PAPA Talk About Their Debut Album 'Tender Madness,' Drumming Barefoot & How They Got Their Name
Even though their first full-length album, Tender Madness, won't be released until October 8, L.A.-based band PAPA has already established a presence as commanding as the capital letters in their name. Thanks to the buzz that surrounded their 2011 EP, A Good Woman Is Hard to Find, they've already toured with bands such as Ra Ra Riot and Grouplove, and tonight they'll open for Cold War Kids at the Wiltern.
LAist recently sat down with Darren Weiss (drums and lead vocals) and Danny Presant (bass)—who have known each other since childhood—to get the scoop on the new album, their must-watch video for "Young Rut," and the dangers of drumming barefoot.
LAist: The first track of Tender Madness is called "PAPA." Do you feel that this track encapsulates the history of the band in the way it builds with all of the instruments—given that Darren started the band and was later joined by Danny, as well as Ben Usen on keyboard and Evan Weiss on guitar?
Darren Weiss: There might be something to that theory, especially when you consider that the song is five years old.
Danny Presant: It was conceived before I was in the band.
DW: It was actually the first song I wrote for PAPA. I woke up in the middle of the night and had this melody going over and over again in my head, so I got out of bed and recorded the melody, then went back to sleep. When I woke up, I completed the arrangement for it.
At the time, my grandfather—my "Papa"—was dying, and so I sort of named it after him. But I couldn't play the song the way I wanted to at the time, because I was writing and playing on acoustic guitar. Even though it's a short instrumental thing, I realized, "I'll have to put a band together if I want to play this."
So you initially formed the band to play that one song?
DW: On some level! We open our set every night with that one. It sets the tone and cleanses the palate.
DP: Like ginger before a sushi meal.
After you made your EP, you said that your full-length debut would be a little weirder. Do you feel that you accomplished that?
DW: Yes. I think it's a much more diverse album. A couple days ago, I was reflecting upon the fact that some of the weirdest songs we recorded didn't even make the album. But I definitely think there's a wider creative stretch on this one.
DP: Yeah, I think it's weirder too. And although I'd helped arrange and produce the EP, this album was much more of a collaboration.
Are the songs still about "America, women and insanity," as you've said in the past…and does the name of the album sort of reflect all three of those?
DW: Yeah, absolutely.
Did you consider any other names?
DW: I never considered another name.
DP: I had one other. I wanted to call it Making Strange…
DW: …which is an old PAPA song from before the EP.
DP: But I'm very happy with the way we went.
DW: Tender Madness is a name I've been kicking around since high school. When I fell in love with jazz, Sonny Rollins was one of the saxophone players and composers I really got into. One of his famous albums is called Tenor Madness, but when I first saw it, I misread the name and thought it said Tender Madness. I thought, "Wow, that is the coolest name!"
When I realized it wasn't really the name of the album, I was so excited that I'd accidentally uncovered this thing that I was such a fan of already. I didn't want to attach it to anything until I found the right casing—the right framework.
It seems it was worth the wait! Switching gears a bit, when I listen to the track "Young Rut" from the new album, I can't help but think it's almost a modern-day version of—or at least a sibling to—Cheap Trick's "Surrender." Do you see that in the song?
DW: Lyrically, I think there's a major correlation. It's definitely about personal freedom—having to let go of yourself and the relationship to one's parents. I think there's a universality to the theme of the confusion of being young and the hunger for personal freedom, but not really knowing what that means or how to achieve it.
The video for that song is fantastic. How did that come together?
DP: That's an idea the director (Norton) had. We had received a few treatments, but this was obviously the one that spoke to us.
DW: With this idea for "Young Rut," I thought, "This is really interesting, but if it's not done right, it could look and feel terrible." But I also felt that if we did it right, it'd capture enough drama without being overly sentimental, and enough humor without being corny.
DP: I like to think of it as almost a grown-up Disney film—at least when it comes to the emotions—in four minutes.
DW: It's like Finding Nemo except with lovers.
DP: Though it's a little dirtier…a little raunchier.
PAPA - "Young Rut"
There's always something new to discover in this album. There's a place where I could've sworn I heard a Mellotron on "Cotton Candy."
DP: Yeah, there's a Mellotron that comes in at the end of the second chorus.
It's great that you're bringing back some old-school instruments.
DW: For the record, we did the re-record of "I Am the Lion King" on a Steinway that used to belong to Duke Ellington.
DP: And didn't Frank Sinatra play on it?
DW: I'm not sure, but I know a lot of his studio sessions were done there…
DP: We're in some good company on that one.
Speaking of good company, will Lydia Rogers—who joined you on the song "Replacements (Cuts in the Grass)"—be joining you for any part of the tour?
DW: I'd love to do that sometime. She and her sister Laura Rogers' group, The Secret Sisters, have an album coming out in the fall, and I was fortunate enough to play drums on it. They're incredible. It would be a dream for me if one day we could do the song live, but we'll both be touring so much that I can't imagine we're going to do it anytime soon.
You do have a long tour ahead. When you're home for a few days, what do you do when you have some vacation time?
DW: Whenever I get home, my girlfriend's like, "Let's go on vacation." But my response is, "No, this IS vacation!" Home is vacation for me.
DP: Being at home is what I'm dreaming of when I'm on the road for a really long time and roughing it. The things I'm dreaming of are simple comforts—luxuries like a towel that isn't rough and thin… But don't get me wrong, we're really excited about the tour!
As you travel around the country, is it true that people often confuse you for each other?
DW: All the time. It's so funny. I'll go to check in at a hotel, then go to get my luggage out of the van, and Danny will go in the lobby and they'll think we're the same person. It's insane.
He's not even the one in the band who's your brother!
DW: Yeah. Danny has straight hair; I have very curly hair. I have a beard; he has no beard. It's very strange.
PAPA - "Put Me to Work"
Darren, are you still planning to release a book of poems and drawings?
DW: It'll be out on October 1. It's something I've been working on for a long time, and it's a companion piece to the record.
DW: A lot of the poems were written, and the drawings were done, while we were on tour in America and internationally. I'm calling it The Only Thing Worse Than a Woman Is a Man, and I'm really excited for it to come out.
Since you live in Los Angeles, would you share one great artist or venue—perhaps something that's lesser-known—that people should check out?
DP: Well, this isn't really hidden, but our friend Tyler Parkford, who plays in the band Mini Mansions, has this new thing called Mister Goodnite.
DW: He samples weird old soul and lounge records that he finds at thrift shops. He records samples to vinyl, then he plays them on stage…
DP: …and he sings over them. It's a great show.
Darren, it seems you're in a smaller club of singing drummers. Do you get a lot of questions about that?
DW: Well, people always ask about it, especially stuff like, "How to do you sing and drum?" And it's a little hard to talk about, because it's like they're asking, "How are you you?"
I've never heard anyone ask guitar players how they sing and play guitar at the same time.
DP: Because you see it more. Darren forwarded me a hilarious tweet the other day. Someone asked Flea, "How do you slap bass?" And his response was, "Practice......." Just like everything else.
Given that you drum barefoot, have you ever had any harrowing experiences in some of those old, dark clubs? I imagine those floors are pretty nasty.
DW: Yeah, it's disgusting. It's a bad habit, and I should stop. When I get to the hotel at the end of the night and look at my feet, I have to shower before I get in bed.
When I started playing drums, I was a kid at my parents' home and I never wore shoes around the house or in the neighborhood, so it's just an extension of that—a weird comfort thing. It just feels strange to me to play drums with shoes on!
Thanks for speaking with LAist, Danny and Darren!