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INTERVIEW: Aaron Freeman Moves On From Gene Ween

By Casey Moffitt in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 23, 2014 3:50PM

photo credit Franco Vogt

There was a time when Aaron Freeman was better known as Gene Ween.

"Of course Gene Ween isn't dead," he reassured us. "That's a ridiculous question. I'm not aggressive about it or anything. I just prefer to be called Aaron Freeman now. I'll play a show and someone will call out, 'Gene,' or 'Gener!' I'm not going to get pissed off about it or anything."

But Freeman has moved on. He's formed a new band, called Freeman, which has just released a self-titled debut album and embarking on the first tour with this new act, which comes to Lincoln Hall Wednesday night. Freeman is the first time the former Ween frontman has released an album of original material since Ween's La Cucaracha was released seven years ago.

"This is a landmark for me," he said. "Breaking up with Ween was fucking tough and I didn't know what was going to happen. I could go do whatever, but I already was thinking about other songs and stuff. I'm a songwriter, and I'll be doing it for the rest of my life."

Freeman went through what he described as a "seven-year dry spell," but a flood of songs came to him during a songwriting spree.

"I'm living in Woodstock now, and I've been there for about a year," he explained. "I can sit on my back porch and see the hills and the trees, some squirrels and deer. So I just sat on my porch and wrote all these songs on an acoustic guitar I've had since I was 20-years-old. It took me three weeks to write all these songs."

"It's a simple record, really," he said of the new album. "It's just me writing songs. That's always been my thing."

Freeman has a lot of elements to it that Ween fans will appreciate, including impish humor, great and unusual mixing and odd tones. It sounds great and there are a lot of solid songs ranging from ballads to slow-burning blues jams to country tinged tunes.

"I'll play a show and someone will call out, 'Gene,' or 'Gener!' I'm not going to get pissed off about it or anything."
Of course a lot has happened to Freeman since La Cucracha was released and Freeman lays it all out on the new album. He has gone sober after what he confirmed was an "ah-ha" moment during an onstage meltdown in Vancouver in 2011. Freeman wound up lying on the stage, seemingly in his own world, while the rest of the band eventually walked off.

"You don't blow it on stage, lying on your back, screaming nonsense in front of 5,000 people and not try to change something," he said. "Chances are when you're doing something like that, you've got to do something differently."

Freeman starts the new album confronting that incident in the lead-off track "Covert Discretions."

"Anybody who knows me knows that I write songs autobiographically," he said. "That song really couldn't have fit anywhere else on the record. You couldn't put it on the end. It's a great song to clear the air and just get on with life."

Although the song is dark and dramatic, it still oozes Freeman's off-kilter sense of humor.

"I mean, come on. 'Fuck you all/I've got a reason to live/And I'm never going to die?'" he said. "I'm not taking myself so seriously. I mean, of course I'm going to die. We're all going to die. It's hilarious."

Dealing with his recovery is a theme that runs throughout the album, as well as his spirituality. "(For a While) I Couldn't Play My Guitar Like a Man" is another song delving into the theme of going sober and coming back to create music. Freeman said he it took a lot of work to get back playing and writing songs after going through rehab and cleaning up.

"It's purely a neurological thing," he explained. "When you roast your brain for so long, it's like being in a coma. When you come out, you have to relearn everything. As far as playing, it's just technique. Nothing has changed creatively, but just my guitar playing and shit. I had to relearn the guitar, but I learned different ways to play it. I've learned my scales and been able to retain them for more than 10 minutes. My voice is a lot stronger, and I'm not distracted."

2014.09.22.freemancover.jpg Freeman said he had hit on that particular song early in his journey into sobriety.

"Sometimes when I write a song, I start with a title and work around that," he said. "I wrote that one line, 'For a while I couldn't play my guitar like a man,' about three weeks after rehab. I was still recording things on my phone. A lot of it was really fucked up. I couldn't understand most of it when I played it back. It was like, you would hear a guitar chord, and then (unintelligible mumbling). Then another chord and, 'For a while I couldn't play my guitar like a man.' Then another chord, and it shuts off. But I really liked that line, so I kept it and wrote a song around it."

Part of the reason it took Freeman so long to produce another album was just to get himself together, and learn to live a sober lifestyle.

"If I tried to write a record the first six months after rehab, it would suck," he said. "It shouldn't even be attempted because your brain is still fried. So I waited until sobriety didn't consume my life - until it was a normal thing."

Freeman said he's excited to show off his new band and new songs on the road.

"This show is undeniable. It goes all over the place," he said. "There's some electric stuff with the whole band and there's some ballads. People won't leave dissatisfied. If they are dissatisfied, I'll let them know. I'll really test their patience."

Freeman said he plans to tour through the spring, and then he will tend to a publishing endeavor with BMG. Also, he anticipates helping filmmaker Chris Buly, who is working on a Ween documentary, Boognish Rising.

"I've talked to him about it, I've donated to it and I'll probably do an interview for it," Freeman said. "He's amassed so much footage. A lot of it I haven't seen."

Freeman said although he's moved on from Ween, he's interested in seeing the finished film.

"That was a wonderful time," he said. "From the time Mickey (Melchiondo, a.k.a. Dean Ween) and I were 16 until about the mid-'90s was my favorite part of Ween. It was amazing and we were very lucky. We used to play City Gardens, which was a club in Trenton, all the time. The guy who booked the place liked us a lot and we got to open for bands like the Ramones and the Dead Kenndeys when we were just teenagers. Of course, we didn't tell anybody at the club how old we were, because somebody would've gotten in trouble. But yeah, we played with these iconic bands while we were eating mushrooms and smoking a ton of weed."

Freeman performs at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24, with Arc Iris. Tickets $18. 21 years and older.