Life wasn't so sweet for Gene Ween in 2011. In fact, it was pretty sour, hitting a tragic low at a concert in Vancouver, during which the former Ween front man mostly lay sprawled across the stage floor, incorrectly mumbling his own lyrics, his band eventually abandoning him onstage.
The drug-induced meltdown ultimately became the impetus for two life-altering decisions: After 25 years playing alongside guitarist Mickey Melchiondo (AKA Dean Ween), the artist, born Aaron Freeman, first quit Ween and then got sober.
The songwriter, 44, who now operates under his given name, leads a comparatively low-ley, drug-free life in New York's Catskills. He sits on his home's outdoor porch as we discuss his new album, simply titled Freeman. His first solo work since Ween's disbanding, the record's opener, "Covert Discretion," acknowledges the "elephant in the room" boldly and instantly.
"Shit got real," Freeman says of the brazen track, initially written "shortly after that Vancouver thing."
"I tried to make it as honest as I possibly could," he explains. "I thought about what it would be like if a child was trying to explain something like that experience -- straight-up and honest, with no 'spin' like adults add, to make stories cooler.
"If the song stops you in your tracks," he says, "Then I've done my job."
After successfully completing a rehabilitation program in Arizona, the singer moved to Woodstock for a peaceful change of scenery. There, he teaches children's vocal lessons at the Paul Green Academy of Rock.
"I'm teaching them a bunch of punk-rock songs," he laughs. "It's nice working with kids, so ready to learn. They take you out of your 'space.'"
Having simplified his name and surroundings, the Pennsylvania native continued that freer modus while writing Freeman.
"I wanted to keep it simple," he says. "No overproduction, no overcompensating -- just me and the acoustic guitar I wrote the songs on. I even went back after recording and dumbed down songs' lyrics, so they were even more accessible."
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Freeman's lyrics touch on the guitarist's quest for sobriety and his decision to disband Ween, a move he knows rattled the band's faithful fanbase.
"I couldn't do it anymore," he reasons. "I had to take care of myself. If I carry that stigma [of blame], then that's OK, but I did it for the betterment of Ween's legacy -- whether anybody believes me or not. I wanted to preserve Ween as it was."
"I liken us to a couple that broke up: things go wrong," he compares, "But if a relationship still isn't working after you try enough times, you end it, for the betterment of both parties...even if the other person pretends they don't 'get' it.
"They'll get it at some point. I made the first move," he adds. "And I'm really happy I did."
He closes the door on discussing his former bandmate, politely but quickly.
"Uh... I don't want to answer that," Freeman says. "It's too much. There's a lot of personal stuff between Mickey and me that I will never talk about."
Scaling back, Freeman even altered the Ween Web site, which is still active but edited.
"The Web site had all this extra stuff," he recalls. "My photography link, Mickey's fishing link...Now, it's just the records. I had it all torn down, because I wanted people to concentrate on our songs.
"I love those records," he insists. "At the end of the day, it really is all about the music. Mickey and I will each keep playing music, and that will be that. All this fluff will be forgotten, and the music will remain."
Freeman performs tonight at Fitzgerald's with special guest Arc Iris. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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