The Weepies – No time to cry
“And then they played ‘Wild Hope’, and the only thing either of us could say was, ‘Who’s playing strings?’ It was a gorgeous arrangement, it really was well done, I think her vocal is strong, the whole rest of it. But we really were like, ‘Who is this?’ His name is Oliver Kraus and he’s from England.”
Tannen and Talan also took from Allaire a sense of how positive a studio-recording experience could be. “For us it would be kind of an ideal place to go,” Talan said, “because it just has this warmth.” Scouting for studios is something that’s in the back of their minds for perhaps a future Weepies record; still, one of the remarkable things about their last two albums is that they sound like great studio productions but were recorded at their house.
With Say I Am You, part of the motivation for the homemade approach was economic practicality. “Early on for us, it was an imperative,” Talan explains, adding that in their solo days, “we each did some time in regular studios, and burned through money so fast, and didn’t really get what we wanted.”
It helped that technology has progressed to a point that making studio-quality records at home is an achievable goal nowadays. “It’s pretty user-friendly stuff,” Talan says. “I feel like if I can find my way through it — and, you know, I’m not saying I’m a total rube, but I’m not particularly technologically minded. And over the last few years, I’ve gotten to feel pretty comfortable. Steve is — he wouldn’t call himself this, but he’s a jedi. He doesn’t even have to put his hands on the controls.”
In addition to the cost-efficiency of the DIY approach, there was the simple fact that Say I Am You ended up selling remarkably well (especially via downloads on iTunes). And so there was that old axiom: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“You know what, it worked,” Talan affirms. “I think in the end it was a combination of not quite being financially comfortable enough [to go to a studio], and realizing that we weren’t really ready to let go of the amount of control that we have….And we have all the same equipment, and even a little better. And we still work with the same musicians.”
Those musicians who appear on both records include drummer Frank Lenz, bassist/guitarist Whynot Jansveld, and guitarist/keyboardist Meghan Toohey. Frequently the backing musicians would record their parts in their own homes and send them along for Tannen and Talan to add to the mix.
There was one other consideration. “Ultimately it was really great that we did it at home in terms of my being pregnant,” Talan says. “It was kind of a hard pregnancy, so I needed to take a lot of breaks. If we had tried to do it all in a studio in two or three weeks — oh my god.”
The home where they do their work is in Topanga, California, about 30 miles west of Los Angeles. When they met, Tannen lived in New York City and Talan was in Boston, though they’ve both spent their share of time in other locales. (Talan spent the late ’90s in Oregon playing with a band called Hummingfish; Tannen spent much of his childhood in Australia and Canada.)
The move to the L.A. area was made in part to be close to the television and movie industries, a decision that appears to have paid off in spades: The press release sent out with advance CDs of Hideaway noted that the Weepies have netted a remarkable 43 film and TV song-placements. Just how much moving west had to do with it is anyone’s guess; Talan allows that “we ask ourselves that all the time, if we think of leaving.” She adds, after some thought, “I do think there’s something about being a person to the people who are picking the music, that maybe makes a little bit of a difference.”
Whatever the causes for their success with song-placements, there can be no doubt about the effect it has had on their career. “People discovered a song without having to commit to buying somebody’s record,” Tannen figures. “They just heard it and then they blogged about it and they shared it with their friends. And that really matters. Because it’s word-of-mouth, only on a really large scale.
“I know friends who, for example, watch ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ to listen to the music. They really do. And they go on the websites and they check out the bands that are on there.”
Indeed, TV song-placement has in many ways taken the place of radio for musicians seeking broad exposure. Television has become an outlet for fans to discover new acts “because somebody who’s the music supervisor is acting as an old-time DJ, who thinks, ‘I love this, and I think everybody else will too,'” Tannen says.
Part of the phenomenon is that many music-inclined creative types who used to pursue careers in radio are now frequently gravitating toward television and film instead. The resulting cross-pollinization of artistic media is something Tannen views as a natural connection.
“I don’t differentiate all that much between movies, music, TV — it’s like all these companion pieces that go along with your life,” he suggests. “You know, you go on a date to that movie. Or, ‘Remember that night we stayed up all night and we watched Wild Strawberries? Or whatever. There’s definitely a relationship. It doesn’t surprise me that someone who loves music would get into TV. For the end user, they’re related.”
As alluded above, ND co-editor Peter Blackstock would place the Weepies’ Say I Am You among his top ten records of the 2000s. He’d like to thank longtime pal and ND contributing editor David Menconi for prodding him to check it out a couple years ago.