Papa: A Family Tradition

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Hometown: Encino, Calif.
Members: Darren Weiss, Daniel Presant
Latest Release: Tender Madness (Oct. 8)
For Fans Of: Wolf Parade, Girls, Tom Petty 

Darren Weiss explains his band Papa’s name like he has told the story dozens of times. Not that he sounds disinterested, quite the opposite. When describing his grandfather and the reasoning behind naming Papa after him, Weiss is deliberate and precise with his wording, speaking in a confident baritone that you’d expect from a more imposing figure. And though he isn’t large, his eyes are deep-set and maintain contact while he talks, striking short of menacing, but commanding enough to quiet a room when he has something to say.

“He was alive 21 years of my life and I rarely heard the same story twice,” Weiss says of his papa. “It was more about when he spoke, it wasn’t like ‘the old guy is talking about the old days again, great.’ His stories would capture this energy that was sometimes really violent and manic and sometimes was really exciting and romantic.

“The reason why I thought the name was something I would want to use for this band,” he continues, “is that when he spoke, you wanted to listen because of the way he spoke and the things he had to say. You listened to him because his authority was earned.”

Weiss and his songwriting partner Danny Presant have known each other since they were seven years old, both getting into the same DIY punk scene that is the philosophical foundation for Papa’s music.

“Daniel and I are really different, but, there is a lot of common history,” Weiss says. “We get asked the question a lot of who in this indie world that we see ourselves aligned with? I don’t see anyone aligned with us and the reason is that Danny and I were weaned on a cultural music that doesn’t exist anymore, and honestly a lot of musicians, when they were younger, just weren’t cool enough to know about. Bands like Hot Snakes, Pleasure Forever, The Icarus Line and The Murder City Devils.”

From a couch across the room, a voice chimes in and takes over the conversation: Darren Weiss’ older brother, Evan. Evan is Papa’s touring guitarist and played the role of tutor for the young Darren and Danny growing up. Like his brother and grandfather, Evan is also an orator with a booming voice that demands attention.

“You have to remember the climate,” Evan Weiss explains. “Blogs didn’t exist when we were in high school. So bands like the Murder City Devils, they would tour for years and years and years and they built this real thing. So you’d go to the show, and they were on fucking fire. And, it was so powerful to see when you are in your early teens. It wasn’t some hyped blog thing with some good looking skinny guy.”

“And it wasn’t about one song,” Darren adds, not in the least bit surprised that his brother had seamlessly become part of this interview. “So, Danny, and I, and Evan, we grew up existing in this underground culture that was rooted in punk. And even though Danny and I love all kinds of music, we love jazz and classical and hip-hop, and all these different kinds of things, but there is still this seed from this cultural experience that we had and that we wanted to be a part of, but we were just too young. This band is an extension of that culture.”

When the three men get deep into talking about music, the room becomes electric and energized. Evan also leads his own band, Slang Chickens, and almost seems like a spirit guide to Papa’s rock ‘n’ roll soul.

“It was about musicianship,” Evan notes about the turn of the millennium underground. “Every band could fucking play. They didn’t have a sampler.”

“We practice and practice,” chimes in Presant, displaying his skill of summing up extended digressions into a short and direct phrase.

“I just love live music,” Darren Weiss says. “I grew up on punk and rock music, and then I grew to love jazz music. Living in New York especially and going to see people like Brian Blade and things like that, where it was a communicative experience, between the audience and the person on stage. That is really important to me, because that’s what music is. I idolize people like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. You have an acoustic guitar and your face, and what are you gonna do with that? What can you bring within your body to amplify your soul?”

“It’s a living thing, it’s beautiful,” adds Presant.

“I remember seeing Animal Collective in a small club,” Darren continues, “and I didn’t know much about them, but I liked them when I heard them, and it was just two dudes with a computer and I felt really depressed. I felt ripped off. I have no beef with electronic music. I love a lot of electronic music and I’ve seen a lot of great electronic live shows, but for me, as far as my experiences, and the kind of artist I’m interested in being, I’m here to prove something to you, and to my fucking self: This is worth our time to be here together.”

