Darren Weiss's favorite artists were all New Yorkers. Talking Heads. Patti Smith. Basquiat. Stuff like that. So he was looking forward to making his mark with a New York band. The trouble is that he couldn't even get his friends to come see him play. He had to get a job at a local venue just so he could book his group PAPA.
"Most of the bands that we knew in Manhattan were either straight-up pop or a R&B kind of thing in a way that we weren't. Or there were a lot of bands out in Bushwick, like, punk bands, that were were just not very inviting," says Weiss. "I kind of had to create something for us at that time.
What a difference a change in location makes. PAPA would tour constantly, and whenever they hit California they always received a much, much warmer response. "We were better understood out here at that point," he says. "For whatever reason, there must've been something innately within us that just resonated more with the West Coast." They soon moved back to Los Angeles, where they found the supportive home base they needed.
Though Weiss, who sings and plays guitar and drums in PAPA, and bassist/co-songwriter Danny Peasant had moved to the East Coast for school and to try their hand at the New York music scene, both grew up in Los Angeles. "We met when we were seven or eight and we picked up instruments around the same time, which was probably 11 or 12."
They've been playing together ever since, and on October 8 the pair will release their full-length debut Tender Madness through Loma Vista. It's a collection of songs that brings to mind the taut post-punk grooves of Echo & The Bunnymen, the fractured tone of Pavement and the lyrical directness of classic pop icons like John Lennon. "I hear so many bands today because that sound like one thing because they think it's easy to market or some stupid shit like that, and it's just a really boring experience, listening to the record," Weiss says. "Within one lyrical phrase, I might be pulling from Roy Orbison and Kanye West at the same time, you know? To me, it's important to show our entire vision rather than be one kind of band or sound like one kind of genre. What's more important is just to express with wide range, the whole gamut of what we are experiencing."
PAPA aren't a band afraid of exploring all of their interests. And after several years of touring and songwriting, Weiss isn't a lyricist that is afraid to just say what he means.
"When I was touring and singing my own songs, the songs that were covered up in metaphor, they lost their grasp on me and the most important thing for a performer is you have to believe what you say. If you can't believe it, how are the people going to believe it? And I got lost in the language, the lexicon I was using," he says. "For me, the best songs--and the songs I find myself wanting to sing over and over again--are the most honest songs. That's just the way I retain or maintain my relationship with the material, singing it night after night. If it's honest, than sometimes, it's actually painful for me."
Weiss and Peasant write the songs together, with an open-door policy for anyone else who might feel like dropping by to play keyboards or drum on tour, after the pair have finished fine tuning their vision, which can take a while. "We both write in very different styles," Peasant says. "He's more acoustic-based. He writes his songs on an acoustic guitar and I need the whole take, so to speak, in order to picture how it's going to go, so I do it more with all the instruments.
"When you're doing anything creative and there are two people involved who have an active vision, there's going to be differences. But for the most part, we understand that it's for the best and when someone feels stronger than the other, usually it's for the right reasons."
After getting snubbed in New York early in their career, PAPA recently sold out the venue that wouldn't book them, and are getting buzz from Stereogum and BBC 1 for the singles "Put Me To Work" and "If You're My Girl Than I'm Your Man." But don't think that Weiss sees that as any sort of career validation. "It's sort of a strange thing I argue about with our manager and people in the band sometimes. I don't really care what people think about this band. It doesn't matter to me. I'm no more motivated today that I was when I was playing shows to nobody. The reasons I play music and tour and do these things--I guess you could call it selfish. It's an internal thing. I'm not seeking any reward, I don't want to be famous, I don't care about prestige, really. What matters to me is to make music that I want to listen to and to play shows that I would want to go see and to express the beautiful and fucked up things that we see in our lives."