The Weepies Bring Their Hideaway Anniversary Tour to the Beachland

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click to enlarge The Weepies Bring Their Hideaway Anniversary Tour to the Beachland
Courtesy of the Weepies
Fifteen years ago, singer-songwriters Deb Talan and Steve Tannen formed the indie folk-pop group the Weepies in Cambridge, Mass. In the beginning, they did everything themselves and managed to sell 10,000 copies of their self-recorded debut, Happiness, without the support of a record label.

They’d eventually marry and have kids, but that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to tour and record.

On a tour to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their 2008 album, Hideaway, they perform with Gia Margaret at 8 p.m. on Monday, April 16 at the Beachland Ballroom. They recently spoke to us via phone from the "chaos" of their Iowa City home where they were prepping to hit the road with their three kids.

You initially met in Cambridge. How did you two decide to form a band together?
I was a big fan of someone named Deb Talan, who was a songwriter from Boston who had an album out at the time. She came to my very first show in Boston.
Talan: I had been listening to his album incessantly for about three weeks. I was super nervous about meeting him.
Tannen: It was pretty crowded but you could ask anyone what the worst show they’ve ever seen me perform was and that would be it. Deb came back down to New York about three weeks later and played one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. It’s been imbalanced since the beginning. Early on, I never considered we would be partners or in a band. I was a fan. It’s exciting when you meet other people coming up and they’re really good. That was the nature of our relationship for a long time. Eventually, I tricked her into kissing me, and here we are.

What made you think “the Weepies” was a good name for a band?
Because Deb and Steve as a name sucked.
Talan: We were doing a combined show at the club where we met. We wanted to call it Deb and Steve. The club owner said, “No. I can’t do that.”
Tannen: He said, “I’m going to do you a favor and never put 'Deb and Steve' on anything. He said, “Come up with a name." We did and it was the Weaves. He told us there was another Boston band called the Weaves and that we couldn’t be that either. Pinocchio had just come out in the theaters and we had friends who would cry during the film and not mind if we cried. So we called them the Weepies. We thought it was funny and a good name for a band. The show sold out and then we made a record and only then did we realize we were truly the Weepies.

Your first album, Happiness, sold 10,000 copies without any distribution. Talk about how you were able to sell so many copies of it.
How indeed. I don’t know.
Talan: We toured all over the place and sold them out of our car.
Tannen: A lot of those were online sales through CD Baby. We toured relentlessly in a Nissan Altima and then a Toyota Corolla and then a Matrix. We toured everywhere in the U.S. At some point, we were doing 200 dates a year.

The recording quality is quite high. Where do you go to record?
You’re very kind. It wasn’t like a band going to the studio for three months with their producer. We had some extra songs and we were working on it together. We went to a friend’s place in Boston. The guys there were super. We used some Boston musicians, and they helped us out. We did most of it in an attic. Most of it is one or two takes. It was very basic equipment. We took it to another friend of ours who was a mixing guy who went on to win Grammys. At the time, he was just our friend Richard. It’s not false modesty. We were really excited about it but we didn’t have grand visions of what the Weepies record would be. We just thought it sounded great.

Why did you move to the West Coast?
We had a breakdown on the East Coast. It was a winter like this winter, and we couldn’t take it. We just got in our car and drove to California. It was three weeks from the time we were crying in the living room to the time we got to the West Coast. Our friend had a bungalow in Pasadena and they took us in. Everything got easier.
Talan: We got in some kind of flow.
Tannen: We stepped into a river.

You followed it up with Say I Am, which you recorded in your bedroom in Pasadena. What was it like to make that album?
We started it there but didn’t get serious about until 2004 or 2005. At one point, we had quit. We had no life skills. Our friends told us to just stay there. During that time, we just kept writing and touring. That turned into songs we pitched to movies that rejected them. It didn’t kill us because we had nothing at stake because we had already quit. We had a bunch of shows on the calendar, so we kept touring to make rent. The shows were selling out and that’s when someone from a record label showed up and asked to listen to the bedroom tapes. We didn’t have them because they were in California. They flew out there to our bungalow and listened on the spot that night. A week later we had a record deal.

How different or similar was the recording process for Hideaway?
It was the same equipment and the same cast of characters. We did 180 shows that year. We were so exhausted that now when I hear about people getting “exhaustion” and I used to think they were on drugs, I realize they probably were exhausted. Deb got pregnant, and the idea of doing 200 more shows with Deb pregnant was more than we could handle.
Talan: Walking down the stairs was more than I could handle.
Tannen: We rented a shack and wrote and recorded and didn’t talk to anybody. Deb went for hikes. We just started at nature and wrote. At the end of it, we had what we thought was a strong record. We didn’t tour and that record did better than the previous one. I think it was because we had pushed for two or three years before that and the go kart was already going.

What’s it been like to revisit the albums as you prep for its ten-year anniversary tour?
It’s really interesting. Some of these songs we never played live. Some we haven’t played in ten years. We have life experience. It’s almost like approaching songs by someone else in that the emotional landscape that we wrote from is so different from where we are now. There’s some revisiting but also finding what they mean to us now.
Tannen: For me, it’s been great. I haven’t listened to a Weepies record in a long time. I haven’t heard these songs. I don’t put my earbuds in and go for a jog while listening to the Weepies. I’m really impressed. We did a great job. I’m exciting.

The opening track, “Can’t Go Back Now,” is a beautiful ballad. What inspired it?
We had been on tour for so long, my brother had had a daughter. We had little time to spend with her as an infant. After we moved to LA., we got more time to spend with her. We happened to be there the day she figured out how to walk. It was insanely profound. At the time, it was the first time we had that experience. That song is about that experience.

Deb was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. What’s it been like to carry on in the wake of that?
We kept playing music and finished Sirens while I was in treatment. It felt like there was this thread of making music and it felt vital to do that during the time that was dark and difficult.
Tannen: It’s no different than anyone else who comes up against a serious illness. We feel super lucky to have support around us. We didn’t have a moment that we should be doing something different with our lives. It was the opposite.
Talan: We knew it was exactly what we should be doing. While I was in treatment, I didn’t want us to stop recording.

Talk about what the upcoming show will be like?
We have members of the original Hideway band with us. The original drummer took a fantastic gig with Disney. He’s coming out retirement just to be on tour with us. We want to create a community of magic with the environment of the show.

Will you play the whole album?
No, but we’ll play songs we have never played before. We’re also music fans so we will not neglect old favorites. It’s a formidable set, and I think we’ll have to change it up night to night. It will evolve as it goes on. We have a great band and set list.

Do you have a new album in the works?
We do but we have many things in the works. We had to put it off. We’ll probably do what we did for Hideaway, which is go somewhere and stay in the wilderness.

It’s great you’ve stuck it out for this long.
Thanks. It’s terrifying. We’re friends with some of the guys from Elvis Costello’s band. They all turned 60. I wrote a note to the drummer to congratulate him. He wrote back a single word that was “nightmare.” There’s an element to that — Jesus, 10 years. But it feels good and we want to make the show into a day of celebration.

The Weepies, Gia Margaret, 8 p.m. Monday, April 16, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $25.50 ADV, $30 DOS,

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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