The Weepies – No time to cry
“I don’t differentiate all that much between movies, music, TV — it’s like all these companion pieces that go along with your life.”
Deb Talan and Steve Tannen of the Weepies are having a bit of a disagreement. Speaking by phone cross-country to a journalist, while playing tag-team tending to their newborn baby boy, they have decidedly conflicting impressions of their first encounter with each other, at a Boston nightclub a few years ago. They agree that they were mutual fans of each other’s music when they met — but after that, the stories diverge.
“I hadn’t heard anything that grabbed me so instantly and that I felt so deeply,” Talan says of Tannen’s solo records. “It was really nerve-wracking to actually meet him. I don’t feel like I’m like a big ‘fan’ kind of person of lots of people, but I was a fan! It was really weird, to meet the person behind the songs.”
There’s a brief shuffle on the line, as the phone is apparently wrested away from her. “I’m sorry, I have to correct that and put the baby down,” Tannen chimes in. “It was totally the other way around. I am the world’s most successful stalker. That’s who I am.” Howls of laughter are audible in the background.
“In hindsight, I do know that Deb likes what I do,” Tannen continues. “But I think there was sort of — you know how two dogs will ignore everybody else and see each other? It was sorta like that. All right, gotta get the baby, hold on.”
The presence of young Theo pretty much tells you how the story turned out. As for Tannen’s claim that he’s “the world’s most successful stalker,” it must be noted that on the night they met, it was Tannen who was performing, and Talan who was seated in the front row. “That’s the truth; there you go,” Talan acknowledges, and you can hear her knowing grin through the telephone line.
That was a half-decade or so ago, and in the time that has passed since then, the two songwriters have set aside solo careers in order to perform together as the Weepies. By now you’ve probably heard of them, but even if not, you’ve almost certainly heard them. Their music has been practically omnipresent on television shows and commercials as of late: They’ve had tracks on “Scrubs”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Everwood”, “What About Brian”, “One Tree Hill” and “Gossip Girl”, and JCPenney and Old Navy used two different Weepies songs in holiday ad campaigns this past winter.
Throw in a couple of film-soundtrack appearances, and the band has stayed plenty visible in the gap between their 2006 breakthrough disc Say I Am You and their new album Hideaway, released April 16 on Nettwerk Records. Hideaway pretty much picks up where the last album left off in terms of tone and style and mood; taken together, they represent arguably the finest collection of folk-pop songwriting to have surfaced in the past decade.
Say I Am You set the bar rather high. It’s the rare modern album that is just about entirely devoid of filler; think Shawn Colvin’s 1989 debut Steady On, or the Jayhawks’ Tomorrow The Green Grass. Nearly every song could be a radio hit…or, reflecting the times, background music for a TV scene; indeed, more than half the songs from Say I Am You have been featured in either a series or an ad. Its highlights range from the alluringly rhythmic leadoff track “Take It From Me” to the atmospheric acoustic ballad “World Spins Madly On” to the impressionistic pop gem “Painting By Chagall” to the exquisitely hushed “Stars” to the intimately personal “Slow Pony Home” (with its evocative chorus confession, “I held so many people in my suitcase heart that I had to let the whole thing go”).
There’s also a bona fide songwriting classic in the two-minute snapshot “Nobody Knows Me At All”, which could hold its own in the songbooks of masters such as Paul Simon or Leonard Cohen. “I’ve got lots of friends/Yes but then again/Nobody knows me at all/Kids and a wife/It’s a beautiful life/Nobody knows me at all,” Talan sings bluntly, leaving the mystery hanging for the listener to ponder. The song is perfect in its simplicity, a textbook example of how much meaning can be conveyed with lyrical brevity.
If Hideaway has a hard time competing with its predecessor, that merely means it’s one of the best records of the year as opposed to one of the best of the decade. The opening track, “Can’t Go Back Now”, finds Tannen and Talan blending their voices to engaging effect, hers a heavenly harmony to his lonesome longing. The title track is instantly infectious folk-pop, bouncing along to Talan’s sing-song melody and wisely wrapping up just shy of three minutes. “Antarctica” soars with a wide-open rush that feels like a crisp breeze sweeping across the glaciated landscapes of its title’s terrain. “Old Coyote” has almost a nursery-rhyme catch to its chorus: “Ring around rosy game always ends the same way, we all fall down/Get up now baby, get up now baby.” The sprightly manner in which Talan sings those “Get up” syllables strikes a spark, like a child putting a skip in her step.
Then there’s “All Good Things”, a song Talan and Tannen co-wrote with the actress and singer Mandy Moore, and which also appeared on Moore’s 2007 album Wild Hope. “That song intrigued us both throughout its early life, and we both heard Deb singing it from the beginning,” Tannen says. “We wrote it with Mandy, but it started off with Deb singing it, because that’s how the writing process started. And so we felt a particular fondness for it.”
The Weepies actually helped to write five songs that ended up on Moore’s record, including its first single (“Extraordinary”) and title track. “Her version of ‘Wild Hope’ on the record is great,” Tannen enthused. “I was so proud of how that came out. In fact, we hired the string player from ‘Wild Hope’ to play on ‘Little Bird’,” one of the moodier songs on Hideaway.
There’s a small story behind that, relating to the Woodstock-area studio where Moore’s album was recorded. “We got up to Allaire, this gorgeous place, and Mandy wanted to show us what they had been doing,” Tannen relates. “And so we all sat in the big control room, and they just sort of played some tracks. We had production notes, and we were thinking where we could sing, what we could play on each track.