Photo by FRANCO VOGT
BY CLAYTON RUSSELL It was a sad day when I learned that Aaron Freeman, AKA Gene Ween of the beloved experimental rock band Ween, had parted ways with his old bandmates. After many years of living the rock n’ roll party animal lifestyle, Aaron decided that something needed to change. He got sober and came to realize that the only way he was going to stay that way was working with sober people. Hence, Freeman, his new band, was born. They play a sold out show at Johnny Brenda’s in support of their wonderful self-titled debut album. Last week, we got Aaron on the phone. DISCUSSED: The end of Ween; getting sober; the Kabbalah; Hendrix; weed; James Michener; mushrooms; El Shaddai; Dean Ween; Buddhist monks and what comes next.
PHAWKER: Let’s start with the elephant in the room, why did Ween break up?
AARON FREEMAN: [laughs] It’s really simple. Lets see, I stopped drinking and the rest of the band was definitely not gonna stop drinking and partying. It wasn’t that dramatic. When you sober up things need to change. You don’t just walk back into party central. That was it, nobody’s fault, that’s just the way it is.
PHAWKER: Listening to “Covert Discretion,” from the new album, it sounds like your final days in the band were pretty grim.
AARON FREEMAN: Yeah it was, man, it was grim for a while. You know, you hit bottom, and I hit bottom a lot. I really hit bottom in Vancouver and it took me a while to even fucking address that show in my brain. “Covert Discretion” just came out real quick and if you know me, you know I kinda love that shit. Like if I’m gonna go for it and be honest, I’m gonna do it 110%, my father said never do anything half-ass. So I went for it, I’ve been playing it and people love it. It’s very cathartic for me and other people.
PHAWKER: Calling the band Freeman, is that a way of distancing yourself from the Gene Ween persona?
AARON FREEMAN: Yeah, I’m not gonna leave Ween and call myself Gene Ween. I have more respect for Ween than that. I see Ween as a thing that I did for my whole life. So if I’m gonna part ways with it, the healthiest thing to do is to use my own name. Otherwise it would be like if you break up with somebody but you still screw them every now and then. It’s weird.
PHAWKER: What was the turning point that made you get sober?
AARON FREEMAN: Nothing, I mean if you know about addiction, my story is no different than anyone’s story. I guess a lot of people don’t know about it, actually.
PHAWKER: Actually, my father just got out of rehab for alcoholism.
AARON FREEMAN: Did he really?
PHAWKER: Yeah, he was gone for three months and he’s back now and he’s been sober for 120 days, so things are looking up.
AARON FREEMAN: That’s good man, when you’re that deep into it, you know it’s gonna be fucking intense to get out of it. At home it was a nightmare, and you lose track of who you are. You wake up and you’re hungover, you drink to get the hangover out and then you’re drunk again. Some people are more susceptible to it than others, and I think it’s a brain thing. My fucking brain synapses were just firing all over the place, but not in a way that was helpful. You know, I tried to get sober in rehab like four times and it didn’t work. And that was partly because of the lifestyle I was living, I’d go back into Ween live and I was a lone soldier there trying to stay sober in a fucking drug-alcohol-fucking-groupie-party-every-night-like-it’s friday-night-til-you-drop scene. I couldn’t sustain that, nobody could. So that was it, I got really lucky and I found a really good rehab in Arizona and the most important thing was going away for another five months and it was kind of a sober living situation. That’s really the way to do it because your fucking brain is fried for the first months after you get sober. So that really helped, after like four months of living in this community, my brain got clear enough to see the whole picture and what I was doing with family and all that stuff, so I just went for it.
PHAWKER: Ween is a very drug-identified band and now that you’re sober do you have any regrets about being so explicit about drug use in songs and interviews?
AARON FREEMAN: No. [laughs] No, I’m not that much of an asshole. It’s so funny people just assume you can’t talk about it or you can’t address your past because it’s just not where you’re at. But no, I love drugs, I loved drugs back when the drugs still worked. For Mickey and I that was probably in the early 90s when we were smoking tons of weed and taking lots of acid and mushrooms, that really helps your creativity. Or at it did for me. I would suggest to a lot of people, younger people, if you’re gonna smoke weed, smoke weed and listen to some Hendrix. That’s a really important part of growing up. [laughs] And actually the shows I’m doing now are more fucking drugged out than anything I did in Ween. So it’s a little ironic, when you get sober it’s not that you lose that. It’s permanent, I’m perma-stoned, which is cool.
PHAWKER: You mentioned in the press materials that Kabbalah readings and James A. Michener’s The Source helped get you through a dark time, can you elaborate on that? I’m not very familiar with either book.
AARON FREEMAN: The Source is just a great book, it was inspired by El Shaddai, and it’s just about ancient Jewish civilization and I love the history of that. I think what really helped me was a Buddhist monk and her name is Pema Chödrön. AndIi really listened to her a lot before I was about to go into rehab, and she helped me a lot. She brought it back to focusing on yourself and where you’re at and feeling your own energy.
PHAWKER: You’ve been at this like 30 years now, what keeps you going?
AARON FREEMAN: I love writing songs and completing a song. It’s like the best feeling in the world. My songwriting hasn’t changed one bit. And the stuff that I groove on is the same stuff that I’ve always grooved on. So I really don’t think there’s that much difference [between Freeman and Ween], I mean Mickey’s absence is gonna change things. We’re not doing “My Own Bare Hands” and stuff like that, real classic Mickey songs, but my songs haven’t changed at all. This is just Chapter 2. I might have changed my lifestyle but I didn’t stop making music.