Celebrated folk-pop duo The Weepies, composed of married couple Deb Talan and Steve Tannen, will kick off their latest concert tour May 29 at Madison’s historic Majestic Theatre. It’s a tour in support of “Sirens,” their first new full-length studio album in five years. And it’s been a hectic five years.
Since releasing “Be My Thrill” in 2010, the couple has moved to Iowa, had a third child and faced Talan’s diagnosis of breast cancer in 2013. But with her cancer in remission, the band is back on the road and showing their talents in new venues — including, unexpectedly, the BMI Pop Awards.
They were there, Tannen says, at the request of pop artist Pink, who was being honored by the licensing organization with the President’s Award at this year’s event, held on May 12. She got to pick the acts that opened for her, and the Weepies, along with Brandi Carlile, were the ones to get the call.
Tannen says it was a stressful experience, especially considering he doesn’t “get” award ceremonies, but he and Talan acquitted themselves well on a performance of Pink’s “F**king Perfect.”
But now that the show is behind them, he and Talan can focus on their own work — considered by critics to be a strong return to form. Tannen says he and Talan recorded “Sirens” in their new home, a welcome change from years of renting apartments in New York or Los Angeles.
Tannen says the couple are “hermits by nature” and the big cities where they spent the past 15 years weren’t conducive to that. Iowa City was always on their radar, a place where they’d performed frequently and had friends. Years prior, as they had their first children, Tannen says the couple joked that “(they) should just buy a house in Iowa.”
When they actually started looking, after Talan learned she was pregnant with the couple’s third child, they weren’t so single-minded. They visited eight cities, considering the pros and cons of each. But when they experienced a “magical vibe” pulling up to their new home and found themselves talking to neighborhood children about items as specific as where the best sledding hill was, Iowa City became the obvious choice. Shortly after they moved in, they set up a studio in the attic and recorded “Sirens.”
The Weepies have stated in previous interviews that they associate the sound of their albums with their cover art and “Sirens” is no different. While she was battling cancer, Talan investigated how other cultures deal with such a huge life issue. One of the cultures she studied was of the island of Bali, in Indonesia, and she found herself increasingly interested in Balinese sirens, or mermaids. It’s common for her to doodle or create etchings during the recording process and, as time passed, her drawings of them became a visual theme that defined their recording process.
While Talan’s battle shaped much of the album, the couple wrote many of its songs before her diagnosis, although that didn’t keep the occasional strange coincidence from peeking through. In “No Trouble,” for example, Talan sings “I don’t need no trouble, but sometimes trouble needs me” — lyrics written only weeks before her diagnosis. “It still keeps me up at night,” Tannen says, although he adds that while he’s spiritual, he doesn’t truly believe the lyrics were a prediction, or that you can dream ahead of time.
Still, he says the experience has changed the way he’ll look at songwriting going forward, deciding that he’ll only write about “where everyone’s happy, there’s always peace, and we all live forever.”
With Talan being declared cancer-free last year, Tannen says the group is in a celebratory mood. “Deb is fighting trim,” he says. “She’s in such great shape.”
He expects that will carry through to the mood of the tour, of which Madison is the first stop. They’ll be joined by Pete Thomas, the drummer for Elvis Costello’s band The Attractions (who also is featured on “Sirens”), and will have a six-person band in total — just for fun. “We wanna have fun,” Tannen says. “We feel like it’s a return to the world … and we’re going to go for as long as they will let us on stage.”
The Weepies will perform at Madison’s Majestic Theatre at 8:30 p.m. on May 29. Tickets are $25, $28 day-of-show, and can be purchased at 608-255-0901 or majesticmadison.com.