Ween Frontman Reveals Hip Hop Influences

Since the mid-eighties, quirky experimental alt-rockers Ween have kept audiences on their heels by seemlessly genre-hopping between surrealist prog-rock, seventies soul, Brit-pop and everything in between. Their music has popped up in some unlikely places with impressive results: The Caribbean-infused "Ocean Man" was prominently featured in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and they've landed on shows like Weeds, Crank Yankers and South Park.

Even commercially unsuccessful ventures like "Where'd the Cheese Go?" -- a bizarre electro-funk ad hook that didn't pass muster with Pizza Hut brass back in 2002 -- have won over amused converts. On Friday August 26, Ween's lead vocalist Aaron Freeman (a.k.a. Gene Ween) and bassist Dave Dreiwitz are playing a 6 p.m. show at Milford's Daniel Street and tickets are still available for $20.

Freeman was first exposed to music by his parents' sixties-tinged record collection and later became an early-nineties hip hop loyalist. These days, he's more inclined to listen to a good singer-songwriter and admits that "there are no new bands I'm going ballistic about," citing Nirvana and early-Weezer as two of the last groups he thought were "really great." Although Freeman's radio is usually set to NPR, he offered up the following six acts that helped shape him as a musician:

1. James Brown: He was a funky motherf***er. I don't remember the first song I heard, but when I started listening to James Brown, I immediately thought he was amazing. Two songs I'd choose would be "Mother Popcorn" and "Papa Don't Take No Mess." It's all so good, but I guess you have to start with Live at the Apollo. His timing, his screams and the sound of the guitars and bass in his band, they all fit together like a glove.

2. Donovan: I like his affected voice and the way he pronounces words, his storytelling. When I was young, my father had A Gift from a Flower to a Garden. It was very inspirational, sort of a children's record that crossed over. I remember hearing it when I was ten and it had been in my father's collection for years. It was, and still is, amazing and I still put that on sometimes. It's really psychedellic children's music, like "Starfish on the Toast."

3. Rod McKuen: He's a prolific poet and songwriter from the sixties. I just worked with Ben Vaughn on a record that covers some of his songs. It's still being mixed. The first one we did is called "Beautiful Strangers." It's one of those songs where you can't tell what he's talking about -- it could be about someone he knew, someone who's locked up in an asylum or someone who's taking care of him. There's a lot of ambiguity that leads to interpretation, which I like. He's very sentimental, a deep romantic poet who tells it like it is. He's been to the dark side, the light side, and worn some cool turtlenecks. He's definitely inspirational.

4. Metallica: I think they were the first real metal band I listened to. When I was a teenager and driving around busting s**t up, I was listening to Master of Puppets. So, it has a special place in my heart. Metallica is one of those bands that i discovered during my adolescence, my angry youth. It's the first time I was exposed to metal of that caliber. They've slacked a bit on the last couple, but Master of Puppets and ... And Justice for All were very inspirational and two of my favorites.

5. Hip Hop: Warren G's "This Is The Shack" (ed. explicit lyrics) was amazing. Sometimes I still listen to that when I want to get ready. Biggie was brilliant. He had the perfect tempo and incredible rhymes. "Kick in the Door" (ed. explicit lyrics) had a profound effect on me. I just loved it. I wouldn't dare to try hip hop. I can play a lot of genres, but I don't think I can rhyme like that. The only white boy who pulls it off is Eminem. I remember the first NWA record coming out, one of greatest hip hop albums ever, and I just listened to it over and over again.

6. Steeleye Span: A folk-rock band from the late-sixties to early-seventies. I love fourteenth-century English ballads and they had a way of infusing psychedllic rock guitar with these ancient sounds. My parents were big fans of theirs and I was always listening to their records. Listen to Please to See the King. It was very influential.

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