On a chilly Monday in Washington, Mickey Melchiondo is coughing and laughing while discussing the fortunate life he’s led. The 47-year-old New Hope native known as Dean Ween is charmed, not only because his longtime band — Ween — reunited after several years apart, but because his solo career is in full swing with a sharply cohesive jam-punk effort, Rock, Vol. 2, a completed home studio of his own in Lambertville, N.J., and a live Dean Ween date at the Theater of Living Arts on Friday to show it off. “I haven’t felt this strong and good about everything I’m doing since I was 18 years old,” says Melchiondo.
Much of that vigor comes from the studio Ween has constructed. This sonic man-cave is his private spot where he can do anything. “My wife goes to bed early, as does my son when in school, so I can go there, smoke cigarettes, play guitar loud, and experiment without worrying about bothering them or it costing tons of money. And I always come out with a song. Maybe two.” Having a studio of his own allows Melchiondo to remain close to the area he loves. “I dig being near the water [Delaware Canal] and the ocean of the Jersey Shore,” he says. “It’s beautiful.”
Melchiondo, an avid fisherman with a captain’s license and his own charter operation — Mickey’s Guide Service — did nearly nothing but fish when Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman splintered Ween in 2012 to go solo. “I all but burned myself out on fishing when Ween first broke up,” he says. “When it came time for me to get my head together and make music, I went for that full-force. I tend to take things to the extreme.” By the time Melchiondo’s solo debut was released in 2016 (The Deaner Album), Ween had just reunited and toured, as they will again this summer.
Melchiondo’s first solo album was nervous and all over the place. His new one is confident, cohesive, and more direct — easily applicable to his stage show. “It’s cliché that you have your whole life to make a first record. Well, I spent a lot of time with Deaner trying not to sound like Ween while at the same time acknowledging that I had been half of that writing team. So I was probably insecure,” says Melchiondo.
Melchiondo now has life balance. “That’s weird to hear me say, huh?”
There were two secret weapons up Melchiondo’s jam-band dolmen sleeves on Rock, Vol. 2. First, he called old Studio Red producing pal and Philadelphia expatriate Adam Lasus (Sonic Youth, Lilys, Helium) to engineer the album. “Mickey wanted me to keep everything flowing with his big cast of musicians and friends,” Lasus says from Los Angeles. “When I arrived at Mickey’s studio, I was super-psyched to see amazing recording consoles and a ton of cool vintage recording gear. Mickey made me feel right at home in his clubhouse vibe studio. Plus, it hit me as I was making the record: I’m recording one of the few guitar heroes of my generation. It’s as close to recording Hendrix or Jimmy Page as I will ever get.”
Then there is the co-songwriting contribution of Low Cut Connie’s wiggly frontman, Adam Weiner, on the doe-eyed ballad “Don’t Let the Moon Catch You Crying,” a song Melchiondo originally demoed for Ween’s 2003 album Quebec. Melchiondo had tinkered with it obsessively before handing lyrical duties to Weiner, who contributed to two songs to Deaner. “It was a good song to take a stab at, what with its look at the ups and downs of Mickey and Aaron’s relationship, as well as Mickey’s relationship with his fans, and what I imagined he was going through at that particular moment in his life,” Weiner says while prepping Connie’s new album, Dirty Pictures 2, and a Union Transfer release party for May 17. “That new song we cowrote has heart and a snide sense of humor … just like the best Ween stuff … I love working with Mickey. We work ridiculously fast together … wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am.”
Melchiondo concurs by calling Weiner “Johnny on the Spot” before mentioning how he, along with another new cowriting partner — guitarist Kurt Vile, with whom he’s written four songs for the next Dean Ween album — form a circle of local pals who appreciate what it means to be Philly rockers. “I love those guys and I love my band and I love the fact that we’re getting the chance to play for my hometown on Saturday,” says Melchiondo. “Philly — we’re coming for your ass.”