Reporting Courtney E. Smith
A cursory look at the performance footage in PAPA’s video “Young Rut” offers a view of something not often seen in rock music: a singing drummer.
“My first instrument was actually the piano…[and] in some ways it’s still my favorite instrument,” the aforementioned singer/drummer (but really the man behind many instruments) Darren Weiss said in an interview with Radio.com.
In walking us through his musical and educational past, all the pieces fall into place. After touring as a drummer in several bands, Weiss decided to leave his whole life behind — moving from L.A. to New York City — to do something completely different. So he enrolled in college and began studying literature. Those studies lead to songwriting and soon Weiss began composing on an acoustic guitar and performing as a folk-ish act.
“Pretty much from the get-go I was always as interested in composition, one way or another, as I was in drumming,” Weiss said. “Before I could write songs, as a child, I was always writing little stories, writing poems. I was in art classes. I was always interested in composition. There was never a moment when I decided, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ Everything has been a natural progression.”
There was, however, a spark: the song “PAPA,” which kicks off Weiss and co-songwriter/bassist Danny Presant’s first full length album, Tender Madness. That particular song inspired Weiss to put a band together that evolved into the current iteration of PAPA.
“I’m not interested in doing this band, and I’m certainly not interested in touring, unless I can prove to myself that this is the most valuable thing I can do,” Weiss says. And there were some kinks to work out when putting the project together, like: which instrument would he, as a multi-instrumentalist, play?
“I was trying to avoid drumming, for some reason even though it’s the biggest love in my life,” Weiss recalls. “When I moved to New York I was trying to do something different…[But] I felt constantly frustrated with having other people play drums because I just knew exactly what I wanted. I knew exactly the way I wanted to feel and I was having trouble getting there.”
So he jumped back behind the drum kit, lined up a few guitar players who were better than himself to hammer out those parts and things started coming together.
The sounds that came out of this musical evolution owe a great debt to Levon Helms and The Band (acknowledged by Weiss as one of his biggest idols), Canadian indie rockers Wolf Parade and some certain dark aesthetic that rubbed off from his time in New York City that makes PAPA stand out amongst the other bands on the L.A. scene.
“It’s hard for me to sit down with an intention for a song and then manifest it,” Weiss said. “Usually the feeling happens and I need to get it out of my system so I write a song. But from a musical stand point, I think there is a big difference between us and other bands in Los Angeles…in that the music scene that we grew up in, the scene that we valued and idolized is very, very different from the bands that our friends looked up to.”
Weiss details his formative years participating in the L.A. underground punk scene, including his time with his brother in Wires On Fire, a band who he says were aligned more closely with No Age and The Smell scene, and toured with the Icarus Line and Dillinger Escape Plan.
Weiss did ultimately return from New York to L.A., but he sounds hesitant to call one or the other the band’s home base when asked. Though he eventually settles on Los Angeles, Weiss admits that his band doesn’t quite fit in with the scene musically and asserts that they are still profoundly affected by their experiences in New York.
“I certainly don’t see us aligned, really either musically or philosophically, with any of the bands that are rising up out of the L.A. scene,” Weiss said. “Having said that, we’re super close with a lot of the bands here and we love them. But I don’t really feel that we necessarily come from the same fabric. Which is not a bad thing.”