Since dissolving Ween in 2012, Aaron Freeman has been on a mission of convalescence. In addition to achieving sobriety, Freeman shed his Gene Ween moniker and, for the first time in his life, wrote songs under his own name. Over the course of two years, Freeman moved his family to Woodstock, New York, began teaching music at a local school, and relearned how to summon his voice and play his guitar. Now, the legendary musician is back in the fold, writing melodic acoustic songs with a tinge of outlandish humor, reminding us that often the most serious things in life can be the funniest as well. Below we discussed the music he listened to on his path to sobriety, being a dad, the making of his new album, FREEMAN, and his current thoughts about Ween. Make sure to check out his show when he goes on tour next month.
Nerdist: I was surprised, that first song, “Covert Discretion” starts the new album on a really introspective and honest note. I was curious – what was it like to finally write in the first person like that?
Aaron Freeman: That’s always been kind of my writing style. If there’s one place to be honest, it’s in your music. It just comes from experience. I know how well Ween fans, or people in general, respond to that kind of thing. I did that in “Baby Bitch”. I didn’t want people to interpret it in different ways. I wanted to be really direct. There was a lot of suffering that went on, and you have to share suffering with people. That’s the way everybody gets un-isolated.
N: Was it scary to write without the veil of Gene Ween anymore?
AF: I’ve studied rock and roll history, and I know the first record by the guy after the band breaks up. You know, you could write a book about the first record that the guy makes after the band breaks up. Ninety-five percent of the time, they’re just the most completely lame pieces of shit.
N: And self-involved.
AF: So I was very aware of that. When I wrote the record, it was like, OK, I really have to get simple with this stuff. If I over-produce it at all, I’m going to get called on bullshit, even with myself. And that’s how I approached it. That’s why it feels minimal. All it really is backing-track band and my vocals, you know. I’ve got such a history with Ween, obviously. It’s always going to be a substantial part of me. If I’m going to do this, I’m just going to be really honest and simple for the first record. It took me a while, man. Just like you would expect. It took me a couple of years until I could open that part of my brain up again.
N: You’re not exactly starting from nothing, but what is it like to have a new chapter opened?
AF: Very spiritual. I’ve had to be very spiritual and trusting that way since I left Ween. I resolved that if I never even made another record, that would be OK, because at least I am on the right track, and I’ve done the right thing to get healthy. If a record comes along, that’s great. So the only track I’m on is, you know – I want to make music, I want to be an artist, and I’d like to just enjoy myself.
N: Tell me a bit about your path to sobriety.
AF: I knew I had to leave everything – my hometown, my band, the majority of my friends – in order to get myself healthy. Whether it was their fault or not, in me, it was something I had to do.
N: Right. It was objectively necessary.
AF: Absolutely necessary. You have to physically not be able to f-ck around. I really didn’t know whether I would ever [play music] again, and that is a very hard thing to deal with. But you can do it, and I did it. My family and I were living off of a hundred bucks a week. We didn’t know what the f-ck was going to happen. And then, eventually, things got better, and things are getting better. So it’s just a part of life, you know. It’s a part of life of trusting. The world will do you well if you try.
N: Were there any albums that helped you get through your rough patches on the way to sobriety?
AF: Yeah. Some calming music that I always loved. I like Bert Jansch. It’s that really nice, beautiful, acoustic, English, folk-rock from that era. Fairport Convention – so many great, beautiful folk songs, and that would always just take me right out; a lot of just positive stuff. A lot of reggae, you know, because that’s always, like, “you can fight through it; you can do it.” Music has always been like that for me – a lot of music I always listen to, to sort of escape my reality, so I soaked in a lot of that, and it really helped me. For a while, I didn’t listen to any music at all, but when I can start listening to music again, that’s what I do.
N: Is there anything that you know about yourself now that you didn’t before?
AF: Absolutely. In a lot of ways, I was really clouded. And anybody with drug and alcohol addiction knows that. You just don’t know what it’s like to live day-to-day, and have problems and anxiety. The most I’ve learned in the last two-and-a-half years is how to wade through things, how to have some peace with myself, and how to get to know myself. I really had no frigging idea who I was for a long time. So you grow up a lot, especially when you’re in a band, where you can really afford to not grow up and do things that normal people do. So I learned the art of accountability. I learned the art of stability, and wading through things, as simple as that sounds, and how not to obliterate myself at the first sign of discomfort.
N: You have two kids right? Are they into music as well?
AF: My daughter goes to LaGuardia [High School of Music & Art] in New York City, so she’s at a pretty big-time music school. It is a big deal that she got accepted into there.
N: So are the kids familiar with Ween? Probably not the whole history, but the music at least?
AF: Well, my daughter, who’s 15, she’s been listening to Ween her whole life, but not listening to it. It’s just, “This is what Dad is doing, this is Dad’s new song,” or this or that. But now she’s alone with her iPod, and she’s really checking out Ween as a musical thing. So she’s just learning that, so it’s pretty neat.
N: What about your son?
AF: My son, he was here for the whole record–the new record. When I would bring home a track, or when I was seeing if the vocals were too high or too low, I would ask for his input, and he always gave it to me. Ninety percent of the time, it was something I would totally agree with.
N: Kids aren’t going to lie to you either. Kids can be so honest that they’re mean, so what he thought was the truth!
AF: You’re exactly right. He’s like, “I don’t like this one. It sounds better.” It’s just like you said. They’re not lying; they’re not placating you. He gets really embarrassed because I have this anxious habit – probably why I’m a musician – of singing out loud when I go into any kind of place where there’s people, like a restaurant. It’s like this nervous tic I have. I’ll walk into a restaurant, and I’ll be like, [singing goofily], and my son gets really embarrassed. He punches me in the arm. “Stop that!” And I never realized I did that.
N: How do you feel about the Ween chapter of your life right now?
AF: I think Ween had a very natural progression, and I don’t see what all of the hubbub was about. We f-cking busted our asses. We had a really full career. Just like things wind up–things wind down. I can’t speak for Mickey, but I know he knows that. Things were winding down. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. And I f-cking love Ween. I loved it. It was incredible. I’m so proud of it.
N: What is the status of your relationship with Mickey?
AF: Um – not. I mean, we’ve had a couple of e-mails and this and that, and I guess it’s something–I’m sure we’ll speak again. I think there’s just some ruffled feathers, and just like everything else, time will take care of that.
N: Are there any Ween songs you need to take a break from for a while?
AF: Yeah, sure. “Voodoo Lady”. If I ever f-cking have to play “Voodoo Lady” again, it’ll be too soon. [laughing] I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand it! All the big fans were like, “They hate this.” But there are plenty of Ween songs that I’m not sick of playing. Mickey does a band, and he plays a lot of the songs. That’s always going to be an open option.
N: Are you worried about reactions from former Ween fans?
AF: Yeah, yeah. I’m going to make a sign, I think, when I tour. “Are you disgruntled? Go f-ck yourself in the butt.”
N: Head to brown town!
AF: Yeah. Take a trip to brown town! But, you know, it’s getting less [problematic], and what is nice is, and what I wanted is, when I get compliments on Facebook or this or that, there’s always the word ‘love.’ “I ‘love’ your record,” or “Your record is beautiful,” or this or that, and that’s where I want to be. I want to make beautiful music. I want to be described as loved and beautiful.
Aaron Freeman’s new album Freeman is available now.