Ween Takes Indie Road To 'Quebec'
Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.Ween spent most of the previous decade as one of the strangest bands on a major-label roster, recording a series of unclassifiable records for Elektra that included elements of country, rock, psychedelia and classic pop. But while the duo of Aaron "Gene Ween" Freeman and Mickey "Dean Ween" Melchiondo has achieved cult status across the world, its Elektra tenure came and went without a major commercial breakthrough.
If you ask Ween's members, that's just fine with them. "We held up our end of that dysfunctional relationship," Melchiondo admits. "We never contacted them and we never kissed anybody's ass. We probably could have done better if we had, but it's just not our style."
Band and label mutually parted ways following the 2000 release of Ween's fifth studio album for the label, "White Pepper," which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and sold 77,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. Ween's best seller for Elektra, 1994's "Chocolate and Cheese," sold 203,000 copies.
Life-long friends Freeman and Melchiondo then spent more than two years writing the material that would fill its new album, "Quebec." The group considered several label offers, including simply releasing the disc on its own Chocodog imprint, but ultimately opted to ink with Sanctuary, which released "Quebec" on Aug. 5. The album debuted at a career high of No. 81 on The Billboard 200.
"At this point, we don't need a major-label push," Freeman says. "We just need a company that is going to stick around, and if something does get big, they can handle it."
The group is utilizing its newly independent status to develop its own proprietary software, WeenAmp, which will allow fans one-click access to a streaming radio station, chat and message boards and a peer-to-peer service for trading live concerts. Ween manager Greg Frey says WeenAmp will be imminently available for free download from Ween.com.
"It will be everything in one little icon, just constantly updated," Freeman enthuses. "One day, there may be a message from us with a free demo. Or, if we want to sell something, we can do that."
As a teaser to this new world of possibilities, Ween played an all-request live Webcast on July 22 via Weenradio.com, after having taken submissions from its online fan community. "Quebec" was streamed on that site on Aug. 1 and again on the album's release date.
"Quebec" is a veritable tour through Ween's musical multiple personalities. Working with longtime producer Andrew Weiss for the first time since 1997's nautical-themed "The Mollusk," the group pushed itself "to be more experimental," Melchiondo says. "The last record we did with a band, so we were a little bit more organized. On this one, it is just trying things out, because it's mostly Aaron and I playing all the instruments."
Although the set opens with the speed-rock assault "It's Gonna Be a Long Night." a number of tunes spotlight the more serious, tender side of Ween, including the beautiful "Chocolate Town" and "I Don't Want It." Elsewhere, the group returns to its signature psychedelic sound on "The Argus," "Among His Tribe" and the pitch-modulated "Tried and True."
Ween traditionally takes things to the extreme on stage, as evidenced by its two Chocodog-released live albums and an avid fan-taping community. The group began a North American tour July 25 in Pittsburgh that will last through November. European dates are on tap for late this year, followed by a visit to Australia, New Zealand and Japan in early 2004.
Reflecting on this new chapter in the band's history, Freeman says he's proud Ween recorded "Quebec" on its own terms. "We pulled some money together and worked on this record knowing we weren't on Elektra," he says. "Now, we're signed with Sanctuary and we just gave them a full, completed album. That is a good thing."
Excerpted from the Aug. 30, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
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