Steve Tannen, one half of the serenely sing-alongable indie folk duo The Weepies, tells Scene the story of the Hurricane Festival, a heavy-metal-tinged music fest in Germany. He and Deb Talan (his and The Weepies’ other half) got mistakenly booked there in 2006.
“Somebody screwed up,” Tannen says. No kidding. “The band was Tool… Do you know who Tool is? Well, this was the Tool crowd, thousands of young German men, tattooed, shirtless, drinking beer, angry. And all of a sudden it was like, Lehdees und Zhentlmann, ze Veepees!!! And I was like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.' This was not just terror. This was a feeling of existential crushing. You know, ‘This is crazy,’ ‘What am I doing here?”
But Tannen and Talan went with the flow, such as it was. They knew they could not “out-rock” Tool. They could not out-rock Black Flag. They could not out-rock Eagles of Death Metal and the assorted screamers on the line-up. (They were much more at home at 2010's Lillith Fair revival). So they tightened the straps on their guitars and decided to play quietly, even quieter than usual. Deb approached the microphone to sing — to coo — the catchy, tennis-ball-bouncing tune “Nobody Knows Me at All” from the 2006 album Say I Am You.
“And there was this moment,” Tannen says. “—It actually lasted for the entire set—where everyone just got it. It was us alone in a room singing, and they were swaying along. They spoke mostly German, I think. And we felt that that’s why you do a live show. Because you’re part of something, something you share. Deb got swamped afterward by all these young men with face tattoos. And it was so cute. It was awesome.”
"Cute" and "awesome" are likely two adjectives used by Weepies fans to describe the married musical duo. The couple happily lives in Iowa City, that hamlet for Midwestern literary snobs, a city where, nonetheless, "the best plumber is more famous and sought after than [The Weepies] are." Tannen and Talan have three children and a cluttered house dedicated to their music.
For local fans, the November 30th show at the Music Box Supper Club, an early stop on the "Completely Acoustic and Alone" tour, may be the last chance to see them live for quite some time.
“At least for now," Tannen says. "It doesn't mean it'll never happen again. We're still The Weepies, but Deb is going to release her [solo] record soon. Then she's going on tour in 2017, possibly to Europe... and then we'll deal with the Weepies again."
The show will be unlike the Weepies' past two tours — “There’s no crew, no tour manager, no band,” Tannen says. “It's just us," — and it arose, in part, because Tannen and Talan wanted to get back to their roots, back to seeking those moments of connection and surprise, and even moments of terror, that got them hooked on touring in the first place. They are sure to play, "to test," some of Talan's new solo material, but they'll also play Weepies favorites that have resonated with fans in the past.
It's a change of pace for the couple. Their last tour was on the occasion of Deb's having beaten Stage Three breast cancer.
"And so we wanted to have a party,” Tannen says. They brought 15 people on a tour bus: a huge band — the drummer for Elvis Costello, the music director for Sara Bereilles’ Waitress. And it was exactly what they needed, a celebration.
“But we’ve never been a big party band," Tannen says. "We’ve always been more looking-inward, and we wanted to get back in touch with that."
This summer, they played a few shows informally. On their way to visit friends or family, they'd throw their guitars in the back of their van and play a show en route. “And it was everything we’d hoped," says Tannen. "It was energizing."
So now, a tour devoted to that intimate set-up, a set-up for which the Weepies' ethereal melodies and relationship lullabies seem optimized. It'll be good for Tannen too, who says he's never been a natural on stage. He still gets anxiety.
"I’m not what anyone would call a road hog,” says Tannen. “And Deb, she doesn’t get nervous; she gets particular. She gets focused. For me, I love it when I really get into a song and everyone is a part of it — for that, I’m willing to risk it.”