By Michael Lello
Dean Ween, a founding member of long-running eclectic rock act Ween, has been an avid fisherman his whole life. For the past three years, he’s been running his own charters out of his hometown of New Hope, Pa., and Neptune, N.J. We recently spoke with Dean — real name Mickey Melchiondo — about the lure of the sea, his need to have a major life component away from the band and the current state of Ween.
H81R: How were you introduced to fishing?
DW: My father. We had a house down the shore, and we had a boat — we had a bunch of different boats over the years. He was a fisherman. He got me into it. I think that’s probably how a lot of people start (laughs). I started really young, and I started doing it in on my own. I would go back to the bay side with my rod and reel, and I would fish for blue fish, wing fish, things like that.
H81R: Is it something that stayed with you throughout your whole life, or were there lapses when you’d get away from it?
DW: It has, actually. I’ll get passionate about something for a year or two and then drop it, but fishing is one of the few things — and music – that I’ve stayed with my whole life.
H81R: What is it about fishing that has managed to keep your attention?
DW: I’m a pretty high-anxiety person, I think. It’s one of the few things that I’ll do alone. The only thing I can liken it to is like playing golf. You’re outside in nature for four or five hours, and it’s quiet. I think that’s what it is, I’ve always been prone to anxiety my whole life. It keeps me really in the moment and out of my head.
H81R: What made you pursue becoming a captain and starting your own charter business?
DW:It kind of all came together in one moment. I think I was really upping my game as far as being a fisherman goes. I was spending a lot more time doing it, I was spending a lot more time thinking about it when I was on tour, or looking forward to this and that coming up, and I just saw the opportunity. I hate to sound redundant — anytime that anyone interviews me about this fishing thing, I say this, but it’s the truth, there’s really only one answer. As Ween has gone on, I have found that I need something else in my life, because with Ween there is little to zero separation between it being my hobby and it being my job, you know? It’s something that I love to do, and you try and keep that distance between the two things so it’s never a drag.
It’s important, because it’s a privilege to make a living off of playing music. I kind of forget what the question is, but it becomes important to have another dimension to your life. You can’t just have your work and your family, say for instance. I’m just very fortunate I have this other thing. I have this other thing in my life that I get this same kind of satisfaction out of: it’s my passion, and I’m getting paid for it. And I’m walking the line very carefully making sure that I don’t burn myself out on doing it and remembering why I love it; it’s very much like the band.
H81R: How is business?
DW:It couldn’t be any better, it’s funny. I am booked solid through the entire 2011 calendar year. I don’t have one opening, not one date. Just special events, birthdays, my son’s life, Ween and fishing. I think Ween did 15 gigs last year and I chartered over 100 trips. This year I have over 150.
H81R: Are most of your clients Ween fans?
DW: It started as that. A huge portion of it is still that, but it’s actually extended to customers from tackle shops, recommendations where I don’t even mention that I’m in the band, and it doesn’t even ever come up. And I like that.
H81R: So you sometimes go an entire trip without anyone bringing up Ween?
DW:Yeah, that happens, but I’m like that in life, too. If I’m next to someone on an airplane and the whole band is going to play a festival, I never tell them where I’m going and why. It’s just one of those things. I have a buddy who’s a veterinarian, and every time he tells someone he’s a vet, it just opens up 9,000 questions, you know? You tell someone you’re in a band, and the next inevitable question is, “What kind of music do you play?,” and with Ween that’s an impossible question to answer. The whole thing is just a fucking nightmare so I avoid it.
H81R: You’re in the middle of a spring striped bass run right now. Is that one of the more exciting times of year for you?
DW:Yeah, definitely. We get two migrations, we get the spring migration and we get the fall migration, and that’s the biggest. I hope to get a bigger boat probably by next year and expand my range. I don’t have the range right now to go offshore, and I love that kind of fishing: tuna fishing, shark fishing, billfishing. I’ll probably get more into that next year.
H81R: Do you have a first mate on the boat?
DW: I do. I have a couple guys that work with me. It’s not the same guy every time, I rotate. It depends on what kind fishing I’m doing. For the most part, if it’s just me on the boat and we’re bottom fishing, then it’s just me and my charter. If there’s trolling involved then I’ll bring mate because you can’t run the boat and work the cockpit at the same time.
H81R: Describe the process of getting your captain’s license.
