Papa M is the most prolific solo moniker of David Pajo, a multi-instrumentalist who has woven in and out of some of the most creative bands in the Midwest while working on his own innovative solo and side projects. His Papa M material has ranged from the abstract yet earthy post-rock of 1999's Live from a Shark's Cage to the more straightforward folk of 2001's Sings (and several subsequent EPs), with a few diversions into electronic music scattered throughout. After seemingly retiring the project in 2004, Papa M returned with the eclectic, sometimes thunderous Highway Songs in 2016, followed by the more meditative, acoustic A Broke Moon Rises in 2018.
Born in Texas in 1968 to Fernando "Nanding" Pajo and Darlene Feldbusch, he was raised in Louisville, Kentucky. He was a founding member of Slint, the Louisville-based slowcore band that wowed critics from 1987 to 1991. After they broke up, he played with a variety of bands, including the Palace Brothers, Stereolab, the For Carnation, King Kong, and Royal Trux. He was also a full-time member of Tortoise until 1998, cutting back his involvement with them to work on the M projects.
Pajo's expressive, nearly eerie guitar playing. Backed at times by gentle, wave-like rhythms and the hum of synths and keyboards, the music has a mesmerizing quality while conveying images of great expanses of space. Notable projects include a split single with Monade (Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab) under the name M Is the Thirteenth Letter (on Palace Records in 1995), and three full-length albums on the Drag City label: the self-titled Aerial M, released in 1997, Post Global Music, released in 1999 as Aerial M, and Live from a Shark's Cage, the first album released under the Papa M name, in 1999. The country-folk EP Sings followed two years later.
Papa M released a string of singles in the 2000s as well as the full-lengths Whatever, Mortal (2001) and Hole of Burning Alms (2004), a collection of non-album material spanning several monikers. He switched to the Pajo moniker for 2005's self-titled album and the following year's 1968. Around this time, he played in Dead Child, a hard rock/metal band featuring members of the For Carnation, Parlour, and Shipping News. He also participated in Slint's occasional reunion tours and festival appearances. In 2009, he released Scream with Me, an album of acoustic covers of Misfits songs, as Pajo. He also played with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on their It's Blitz tour. He performed as Papa M at the ATP New York 2010 festival. He also briefly joined Interpol as a touring member.
Pajo continued to participate in Slint's sporadic reunions, but sometime in 2014, he lost interest in playing music. In February of 2015, Pajo survived an attempt to take his own life after posting a suicide note on his blog. The outpouring of support from his family, friends, and fans urged him to persevere and eventually resume making music. His first album as Papa M in over a decade, Highway Songs was released by Drag City in November 2016. While that album delved into grunge and hard rock, he explored a much quieter direction with 2018's A Broke Moon Rises, which concluded with a rendition of Arvo Pärt's "Spiegel Im Spiegel."