music

Clare Roth / Iowa Public Radio

It’s 2007, “The World Spins Madly On” is a massive hit, and The Weepies are exhausted.

“We did a year of our car, coffeehouses, 180 shows in 190 days where we were at festivals in Europe and everywhere, and we were just exhausted. And we are like recluses,” says Steve Tannen, one half of the folk-pop/husband-wife duo.

So, after releasing and touring their second album, Say I Am You, he and Deb Talan escaped to a small cabin in a state park one hour outside of Los Angeles, to take a breath and regroup.

“For that time, it was a real refuge. Yea, we did run away a little bit. Partly in order to make our next record and not feel like we had something to prove, just to sort of get a little bit of a cave, where we could just sort of do what we do,” says Talan.

And while their move to Iowa City may make it seem like they’ve run away again, Tannen and Talan says it’s simply the right place for them and their three children.

“This felt more like a running to, to me,” says Talan. “We had two kids, we started looking outside LA. It was so expensive and so crazy, and we had really embraced the crazy for a bunch of years, and then we were just like, ‘I think we need to at least try to feel what it feels like to be outside.’”

“We’re vagabonds and we wanted to put roots down somewhere,” Tannen adds, “and every time we’d been through Iowa we’d say to each other, ‘This is amazing, we should buy a house here and raise a bunch of kids.’”

Their upcoming tour kicks off at the Englert Theater with “The Weepies: Completely Acoustic and Alone.” In this Talk of Iowa interview, host Charity Nebbe talks with Tannen and Talan about recording Sirens, living in Iowa, and how creating music and creating a family intertwine.

Four essentials and four bonus tracks to get acquainted with the folk-pop duo.

Somebody Loved

Tannen has said the key lyric at the center of this song--"You turned me into somebody loved."--is the Tannen-Talan family motto.

The World Spins Madly On

The song that catapulted them to folk-pop stardom.

"The record sold 238 copies the first week," says Tannen. "Then, three months later, it was the number one song on the folk charts of eight countries, including America, and it was on the strength essentially of people sharing that song. I didn't want it on the record, because it was my voice. I love Deb's voice. Mine is fine, I have a fine voice."

"You have a beautiful, emotional voice," Talan interrupts.

She continues, "We were very surprised with how it sort of caught. You put out music that you feel. You write songs that you feel and you produce them in a way that is 'feelingful' and you put them out in the world. And we have songs that are particularly personally resonate, but there's no saying what other people will sort of--what will resonate in their own lives."

Be My Thrill

In a Java Blend interview from May 2015, Tannen explained the origins behind this song were rooted in an argument he and Talan had.

"I just stormed out, I was like 'Fine!' in order to not admit that I was wrong. And I went out and I wrote a song about what I thought I wanted, and it was like the angriest song that I've ever-- and it was some of this song. And I played it for Deb, like 'Here, here's my apology.' [strums guitar angrily] And she said 'Oh my god, it's a love song,' proving what I thought, which is that she's insane. And then she took it and she fixed it and she made it like this, and she made it into an actual love song, and that is marriage as far as I'm concerned."

Sirens

The titular song from their latest album, Sirens was recorded in one take, in the midst of Talan's chemotherapy treatments.

"That was while Deb had chemo and we didn't know what was going to happen and she was extraordinarily tired that week and just impossible to live with, because she was like 'I'm getting into the studio today.' And she couldn't get up, so I helped her up the stairs, and we got one take. And that was that take. And it brought me right back there. And I think that that force of will is what got Deb through. I really do. Deb's ability to say 'This is what I'm doing with my life, whatever is happening.'"

"And your support through it," she adds. "It was a team effort. It was very much a team effort."

Bonus tracks

Jolene

From their first album, Happiness

Orbiting

From their third album, Hideaway

Can't Go Back Now

Also from Hideaway

No Trouble

This video for another hit off of Sirens features photos of the Tannen-Talans at home

ASK Studio

An area of north Des Moines that holds a nostalgic place in the hearts of many central Iowans is being remade into a site where future generations can build memories.

Riverview Park sat on an island near the Des Moines River and operated from 1915 until 1978.

Plans are now in place to convert it into an outdoor concert venue large enough for 10,000 people.

Des Moines Parks and Recreation Director Ben Page says in designing the project, it was important to celebrate the future while honoring the past.

