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Spin The Black Circle: Talking Records with Dean Ween

Spin The Black Circle: Talking Records with Dean Ween

“I never had that relationship with my CDs and certainly not with MP3s.”

“I talk a lot,” says Mickey Melchiondo, the man known to much of the world as Dean Ween and to some of the globe as Mickey Moist. “That’s what makes me a good interview.”

Though we’re primarily here to discuss the Dean Ween Group’s The Deaner Album, the conversation winds through a number of passageways, including the joy Melchiondo has found in reuniting with his musical gear and his full vinyl collection. It’s all ultimately connected: The house, the family, the reunited band, the solo offering.

The last had its origins in an unexpected change in direction within the artist’s personal and professional life. It remains a matter of opinion whether Ween ended, as Melchiondo refers to the group’s four-plus-year silence as both a break and break-up. It is a fact that Melchiondo moved into new digs just outside New Hope, Pennsylvania around the time that Ween was mothballed in 2012. He’d planned to get down to work on two records at his new home: a new disc from Moistboyz, his metal-flecked collaboration with Guy Heller, and a Dean Ween LP.

That didn’t last long.

“I couldn’t focus on two projects at once,” Melchiondo says. “You have to commit yourself completely to an idea, so I deep-sixed the Dean Ween record for a little while and made Moistboyz V.” A cycle of touring followed before Melchiondo got down to building a studio at his home base. Dubbing it the Forever Studio, the musician built the space from the ground up, working on the Dean Ween Group effort as time allowed.

The Forever Studio wasn’t just about having a place to go and write and record; it was also about uniting all of his musical belongings under one roof. “Every piece of equipment I’ve ever owned is in here,” he says. “That was the worst part in the past: I’d spent so much money on cool pedals and guitars but they’d always been somewhere in storage or in my garage. Now, they’re all here. If I’m working on a track and I want to throw on a flanger, I have 20 vintage flangers to choose from. I can’t begin to tell you how all that just helps the creative process.”

The integration of gear and other music-related artefacts left him with greater personal satisfaction. Not the least of that satisfaction is pride of ownership. He adds that the building also affords him a new sense of privacy.

“You don’t ever want to have to stop what you’re doing because the neighbors are complaining,” he says. “With Ween, sometimes we’d take anything out of desperation, knowing that noise was going to be a problem. We’d have a neighbor three feet of sheetrock away. You just hope that you have enough time to make your record before you get thrown out. With where we are now, we could probably play outside at three in the morning and not get a complaint.”

The new space also accommodates Melchiondo’s vast vinyl collection. “That was a watershed moment, moving it all out of storage,” he says. “I worked at great record stores growing up and I’m a music nut, so reconnecting with my vinyl was important. That’s my real record collection—not what’s on my iTunes or on CD.”

This vinyl archive has also inspired the musician to rediscover music from his formative years, reminding him of the importance that one’s musical library plays in personal identity.

“Ween’s original label was Twin/Tone,” he points out. The imprint had launched the careers of Soul Asylum and The Replacements in the ‘80s and, in 1990, issued Ween’s God Ween Satan. Dave Ayers, the group’s A&R rep at Twin/Tone was then involved with a woman who watched over Prince’s apartment during his pre-Paisley Park days. “He had six albums,” Melchiondo says. “Boston’s first record, then Don’t Look Back, a Sly [Stone] record, an Earth, Wind and Fire record and then some other prog thing. I just thought it was funny that Prince would have all the Boston records and it makes perfect sense in some sick way. I mean, those Boston records set a certain bar for production.”

Melchiondo’s own collection is much vaster than the six albums in Prince’s apartment. Working as an appraiser for the Princeton Record Exchange in New Jersey (a position, he adds, his son currently holds), he had access to a wide range of releases, including more than 100 Miles Davis recordings and a variety of Beatles pressings. “Even though I worshiped those records and I have about 30,000 in my collection, there’s still a process of discovery going on with them,” he says. “You could own all of Bob Dylan’s records and find diamonds on every one, even the born again ones or the bad ‘80s ones. Going through the collection has been a real kick in the ass. In a good way.”

