In 2013, the pairing of childhood friends Darren Weiss and Danny Presant dropped their debut LP as PAPA, a glorious gem of rock, soul, funk and punk entitled Tender Madness.
The major-label record earned the band acclaim and helped land them gigs with the likes of Cold War Kids and Florence and the Machine, among other heavy hitters.
But Weiss and Presant also endured many of the lows that come with navigating the area between being on a major and the D.I.Y. ethos that got PAPA there in the first place. That’s why PAPA’s latest – Kick at the Dust (out Sept. 16 via Hit City U.S.A.) – feels so personal, like a statement of freedom from being shackled to the whims of others.
Vibrant, electric and emotional, Kick at the Dust is full of Weiss’ bombastic drumming and impassioned growl, a heavy dose of distorted bass from Presant, and bright, shimmering piano and guitars. There is a feeling catharsis here, something PAPA celebrated with many of their earliest fans during three-consecutive free Friday shows at Los Angeles’ Bootleg Theater.
Considering this is such a big step forward for PAPA, Fender.com recently caught up with Presant to discuss their move to Hit City U.S.A., the background of recording Kick at the Dust and his favorite gear.
Fender.com: Tell us about how Kick at the Dust came together for you guys?
Presant: We were previously on a major label for the last release, and they really botched some things. There were a multitude of things that went wrong, so we decided to leave. In doing that, we turned down a bunch of money and said, “We’d rather do it on our own.” They wanted to see how many radio hits we could write. So were tried our luck elsewhere. We called up our buddy [producer and engineer] Shawn Everett, who had just finished making Sound and Color from Alabama Shakes, and we hunkered down in his studio in downtown L.A. to make this record. Darren and I wrote a bunch of songs and reimagined the whole record once we were there.
Fender.com: It sounds like there is a grittier vibe on Kick at the Dust than with your previous offerings.
Presant: There’s definitely an element of being disenfranchised and being put through the wringer with what happened before. So we saw some things that we wanted to express, and it just so happened that it came out more aggressive. But I feel like, it’s not anger as much as it is excitement from doing things on our own. It’s more rock and roll-y. I guess we got hit in the head by the rock-and-roll bug.
Fender.com: What made you want to go back to the Bootleg Theater? It speaks to the D.I.Y. philosophies that have always kept PAPA moving.
Presant: It’s so funny. Everyone from our manager to friends were like, “I don’t know if this is a good idea.” But we said, “Look, these guys were good to us when we were young, like three or four years ago. Let’s go back to where it started.” Basically, playing music is our favorite thing to do, and playing shows is what I think is our strong suit. So we wanted to give back in a way and make it a hot, tightly packed show that feels like a rock show.
Fender.com: What type of gear did you use on the album?
Presant: The only guitars we used were Strats. And the basses that we used were my P Bass and my [Guild] Starfire. I have two Frankenstein Fender basses. I bought a Mexican P Bass as my first bass, but the hardware wasn’t the best on that. So I got a different body and all-new Fender American hardware. But the neck had such a unique feeling. It’s in-between a “C” and a “D” neck. Everyone I show – from [guitarist] Blake Mills to my buddy Wylie [Gelber, bassist] in Dawes … all the bands we play with – they say, “Whoa, why does this feel so crazy?” It’s delicious. It’s my favorite thing in the world. Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers even once picked it up and said the same thing. And then the newer neck I got a while ago, I had it sanded down to fit those specifications.
Fender.com: What pickups did you put in it?
Presant: I went out and overpaid for a set of ’73 P Bass pickups. I put them in and they were fine. But then I tried out some of the Fender Custom Shop vintage reissue P Bass pickups, and they sound so much better. They’re the best sounding pickups I’ve ever put in a bass.
Fender.com: What made you want to play music as a career?
Presant: Because I figured life was too easy and I wanted to make it harder. [laughs] When I grew up – I think every kid goes through this at some point – I didn’t really have a passion until my step-brother was playing guitar one day in his room. He wanted me to come jam with him, and I picked bass because I saw all my friends who had been playing guitar – granted, they’d been playing for longer than me – and I thought I had to learn bass because there were no bass players. It’s so funny looking back. Once I picked up the bass, I knew. This was dope. My mom loved rock and roll, and my dad did too, but the only thing he listened to was Lionel Ritchie and Hall and Oates. So it was hard for me to say, “Oh, I want to be a musician.” But I remember when I heard the Chili Peppers, who played a huge influence, and the Rolling Stones. The Stones’ Let It Bleed, I heard that record and just went to figure out every song on it from start to finish.
Fender.com: What’s coming up for PAPA?
Presant: We’re going to Europe next week. We have shows in London, Paris and Germany. And then it’s a West Coast and Central America run to support the album. Hopefully, we’ll do a full U.S. tour next year.
For more information from PAPA, click here for their official Facebook page.