Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Darren Weiss listed three themes that flood his band PAPA’s upcoming full-length debut, Tender Madness: Insanity, women, and America.
“I love this country very much and there are a lot of things that upset me about it,” Weiss said last week via phone, “probably like any real long-term relationship that anyone’s got.”
But Madness is no mopey break-up album; it’s an inherently American album. It has a wide-ranging emotional capacity, as some songs were written from a place of joy and others out of panic. With only one previous EP, 2011’s A Good Woman is Hard To Find, written in the wake of a break-up, Weiss knows that his happiness can be of import to the creative process.
“The truth is I write more when I’m unhappy, but I also write songs when I am happy, but I don’t feel I’ve a dire need to express my happiness,” he said.
Weiss named his band PAPA after his grandfather, who he describes kind of like a character from an urban legend.
“He grew up with fire in his blood,” said Weiss of his window-washing, amateur-boxing, alcohol-bootlegging granddad. “By the time he was 13, his family had to move him several times because people were out to kill him for getting into trouble and getting into fights with a lot of gangs in Chicago. There was no American identity for him to really latch onto.”
For a while, Weiss was in two bands at once: He worked with PAPA, and played drums (usually barefoot) for San Fran lo-fi, surf-rock band Girls. Weiss recalls the experience of touring with both acts simultaneously as wonderful, but exhausting.
“I was very tired, but it was well worth it,” he said. “I was willing to sacrifice sleep and whatever for that. That, for me, was the thing worth sacrificing.”
Despite heaps of critical acclaim, Girls eventually broke up at the behest of frontman Christopher Owens, who earlier this year released his debut solo album. But with the disbandment of Girls, PAPA was liberated.
Now, Weiss plays drums (still barefoot) and sings for the soulfully earnest rock duo with bassist and co-songwriter Danny Presant. The two have developed their own dignified style, a noticeable departure from Girls. He sings with baritone bravado that weighs and perfectly complements the instrumentation.
As an album, Madness’s musical influences range from Claude Debussy’s impressionism to Otis Redding’s Motown soul to the impudence of Fugazi, says Weiss.
The track list begins with “PAPA,” a rumbling instrumental build-up punctuated with piano and reverberating guitar that easily transitions into the second track, “Put Me to Work.”
“Cotton Candy,” the album’s fifth track, is a smooth organ-saturated groove with sprightly piano riffs to match. It feels like a great summer jam until Weiss’s wry chorus weighs in: “Me and everyone I know, we’re all going to Hell / Blowjobs and cotton candy, all my devils treat me so well,” he sings
“It’s kind of a lust[ful] song,” he explained. “The imagery I have in mind for that song is being in New York, the nightlife of New York. … It’s about the wildness and the dirtiness of being young and not being judgmental about it.”
On the album’s self-titled track, Weiss spitefully sings, “If you’re happy now, I don’t give a shit.”
“It’s a love song in the way that I know how to write them,” he explained. “It’s a song of pain and loss.”
With its roots in an admittedly romanticized view of the bygone America and a disillusioned view of the present, PAPA’s Tender Madness not only captures the essence of this still-young band, it lives up to its name.
Tender Madness will be released on Tuesday, October 8 on Loma Vista Recordings.
Can’t wait? Check out the album’s first single, “Young Rut,” here: