Aaron Freeman, the artist formerly known as Gene Ween, announced in May that Ween is splitting up, marking the end of a 25-year legacy of depravity. The news came shortly after releasing his first "solo" album, Marvelous Clouds, a collection of cover songs by '60s/'70s Beat poet and songwriter Rod McKuen. Although Freeman's former bandmate Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo) has remained largely silent — outside of posting on Facebook that the breakup "is news to me, all I can say for now I guess" — Freeman has moved forward. With a guitar in hand, he's heading South with Ween bassist Dave Dreiwitz and Mitch Marcus on keyboards to play a handful of songs from Marvelous Clouds, some Ween tunes, and a few covers as well. But first, Freeman took a few minutes to reflect on aging gracefully, killing Gene Ween to save himself, and easing into a solo career.
You're looking healthy, somewhat stately in your recent press photos.
Aaron Freeman: Thanks, we took those before I went into rehab, so I was wasted on drugs all the time back then. Going to rehab was good, though. I feel a lot better, and when you're my age, you see people cross over into their age. You get this new look about you around your late 30s. Mortality!
In 2009, the Gene Ween band played Atlanta and I assumed it was a test flight for your first solo record, but Marvelous Clouds is something different altogether. Is there a proper Aaron Freeman album in the cards?
Yeah, there will be. What's weird is that a lot of what I was playing back then I wrote with Mickey, so to use most of those songs would be disrespectful to the Ween name.
Was it difficult separating yourself from the perceived Gene Ween character and releasing a record using your real name?
Very difficult. If you knew me, you'd see that I'm an overly sensitive person in certain ways. That guy in Ween was so radically different from who I am at home that the transformation got to be pretty scary sometimes. When dealing with that, you can lose touch with who you are, which can be really detrimental, unless you have a hard skin and can compartmentalize every aspect of your life. I'm not like that, so I have to take heavy measures to be who I am. Marvelous Clouds is a gentle record; it's easygoing, and at this point in my life that's what I need. Part of me still carries rage and angst, but one needs to find balance in life.
Marvelous Clouds is a different direction for you, but not a huge leap from more recent Ween songs like "Sweetheart" or "Your Party."
I've always wanted to embrace getting older — use a saxophone if need be. The producer, Ben Vaughn, picked the songs for Marvelous Clouds. The only one I picked is "Pushing the Clouds Away." Ben had a hunch that I'd get into it, and saw the similarities between me and Rod McKuen. I clicked with the music immediately; the way the cadences, melodies, rhythms, and this-and-that work together. I felt comfortable enough reproducing them as demos that I thought it would be a cool project.
I've thought of Marvelous Clouds as your sacrificial lamb — a symbolic offering that clears the way for something that's wholly Aaron Freeman.
Absolutely. I've known for a while that I needed to shed the Gene Ween thing for my own health reasons. Leaving Ween has been really fucking intense, but ... Paul McCartney made his first solo record before leaving the Beatles. I couldn't bring myself to do that because Ween is part of me; every song that I've written since I was 15 years old has been for Ween. With Marvelous Clouds I didn't have to confront certain fears of starting anew with solo music. It's a simple project with simple songs that I could embellish and use to get one foot in the door for a new chapter in my life. Now I feel like I've done that and I'm out of Gene Ween mode — although I know that I will forever be the guy from Ween, and I embrace that with love.