Music lovers of Iowa unite! Iowa has a growing summer music festival scene. To get a handle on the happenings, we've compiled this handy guide. If you see something missing, tweet us @IPRStudioOne. TO learn more about these festivals, and to hear interviews with many of the organizers, check out The B-Side, IPR's music blog. 

Lindsey Moon / Iowa Public Radio

On starry summer nights in rural Maquoketa in Northeastern Iowa, you can hear the sounds of bands like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Norah Jones and Conor Oberst wafting from inside an old implement barn built in the 1950s. The barn sits next to an original farmstead house turned art gallery that has been in Tiffany Biehl’s family for more than 150 years.

When Luke Benson started approaching other music lovers in the state about his idea for the Iowa Music Project, he did not anticipate that the end result would be a showcase where he and a committee would be trying to pick fewer than 30 songs from more than 250 submissions. 

"We were hoping for maybe 100, and we got that many in the last week alone. It was a tremendous response," says Benson. 

Iowa photographer Danny Wilcox Frazier and Benson Ramsey and David Huckfelt of the Pines are working together on a new project that merge art, music and a concern for a blighted rural landscape. Wilcox Frazier says the collaboration began when the three connected on their Iowa roots.

“If you grow up as an artist or a musician, you see this rich cultural heritage in Iowa and you begin to wonder as your travel around how things became the way they are. For us, this is a longing for home,” he says.

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Hip-hop artist Dahlak Brathwaite was arrested after being caught with magic mushrooms as a youth.  During a show he calls Spiritrials, he raps about his arrest and how he was treated by the criminal justice system. 

"The way the criminal justice system is set up, if you are caught with drugs, you are labeled as a drug addict who needs help," he says.

courtesy of the The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra

Wacky costumes, ukuleles and confetti are not usually a part of orchestral performances. The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra is trying to change that, and they’re touring Iowa this week. Age Pryor, the band's co-founder, says that when the group got started, they were really just a ukulele jam band meeting at the local cafe. 

Christina Lynn Johnson, / Wikimedia Commons

His instrument was small, but his persona was not. Herbert Khaury, known as “Tiny Tim,” was born in New York in the late 30s, became a star in the 60s and later moved to Iowa for a time before he died in 1996.

Justin Martell, author of a new biography about Tiny Tim, says that he first became aware of the musician at a Halloween theme park.

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation / Wikimedia Commons

Every once in a while we hear about a child musical prodigy who can play an instrument better than most of us could ever dream of playing.  Few of these prodigies become adult stars, but Chris Thile is an exception. 

Thile started playing mandolin with the band Nickel Creek when he was only 8 years old, and he won his first Grammy at age 16.  Today, he fronts the band Punch Brothers and has been named a MacArthur Genius. Starting in early 2016, he’s going to be taking over as host of A Prairie Home Companion for Garrison Keillor.

Courtesy of Joseph Firecrow

Joseph Firecrow remembers growing up on the reservation and listening to the elders play the flute. He started learning the instrument when he was 18 and says a true Cheyenne flute player hasn’t mastered the craft until he can both play and make a flute.

Chlot's Run / Flickr

Instead of a compact disc, people who preordered The Awful Purdies' album, "All Recipes Are Home," got a different, but no less meaningful physical manifestation of the album--a packet of seeds.

"The people who preordered the album planted the seeds in the spring and at the record release on June 27th, you could see the photos of the food they’d already grown. People were actually eating the food they'd grown from the album," Katie Roche, a member of The Awful Purdies, says.

Clay Masters / IPR

Around the start of the new millennium, the eyes of the nation turned to Omaha, Neb., and bands like Bright Eyes and its label Saddle Creek Records. As it often does, the spotlight has flickered elsewhere in the search of what's next. But Omaha's music scene is still going strong: there are a number of new albums coming out this year with ties to the Midwestern city.

Courtesy of Nick Dawe

A cappella singing has come a long way since its roots in cathedrals or a barber shop quartet, as exemplified by the new film Pitch Perfect 2. Lee Nelson directs choral activities at Wartburg College and says it’s a constantly evolving genre.

IPR's Pat Blank

The month of April means tax time and for the past 50 years, in one Northeast Iowa town there’s a tradition that’s almost as reliable. It’s the Shell Rock Spring Swing Show.