top of page
  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

Papa Is a Rolling Stone


Is a Rolling Stone

by Alex Branco

Recently we had a chance to sit down with recording artist Darren Weiss, widely recognized as Papa. We had the privilege of delving into his new album – Dig Yourself or Dig a Hole and exploring the nuances of his creative process and the musical journey that has brought this work to life.

Beyond the music, we uncover the origin of the moniker “Papa” and the significance it holds in Weiss’s artistic identity. Papa sheds light on the moments of the day when inspiration strikes most and what life as a father is like.

So, Darren, or Papa, as you are known by many – it's been about seven years since your last record was released. In that time, you've toured and recorded with the likes of Lana Del Rey, Albert Hammond Jr, Florence and the Machine, Perfume Genius, and now, most recently, Sky Ferreira. How have these artists and experiences influenced your current sound?

I think everyone I ever work with has some influence [on me]. I try to come into any situation where I'm working with another artist. I try to come in as open as possible and just learn what I can, because everyone has really different philosophies about creating. As a fan of music, I'm always so curious and excited to just be in the room and see how different people do it. There are few artists that I've worked with where I can specifically pinpoint, I wrote that song when I was working with that artist, and I don't think that would have happened otherwise. It's an expansion of language when you're working with other people. You're not as concerned about “does what I'm playing right now reflect how I'm feeling?” You're just doing what needs to be done to support the artist. Because that's the headspace that you're in, it's less self-serving and affords you to do things that you think you wouldn't do for yourself. Then you find yourself playing a certain way, expressing yourself in a certain style that you hadn't associated yourself with, and then you find that it's also part of your vocabulary. It may not have been within your stylistic framework, but that can be forever expanding. That's the exciting thing about working with other people for me, constantly learning more about what I think I'm not, but actually am. Or can be.

I was reading an interview that you did recently, and you said, “you think and speak most clearly from behind the drum kit.” What is it about the drums that let you be your most authentic self?

In all the modes I have of expression, whether it's melodic songwriting, lyric writing, writing poetry or anything like that, drums feel like there's no leased space between what I am and how I'm saying it. It feels like the right language to be expressing my feelings. For whatever reason that's the direct line for me.

How long have you been drumming? Is there a specific moment where you might have seen Dave Grohl on TV when you were younger and you're like, “I have to do that too” and you went to your parents and said: “I need you to buy me a drum kit immediately.” Did you have that moment?

My desire for drums predates any specific moment, but I do have moments like that. I know when I was three years old, I was asking to play drums. That's what I wanted. My folks wanted me to play piano and do other things. I took lessons on other instruments, which I'm grateful for now because I still write on piano a good amount. That's from the very basic knowledge I had from my lessons as a child. There was a process of continually trying to convince my parents like, no, no, no, no, I'm not changing my mind – this [drums] is the thing. The movie, That Thing You Do!...

With Tom Hanks!

Yes! I love that movie. When I was a kid, inside, I was just like, the main character's the drummer, and I was just like, yes! I remember going over to a friend's house and starting a band with pencils, like, those were my drumsticks. Also Travis Barker was a video game superhero of a drummer kind of thing, you know? Actually it’s bizarre to think that I wanted to do it when I was three and now all these years later… Like, the first thing I'm going to do when we get off this interview is I'm going to go play drums. Every day, I do the things that I have to do so that I can go play drums.

That's really interesting. You ask a three or four-year-old, “Hey, what do you want to do when you grow up?” The usual responses are: “Oh, I want to be an astronaut. I want to do this. I want to be an actor. I want to do that.” To still hold on to that wanderlust – that childlike magic – you still have that.

I feel lucky.

When you started your solo project, Papa, you were not a father at the time. How did you come to the name?

Papa – That was my grandfather, my mom's dad. He grew up in gangster-era Chicago. He was a very, very important person to me. He lived many, many different lives from being like an amateur boxer, a window washer, a traveling salesman, getting in gang wars with Nazis when he was a teenager and all kinds of crazy shit. He was the figurehead of the family. We had a very, very close family, all the cousins and everything like that. Everyone just loved to gather around and be part of story time with him. It was like he had hits; we'd make requests for certain stories. His life had been so interesting and felt like a different world from the one that we were living in. The main thing was the way he spoke. It was like everyone just listened. It didn't matter what story he was telling, really. It was just like you wanted to hear him talk about things. Some of his stories were really violent, but because he was our PAPA, it was told in a very comforting way. That kind of storytelling, but most of all, the effect that he had – I want to be able to have that effect on people when I tell stories.

