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Friday, September 9, 2011

The Weepies touring "zoo" comes to Atlanta

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Rather than ask The Weepies what’s changed over the last few years, maybe it’s a better bet to ask Steve Tannen and Deb Talan what hasn’t. When I first interviewed the husband and wife duo 3-plus years ago, their story was in its early stages. They had just had their first son (they’ve got two now), and were fresh off the release of Hideaway, the acclaimed album that put them on the Billboard charts for the first time (Hideaway peaked at No. 31, while 2010’s Be My Thrill charted at No. 34). Those two albums, along with the Be My Thrill tour’s 26 sold-out dates, have made them a mainstay in the folk-pop world. The Weepies have always been acoustic at their core — and for this tour, that’s all they’ll be. Leaving the band at home, Tannen and Talan reconnect with the way they began (and the way they’ve pretty much always written) in their “Acoustic Evening With...” tour. So what’s changed? A lot. But talking to the duo now, it’s clear that all has been for the better.

The last time I interviewed you guys, you had just had your first child (Theo, born in 2007). Now that you’ve got a second boy, I'm curious if you can put into perspective what becoming parents has done for your songwriting and, ultimately, your career as a whole.
Steve Tannen: Right before our first son was born was the first time I ever projected out five or 10 years and wondered what I might be doing. I get spooked being in that fortune-teller mode — it feels somewhere between arrogant guesswork and useless worry. I’m more comfortable keeping my head down every day and just working on a song or a performance. It’s one of many, many changes in perspective we’ve had as new parents. That all colors the writing, too.

What's been the toughest logistical challenge as your family continues to grow? Touring? Time for writing?
Deb Talan:
Logistically, touring is the toughest — it’s a zoo. But emotionally, writing has been harder, and protecting “empty time” is the biggest challenge. Scheduling several hours of doing nothing and excluding the kids on purpose feels draconian. The whole time you’re thinking, “Why aren’t I using this time to play Arctic Explorer with my kids?” As they are getting older it’s getting a little easier on everyone.

So it's been almost exactly one year since the release of Be My Thrill. Lets put some perspective on the album - how has the response been? Anything you might have done differently, in hindsight?
Tannen:
It sold well, the tour was totally amazing, and then we had more media placements of Be My Thrill songs than any previous record. But how much of all that is merit for Be My Thrill, and how much is inertia from the last 10 years of work is hard to determine. If I had to change something, I’d push harder for “Same Changes” to be included on that record and not made into a separate track for that Harrison Ford movie (Morning Glory).

Do you tend to look at your own art that way (the "what could we have done differently" approach)? Why or why not?
Tannen:
We don’t. We’re pretty self-critical anyway, and it can begin to feel destructive. Going over your own long-ago-finished projects crosses some megalomaniacal line for me. I honestly don’t know if it’s just that we trust our younger selves, or are too afraid to look, or get bored too easily. Maybe it just feels unhealthy to dwell on the past.

This many albums into your career, I feel like you're probably able to look back at your discography and see where you've been and where you may like to go that you haven't yet. Do you see your albums thus far as logical steps next to each other, and good representations of phases in your life?
Talan:
Each album felt important for us to do at the time, and seems pretty reflective of what was happening — a “record” of a time in our lives. We hope it’s too early to divide them up into phases of a career. It even feels a little strange to say of the last three records: “Those were the years on the Nettwerk label,” though that’s what they were.

This tour is a more stripped down instrumentation, just a couple of acoustic guitars and a bass. What is it that you enjoy about playing in that setting? What are you able to do, musically, that a full band setup doesn't allow?
Talan:
This set up is closer to what we’ve been doing every day at home for years, and also closer to the way all the songs started out when we wrote them. Touring last year with that band was fantastically fun, but we don’t usually play with a band until we’re in the studio or just before tour. So this feels a little more personal, and a little more raw. We also wanted to scare ourselves and shake things up.

I've always really enjoyed your music videos (no exception with "Be My Thrill"). Is the visual aspect of your music something important to you?
Talan:
Thanks! We like videos, but we aren’t personally passionate about making them, so we wanted to find visual artists and directors who *were* passionate about it, and then we wanted to get out of their way. And that’s basically how all of them happened.

Tannen: We also do the album art (Deb does all the illustrations), so it’s not like we’re removed from the visual aspect, it’s just that videos are a specialized art, and to do them well takes a lot of time and effort that we’d rather spend on writing.

What's on deck in the next six months to a year? Already thinking about another record?
Talan:
Definitely. We’ve been writing a lot, and recording some. We’re very excited to be on tour until September, but then we can’t wait to get back at it. We’re not sure how it’s going to look in terms of releasing whole records or EPs or singles, or how to do that. The business part of this seems to change week to week.

An Acoustic Evening With The Weepies. $25. 8:30 p.m. Fri., Sept. 9. Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave NE. 404-524-7354. www.variety-playhouse.com

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