A reunited Papas Fritas find their way home

Around the world and back
By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  May 12, 2011

Papas Fritas main
PRE-PARTY SCENE “I remember thinking that our music is not for people at one in the morning,” says Tony Goddess (right, with Keith Gendel and Shivika Asthana). 

The road from the first basement jam session to the indie-record deal isn't always clearly delineated with reflectors and mile markers — but hindsight usually reveals some kind of plan. Like a modern-day Hansel and Gretel, the Boston-based trio Papas Fritas, who were active over a 10-year stretch, from 1992 to 2002, seemed to mark their way with duct tape or whatever useful materials could be found along the road.

Papas Fritas guitarist/songwriter (and pop obsessoid) Tony Goddess remembers the earliest amateur days when he learned how to write and record songs while his high-school-turned-college friend, Shivika Asthana (drums/vocals), was figuring out how to play the drums. "Shiv learned on the job," says Goddess over the phone from Gloucester, where he lives and works as a producer/musician (the Rudds, Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents). "We didn't have cymbal stands. The cymbals were tied from the ceiling to the drums with telephone wire. It was indie rock at its finest!"

Within a few years of forming, Goddess, Asthana, and bassist/vocalist Keith Gendel learned how to use their lack of triumphant dudeness to their advantage, focusing less on driving beats and fuzzy sonic cushioning and more on the makeshift rhythms, clean lines, and intersecting melodies that made definitive early cuts like "Guys Don't Lie" and "Hey Hey You Say" so attractive to their Chicago indie label, Minty Fresh. "I remember thinking that our music is not for people at one in the morning," says Goddess. "We should be playing at malls or teen centers."

Never very popular in Boston, Papas Fritas last played here in a December 2000 gig at the Lizard Lounge — this following 30-odd European tour dates in support of their third and final record, Buildings and Grounds. And that was their fifth European tour. Their first, in 1996, had found them on the road with their heroes, the Flaming Lips. They returned to three years of headlining gigs as well as support dates in the US with bands like the Cardigans and Blur. This was an outfit that had by all objective standards achieved an enviable amount of success.

So what held Papas Fritas back in Boston? What — aside from a single, underattended headlining gig at the Paradise — kept them from the 600-capacity rooms that they were selling out in towns like Minneapolis? True, the local sensibilities weren't too receptive to Papas Fritas's acknowledged twee-ness, but there was also the band's sheer obstinacy. Goddess admits it was kind of cool to be unpopular in your own town. And their attention was elsewhere; they spent most of their time trying to figure it all out on the road and abroad — in places like Spain, where the band will reunite to play Barcelona's Primavera Sound Festival on May 28. But before the trio head off to Europe for a last hurrah that could be a new beginning, they'll be treating the Boston area to a pair of warm-up gigs (the Rhumb Line in Gloucester next Thursday and the Harpoon Fest the next day) that promise to be as shaky and soulful as their earliest 1992 campus gigs as underclassmen at Tufts.

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