Travis Schneider

PAPA Talks New Album & Indie Rock Scene

For those not in the loop, PAPA’s first album in seven years is one of this fall’s most underrated.

Darren Weiss makes up the indie rock outfit PAPA. Based out of Los Angeles, he has been creating some notable rock tunes since the band’s inception. Think about: how could you go wrong with the meshing styles of an early punk ethos and Springsteen-like vocals? The instrumentation is great, the growth is there, and the music is edgy yet approachable. Weiss has collaborated and played drums with some of the best alternative artists in the modern industry: Lana Del Rey, Albert Hammond Jr., Perfume Genius, and Sky Ferreira. (He has toured around the globe with Ferreira in recent years, and while he has dropped off her current run of dates, she will still be performing tomorrow at TLA and Monday at Webster Hall.) His latest album was released in October and it showcases how he has been inspired by the aforementioned artists (and how he grasps with inspiration across the board). 

The Aquarian sat Darren Weiss, AKA PAPA, to talk about being an indie rocker, finding influence, and putting out Dig Yourself or Dig a Hole.

Where did you get the band’s name from?

It was the name I called my grandfather, my mother’s dad, who was born in 1918 in Chicago. One of the great joys of my childhood was his storytimes. When he spoke and told us his stories, which were entertaining and wild, there was warmth and authority. I felt that if I wanted to tell stories [through music], that is the way I wanted to be thought of.

When did you have time to put together this project?

PAPA has been together since 2008. I find the more I do, the more I’m inspired to do. I really don’t feel like I get that burnt out. I get burnt out when I am not working on things. Playing two sets a night is a really exciting idea to me. There are really never days I want to take off. Music never feels like a big undertaking; it’s what’s in front of me at the time. I work steadily so eventually you look back and see an album, and then I’m on the road by the time the album comes out. It always seems like it’s my life’s work, so it’s been a very natural progression.

Do you enjoy drumming more than being a vocalist?

Drumming is my first musical love for sure. I go on tour with people and just play drums and feel very happy. I don’t think I’d go on tour as a backup singer or lead vocalist. Drumming is something that I’d be in trouble if I didn’t do it. I only started singing because I’ve been touring with a number of bands and was working on my own music and couldn’t find anyone to sing the songs I had in mind the way I was thinking about it so I became the person. I was writing melodies, but never thought I was a singer in any way. 

Photo by Travis Schneider

I find that you have taken early punk rock stylings and mixed it together with the sound of Bruce Springsteen. 

By the time I moved to New York, there were different kinds of music started affecting me in different ways. That is the time that when my project started. The Clash and Bruce Springsteen were affecting me very heavily and that informed a lot of the birth of the sound of PAPA.

Do you collect a lot of influences from who you perform and play with?

Yes. I feel like I learn a lot from everyone I work with – things I don’t like or do like and things I want to incorporate. It’s always a learning experience. That’s when I feel the happiest: when I am working with people, whether it be in studio or on tour, because there’s no one way something works.   

Tell me more about the new album and its title.

It’s called Dig Yourself or Dig a Hole. That was a phrase I came up with during the pandemic when I was feeling particularly dark. It felt like nothing really mattered at the time. I wasn’t feeling propelled to make music because I wasn’t even able to go on tour. I felt like I was digging my own grave, personally and creatively. It felt like those were the two options: digging and exploring to create the world around you or submit to the realities of the world around you. 

Where on tour are you going?

I just wrapped a full month East Coast through the Midwest. […] I will be doing some more stuff in California early in the new year. 

How did you end up as Sky Ferreira’s drummer? 

We had a lot of overlapping friends from when I used to play in the bands Girls. One of those overlapping friends reached out to me when Sky was looking for a drummer. It made sense as I felt like we were orbiting each other’s world for a little while.

What are your thoughts on the indie rock scene today?

I am no expert, but I still don’t understand how it works. I’ve been working in independent music for a long time now, too. I do feel that everyone’s objectives seem to have the most followers or streams today. These number-based platforms seem to have changed what an ‘underground artist’ is today. I can’t say if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It makes things a bit murkier, though, and I am not sure that I recognize what the culture around the music is anymore. It seems like everyone is everything to everyone now. Maybe we will be looking back on this time and think this brought more people to more artists. I don’t know if that’s the case, though.