Los Angeles-based PAPA — the project of singer-drummer Darren Weiss — ends its seven-year hiatus with the arrival of its third studio album, Dig Yourself or Dig a Hole. In support of the new record, the band has hit the road for a U.S. tour opening for Sorcha Richardson, which will conclude with a finale at The Echo in Los Angeles on November 5th which will also feature a performance by Ha Vay (who we highly recommend, btw).
We had the opportunity to pick Weiss’ brain about the extended break, how he spent his time in the interim, and what exactly brought him back to PAPA.
Over a decade ago, Weiss formed the band with Danny Presant, releasing their rollicking debut EP, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find, in 2011. Two LPs would follow — Tender Madness (2013) and Kick at the Dust (2016) — with PAPA building a devout following enraptured by their urgently raw rock and fiercely cathartic live shows. But despite their momentous rise and the singularly rousing exchange of hammering drums and sizzling riffs that fueled their songs — it was not meant to last.
“There was a series of events over the course of about a year which kind of knocked the wind out of us,” Weiss explained. “It basically became impossible for us to continue as we were, and we didn’t have the imagination or inspiration in that moment to imagine a new way forward.”
Instead, he took a break from writing and touring, only to eventually return under the moniker Monastereo. A handful of singles came trickling out in 2019, like the fervently funky and off-kilter “The Booger Sugar Boogaloo” and “Gone Again” — and for a moment, it seemed Weiss would return under this new solo project. But then the unexpected happened: caught in the midst of the pandemic, he happened to stumble upon a forgotten folder of unfinished PAPA songs.
“I found these bits and pieces of forgotten songs, and they felt like they were asking for more life. In the best cases, I could instantly hear what I was going for, would get excited about the feeling on the demo, and feel like I had enough space and perspective to take it someplace new. It felt like PAPA because it was written for PAPA, and getting back in that creative space just opened a floodgate of really inspired writing.”
The discovery also came at a serendipitous moment for Weiss, who felt revitalized from the years he’d spent away from PAPA. Revealing that he “badly needed to reconnect with the energy” that had urged him to start the band nearly ten years prior originally. “Things had become murky for me when I was in it for too long,” he said. “Coming back to it, I had so much excitement and sense of purpose, which really guided everything that has come since.”
But it wasn’t just the space he’d given himself from his past project that made a return to PAPA both emotionally and creatively viable — it was also owed to the artists and musicians he’d surrounded himself with in the years since. From Lana Del Rey and Sky Ferreira to Perfume Genius and Girls, Weiss has spent extensive time in the studio and on tour with an eclectic group of fellow music makers.
“I really love being invited into the creative world of other artists. Being in the studio and seeing somebody’s approach to songwriting — it’s totally mind-expanding. Every artist I work with as a drummer expands my understanding of what is possible.”
Armed with this reinvigorating vitality and burst of liberating creativity, he dove headfirst into piecing together a new PAPA record. One that would seek to capture the wondrously earnest energy that Weiss had initially set out to materialize with the band’s first two records.
“That feeling of movement, buoyancy, of the wind in your hair. I never have much control over what I actually write, so I can’t say I had any grand plan,” he admitted. “There was just a feeling I had listening back to some of those unfinished PAPA demos, and once I heard that, I knew I wanted the whole record to be measured up against that feeling it gave me.”
“Everything Takes an Accident,” the opening track of Dig Yourself or Dig a Hole, embodies that fervor in a propulsive clamor of tumbling percussion and keys as Weiss wails about embracing the moments that collapse your worldview as opportunities for growth. While the album’s title serves as the ultimatum one is faced with at such a soul-shattering moment: either you find a way forward, or you end up wallowing in the grave of all that you thought was true.
“[That’s] really at the center of my ethos as a person and an artist,” Weiss remarked. “There was a long while where I had given into the despair surrounding me, where it felt like nothing mattered, and everything was fucked beyond repair. It’s really seductive to give yourself over to that kind of thinking. It’s almost easy because it does seem to be the natural gravitational pull. But to me, that felt like I was digging my own grave.”
