Darren Weiss is a musical journeyman. From playing basement shows in punk bands to dazzling festival goers across America, he has found solace within his most current project PAPA. The duo of Weiss on drums and bassist Daniel Presant have carved out a new piece of the ever-growing alternative indie universe, a genre so vague it pains me to even write those two words in succession. But what else do you call a band with a do-it-yourself fervor wrapped around punk philosophy? Well, I guess you call it PAPA.
The band is currently engaged in a residency at the Bootleg and is booked for a headline Constellation Room show tonight, their third at the Observatory in five months. I spoke with Darren Weiss about the band’s sound, their new video, and his ability to continually rebuild.
This is your third Observatory Show in six months. Are you seeing your Orange County fan base grow a little bit?
I think and I hope so. This will be our third Santa Ana show and we've been really lucky to support a lot of really great bands, at that venue in particular. I think each time our work connects with people. From what I hear, the pre-sale is going really well so we’re all super excited about that.
You’re also in the middle of a residency at the Bootleg, as well. That seems like a lot of material…I know you have a new album out this year and have an EP out, but when you have to play four shows at the same place, I imagine you’re assuming some of the same people are coming back. Do you mix in different covers or play different versions of the same songs?
That’s definitely something we think about a lot, because we know that by playing a free show in our hometown, there are going to be some repeats. It’s important for us as much as it’s important for the fans that each time we play it is something new and exciting. We have been doing different covers each night to add to the set. Because we have the EP and the full-length, we have the luxury of having more songs than time to play them so we do get to switch a few in and out. I think even more importantly, what keeps it fresh and exciting more than what songs we’re playing or the order we play them, which we do work on, but the most important thing is being able to feed off of the people that are coming. Whether or not they are the same people or new people, the energy is always different and I think that more than anything, being able to have that connection and sort of do it together with the audience makes it a different experience each time.
The Bootleg is not super big and the Observatory is kinda big, but the Constellation Room is not big at all, so you can kind of tap into that a lot easier.
We've been pretty lucky in the big room there at The Observatory. It’s always super important that we’re not just playing our songs in front of people. It’s always super important to me and I think the rest of the guys that what we’re doing on stage is happening as a result of the interaction, whether it’s verbal or nonverbal, with the audience. I think for any great show that I've ever been to, whether it’s at Madison Square Garden or the Constellation Room, it’s reliant on a sort of togetherness, moving together with the artist and the audience.
As a drummer, that must be kind of hard, because you can’t really run around. Well, you do…
You can’t really stage dive as much. When did you make the insane decision to play drums and sing at the same time?
I played drums since I was a little boy, but I always played drums in different bands and even in bands when I helped write songs, I was never the singer. I started to have the desire to sing my own songs, so I started performing acoustically, you know, I’d go out with a guitar and boots on and I’d sort of stomp out rhythms and play along to my boot stomping. And then I wanted it to grow and I started putting bands together and it was always hard for me with drums because I’m not a very good guitar player. I write songs on guitar and I play on the recordings, but I wouldn't hire myself as a guitar player to be in a band. But I always worked really hard on drums so it felt sort of stupid to keep looking for drummers and play guitar myself, like it should be the other way around. I knew people could play the guitar parts, but there was something in the energy of me behind the drum set that I knew was different for myself, made the mood differently than playing with other people. It really, with everything in this band, I think the key cliché phrase for this band is that “necessity is mother of invention” because everything we do is sort of like forced up against the wall and our reaction to that is the art that we make and the way that we do it. So that was sort of it and I wanted to play with a band but it wasn't working out so I said “F*** it, I’ll just do it myself.”
One of my favorite musical heroes, singer songwriter drummer whatever, is Levon Helm from The Band and I just sort of set to work at it. It definitely wasn't easy at first, it was just something that I wanted and I worked at and now it feels very natural to me. Sometimes when my throat’s ringing and we have band practice and I don’t sing, it sounds really strange and unnatural to play these songs without singing and playing drums at the same time.
The video for “Put Me to Work” is also sort of insane. How comfortable were you wielding a flaming axe?
When we started thinking about making the video, and this is usually how it happens with our music videos, we will sit down and listen to the music and whatever image pops into our head will sort of be our basis for the video and we’ll revolve the rest of the ideas around this image. For whatever reason, when I was listening to this song thinking about a video, I just saw myself in overalls with an axe on fire and I couldn't get that idea out of my head. Everyone was saying “that’s really dangerous, you should make sure you have people who know what they are doing, you should maybe practice with this thing.” I said “No no no, don’t worry about it. It’s just an axe on fire, what could go wrong?” Of course, once we were filming and I can feel the heat of the flame against my curly hair and my neck and was thinking for the first time, finally: “This is actually a really dumb idea. Oh my god, I hope I don’t catch fire.” We had a couple buddies with a fire extinguishers off-camera and it was fine. No one got hurt. We are happy with the way it came out.
