Wednesday, November 23, 2016

GURNETT: An exchange with Weepies' Steve Tannen

All WNY Radio     Wednesday, November 23, 2016    



Indie darlings The Weepies are coming to the Tralf on Thursday, Dec. 1.  For this tour, they are leaving their backing band at home and performing with only core members, husband-and-wife duo Steve Tannen and Deb Talan.  The show should be an intimate performance of the band's melodic, pretty and insightful music. I exchanged some emails with Steve to dive deeper. Here's what we talked about:

RYAN GURNETT: What do the Weepies listen to? What musicians inspire you?

STEVE TANNEN: We tend to binge on one writer or artist at a time. Right now it’s Lin-Manuel Miranda’s "Hamilton." Recently we went through an Ana Tijou phase, an Amy Winehouse month, and an M.I.A. year. “Row Row Row Your Boat” is still the song to beat.

RG: When Deb was diagnosed with cancer, an-all star band stepped in as your backing band. What was it like getting that outpouring of support?

ST: It was profoundly moving, not because of the loftiness of everyone, but because everyone was so human about it all -- friends, strangers, fans, business people, everyone. Our takeaway was that people are good and want to help. It’s uplifting to be reminded of that any time, and having it come in such a dark moment was very humbling.

RG: Has Deb's diagnosis (and defeating) of cancer done anything to change your perspective creatively?

ST: We’re more forgiving of ourselves as writers. We take it a little less hard. We still fret over getting things right, but we can see it’s okay to let our own work go, too.

RG: How was the recording process different on this last album, being done not only remotely but also with people you hadn't recorded with before?

ST: Everything was a workaround. But the solutions we had to come up with -- the remote recording, the early morning sessions, arranging horn parts over email, and the basic exhaustion and very focused time in the studio -- gave the record its particular flavor. We wouldn’t want to do it again, but we’re glad it went how it did. The high degree of difficulty was freeing, because the actual performance of the music was so easy compared to everything around it. We didn’t have time for many takes.

RG: This tour, you're going solo with smaller, more intimate shows. What inspired you to do this?

ST: We want to keep connecting. We’ve been doing big bus tours with a band and crew, and it’s incredible, but we numbed out as the tours rolled on -- everyone was so awesome that we would sit back a lot. We wanted to open ourselves back up to the audience and to the danger of doing everything ourselves again.

RG: I have to ask... I've been trying to get my wife to start a band with me for 8 years. What is it like having your wife as your other primary band member? Does it create any differences in the way you write and record? What would you say are the benefits (and drawbacks, if any)?

ST: A band IS a marriage, and if you’re in both at the same time, there’s really nowhere to hide. Things come blazing out into the open. On the other hand, when it works, it just feels easy and there’s nowhere else you want to be. Right now, Deb’s making a solo record; we’re both thrilled about it. It’s critical to maintain a separate sense of ourselves, and that’s probably the biggest challenge.

RG: What's the most bizarre thing that's ever happened to you on stage?

ST: We played a heavy metal festival in Germany, and it was one of the most connective experiences of our lives. That was truly bizarre. Someone booked us by mistake -- The Weepies opening for Tool. We went out in front of thousands of heavily tattooed shirtless young German men all ready to mosh. And we started with the softest song we could, “Nobody Knows Me At All” -- Steve gently on guitar, Deb alone singing -- and the audience started swaying, and clapping, and completely said yes. They simply decided they were into it and it worked. It was overwhelming. No idea how it happened, but it was a magic.

RG: What's your favorite on-tour snack?

ST: Is Jack Daniels a snack? No? Then French fries.

RG: Is there another Weepies album in the works, and if so, can you tell us anything about it?

ST: Absolutely. However, it’s very Steve-heavy at the moment, since Deb has been pouring heart and soul into her solo record, which is really almost done. We have a busy winter lined up to get another Weepies record in the can.

RG: Is this the Weepies first trip to Buffalo? If so, what are you looking forward to?

ST: First time since Deb was BORN there. We don’t know a soul! Please come say "hello" and tell us where the best French fries are.

RG: Are there any songs that you just HAVE to included in every set, or do you prefer to mix things up?

ST: Luckily we have no hits! Kidding, sort of. We are doing this whole tour to mix it up, and there are songs we have never played out before that we’re playing. With that said, we know which songs have gotten tens of millions of streams, and as music fans we appreciate that when you go see Gnarls Barkley, at some point they should play “Crazy” or you’re going to feel a little cheated. It is a different show each night, but we’re still excited to play the ones people really know.

RG: What's the worst thing that's ever happened to you on the road -- any good nightmare stories?

ST: Knock wood, we’ve been pretty lucky so far. We got thrown out of our own show once. The venue owner just took a serious dislike to us, and started screaming and threatening, and we were like, Whoops! Time to go! Everyone is fighting a great battle, and we had come into a hard moment for the venue owner. It was early on in our career, the audience was very small, so the audience helped us throw our equipment in the car, and we bought everyone a drink at another bar down the block.

RG: Your songwriting is very insightful. What advice would you give to fellow songwriters?

ST: That’s kind. Writing for us is both a compulsion and a discipline. We rewrite constantly. We work every day; even if we only have time to write a sentence on our phones while waiting in line somewhere, we’ll do that. We write on scraps of paper through the day and then defend blocks of empty time to write (and we often waste that time from a lack of discipline). That model works for us because it’s how we deal with in the world in a way that keeps us going. We’re still trying to fix the process.

RG: What do you two like to do in your down-time on tour?

ST: We like to try to find secret places. Or nap. We wander.

RG: Do you have any other projects that you'd like people to know about?

ST: Deb’s solo record!! It’s coming out soon. It’s really good. Look for it; we’ll be really loud about it when it comes out.

RG: Imagine you're watching a concert. One of the band members spontaneously combusts and you get called onstage to replace that band member. Which band is it?

ST: What a karmically dangerous question! Please, no more of our heroes falling this year. Too many! We politely refuse and hope all musicians live forever, which they sort of do.
 
Ryan Gurnett is a local musician with an appreciation for other local music. Email him at never_really_been@hotmail.com or find him on Twitter @SirWilliamIdol.

Photos courtesy of The Weepies.




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