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Mang's Best Friend

"When people meet us, they think we're gonna be shootin' LSD into our eyeballs," Ween guitarist Mickey Melchiondo says. "Or that we're a lot crazier than we actually are. I'm actually a fuckin' sports junkie. And I love military history. That's pretty much exclusively what I read."

As eager to discuss the Middle East as former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens, Melchiondo sounds relaxed from his home in New Hope, Pennsylvania. But the 35-year-old guitar phenom, whose alter ego Dean Ween complements "fraternal" frontman Aaron Freeman, AKA Gene Ween, makes no excuses for any misconceptions that folks might have. Ween's colorfully depraved dossier, after all, includes tales of marathon Scotchgard inhalation and dreams of one day spraying crowds with diarrhea cannons. In other words, the boys like to get brown.

"If you invite me over to stay at your parent's house and I throw up red wine on their carpet, I'm totally brown and you probably never should've counted on me in the first place," Melchiondo explains. "Brown is like embracing your inability to be legit."

Other long-running jokes about stallions and crippling diseases pepper Ween's shape-shifting repertoire — something that has earned the band a cult-like following on par with the Grateful Dead. But such silliness, Melchiondo believes, barely musters a chuckle from most foreigners.

"They don't dwell on the humor part as much," he says. "Like 'Are you trying to do satire or parody?' They just listen to it as music. People say the records play like compilations or mixed tapes or something that could be 16 different bands. But I never really agreed with that. I think Ween has a really specific sound — rhythmically and melodically."

In its early, punk-fueled days, Ween signed with Twin/Tone right out of high school and toured Holland. "We were never in any other bands, and we learned to write and play while we were doing it," Melchiondo says. "As we started to take more drugs, we got slower and slower. From the compound effect of doing that and touring for 17 years, we're in a different place. It's more evil in a lot of ways. But it's not like we're trying to make some record like Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway — trying to top ourselves with these epic things.

"We really don't have any idea of what we're doing," he continues. "We just let it fly. What you get is what comes out. What we release is what we have. But we're never gonna try and re-create something that we already did. At every juncture from record to record, I feel like everyone's gonna hate it."

No doubt 12 Golden Country Hits offended Nashville purists by mocking C&W conventions. White Pepper's straight-faced pop was a far cry from The Pod's crude, lo-fi experimentation. But whether it's slaughtering sacred cows or breaking new ground, Ween always keeps its hardcore fan base guessing. Part of the timeworn formula includes never recording an album in the same place twice.

"Usually we'll rent an office or a house or church and bring everything we have and patch our records together when we have enough good material," Melchiondo says. "The thing that I like about moving from place to place and compiling stuff is that there's no demo versions of the songs. What you're hearing on the record — especially the more gnarly, abrasive Ween — was probably written within an hour of when it was recorded.

"Now we're in this old farmhouse in downtown New Hope that used to be a tractor repair place," he continues. "We're rehearsing and doing stuff for the new record. It's gonna be a lot more fun than Quebec — instead of the fuckin' heavy, Oxycontin vibe or whatever the hell that record has. Our personal lives were totally fucked at that point, and the record sounds like it. But that chapter's closed."

Melchiondo refrains from discussing Ween's canceled tour from the fall of 2004, when an undisclosed member required intervention for unspecified health reasons. Drummer Claude Coleman's near-fatal car accident a year earlier sidelined the band, and parting ways with Elektra left things open ended. On the plus side, Ween launched Chocodog Records, issued a superb collection of unreleased leftovers called Shinola Volume 1, and plans to debut an album by Chris Harford and the Band of Changes next June. There's also an upcoming summer tour with the Flaming Lips.

"I consider myself really fortunate," Melchiondo says. "I've gotten to meet or play with almost everybody that I ever idolized. That's probably the coolest part about being in a band. We get to play fucked-up music and get paid for it. You can't beat that. I still get off on it the same way I did when I was 14."

Ween's youthful indiscretions have certainly come a long way. Consider the band's original, hand-scrawled logo, Boognish, a spiky-haired, grinning demon-god that continues cropping up in the unlikeliest places.

"I got this killer picture from a marine on patrol in Baghdad," Melchiondo relates. "He's in his combat fatigues with an M-16, standing in front of this blown-out palace wall that he spray-painted a Boognish on. The dude's telling me, 'Yeah, I fuckin' go out, and I got all your albums on my iPod.' I don't know what he's doin' — droppin' bombs or something, listening to Ween.

"If I was fighting, I'd fuckin' have Slayer on my headphones," he adds. "That's gotta be some of the best music to get your blood going."

The same could be said for Melchiondo's scorching side project, Moistboyz, which plans to release its first DVD next summer. Tucked away from the noise, however, Melchiondo doesn't consider the Brothers Ween to be particularly famous — especially in a quiet, bed-and-breakfast burg like New Hope.

"We've been here so long, I think that people know my father as the guy who owns the car lot and not as the father of the guy from Ween," Melchiondo admits. "Or they might know me as the dude who pumped gas for eight years. It's not a very big town. I don't think my neighbors even know that I'm in a band."

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John La Briola

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