Who is playing guitar for you these days? If I’m not incorrect, there was someone different in August than there was in November.
Unfortunately, because of where the band is at, it’s hard for us to have full time people that can make the sacrifices we’re making without being full-time members. We’re always trying to work on that, but it’s not easy so that’s why it’s really just Danny and I because we write the music together and work on things with other people. Right now, the guy playing guitar is Ben Lear. It’s funny, the first band I was ever in when I was 12 or 13, which was also with Danny playing bass, was with Ben Lear. We've been playing music together for many, many years and he’s great.
He’s great and we’re lucky that we have so many super talented friends that want to make it work, but we've been happy with Ben playing with us.
I apologize for bringing up GIRLS, because it seems like every interview you do brings up GIRLS, but I want to talk about it in the context of them no longer existing. Do you look back at your decision (to leave the band) and think “Man, I got out at the right time.”?
I definitely don’t have any regrets about leaving when I did. To be perfectly honest, I've never even really thought twice about it. It wasn't something I had to deeply ponder, I knew from the get-go that it wasn't going to be full-time for me. I love those guys, and I love that time, it was a really amazing experience, and a really special thing for me and I’ll never forget it. I’m still close with Christopher (Owens) and JR (White). My brother is actually on tour with Christopher right now and is playing guitar with him on his solo career. But, yea, I think it was the right time and people, of course, told me that I was crazy and making the biggest mistake of my life and all this bullsh*t and that bullsh*t, and people always tell you that you’re making mistakes. It’s important to know that what other people feel doesn't really matter. You know what’s right, and I think it worked out for everyone, for the best. Their time was coming to a close, whether or not it was out in the open, but maybe it was sort of felt. It worked out for me, that I was able to separate myself and start working hard on my own work and now that Christopher is doing exactly what he wants to do and it all worked out well.
You've been part of a lot of bands over the years, so what kind of mental toll does it take to start over again? Maybe going from playing venues you’re able to play with one group to going back to being your own roadies.
I don’t really care about that. I've played with a lot of bands and I've been touring on and off for the last eight years almost, not consistently, as I've done school and things like that. But I started touring eight years and it’s been with several different bands.
I've never really thought about success, especially not in music. I grew up playing in punk bands and hardcore bands where it was very purposefully antagonistic music. We didn't want to be mainstream and in that way we were sort of fighting any desire to be successful. The art we were making was a reaction against acceptance, sort of, in a weird way. I know that sounds sort of odd.
You were trying to challenge the audience to even like you.
Yea, it was sort of like we wanted to make people uncomfortable and make people angry and of course, we knew that in doing that, we weren't going to be staying a five-star hotels. My first three years of touring I was staying on beer-soaked tile linoleum floors from whoever would have us after the basement show that we played. Even though I've grown a little bit away from that, that will still always be at the core of what I do because that’s the genesis of it for me. So, whatever success that I've had relating to playing big venues and having people carry gear for me, all of that stuff is nice, but I, for whatever combination of reasons, I just don’t really care about that. I've played festivals and shows in front of 20,000 people and I've walked away from it thinking “Wow, that was a fun cool experience” and not much more than that. I've played to rooms with five, maybe ten, people in them and felt like “I just had a connection with God, something spiritual happened here.” To me, no matter what happens in my life, for better or worse, I think that’s always going to be the thing that matters to me.
Luckily, you know PAPA’s been doing well, and it seems to be doing well and we’re working hard and travelling a lot. This thing is definitely moving forward and this to me is the most exciting project because it is that combination of…I’m aware PAPA is not a hardcore punk band, I understand the kind of music that we’re making. But it is still coming from that same place and for those reasons; I never expected this to be something that people were going to resonate with. So it’s been a little bit bizarre for me but it’s been really special, too, because it’s not hard for me to go from having…I mean, I hate driving through the night in a shitty van. (laughs) But in the bigger picture, for whatever supposed sacrifices I would be making in what could be seen as taking a step backwards, to me, just doesn't even matter. Couldn't even come close to mattering compared to the feeling I get from working on something that is this dear to me.
You’re twitter account is pretty funny. Do you run that or does someone else?
Danny and I both do it. Probably an equal amount.
I’m assuming you guys are Raiders’ fans then, because of the logo.
We’re actually not.
That’s a logo that I made. Like I said with these images when we think about music videos, an image pops in our head and we run with it. That’s an image that just came into my head a couple years ago and I don’t why it’s still the image for our Twitter account. That was just a pin that we made like three years ago and we didn't have any press photos at the time, so that was our press photo.
Well keep using it until you get sued, I guess.
Yea, I guess so.
Tickets are still available for tonight's show. Buy them HERE as they are only $10 and worth every penny.