For several years, these moments of shared space in concert were all Papa had to offer. The 2011 EP A Good Woman Is Hard to Find earned them some acclaim and their growing number of fans saw months of awaiting a full-length turn into two years. Papa’s biggest exposure came from a gig Darren Weiss took recording as drummer for now-defunct San Francisco band Girls. When Girls asked him to come out to tour their Father, Son, Holy Ghost LP, he jokingly said only if Papa could open, thinking that would be an easy out. Instead, he spent months touring the world with Girls, exposing Papa to thousands of people in the process, until leaving shortly before their breakup.

More tours would follow, all to the effect of being able to record their LP on their own, without label support. With their reputation growing, including slots at FYF Fest and Outside Lands, it was not a surprise that indies and majors alike were interested in putting out their LP. The band eventually chose Loma Vista, an imprint of Universal Republic. For a band raised on DIY culture, the conflict of signing with a major is unquestionable.

“I had a lot of issues with it,” Darren says. “We had a lot of people that we talked to and even when I had my suspicions, I’d be like, ‘Look, I’m open-minded, I’ll hear you out, but I don’t believe this is going to work.’ But, Loma Vista was special. They have a really great operation and Loma Vista itself has eight people working there, but they are backed by Universal Republic, so we get the feel of both worlds. I think that is good for the band, because though we do come from a punk background, we also have interests in pop music and a whole range of things, and it was important for us to work with a label that has that flexibility.

“We were not smitten,” Weiss continues, allowing no confusion to the fact that he took the decision to find their eventual home seriously. “I told them at one point, something to the effect of ‘I don’t care what people think about this record.’ There was even a point where we said fuck all of these people, we’re going to put it out ourselves. We have a great team with our management and our booking, we could do it ourselves, but once we got to know Loma Vista…”

“We weren’t smitten at first,” Presant confirms.

Tender Madness, due to be released on Oct. 8, is true to their mission of standing apart and it sounds like nothing else happening in rock ‘n’ roll. Though the DIY approach went into its creation, the closest it comes to punk is the first sung moments of the album, when Weiss screams while counting off “Put Me to Work.” Instead, the album sounds like a band that listened to The Big Chill soundtrack a lot as kids, with huge choruses and a classic-soul delivery that is distinctly American.

As refreshing and well-constructed as the record is, their lack of easily identifiable reference points in contemporary music culture makes it hard to picture how everything will come together for Papa. But the last people worried about that are the band.

“There are a lot of bland records being made today,” Darren says. “They sound like it’s a manager and a producer, trying to figure out a band and a sound so they can market that sound in a way that they’ve envisioned. I don’t give a shit about anything like that. We’ve been playing these songs a year without people knowing them all and it hasn’t mattered.”

“But you can see them wanting,” Presant adds. “They want to know them.”

“We put on Revolver in the van the other day and what are the first three songs: ‘Taxman,’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘I’m Only Sleeping,’ and then the George Harrison song with the sitar, the first time they had done something like that I believe. I mean, you couldn’t have four more different songs. But you aren’t listening wanting the songs to make more sense together, or thinking I wish this is more like ‘She Loves You.’ You listen because they are great songs that express something interesting. Each song is like a culture of its own.

“Safety isn’t important to us,” Presant adds.

Indeed, safety would have been getting the album out fast, and filling it with more highlights from the EP (only “I Am the Lion King” is featured on both the EP and LP). Safety would be recording within a genre. Hell, safety would be getting Darren Weiss to perform in the center of the stage and not from behind his drum kit. But this is the confidence that they display, that what they have to say is worth hearing. It will make listeners climb up on their proverbial lap and await the captivation that apparently runs in the Weiss’ family.

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