By John Figlesthaler
Aaron Freeman, formerly known as Gene Ween, was one half of the band of bastard brainchildren that were, for the better chunk of the past three decades, known as Ween. Slithering their way out of a hazy New Hope, Pennsylvania bedroom making hallucinogenic recordings about anything and everything in any and every style, Ween grabbed alternative music by the balls and created an infected cult with pure genius and irreverence.
Unleashing 11 studio albums, several live offerings and a fat handful of home four-track recordings, Ween stood for all that was good about evil, dick jokes and the total mastery of controlled chaos. They can’t be caged by any one genre; they played them all with authentic vigor.
As you’d expect, there were also drugs, alcohol and way too much of both—pretty much a necessity for Ween to exist as the rock ‘n’ roll darlings of the fanatically inebriated. Gene Ween was sucked deep into the throes of addiction, bringing Aaron Freeman with him, eventually causing the band to implode.
After this well-documented breakup, Freeman sought treatment in Arizona in order to shake his demons. Clean and clearheaded, he has since relocated to Woodstock, New York, where he teaches kids how to let it rip at the Paul Green Rock Academy. He also just released FREEMAN, his first solo album of original material and a huge breath of fresh air in today’s artificial alternative landscape.
Having seen Ween many times over the years, in venues ranging from mid-size theaters to massive outdoor festivals, it was a relief to see the FREEMAN release show within the intimate confines of a crowded Mercury Lounge in New York. Consisting almost entirely of 30-ish to middle-aged dudes that clearly have been riding the swerving Ween bandwagon for years, the crowd welcomed the second coming of Aaron Freeman while slurring out song requests from all corners of his bizarre body of work.
Unperturbed by the crowd’s calls for old songs, Freeman was in the highest (naturally) of spirits. Featuring favorite Ween songs from the past while lacing in material from the new album, the show was a display of cohesive splendor. Energized, optimistic and backed by a band of young dudes who he’d never played live with before, Freeman had clearly shaken off the cocaine cobwebs and was dead set on nailing song after song. Cruising from classics like “The Stallion Pt. 1” and “Exactly Where I’m At” right into new tunes such as “Golden Monkey” and “(For a While) I Couldn’t Play My Guitar Like a Man,” Freeman spilled out a nearly two hour set, seamlessly.
Both at the show and on the new record, it’s obvious that sobriety hasn’t dragged Freeman’s songwriting into a place of mundane mediocrity.
“The last thing I ever want to do is make a record where I’m gripping and dealing with sobriety,” Freeman said. “Because you know, I listen to fucking oldies sometimes. The kind of music I listen to, nobody wants to really listen to the struggles with your life too much…they just want a poppy song and a melody. And that’s what I like.
“As soon as my brain, and my soul and the universe was ready, these songs came spitting out…and they’re just fun things that I’ve collected and seen,” Freeman continued. “I love talking about the universe, sociology, religion and spirituality and things like that; it was just really great to be able to concentrate on it with a clear mind and put it down. It’s kind of like a journal record.”
Furthermore, FREEMAN took inspiration from Freeman’s new gig teaching kids at the Paul Green Rock Academy. “All of a sudden, I’m giving these voice lessons everyday and I’m teaching the kids Led Zeppelin songs or Who songs and just all this classic stuff, and I’m teaching guitar and it has nothing to do with Ween. I found myself singing all day and I found myself playing guitar all day and there was this wonderful, youthful innocence going on and that kind of broke me out of the whole Ween breakup drama and all of a sudden it happened for me. It clicked in my head: ‘Oh, this is what music is, just singing and playing guitar and making you feel good.’ And that’s why the kids are doing it and that’s why I’m doing it.”
When it comes to returning to touring – that notorious traveling circus of vice – Freeman sounds cool and collected about remaining unpolluted by his former demons. Echoing the sentiments of the new album’s opener, “Covert Discretion,” Freeman’s been out of his mind a million times and now just wants to zone in on the music, entertain and have a good time. Autobiographical and cathartic, the song reaches back to the drug-induced alienation that riddled Gene Ween. After hitting the bottom and bouncing back up, Aaron Freeman has emerged, done with the bullshit and ready to play beautifully bizarre music.
“There’s definitely going to be more music to come,” Freeman said. “I feel like I broke through and now I can write more. I’m an entertainer and I’ll entertain you. And we’ll all be happy with it, I’m sure.”