Aaron Freeman is best known as Gene Ween, the singing half of alternative rock duo Ween. With a stunningly versatile repertoire and oddball lyrical content (see “Flies on My Dick” and “The HIV Song”), Gene and Dean Ween earned a cult following throughout the late ’80s and ’90s, even scoring an improbable hit in 1992 with “Push th’ Little Daisies” off of their major-label debut, Pure Guava.
Considering Ween’s whacko lyrics, it’s probably futile to wonder why Freeman, who is performing at Blackbird Ordinary on Thursday night, answered my emailed interview questions with eye-crossing new age jibber jabber — and, strangely, a snippet of his own lyrics. What isn’t futile, however, is Freeman’s first solo effort, an album of Rod McKuen covers called Marvelous Clouds that came out last year after he did a stint in an Arizona rehab facility to tackle a substance-abuse problem. While Freeman’s answers don’t provide as much insight into the new album as I’d hoped, they read like a Ween song sounds: melodic, derisive, insane. Consider yourself warned.
When Ween released 12 Golden Country Classics, it was the first time you guys focused on a single genre — at least on record. Marvelous Clouds finds you focusing on a single songwriter. Does restricting your palette make songwriting easier?
Aaron Freeman: I’ve always felt as though palate restrictions were relevant when trying to relate. The quest in Marvelous Clouds was an interpretation, a personal filter from the view of my own artistic sensibilities. Relaying a type of master class in any musical form always requires certain limits, but to confine yet emulate the honest qualities of any form usually makes the polarities intersect nicely.
What is it about Rod McKuen’s songs that made you decide to dedicate your entire solo debut to covering them? Did past general criticisms of McKuen as a second-rate sentimentalist attract you?
AF: There were no decisions to be made upon making Marvelous Clouds, only a universal agreement between the soul of Rod McKuen and my own.
Ween songs pair stellar, earnest musicianship with funny lyrics and/or bizarre deliveries. Is your interpretation of McKuen’s “Pushing the Clouds Away” tongue-in-cheek or a sentiment you related to during your recovery?
AF: The concept of tongue and cheek seems to come from an analytical, God-less point of interpretation. The human quality that conceives deep creation, soul movement, and emotion is where I have come from artistically since birth. It is a tender place, vulnerable and willing. Something that must be nurtured and held tight like that of a newborn child.
Listening to your voice on a non-Ween record makes it clear how important your voice is to Ween’s sound. Do you think of yourself as a vocalist or someone forced into that role?
AF: My voice is the Ween sound as I am part of the Bognine, the qualities of good and evil, the Gener to the Deaner and so forth.
What was your favorite Ween record to make?
AF: Always a pleasure to serve, from the cortex to emancipation, I have never wavered.
Is Ween dead or just in a coma?
AF: I’m the commander of time in my vessel of God, I go through the rift, to the palace of ice. [Ed. Note: These are lyrics from Ween’s song “The Rift”]
Here’s the Miami Music Guide listing for the show:
Notes: Aaron Freeman, aka Gene Ween, returns to South Florida completely sober for the first time in a looooong time and with his first solo record in tow. Marvelous Clouds, Freeman’s debut album, is also a covers album, a pressure-free tribute to Rod McCuen, an obscure but oft-covered songwriter from the 1960s. Without having to worry about drumming up enough original material of his own, Freeman’s foray into non-Ween production is also a buffer that allowed him to concentrate on getting clean. The result is a remarkably Ween-like collection of songs that expertly dilly dally into unexpected genres while layering lightheartedness upon depressing and heavy themes.