In “I Give Up, I Give In” he confronts life’s messiness with brave resignation, choosing to relinquish himself to the love that’s offered and what little he can conjure himself rather than running from it. “Everytime I feel like hiding / Thunderbolts and crashing lightning,” he croons buoyantly between jutting riffs before beckoning: “Saddle up, come and find me.”
While the eviscerating “Say Goodbye” unfolds as a slow-burning farewell to all the past selves that still haunt him: “I tell myself, / ‘You’re alright, friend. / You’re everyone you’ve ever been,’ / But — have been some fuckers, man / Thought I could do away with them”
For Weiss, it’s clear that the making of this new PAPA record forced a reckoning with not just himself but the world around him. “I don’t know if there’s a god, I don’t know if everything is fucked beyond repair, but I do know that playing music, making art, and building a community around those things gives me a lot of joy, and harms nobody in the process.”
Despite the heavier confrontations with the self that occur, the album at its core a staggeringly hopeful collection. From the joyous locomotion that vaults within “Barcelona” to the deliciously raucous break-up song “Simple Life” (which Weiss co-wrote with his former bandmember Presant), PAPA keeps their sonic fuselage soaring with ardent Americana. Even the post-pandemic-brooding “YA YA YA” searches desperately for meaning and purpose in the smoldering aftermath. Its final words hang heavily over the rest of the album: “No fruit will grow from this land / But I dig because I am.”
But Weiss trusts himself and his pursuit of art now far more than he ever did in the past. “It makes me want to know more about being alive, and it definitely gives me the courage to keep trudging through the muck of life,” he confessed. “So I had to stop asking why, stop asking if my art mattered, and just give into the fact that the making of it in itself, is what matters to me above all else. I excavate myself, and I love this work.”
Of the many changes he’s faced since the last PAPA record, becoming a father to two children has been understandably both the most challenging and rewarding. While he acknowledges that it’s made him a “much kinder, more patient, and more empathetic person than [he] ever was before,” it’s also revealed the constant tension that comes with being a touring musician and parent.
“There are compromises on one side or another at all times, and keeping a healthy balance is nearly impossible. But this is my life’s work, and I’m very lucky to have such a true friend and partner in my life.”
The album’s closing track, “Song For Augie,” arrives as a kind of anthemic lullaby. One that attempts to wrangle an understanding of the father to the son while also imparting the hard-won knowledge that the former has wrenched from life. “What hits you in the chest / Often leaves your head a mess,” Weiss howls with touching passion. “But not much comes from cleanliness / Normal ain’t a thing.” Ending the album with a fitting reminder that from adolescence to adulthood and everything in between, we’re sustained by the bonds we continuously strengthen and the experiences we fruitfully share.
Now in the middle of their tour with Richardson — for whom Weiss is also playing drums — PAPA’s return to the stage will no doubt be marked by the same rapt spirit that possessed them in the past. But with some key alterations.
“This time around, the show is going to look pretty different. It’s just me on stage with my drums and my microphone. I re-recorded everything I wanted to play to be more minimal, synth-based, and drum-driven,” he revealed. “It really helped me feel a sense of newness and excitement about it all, and that was what I needed to feel to get back on the road.”
Words: Steven Ward
See PAPA make their glorious return at The Echo in Los Angeles on November 5th.
Oct 23 Detroit, MI – Lager House
Oct 24 Chicago, IL – Beat Kitchen
Oct 25 Minneapolis, MN – 7th Street Entry
Oct 27 Denver, CO – Larimer Lounge
Oct 30 Vancouver, BC – Biltmore Cabaret
Oct 31 Seattle, WA – Fremont Abbey Arts Center
Nov 01 Portland, OR – Holocene
Nov 03 San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill
Nov 05 Los Angeles, CA – The Echo