Talk to Steve Tannen for any amount of time about The Weepies, the pop-folk duo he and his wife, Deb Talan, formed 17 years ago, and you’ll feel a strong sense of amazement and gratitude. Not just for the success of their musical partnership but at the fact that they connected and have stayed connected.
“It was amazing meeting her. You can’t believe that someone could love you the way you love them and then some,” Tannen said recently by phone from Iowa City, Iowa, in an interview filled with honest insights and laughs … lots of laughs.
“When people see us together, there’s not much of a mystery about why we’ve been able to be together so long. She’s fierce. You’ll see. Also, she’s funnier than me, but she’s not as frequently funny. She saves it up.”
People can experience an evening of humor and harmonies with The Weepies on Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Cavalier Theater.
Tannen loved Talan’s music before they even met, when both were solo artists. “I was a huge fan of Deb Talan and then became something of a preacher in the church of Deb Talan,” said Tannen, who played her album obsessively and sang harmonies along with it.
It turned out that she was a fan of his music, too, and after she came to see him play the first time they started writing together right away. After a period of playing solo shows on the same bill, they combined forces. The venue owner wanted them to come up with a name for the act, and they agreed on The Weepies, thinking of tearjerker movies, a somewhat ironic name considering their smart, emotionally rich songs mostly seem to be built on a foundation of unshakeable positivity.
“We thought the name was just going to be for one show,” Tannen said, but that one show was a sellout, and a second night then sold out, and next thing they knew they had sold 10,000 copies of their independently produced album, “Happiness,” out of the trunk of their car, an impressive feat for any indie act.
“We were well aware that there was something bigger and magical and more mysterious that people were responding to,” Tannen said.
There’s a sense of wonderment in Tannen’s voice as he talks about the band’s unlikely rise. After the first record, they got burned out and needed a change of scenery, so they moved from the East Coast out to California. They made their second album at their home in Pasadena, with no real thoughts of selling it.
“We had one microphone and a computer at home,” Tannen recalled. “We made a record just because we didn’t have anything else going on. We’ve never given any thought to the marketplace.”
That record, “Say I Am You,” ended up being released on Nettwerk Records (Sarah McLaughlin’s label), and “it went bananas,” Tannen said, with the album ending up No. 1 on iTunes in eight countries.
Sometime in 2005, Tannen recalls he and Talan playing an acoustic show at a Saturday farmers market in La Crosse. He should probably be excused for not recalling the details, considering that some years The Weepies played 225 shows.
All told, they’ve released seven albums and even if you don’t think you’ve heard of The Weepies, you’ve probably heard their music as they have had way more than their share of songs placed in TV shows and movies and even commercials. “All That I Want,” a song they wrote during their first Christmas as a couple, was used in a memorable 2007 J.C. Penney ad.
Their show at the Cavalier is part of a holiday tour, and they’ll play “All That I Want,” and most likely they’ll play “World Spins Madly On,” “Crooked Smile” and “Hideaway,” the title track on their third album. Shows earlier this year celebrated the 10th anniversary of “Hideaway” and pulled heavily from that album, but the holiday tour is a spontaneous “conversation” drawing on songs from throughout their careers, even their early solo days, with a different set every night that also might include a couple covers.
“It’s more of a comfortable evening of connecting. These are some of the best shows I’ve experienced as a performer,” Tannen said. “We are trying to connect in an age of isolation.”