The Weepies

The folk-pop duo marry affecting lyrics with a winsome energy and gorgeous harmonies

By Rev. Adam McKinney on May 17, 2018

For a period of time that seemed to last forever, but what actually amounted to probably less than a decade, starting in the mid-'00s, a virus known as folk-pop spread across the land. What started in indie circles, with musicians donning denim, adopting saccharine harmonies, and affecting a certain performative rootsiness, soon crept its way into mainstream music culture. Seemingly every TV commercial, festival main stage, and cloying film soundtrack had become saturated with this surface-level folk-pop. It's not hard to understand why this happened; while the phenomenon has been somewhat curtailed with the Internet's egalitarian ability to give every conceivable genre its moment in the sun, it used to be common practice for a stripped-down sound to come by and reset the previous decade's mistakes. Punk, grunge, and the garage rock revival all owed their success to this impulse for combatting pop music bloat.

When people pushed back on this folk-pop movement, though, I think that they weren't doing it just because of its pervasiveness, or because of any particular aversion to its sound. I think they perceived an insincerity at the heart of many of these bands, the same way any so-called posers get derided in whatever field they choose. Still, as with just about any genre you can point to, there are those that simply go wherever the wind is blowing, and there are those that approach their art with an honesty and affection that is instantly recognizable.

And so, we have the Weepies. Predating the folk-pop explosion by a few years, the Weepies carry with them none of the baggage, nor the utterly played-out sonic cliches of the bands that would come to dominate the folk-pop discussion. Formed by the since-married duo of Deb Talan and Steve Tannen in 2001, the Weepies released a couple of well-received albums before getting their breakthrough moment in 2008, with their third LP, Hideaway. The album reached number 31 on Billboard's Top 200, which is an impressive feat for a record that, while certainly lovely, is not exactly the flashiest piece of music out there. What's for sale, with the Weepies -- and what has always been for sale -- is the remarkably intimate, heartfelt lyrics, supplemented by Talan and Tannen's gently intertwining harmonies and subtly catchy instrumentation. 

Hideaway has hit the 10th anniversary of its release, prompting the Weepies to embark on a nationwide tour in its honor. But, while Hideaway was what helped put them on the map, the Weepies haven't been twiddling their thumbs in the interim. Be My Thrill came around in 2010, and was similarly met with a positive reaction. In 2013, though, the band announced that Talan had been diagnosed with stage two breast cancer, and the future of the Weepies seemed uncertain. Thanks to successful treatment and the outpouring of support from a devoted fan base, Talan and the band bounced back in health and good spirits with their wonderful 2015 album, Sirens.

The Weepies build strikingly on their earlier work, with Sirens. Enlisting a staggering murderer's row of music industry pros - including musicians who've worked with the likes of David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Pearl Jam, Elvis Costello and King Crimson, to name a few - Sirens maintains some of the lightness of their previous albums, while adding layers of complexity, all without disturbing the balance that made their music so initially affecting. You would never know that it was recorded while Talan was still quite sick, but that knowledge underscores the whole album's sense of melancholy, cautious optimism and eventual joy. Through their earnestness, sense of humor and winsome energy, the Weepies gave folk-pop a good name.

THE WEEPIES, 7:30 p.m., Friday, May 18, Rialto Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, $29-$49, 253.591.5890,