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PAPA returns to SF for spring tour supporting new album 'Tender Madness'

Los Angeles band, PAPA is kicking off their Spring tour with a headlining show at The Independent, on Friday, May 23. The tour will culminate with a spot at Lollapalooza on Aug 2. An explosive live band, PAPA has been garnering rave reviews for their shows since they released their 2011 EP “A Good Woman Is Hard To Find”. Last Fall, they followed that with a full-length debut, “Tender Madness” on the Loma Vista label.

PAPA duo - Darren Weiss (left) and Daniel Presant (right) return to San Francisco.
Photo by Sam Monkarsh

PAPA is duo Darren Weiss on drums and vocals, with Daniel Presant on bass. The two are childhood friends who were visiting local venues such as The Troubadour and El Rey Theatre together, as soon as their parents let them out at night. Their favorites were punk bands like Icarus Line and Fugazi. Later, each had their own bands and went their separate ways.

Presant went to college in Boston. After attending college in New York, Weiss moved back to LA to re-group. Once back home both began writing and recording. The erudite Weiss does the songwriting while Presant with his hip hop sensibilities brings a nice balance to the finely crafted, anthemic tunes of loss and heartbreak.

Weiss has admitted in interviews that 'of all the people he knows and have played music with, there isn't anyone more ill-suited for him than Presant' but yet, their differences when it comes to PAPA, results in the sublime.

Not surprisingly their collective taste in music is equally varied from classical music by Debussy and Ravel, to A Tribe Called Quest, ODD, Tom Petty, Nick Cave, Brian Eno, David Byrne and The Clash. Insistent that they are less interested in belonging to any genre or tribe, but in just playing honest music – they succeed with songs such as “Put Me To Work”, “The Replacement” and their latest single, “I’m Not Sorry”.

However, still very much in the grain of indie pop, Weiss’ deep baritone and sullen lyrics shares much in common with Matt Berninger of The National. In its lighter shades and teamed with the synths and power chords on tracks such as “If You’re My Girl, Then I’m Your Man”, it is reminiscent of The Killers. Of course, with their themes of heartland rock, Americana and liberal use of the flag, you can't miss the obvious Springsteen influence, though theirs bears a more ethereal quality rather than the streetwise, stonewash edge of yesterday.

There is something uncompromising about Weiss, an intensity and single-mindedness that will take this band places. But in the meantime with Presant by his side, their mix of catchy melodies, Weiss’ big vocals and a strong rhythm section of drum and bass is guaranteed to earn them more fans.

Between rehearsing and ahead of their show here, Weiss took some time out to speak to from LA. He talked about their debut album beyond the hashtags, revealing a more poetic songcraft at its core and explains why they are keen to get back to San Francisco.

So you guys are getting ready to go on tour – has there been any prep or is it just all basketball and Meryl Streep movies?

(Laughs) We’ve have been working a lot. We haven’t been on the road for a while and so have been writing a bunch. And trying out new songs.

You are working on your next album already?

We are deep into writing our next album.

‘Women, America and Insanity’, this was the tagline sold to us about what this album - “Tender Madness” is about, is it really?

I think the whole tagline was misconstrued. It is a commentary on social politics, sure, but more than anything, this album reflects my experience as a young American traveling the country and dealing with insanity and romance. The album was written over a long period of time not like this next album we are working on. There was at least a couple of years of us, young men traveling the country over and over again. The loss that is ingrained in that, not being a successful band, sleeping in shared beds, losing our loves and in large parts our sanity. But today everyone demands a quick hashtag.

Except for some notable exceptions – it is rare that a drummer is also the lead singer and not just doing back-up falsettos – how did that happen?

When I started the band, that wasn’t the intention to be the singer and the drummer. I was playing guitar and living in New York and didn’t know any drummers. After trying to get people to join the band, I started just doing both myself. But Levon Helm (one of the most accomplished drummers whose also sings the memorable 1969 Woodstock hit, 'The Weight' with The Band) is one of my musical icons and now it feels really natural. It actually feels sort of uncomfortable when I get up and sing away from the drums.

You have said that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ for your band but how easy is it for you to keep changing tack?

It’s the only way I can keep my sanity. I have no desire to sit around. I love music and I love to work. If I’m not working on a creative project of some kind, I feel like I’m wasting my time. I do session work as a drummer. Aside from music and the album, “Tender Madness”, I also published my first collection of poems and drawings called “The Only Thing Worse Than A Woman Is A Man”. I wake up and feel a strong compulsion to work, PAPA is the center of my Universe right now but I still need to expand all this energy. I don’t go on hikes or runs instead I write a song or drum or draw to get the devil out of me.

How many musical instruments do you play?

