Los Angeles duo PAPA is exasperated with the current state of alternative rock radio.
“It sounds like it’s written by a producer and heavily sampled,” frontman/drummer Darren Weiss says from home. Two weeks prior, PAPA released their first new music since 2013, “Hold On,” a middle finger to the current music landscape. Now the band, which includes bassist Danny Presant, is preparing for a short West Coast tour, which begins December 1 at The Chapel.
To Weiss, formerly of Girls and Dawes, most current alternative music is really pop in disguise, written by people who are hoping it will crossover as a hit on Top 40 radio. “If a band like Nirvana was out right now, I can’t imagine that they would be played on the majority of alternative FM radio,” he says.
When we last heard from Weiss and Presant, they had released a full-length debut (Tender Madness, Loma Vista Recordings) in 2013 and then toured for a solid year throughout the United States and Europe. Afterward, the duo took a break, and then returned to complete demos they had recorded along the way. The newer songs, they realized, were taking a darker, more cynical turn. Along with producer Shawn Everett, who had worked on Tender Madness and also has the Alabama Shakes and Julian Casablancas on his resume, they began recording earlier this year.
“We went into the studio with him for what was supposed to be three weeks but ended up being from January to October,” Weiss says. “He’s a very open-minded and imaginative producer and really pushed to explore different ideas.”
The nearly 10-month activity led to multiple variations on each of their new songs; just don’t ask Weiss to go into intricate detail on the new material. The album is done, but PAPA isn’t talking about it while the duo searches for the best way to release it to the world.
“There’s some really intense rock and roll on it, and there’s some songs like ‘Hold On,’ which is heavily influenced by later-day Clash and also Talking Heads,” Weiss says. “The Clash and Talking Heads were definitely pillars, having lots of rhythm and exciting tonality but also…a basis in that punk energy.”
Weiss is ready to talk about the band’s more focused direction, tone and palette. Their duo was influenced by a break-up in Weiss’ life. Musically, Tom Petty, the Killers and Bruce Springsteen were among the early inspirations for the sound. The new work, while having some romantic or lustful elements, veers in a different direction from their debut.
“As a whole, a lot of the things that inspired me most were PAPA’s perspective as a touring band, as young, hungry artists,” Weiss says.
While on the road supporting Tender Madness, they started feeling isolated and couldn’t find where they belonged on the map of musical genres. They couldn’t find a nourishing community of like-minded artists to support or encourage them.
Weiss and Presant grew up together from the age of 7, and have been playing music together since they were 11. During that time, they saw how bands like Nirvana, Oasis, Sound Garden, and later, the Queens of the Stone Age, the Shins, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the Strokes had the freedom to operate in a diverse musical environment and express themselves in way that was “truly” alternative.
“There was a place where all these bands had different styles, different tastes, and different sounds, but still were providing an alternative soundscape for kids to feel like there’s something else than just the attempts at hits,” he says. “There’s a whole lot of us (now) who aren’t being represented at all in the sounds of what’s being labeled alternative.”
For their response, the duo leaned back to an early influence: Punk rock. Weiss was raised on punk and was left with a sour feeling that the influence was not overtly felt on Tender Madness. It was not intentional, but a side effect of PAPA trying to do too much with their debut.
“In trying to express so many things musically, we didn’t find a home base,” he says. “A lot of things were left out because we were trying to express so many different things.”
They believe they’ve found that home base the second time around. Weiss feels responsible, as an artist with a voice, to represent others who also don’t like the music played on alternative radio, and to carry the torch of songs likeTthe Clash’s “Bored with the USA.”
PAPA no longer cares where the industry will allow them to fit in the musical spectrum. That’s why they paid for the recording of the new album themselves, and aren’t sure that a record label is the best path to release this time around.
“We’re carving out a place for ourselves rather than seeing where we fit in,” Weiss says.
Follow writer Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter and RomiTheWriter.Tumblr.com.
PAPA, Hot Flash Heat Wave
Dec. 1, 2015