There is also, he offers, an aesthetic consideration to having all those LPs on hand. “They look pretty in the house,” he says, “as shallow as that sounds. It’s floor-to-ceiling racks of records. People like to come over and just go through my records. There’s embarrassing stuff in there, but that’s part of having a record collection,” he says. One might be surprised to find as much Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (OMD) as one could want or a lot of New Order. “I have a lot of Echo and the Bunnymen,” for example, ”whatever I was into and buying on the day it came out.”

“They have stories too,” Melchiondo adds, pointing to the 1983 self-titled debut from the Violent Femmes, issued on the Slash imprint that was home to The Blasters, Fear and X. “I remember Trenton State College radio playing ‘Blister in the Sun’ or ‘Kiss Off,’ one of the big songs from that record,” he says, “and I got it the day it came out. You don’t forget that. I see the album and I remember the day I bought it. I never had that relationship with my CDs and certainly not with MP3s.”

If one were to wander through the Melchiondo collection, they would certainly find records from the Allman Brothers Band. The Deaner Album opens with a salute to ABB guitarist Dickie Betts on a track that bears not just his name but evidence that Melchiondo has a firm grasp on the elder musician’s sunny, major pentatonic leads and melodies, as well as Betts’ appreciation for the thin lines between blues, jazz and country.

“I was lucky, I got to see the Allman Brothers Band a lot with Dickey Betts,” Melchiondo notes. “I couldn’t believe it when they fired him, though I don’t know what goes on in the inner workings of that band. But, I mean, ‘Blue Sky’ and ‘Jessica,’ all those songs. They helped me find my musical voice. They’re part of my musical vocabulary. I don’t think Dickey gets his props. I’ve seen the Allmans without him and there’s a hole.”

Among the treasures on The Deaner Album is “Mercedes Benz,” issued as the record’s first single. Owing a debt to classic funk music, the track is a kiss-off to fair weather friends amid deeply soulful guitar and a vocal performance deeply in tune with Melchiondo’s best work.

As important as the likes of the Allmans and others were, Melchiondo points to one influence much closer to home.

“My father had very interesting musical taste. I don’t come from a musical family. Nobody played anything, but I do come from a family with great taste in music,” Melchiondo offers. “My father’s record collection was very bizarre. He was a child of the ‘50s, really. He was of the opinion that rock ‘n’ roll was ruined by the likes of The Dave Clark Five and Herman’s Hermits. The Beatles? He gives them some leeway because everybody loves The Beatles. But his collection was doo-wop, which is what he really loved, and then really great country, like Hank Sr., Willie, George Jones. He had those records and then he had funk records. Good ones, really good ones: Kool and the Gang, Earth, Wind and Fire, Parliament. But we’re talking about 33 records. Like any kid, that was my first exposure to music. My dad would sing us ‘Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia’ at bedtime. He could also sing all The Coasters’ songs. Really American, that’s the best way to put it.”

In that mix came a deep appreciation for soul and funk music, which made its way into his guitar playing. Growing up with a deep love of Hendrix, Melchiondo was frustrated by the lack of players who had the Washington native’s sense of fire and soul. “Stevie Ray Vaughan did not cut it for me as the next best thing,” he says. “I discovered the guitars of Funkadelic and Ernie Isley, that style of Stratocasters through Marshalls. Psychedelic but soulful. It was exactly what I was looking for.”

The sounds resonated with the budding musician, though he found it difficult to lay his hands on lasting examples of the sounds he loved. “P-Funk records were hard to get,” he says. “They weren’t expensive but you had to work to find them. I remember driving to Quakertown, Pennsylvania to get a copy of One Nation Under a Groove or Cosmic Slop or Standing on the Verge of Getting it On. You had to work for it.”

A drive that takes roughly 45 minutes by car was of course sending the musician a greater distance in terms of what he discovering and how far those records would ultimately carry him in his professional life.

“The first record I went all that way for was The Dickies,” he says. “The Incredible Shrinking Dickies was out on A&M and there was a yellow vinyl copy of it. I remember having somebody with a car drive me hours to get it. The store held it for me at the counter. Now, I go on YouTube and I look up Funkadelic’s Cosmic Slop and there it is. But I think it’s important to have to work for it.”

With that, our time is up. Melchiondo will soon be on the line with another writer, discussing an upcoming range of activities. When it all winds down he’ll no doubt return to the vast stretches of records at home, his mind searching for some new combination, his hands seeking to find something he’d forgotten about, if only momentarily.

        1 Comment on this Post

        1. Anonymous

          Thanks Jedd!

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