Even before the future of critically praised San Francisco indie-rock band Girls was thrown into uncertainty, when singer Christopher Owens quit last month, drummer Darren Weiss knew that his side-project PAPA was more important to him.
Following a year of touring and recording with both Girls and PAPA, an indie-rock and soul project with bassist Danny Presant, he decided in January that he could not continue at his current pace and stay healthy.
“There just came a point where I had to go one way or the other,” the Los Angeles drummer-vocalist said. “I decided early on that, as much as I loved being part of (Girls), there was never a doubt of which road I was going to take if I was forced to decide. The truth of the matter is I had left Girls about six months ago because of touring conflicts with PAPA.”
PAPA is performing at the Outside Lands Music and Art Festival this week, and Weiss took 20 minutes from recording one final song for the band’s full-length debut in Los Angeles to talk about choosing between two bands and two coasts.
Weiss and Presant have been friends since they were 7 and 8 years old, and they had played in several bands together. PAPA (the name stems from Weiss’ nickname for his grandfather) originated a few years ago while both lived in New York. At that point, Weiss had just left Los Angeles band Dawes.
The two moved back to Los Angeles two years ago. The touring lineup includes a keyboardist and guitarist; various people including Weiss’ brother have filled those roles.
“I definitely feel that our time in New York is a huge part of this band and the things we write about, but we’ve been in L.A. for a long time,” Weiss said. “We’re an L.A. band and a duo, but all those things are open to change.”
Of course, Weiss also has a relationship with San Francisco as drummer for Girls, and PAPA recorded one of the songs off its EP (A Good Woman is Hard to Find, released in fall 2011), at a studio in the Mission. The producer was Girls’ bassist J.R. White.
“I’ve been told that no other patron has stayed at the Phoenix Hotel more than I have,” said Weiss of the hotel popular with not-yet-rich musicians. “When we were doing rehearsals and recording the Girls album in the Tenderloin, that was the zone that I was most familiar with. It certainly gave me a different taste of things, but even in a weird way, there’s certain things I grew to love about that neighborhood.”
Both the EP and PAPA’s forthcoming record, which Weiss expects to be released within the first three months of next year, were influenced by a drawn-out break-up.
“A lot of these (songs) are as much about love lost as about being young and having those freedoms and then finding out what those freedoms might actually mean; whether those freedoms are really that liberating,” he said.
The duo has recorded 16 songs for the album, but several will not make the cut. While the EP, which brings Tom Petty, the Killers and Bruce Springsteen to mind, was written primarily by Weiss, the writing was more of a collaborative process this time around.
“There’s things that are very influenced by hip hop and there’s things coming from a very punk place,” he said. “And then there’s things where it’s just me singing with an acoustic guitar.”
Despite the backgrounds of both Weiss and Presant including some lofty names in indie rock, Weiss appreciates comparisons to some of the biggest mainstream acts.
“I guess I could put it very bluntly and say that nothing that we’re trying to do is meant to sound indie or fit into the indie music landscape,” he said. “I might be able to chalk it up as, ‘we love Bruce Springsteen but we’re not (as) good.’”
To stump Weiss, ask him about his goal for PAPA. He said he always feels that he fails that test when quizzed by the band’s manager, booking agents, publicist, and lawyer – and right now. The only thing he cares about is the craft – songwriting, playing and singing.
“Yeah, I’d love to sell a million records; I’d love to sell-out Madison Square Garden,” Weiss said. “But the truth is I never (think) about anything like that. All the other stuff is going to happen or it’s not. I just work really hard on things that I can do, and try to make myself happy with those things.”
So there’s the indie side to Darren Weiss. But will he be upset that PAPA may not be indie enough if it sells out Madison Square Garden one day?
“No,” he laughed.