Deb Talan and Steve Tannen (aka the Weepies) have had quite a go of it lately. Over the past five years, the husband-wife duo has stayed at home in Iowa raising three kids, beating breast cancer, and recording an album — ‘Sirens.’ The name is a tip of the hat to both sweet-voiced muses and shrill-toned alarms because the Weepies aren’t two to shy away from things. Rather, they take life head-on with clear eyes and full hearts. So, naturally, they can’t lose.
KM: It’s probably safe to say that you guys are one of very few contemporary folk acts to bundle together one million album sales. How does that feel for you, personally? But, also, what do you think it says about the audience and broader music world?
ST: 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 is really low, so it’s still a surprise when things work or when my dad says he heard us while on hold with Delta, yet we get to write and put out records and tour and most of the things that come along with being a recognized musician — it’s the perfect mix for us. Maybe our own tastes overlap with a slightly wider audience, but we’re just trying to make music we like. “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” remains the ultimate songwriting goal. Well, that and “Sex Machine.”
How has it been to stay put for a while? And, now, to hit the road again?
Great to stay put (pregnancy and new baby), then frustrating to stay put (cancer), and now SUPER AMAZING AWESOME that we can go on the road. Been too long and we are looking forward to it the most you can look forward to anything.
Having people remotely record parts for the new album must have been both a creative dream and a logistical nightmare. Were you able to coax out your vision for the tunes or did you let the players run with whatever they felt would work?
Logistically, it was actually easier than usual — to get any group of musicians together into a studio can be a challenge. To get these particular guys in a room at the same time would have been impossible, yet here they are on these tracks together! The generosity of each player made it happen — their willingness to get in a local studio or Skype with us at 8 a.m. is what made this record.
When we approached the musicians, the songs were already there, and the heart of what Deb and I do was laid down. We know the previous work of each musician so well — we’d been watching their dance moves for years, so to speak — but they still exceeded our hopes. So it was mostly a creative dream. We literally picked these players from a dream list: “If we could work with ANYONE, who would we ask,” and they all said yes. We wanted each player to do their thing, and tried to give as much or as little direction in order to tap in to 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, and sing the horn parts we had in mind over the phone.
Making a record when, presumably, you both were in such a raw and vulnerable space… that’s a brave thing to do. Do you think having that creative outlet and purpose actually aided the healing process?
I’m not sure that’s right about the bravery. Deb approached treatment bravely, because that’s scary and she had to walk through it. Making a record isn’t scary, though, and we could see that was a helpful thing to do. It provided a focus beyond cancer. Family, friends, and then this project… so then cancer really had to take a backseat to all that, at least in our heads and in day-to-day conversation. Deb was pretty fierce and that attitude helped. And I had something to worry over that wasn’t
Deb or the kids when I couldn’t sleep.
In an age when so many artists are putting out EPs, you guys cobbled together 16 tracks. Is there one among the group that captures the essence of the record and experience? Or do they really need to be taken as a whole to understand?
We recorded many more than this, actually. This is the short version! But these 16 feel like snapshots from the year — just like in a photo album. Each song is a record of a moment, and the whole album gives a clearer impression. “No Trouble” still seems resonant, but it certainly misses a lot about the year, as well. And we wanted to start with “River from the Sky” because it was very much about the year. Though if we had to put our finger on what started the record, it would be a really simple one at the end called “My Little Love.” It’s about our boys, and it was the two of us on a cold afternoon singing and playing in the studio. You can hear the kids outside at one point. It’s a place of hope, and that recording inspired us to keep going back there.
The Weepies new album ‘Sirens’ will be released on April 28 via Nettwerk Records and is available for pre-order HERE.