After kids, cancer, and commercial success, the band strips their tour down to two
The Weepies: Completely Acoustic and Alone
Thursday, Dec. 8 at 8 p.m.
Calvin Theatre, Northampton
Do you know the feeling of coming in from the cold, kicking off your snow-caked boots and wet socks, and pulling on a new pair, fresh from the dryer? That’s what it feels like to listen to a song by The Weepies.
The folk-pop stylings of married singer-songwriters Deb Talan and Steve Tannen are unfailingly tender and warm. The guitar work feels smooth and a little rough at the same time, like a bed of straw. When backed by a full band, the arrangements for even the most rocking Weepies song feel delicately embroidered rather than hammered out. And alone, together, Talen and Tannen’s low-wattage voices are incandescent. This is music to snuggle to.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the couple, who released the first of five Weepies albums in 2003, and who married in 2007 (they now live in Iowa with three young kids). In 2013, Talan — an Amherst native — was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. By 2014, after chemotherapy and surgery, she was in remission.
Thankfully, Talan and Tannen make music for the hard times as well as the good. As Talan told Linda Wertheimer on NPR’s Weekend Edition in 2006, the band’s name came about, in part, from “those old movies that were called weepies, where you could basically be guaranteed that if you needed a good cry, you could go and see one of these and bring your hanky and have a good time. And we want to be able to provide that for people. We want to make music that touches them and moves them in that way, the place where tears come from, for joy and for sorrow.”
The Weepies play the Calvin Theatre on Dec. 8. The following interview has been edited and condensed.
Hunter Styles: You two don’t tour that often, and it’s been ten years since you’ve played the Valley. This 18-city tour is called “Completely Acoustic and Alone.” Why strip everything down?
Steve Tannen: After Deb survived cancer, we felt like having a big party with everybody we knew. So on tour last year, we had 15 people on a bus. It was super fun, and the players were so good. But I felt a little numb, a little complacent, and a little lazy. I started taking it for granted.
Since then, the two of us have started playing out again, just stopping and playing little shows on the way to see family and friends in the car. That felt like coming back to why we do this in the first place. We’re hauling our own equipment. There’s no tour manager. We have 15 years of material to go through right now, and it’s the best I’ve felt playing in a long time.
Hunter: I’ve heard, Deb, that concertgoers will also hear some songs from your upcoming solo album. What’s it been like, after moving from a solo career to 15 years of The Weepies, to go back to doing some solo work?
Deb Talan: It feels like taking initiative in a way I wasn’t sure I could still do. I’m a very independent person by nature. While I was pregnant, and when the kids were small, there was so much I couldn’t do for myself. Then I got sick. There were some amazing gifts and things I learned from having to lean on other people’s love and support. But it was also kind of maddening, to be so helpless — and to feel out of control of my body.
I started tucking away a fair number of these songs five or six years ago. They didn’t quite fit with what Steve and I were doing. Some are newer. It’s felt like a ‘pulling together’ for me.
Hunter: Which came first, your musical partnership or your romantic relationship?
Steve: Definitely the music. I had been a big fan of Deb Talan. I met her briefly when I played a show in Boston. Then I went to a show she did in New York in 2001, at The Living Room on Stanton and Ludlow. We ended up staying up all night, drinking wine and playing songs for each other. Toward 4 a.m., we were playing half-songs, and writing together.
Most of what we do was established that night. We still write together that way, and we pretty much exist together that way. Obviously, being in any band is a marriage. And being in a marriage is a marriage. We get a double dose of that. But it all fits together.
Hunter: The Weepies has such a consistent sound. Albums evolve, but the heart of it feels familiar over time. Do you think much about that — retaining a specific sound versus shifting gears, musically?
Deb: We really just try to follow our muses organically, and do what feels right and natural. We’ve seen artists that we love go dramatically off in a different direction. We look at each other once in a while and wonder if we should worry about doing that. But our work feels deeply connected with who we are. So I guess it makes sense that there’s continuity there.
Hunter: And it’s not always clear, in a given year, whether one of you will peel off and do some solo recording. The give-and-take there seems healthy.
Deb: I think it’s great when people in creative partnerships go off and do side projects. Steve and I both have ways we want expand out. In the meantime, our lives are such that we have limited, super-focused bursts of time when we can be creative and collaborate. It can be crazy, but it’s also great. There’s very little mucking around — we go into the studio together and work. It’s a rich life.
Contact Hunter Styles at [email protected].