DW:You go to C school, there’s a bunch of different ones now, and you take your exams with the Coast Guard. There’s three different modules to the exam. The process is neat, actually. You learn really cool navigation, chart plotting, celestial navigation. But the reality is, between my electronics on the boat and everyone on the boat having an iPhone, you just use the GPS on your phone (laughs), but it was really cool to learn the old-fashioned way with a pencil and a compass and whatever. But it was neat. I loved the process actually. I spent a whole winter studying for the exams, from late October to I think February, and it was good for me, because I never went to college; the last test I took was the SATs. It was neat, I’d get up every morning, make a cup of coffee, and I would go to the library with my charts and my books (laughs). It was pretty cool. I loved the process more than the end result. The end result was me getting my license, but I really enjoyed the challenge of it.
H81R: One of your fishing videos online was also a pilot for a show on the Versus Network. Did anything come of that?
DW:Yeah, a lot became of that, and not to sound cocky, but that really wasn’t my … It was my concept, but I wasn’t that gung-ho on getting a TV show at this point in my life because I don’t have room for another labor of love in my life. I always say if I could get on after Anthony Bourdain I would do that, you know, at that level. I’ve spoken to people, all sorts of producers and channels, but I’m just not ready right now. My time is filled up between guiding and being in the band, and I couldn’t be any happier with my life the way it is now. To do a TV show would mean making a sacrifice somewhere. I’d have to stop guiding or take the camera crew on tour, and I’m just perfectly content with the way things are. But maybe someday. But yeah, no, a lot did come of that. We had an opportunity to have a show, but the way it works on Versus Network is it’s almost like a pay-to-play thing. You’re responsible for getting the advertisers and all of that, and if I had that kind of energy, it wouldn’t be putting it into that.
H81R: How has guiding changed your lifestyle, for example, your bedtime?
DW:It’s a complete change, all for the better actually. I go to bed when my 10-year-old goes to bed at 8, 8:30, and I get up around 3:30 or 4 in the morning every day. It’s excellent. I got a better tan than Jimmy Buffett (laughs).
H81R: Is there a certain type of fish, like a dream catch, that you’ve been chasing?
DW:Well, more like a dream fishing lifestyle. I definitely have my Hemingway, Zane Grey fantasies. I’d like to live in Key West, that’s where I’d like to retire to. I’d like to do what I’m doing up here down there, though. You know, swordfish, tuna, marlin.
H81R: Do you fish while on Ween tours?
DW:I do. I have travel rods that I bring with me, sometimes I bring my gear if I know we’re going somewhere, and it has to be someplace good for that. I’m not going to fish in the pond in front of the Holiday Inn Express in Cincinnati (laughs). When we go to Australia and New Zealand, I always bring my stuff, I get a lot of invites. That’s been the best part about this whole thing. I have tapped into a whole network of Ween fans that are fisherman or guides or captains, so if our days off fall somewhere that’s really good to fish like Alaska, yeah, then I’m going.
H81R: What is going on with Ween right now? Are you in a break period right now?
DW: No, I wouldn’t call it a break period. We’re in a, I don’t know what the hell you’d call it. We’re in a stage of our career where we’re touring a lot. I don’t really know what to attribute it to. I’ve written and recorded some songs for the new record. I used to think of Ween as totally a studio band, and playing live was something we had to do as part of the job. It was never the part of it that I found more rewarding, I always liked making records more. And I think just the way the industry has gone and whatever, is that we’ve established ourselves as a live band now. We play a two-and-a-half-, three-and-a-half-hour set every night, and it’s really a big deal. It bothers me sometimes, but I think we have a long way to go, so I’m not really sure. It seems like it’s just taking longer and longer between records every time. That might be because of age or whatever; we’ve been around 26 years.
H81R: What else do you have in store with the fishing business?
DW: I have my plate so full that this year I’m going to find out what I’m really made of, how much I really love it. It’s been a process. The first year I did it, I just did the river. I grew up on the Delaware River where I live, so I know the river like the back of my hand. So I did that, and it got boring pretty fast. Then I moved to the saltwater the next year. I found that to be way more compelling. You have better fish in play, the season never ends. Anything can happen out there. We see whales, porpoises, sharks, tuna. I think I’ll probably just let it keep building, you know? Like I said, next year I want to get more into the off-shore stuff, but I don’t have the range on my boat to do it, but I’ll probably just keep ramping it up.
Like I said, this year I’m trying to walk that line between getting burnt out on it. Right now, if I’m getting up at 4 in the morning and it’s midnight, I can hardly fall asleep because I’m so excited to get out there. So hopefully the honeymoon period never goes away (laughs), and for three years I haven’t got tired of it.