird as Ever with 'La Cucaracha'

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We close the show today with a bit of weirdness from the band known as Ween.

(Soundbite of song, "Push Th' Little Daisies")

WEEN (Group): (Singing) Push th little daisies and make em come up. Push th little daisies and make em come up.

SEABROOK: This is Ween's biggest hit, a 1993-single called "Push Th' Little Daisies." If you missed out on their particular brand of absurdity, Ween has been entertaining the inner juvenile and a great many of us since the 1980s, back when they were juveniles themselves. They formed the band as high school kids in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

Since then, Ween has been compared to rock's original eccentric, Frank Zappa, proving that expert musicianship and a sense of humor need not be mutually exclusive. And if their comedians lyrically, then musically, they're chameleons. Any given Ween album can contain reggae jams or progressive rock, space out or a country western hoedown.

(Soundbite of song "Learnin' to Love")

WEEN (Group): (Singing) Learnin to love, lovin to learn. I have to get to that (unintelligible). The key horse on the high way, laid down in the (unintelligible) long shot.

SEABROOK: Now, Ween is back with a new CD called "La Cucaracha." Founding members Dean and Gene Ween joins me from Los Angeles.

And I've first to ask why they named themselves Ween? Were they using the Middle English word, meaning to think or believe? Perhaps it was taken from a work of Orwell or Asimov.

Mr. MICHAEL MELCHIONDO (Dean Ween): It's a cross between wuss and peen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MELCHIONDO: I mean the fact that - and, you know, at 15 years old it seemed perfect.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MELCHIONDO: Right. Yeah.

Mr. AARON FREEMAN (Gene Ween): Yeah. And I never thought we'd have to answer for that name…


Mr. FREEMAN: …for the name at 37 years old.

SEABROOK: Well, you guys grew up being Ween.

Mr. FREEMAN: Yeah.

SEABROOK: And different things are funny to a 15-year-old than to a 37-year-old, right?


Mr. MELCHIONDO: Yeah. But if you listen to our records. I mean, it's pretty much just, you know, any given Ween record will just be about where we're at in our life. This new record approaches subjects like having fun with your wife at the party, probably couldn't have written about when we were 15.

Mr. FREEMAN: We've always joked about, you know, how Paul McCartney and Neil Young, you know, write songs about their wives and their dogs, you know? All of the sudden they're country homes. I think this is like a preemptive strike. So I expect you to (unintelligible).

Mr. MELCHIONDO: But we're trying to do it.

Mr. FREEMAN: Yeah.

Mr. MELCHIONDO: Do to them before they do to us.

Mr. FREEMAN: We're trying to do it to them before it happens to us, actually.

(Soundbite of song, "Your Party")

WEEN: (Singing) There were (unintelligible) laid out for the party. There were candy and spices and tri-colored pastas. The meat carved was choked from succulent juices, served on platter of the purest gold.

SEABROOK: And you even have smooth jazz saxophonist, David Sanborn on this song.

Mr. FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.

SEABROOK: Was he along the joke here?

Mr. FREEMAN: Oh, I don't think there is really a joke. I mean, when push comes to shove, we do take our songs seriously, you know, this is the all-just-a-scene or giggling into with the microphone. So we took "Your Party" as serious as a heart attack when we're recording it.

Mr. MELCHIONDO: I remember when Aaron brought it to the studio - that's Gene Ween…


Mr. MELCHIONDO: You know, it was like a Thursday night and they played it for me and it sounded like something from the "Year of the Cat" by Al Stewart, you know? It didn't start at all like a smooth jazz then. And then we recorded the demo of it that night and it sounded like the Chili Peppers, and it was sort of all wrong.

But we knew the song was good. We kind of just kept working with it and we kept sort of smoothing it out. You just sort of let the song, you know, guide you, you know, and do what's best to serve it. That's when the best songs happen I think, you know. When you start without any point of reference and then it just sort of happens. You make something along the way by accident.

SEABROOK: I want to talk about another song here. Let's just play this. The song is called "Fiesta."

(Soundbite of song "Fiesta")

SEABROOK: A stranger described this song to somebody. And I called it a mariachi orgy.

Mr. FREEMAN: There's a really simple reason for this song's existence. We bought this Roland keyboard that has all of these horn sounds on it that are some of the best and worst horns, like obviously fake horn sound. And it's like inspired three or four different songs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: I mean, you can actually hear that vibrato, that (unintelligible), you can hear it going faster on the upper notes.

Mr. FREEMAN: Yeah.

SEABROOK: And slower on the lower notes. It's like an old Casio keyboard.

(Soundbite of song "Fiesta")

SEABROOK: And I read that for this album, you actually didn't use any standard recording techniques. And you also weren't in a studio either. You weren't in some, like, chromatically sealed soundproof box.

Mr. FREEMAN: No, we were in our old farmhouse that we rent.


Mr. MELCHIONDO: The moldy old farmhouse.

SEABROOK: Yes. That's what I read. That you were scared to touch your children after going in there.

Mr. MELCHIONDO: I'm still having respiratory problems from it, I think.


SEABROOK: Why do you - what does it look like? Why did you record there if you end up with spores in your lungs.

Mr. MELCHIONDO: We have no choice.

Mr. FREEMAN: It looks like something out of a horror movie. The paint is peeling. And there's cobwebs. And when we first came in and got the heater working, bats flew out of all the chimneys. The roof was leaking so there was black mold, you know? It was horrible. And that's basically where we worked for two years.

Mr. MELCHIONDO: Five days a week.

Mr. FREEMAN: You think it's easy being in Ween. It's not easy being Ween.

SEABROOK: And while you guys were in this old ramshackle house, you wrote 50 songs before deciding which ones will go in the CD. And there are only 13 on this CD.

Mr. FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.


Mr. FREEMAN: Yeah. It was a bloody mess.


SEABROOK: How do you decide what to go in the album?

Mr. FREEMAN: It happens the same the way every time it's - you know, we worked very closely with our producer, Andrew Weiss. He's been producing us since we were teenagers. And he says okay, what songs are on everybody's definitely-not list. Immediately, we'll eliminate, like, you know, whatever, a dozen, 15 songs. And he's like, okay, what songs are on everybody's definitely-yes list. The maybe-list is always the biggest part. The final step of the process is figuring out which songs work the best together as a whole album. And then the album sort of reveals itself.

SEABROOK: Well, it mean - in this day and age…


SEABROOK: …you could just release them all. I mean, what's the problem?

Mr. MELCHIONDO: Yeah. You know, that's a good point.

Mr. FREEMAN: I think we're very old fashioned about our albums. I don't think bands are as album-oriented anymore. I think it's like the age where people go to iTunes and get their two favorite songs. I think we've come from more of the idea of the album as a whole, you know, the sequence and the flow of it and the art work and all that. I mean, I still miss vinyl LP, so I'm kind of a dinosaur.

SEABROOK: Dinosaurs at 37.

Mr. FREEMAN: Totally.

SEABROOK: Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman, better known as Dean and Gene Ween. Thank you very much for talking to us.

Mr. MELCHIONDO: Thank you.

Mr. FREEMAN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song "Blue Balloon")

WEEN: (Singing) As she bounces through the blue sky, everybody's building up a big, blue balloon. They made the string from fairy wings and golden dreams. See how high it goes, no one knows about the blue balloon.

SEABROOK: You can hear a few songs of Ween's new CD at npr.org/music.

Now, these parting words today from another great absurdist, surrealist Salvador Dali. He said those who do not want to imitate anything produce nothing.

That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News for today. I'm Andrea Seabrook. Have a great week.

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