The opening verse of “World Spins Madly On,” the breakout single by the indie-folk duo the Weepies, describes an ex-lover suffering from a broken heart. At just under three minutes, this lovely acoustic lament by the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Steve Tannen and Deb Talan is an excellent introduction to their talent, but also the tiniest bit misleading. Contrary to the band's name, the Weepies are the least sad musicians, parents, and people imaginable.
Tannen spoke with New Times ahead of the band’s first official show in South Florida, this Saturday, September 1, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
Asked why the Boston-area band didn't make it to this neck of the woods sooner, the affable, jovial, and enthusiastic Tannen says, “It’s because it’s so far away. It’s been on every list since 2008. Only because my parents moved to Florida did we even make it to North Florida last year.”
“For a Northerner, it's far,” he adds. "It’s a foreign country.”
It turns out Tannen now has a direct connection to this foreign land, Miami specifically, through new family. “My sister-in-law got married to a Venezuelan, and his whole family is from Miami, so we’ve been down there twice now,” he says. “I’m starting to get to know it. The restaurants are pretty incredible. That’s my first impression. The food is amazing.”
Interviews are often a one-way street. The result is a rapid-fire succession of preset questions and resulting sound bites put into print. Tannen, on the other hand, is inquisitive to the point that from the beginning, this interview becomes a genuine conversation. He is as interested in asking questions as he is in answering them.
For example, I tell him about the first song I ever heard by the Weepies, “Gotta Have You.” A former girlfriend introduced me to the band. As I was slowly falling in love with her, I totally fell in love with the band.
“What ever happened to the girl?” Tannen asks, somewhat hopeful.
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Um. It didn’t work out, but we’re still friends.
“All right, because that’s mostly the stories I hear,” he says, laughing. “Either 'It was our wedding song' or 'I don’t know whatever happened to her.'”
Next, we focus on great stories of love, including those of the band’s fans as well as the band itself.
“Oh, yeah. Here’s the thing,” he explains. “It’s overwhelming at all to be successful in music, period. Obviously, music moves me, and Deb is the same. But to be on the other side of that is less connective and much stranger. It’s very strange to meet the couple or meet the person.
“We played one wedding,” he continues, “and I won’t do it again. It’s too big a presence, and the spotlight goes to us. It’s the wrong place.”
That's because the spotlight should be on the newlyweds.
“Of course. On what they’re doing, on what they want to show their friends, the world, their intentions,” he says. “It’s not ego. It’s the opposite; it’s respect.”
His wife and songwriting partner, Talan, is a former teacher, while Tannen is a self-described “failed scientist.” They met at the beginning of the new century, each already performing live and pursuing dreams. Fans of each other’s work, they soon released their first joint record, Happiness, in 2003. Then came the hardships. First, there were financial woes, early on living out of Tannen’s car, and later, in 2013, being struck with the awful news of Talan’s Stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis.
“Deb is recovered from cancer,” Tannen says of the latter. “I mean, you never recover, but she’s in full remission. She’s doing well.”
Now the Weepies are back on the road for the first time in three years. Aside from celebrating the tenth anniversary of their second album, Hideaway, the two are back on tour largely because Tannen needed to get out of the house.
“Isolation. I don’t know about you, but I have young kids, the political climate is insane, and I don’t see people the way that I did," Tannen says. "I don’t meet up with them and hang out. The one place where I’m able to do it these days is if we all go out and do something."
When Talan fell ill, the two were recording their fifth full-length album, Sirens. Unable to travel and living in the remoteness of Iowa, the Weepies recruited musician friends from across the country to record individual instrumentals and send the files digitally. What followed was a tour accompanied by a massive band.
“But in the middle of that, both Deb and I felt that it got too big and too weird,” Tannen says. “It didn’t matter where we were playing every night; we were just going through the motions. It felt like being out on the porch while the party is happening inside.”
To remedy those feelings of detachment, the two loaded up their gear and three kids in a van for the Completely Acoustic and Alone Tour. “That was pretty much the most fun I’ve had in ten years,” he says.
When the Weepies make their South Florida debut, Talan and Tannen will be largely in the same mindset, with a more expanded version of that previous tour, adding electric guitars and pianos so the show isn’t entirely acoustic.
“We’re trying to take the best parts of that and make it an experience, a community moment.”
As for new music, the answer is a hard maybe.
“We have so many things on the horizon," Tannen says. "If you notice, if you take a look at the [tour] schedule, it’s almost all places we’ve never been. That’s what I want to do. In the absence of living in the West Village back in 2001 where no one knew me and we were just playing to strangers, what we’re trying to do is go to places we’ve never been and touch base with the communities — play these songs and see what’s next.”
For people considering checking out the band but unsure if they’ll leave the show feeling suicidal, fear not. There's endless joy in the Weepies' music. Understandably, this is a problem that’s plagued them from the start.
In the beginning, the two-piece attempted to appear onstage under the moniker "Deb & Steve," but Tannen’s promoter friend refused to put that name on posters. Forced to come up with a real band name quickly, they settled on the Weepies, which is both perfect for the kind of music they write and also completely misrepresentative.
“We opened some shows, or we were on the bill with bands like Arctic Monkeys and people like that," Tannen says. "Fans just didn’t even want to hear it, like, Whatever, ‘Weepies,’ Whatever. I got a lot of emails from people who were like, ‘You suck.’ And I was like, 'I’m aware that you have not listened to our music. I’m totally aware. And I’m not offended.'
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“In Ireland, we were introduced as the 'Wee Pies.' In Ireland, ‘wee’ means 'small.' And I was like, that’s hilarious — the Little Pies.”
The sometimes Little Pies go by another, more important name: Mom and Dad. Would Tannen be interested in going full-on Partridge Family with his three sons?
“Nothing would make me happier,” he says brightly. "But to be perfectly honest, they see music as the time that Mom and Dad don’t hang out with them; they don’t pay attention to them. They’re getting more onboard with it because as they get older, they see that it’s a pretty unusual thing to get out of school all of April and go on a tour bus, and that’s pretty cool.”
The Weepies. 8 p.m. Saturday, September 1, at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222; browardcenter.org. Tickets cost $33.75 to $45 via ticketmaster.com.