Now that you are a parent, how that has affected you as a musician, have you sped up or slowed down?

Because of the time that we're living in, there's been a good deal of both of that. When it was the pandemic, I had my son, my daughter wasn't born yet, but my wife kept working. Obviously, I wasn't going on the road. At the most, I was doing remote drum sessions from my home studio. But I was just home with my son, I was just dad. Being a parent in general has made me a more empathetic and patient person, and I think those are two important qualities to have as an artist. It's hard touring with kids, I wouldn't recommend it.

I was on tour earlier this year with a band [The Warhawks] and one of the guys has a kid. I remember him doing Facetimes and calls. After a week, two weeks, you can just see on his face how much he misses being home and how much he misses his son.

It's taxing. There's a lot to try to balance out.

Who have you been listening to lately?

I don't know why, but it's been pretty much jazz for the last couple of months: Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, Art Blakey. Those are probably my biggest ones. A lot of Bud Powell. A lot of Ray Bryant Trio. A lot of Coltrane. Ever since I finished the Papa record, I've been just wanting to hear a different kind of thing.

As artists we are our own biggest critics. Now that Dig Yourself or Dig a Hole is out there, what is your own brutally honest take of the record?

Honest take of the record is I'm really proud of it. There are moments where I'm like, ah. I wish I had spent more time on that vocal take, or I should have like done this or that. But overall, I fully get behind it. It feels like very representative of where I am as a person and as an artist. When I hear things from it, it makes me excited. Because it all came from a very exciting, creative place, and it remained there. It was untouched until it was released in that way.

Is there something on the album you think people might have missed?

I'm sure every song has elements like that because what I'm listening for is completely different than what someone else is hearing. It might be too soon for me to know. Certain songs I thought would be like the popular streaming ones aren't. Then songs I didn't think about in that context at all are getting the most plays. It's like when you go to a museum, and you look at a painting and your reaction is completely different than the intended reaction. It doesn't matter – the conversation, the dual existence of those experiences is what makes it so powerful.

There’s that thing that artists do in creating work. There’s so much that’s unseen, all these layers towards creating the greater picture and an unimaginable number of ways to interpret it.

Yeah, it's like the form is different, but how you make the product – the emotions felt; the tools are different but everything else is coming from the same place.

I love to know this about people… are you early morning riser? Or are you more of a late-night grinder?

I'm an early morning riser. My daughter wakes up at like 5:30.

So you’re up at 5:30.

I’m up at 5:30. Then by the end of the day I'm pretty cross-eyed. But I do feel much more focused and alert creatively in the morning. I can feel the tingle of inspiration easier. Even before kids, I went to school in New York, I was living in Manhattan, rehearsal space was in Greenpoint. I'd wake up, brush my teeth, throw on my clothes, and then I was out the door. I had two roommates who were fine artists, and it was always exciting for me to have done my work and come back before they had even woken up. Somehow that felt important.

Where do you find the most inspiration?

What I end up writing most about is personal relationships. But the artists that I go in on, I go in hard. That includes musical artists, whether it's like David Bowie and Nick Cave. I'll go through a really intense, like [architect] Frank Lloyd Wright period, or [furniture craftsman/artist] Wharton Esherick, [painter] Willem de Kooning; that'll become my world. Then it is a matter of translating that. What it is about the shape of this house that makes my soul sing and why? How do I translate that into a sound? What would that sound like? That kind of thing.

To cap this all off, what’s going on in your life? Is there anything you want people to know?

The LA Papa show in February, on February 18th. When we finish this interview, I'm going into the studio to finish working on some drum tracks for the score for a television show. There are always different things going on that are expanding the language and hopefully giving me more insight and opportunity to keep pushing Papa forward.

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: December 20, 2023.

Photos © 2023 Travis Schneider. Courtesy of Grandstand Media. All rights reserved.

494 views0 comments


bottom of page