By Katy Wilkie
June 16, 2015
The Weepies are a husband and wife, indie-folk duo made up of Deb Talan and Steve Tannen. What began as two individual singer-songwriters eventually merged to form The Weepies in 2001, after the duo met at one of Tannen’s shows and immediately hit it off. The merge proved to be a success as the combination of their unique songwriting skills paired with their distinguishing harmonies enabled The Weepies to sell more than 1 million albums.
By 2010 the duo had released four albums, toured Europe, played music festivals and sold out shows in the U.S.. However, it all came to a halt in December of 2013 when Deb was diagnosed with breast cancer. While it would have been reasonable to hang up their instruments after the diagnosis, The Weepies went through the journey and came out on the other side with the harrowing experience set to new music. The band is making its long awaited return this year with its first full length album in five years, Sirens, which dropped on April 28 via Nettwerk Records.
CLTure had the chance to catch up with Steve Tannen and chat about he and his wife’s decision to keep making music, the unique process of recording a new album and their current tour which stops in Charlotte at The Neighborhood Theater on June 20.
CLTure: The Weepies have released five albums in the span of seven years,
bundling together for one million album sales. This number will inevitably
rise with the release of your new album, Sirens, this month. This is
undoubtedly a great feat, how does it feel to have reached that
great of a number?
Steve Tannen: A big number like that is softened because it happened so slowly, over
years. We never had a “hit” or a moment, just a gradual ability to reach
out a little further, which has been amazing. Our level of recognition
day to day is really low, yet we get to write, put out records, tour
and most of the things that come along with being a recognized musician;
it’s the perfect mix for us.
CLTure: Deb was diagnosed with cancer at the end of 2013 and fortunately went
into remission by mid 2014. During that time, did either of you ever
consider not working on the new album or was the process of creating the
new album more of a creative aid in the healing process?
ST: We had one early discussion about what Deb wanted to do with her time, and
she was clear that she wanted to homeschool the kids, write, paint and
record. So that’s what we did. We had no record deal or vision for an
album, we just wanted to continue working while we could.
We wrote through the entire process, not by design, we’re just
obsessive writers. Deb wrote (and sketched art) literally while getting
chemo. Making a record isn’t scary, and we could see that was a helpful
thing to do. It provided a focus beyond cancer. Between family, friends and
this project, cancer really had to take a backseat, at least in our heads and in day to day conversation. Deb was pretty fierce, and I had something to worry over that wasn’t Deb or the kids when I couldn’t sleep.
CLTure: The circumstances under which this album was recorded were obviously
different from previous records and various artists contributed to the album
through remote recording. What was this experience like? Did you lead
with a lot of direction or let the artists run with what they felt was right?
ST: We were isolated from everyone during treatment, so we thought “if we
could have ANYONE play on this it would be…” Then we literally rung up our heroes
and they all said yes. When we approached them, the songs were already
there, and the heart of what Deb and I do was laid down. We knew the
previous work of each musician. We’d been watching their dance moves for
years, so to speak, but they still exceeded our hopes. We wanted each
player to do their thing, and tried to give as much or as little direction needed
in order for them to tap into their own magic. We wouldn’t presume to tell Gerry
Leonard what guitar tone to get, or instruct Pete Thomas on groove, but we
would discuss taking the eighth note feel out of the bridge, we had the
chord structures and we’d sing the horn parts we had in mind over the phone.
The whole thing was a bit surreal to be honest, to have Matt Chamberlain
or Tony Levin on the other end of the line. They were very kind, and genuine, it was
what you hope for when you talk or work with someone you admire. We’re
CLTure: Some artists don’t write at all until they get into the studio, while
others have all of the details worked out and go straight into recording.
What does your process of songwriting look like?
ST: We scribble a lot while we’re going through our days, and also walk
around with guitars on. It’s important to set aside “empty time.” We write
together of course, but we also drag songs back into our individual caves.
Although there was less solo editing and worrying over this record than
usual. We have a constant pile of material and we add to it weekly, or
daily during good periods, but it’s independent of whether we’re recording
or not. So we had at least 100 songs for this going in, but when we were
in the studio we felt free to do whatever we wanted. The studio is about
catching a particular moment if you can. We wrote and recorded some on the
fly, others we’d bring out from a year ago, and we also wound up covering
two other writers on this record just because it felt right. One was a Tom
Petty song “Learning to Fly” and also a Mark Geary tune called “Volunteer,”
which is a song about a whole life of longing. It’s all the result of
particular days in the studio.
CLTure: “Sirens,” “No Trouble” and most recently “Crooked Smile” have been
premiered from the new record. How does it feel to have fresh music
released into the world for your fans?
ST: We’ve been so isolated, it’s really great to have feedback. For ourselves
of course we are very critical, but we only release music we can continue
to feel the emotion of and connect with after the 20th or 50th listen,
which is necessary in the mixing, mastering and releasing process.
CLTure: Your new album has a whopping 16 songs. Are there any particular songs
on the albums that stand out the most to you, or truly capture the essence
of the record?
ST: Well we hope it hangs together like a musical photo album. “Sirens” was
made literally upstairs from some very heavy emotions, but it wouldn’t
have made sense to just sing about exactly what happened. The songs that
made it to the surface are all informed by what went on below, but it’s
hard to say what exactly happened way down there, you can just feel it.
CLTure: Recently The Weepies released a recorded cover of Tom Petty’s “Learning
to Fly.” Why did you choose to cover and record this particular song?
ST: After we had given a new album of original songs to Nettwerk, Deb was
healing and full of energy and we still had time in the studio. Since we
had just finished a big project we felt freed up to do just about
anything. We were goofing around with songs we adore by other artists,
just literally playing, and after we listened back the take sounded so
hopeful that we shared it with Nettwerk. They loved it, and it made it’s way
onto the record. Again, not much planning, we just followed the music.
CLTure: Aside from the release of the new album, you’re also gearing up to tour
for the first time in several years. How does it feel to be hitting the
road again? Any other big plans for 2015?
ST: We are more excited that anyone can be about anything! We feel
extraordinarily lucky to be able to tour again. We’re a little scared too,
as we haven’t played in public in 4 years. But the connection to so many
people at once is unlike anything else, it’s addicting. We expect to
tour throughout the year and I’m fairly certain we’ll be scribbling songs
down as we go. I can see us getting back in the studio by the fall.