I’ve been playing the drums since I was 11. I studied drums and I take it really serious. I had piano lessons before that and so 50 per cent of the songs for PAPA are written on that. The guitar I taught myself. I feel like I think a lot in musical terms – if I think of something, I see it in a sonic way rather than visual. When I moved to New York, I felt like I needed to perform these songs. I had the sounds in my head cause I didn’t have people around who could perform them with me. I hear everything before I create it. So I have to keep up with the instruments to manifest what I hear in my head.

You were studying literature at College at the time, was all that inspiring your songwriting?

Absolutely, I was exposed to a lot of authors and poets. Novelists such as Saul Bellow and Henry Miller, poets such as Gregory Corso and Frank O’Hara they affected my prose and changed the way I wanted to write. For me, songwriting is also about finding poetry in a modern language. So I read as much as I listen to music. The literature of my life affects the music I make as much as the relationships I’m in.

The name PAPA, you have said it is named for your grandfather - we all love our grandparents yet not all of us go out and name our bands after them?

It wasn’t just I love my grandfather. The storytelling was such an enormous part of my upbringing. The way he talked about life was almost American mythology. The way I was then exposed to inhabit and see this country. He passed away six years ago around the time that I started PAPA.

The last song on the album, “The Replacement” has a totally different mood, like an old-Sinatra type ballad or French chanson as much as an old country song, can you tell us about that?

That’s a very honest and true heartbreak song about something I went through. The female singer is Lydia Roger from a band called The Secret Sisters – their new album, “Alabama” just came out last month. They are rooted in Country. Initially, I thought this isn’t a PAPA song, I would give it to them. But after the song was written, I felt so deeply connected to it, I couldn’t let it go. But I could only hear Lydia’s voice. It wasn’t trying to be an indie song or a rock song, just an honest one. And that doesn’t fit that hashtag of the album.

Would you consider PAPA, a band of 4 now since you also have your brother playing guitar and a keyboardist?

Always when we tour, there is four of us. But the bulk of the creative process, the conjuring up – that’s between David and me.

You were the drummer with Christopher Owens's SF-based indie-rock band Girls - did you ever live here?

Only briefly when I was working, and it was a month at a time staying at The Pheonix Hotel. And I absolutely loved it especially my daily walks through the Tenderloin where I saw many horrifying things. But I loved it cause it reminded me of New York – where you encounter many kinds of madness on the street, it is unavoidable and it was affecting my daily life.

Why did you move back to LA?

In New York, I was a bus-boy working at a restaurant. If you’re not a successful band there it’s not the easiest place to be. You live in Manhattan, and you travel on the subway to Brooklyn to practice. I would get my drum kit from my apartment to a club and by the end of the night, I would use more money than I made. There wasn’t a place for us. I got more session work as a drummer here in LA and the opportunity to be the drummer for Girls. It made more sense out here, everything just seem to click with the people. And once we finished college, it didn’t make sense to live as poorly as I was. It made more sense to move the band back home and re-group.

PAPA has played Outside Lands in the past?

We played 2 years ago. It’s our favorite festival I’ve been too.

Better than Coachella?

Yes, first of all the setting is as beautiful as it gets, secluded and in a forest rather than stranded in a desert. It is also somewhat smaller and feels more carefully curated.

So you must be looking forward to your gig here?

We’re really excited to be coming back to San Francisco and to play the Independent which is such a great venue. It might be the place where we’ve had the best reaction and to watch it grow has been really touching.

PAPA with The Tambo Rays

Where: The Independent, San Francisco

When: Fri, May 23 at 9pm

Tickets at $15(at door) and $13(advance)

PAPA 2014 Tour Dates

05/23 - San Francisco, CA - The Independent

05/25 - George, WA - Sasquatch Music Festival

05/26 - Missoula, MT - Top Hat

05/28 - Fargo, ND - The Aquarium

05/29 - Minneapolis, MN - Triple Rock Social Club

05/30 - Madison, WI - The Frequency

05/31 - Pontiac, MI - The Pike Room at the Crofoot

06/01 - Toronto, ON - The Garrison

06/02 - Montreal, QC - Il Motore

06/04 - Winooski, VT - The Monkey House

06/05 - New Haven, CT - Cafe Nine

06/06 - Boston, MA - Great Scott

06/07 - New York City, NY - Governors Ball Music Festival

06/09 - Washington, DC - Rock & Roll Hotel

06/10 - Philadelphia, PA - Boot & Saddle

06/14 - Dallas, TX - Club Dada

06/15 - Austin, TX - Red 7

06/17 - Phoenix, AZ - Crescent Ballroom

06/18 - Tucson, AZ - 191 Toole

08/02 - Lollapalooza, Chicago

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