Q&A with Alex Tebeleff from Paperhaus & the Evolving DIY Music Scene in DC
Paperhaus is a local DC band co-founded by members Alex Tebeleff (vocals & guitar) and Eduardo Rivera (guitar). Both grew up in the suburbs of DC and have been playing together since their early teens. Completing the four-man band are current bassist John Di Lascio and drummer Brandon Moses. All members play multiple instruments and contribute vocals to the group. The band has been gaining popularity for their mixture of catchy post-punk/blues/rock infused songs. They put out a self-titled EP back in September which you can get a taste for here: http://www.paperhausmusic.com/
With the rising popularity of DC’s do-it-yourself music scene and need for show spaces, the band decided to start hosting house shows at their home studio where DIY-minded local and traveling musicians play for their friends and anyone who wants to hear original indie music. They’ve named their stage, The Paperhaus.
The DIY sensibility these groups hold run deeper than just dollars and cents. There is no cover charge to get in and although donations are usually taken—they go directly to the bands. The DIY music scene in DC has always been about molding a community of artists and musicians who are passionate about making honest music. Being able to appreciate and bond over this idea and focusing on making music for the sake of being original and authentic might just be what makes this scene so appealing to a public that is constantly fed top-40 hits.
The shows themselves do not rely on a great deal of promotion. Yet they rouse a pretty extensive group of supporters who have made The Paperhaus an indie music lover’s stage for DIY shows, welcoming local and traveling musicians from all over the country. Tebeleff’s affection for the DC post-punk scene grew out of listening to influential DC musicians like Ian Mackaye of Fugazi and Minor Threat fame. This exposure and encouragement of the DIY attitude became a turning point that would eventually begin to shape his future in the DC music scene.
I got the chance to chat with Alex about their band, why they admire DC and the illustrious DIY shows they play and host.
What inspired or motivated you to start hosting house shows for local and traveling musicians in your basement? When and how did this start?
Alex: The DIY scene is a really important part of the history of DC music. I’ve always been inspired by the integrity and honesty of music coming out of here. When I saw what Brandon Moses [of Laughing Man] was doing at the Red Door Studio, I knew I wanted to do something with the community. We did a songwriter showcase here at The Paperhaus about a year ago and had a huge turn out and we’ve just kept going on from there. Bands started contacting us while they were on tour, word spread around DC and now it’s almost too much and unfortunately we have to turn some people away. We are trying to commemorate DC musicians. It’s really about building a community among dc musicians. It feels really cool to start seeing a lot of these bands that support each other and its interesting to be part of that entire scene. We have some amazing out of town bands who get in touch with us and they are like ‘hey can we play ur house?’ We’ve even had metal shows and afro-Cuban bands come.
Describe the background of Paperhaus (the band). Where did the name come from?
Alex: I’ve been playing with Eduardo for about 10 years now. We’ve known each other since we were 13 years old and we’ve been playing together since we were 14. That’s how we started and then after that eventually Paperhaus formed once we were in college. We went through a lot of different band members throughout this time—went into hiatus at one point and then we started jamming with John Di Lascio and Brandon Mosses who plays in two other bands. We used to go over to the Red Door Studio and jam with them all the time. Its important that we all contribute and that we are all writing together. Our best tunes come out of jam sessions and what we come up with together.
How did you come up with your band name?
Alex: Paperhouse is the name of a song from a band called CAN that was active in Germany during the 1970s. We decided to change the spelling of the name to show the German word for house, which is haus. It was intended as more of a tribute to them because we saw them as this non-egotistical band and we wanted to take that attitude with us because we believe great music is made in that fashion. First and foremost we’re excited about making original music that can still reach people. We want to make music that makes people think.
Describe the DIY shows—What can people expect when they come to a show at The Paperhaus?
Alex: It’s pretty laid back and very chill. It can be anything from a small gathering of 15 or 20 friends. Like our close friends just hanging out and drinking home brewed beer, having a good time, to a 100-person house show with crowd surfing. We’ve had all kinds of different bands come through, from jazz musicians, comedy shows, to teen punk shows, to singer songwriter acoustic sessions. We had a huge turn out for the last comedy show we did— it was one of the best shows we’ve ever done and we are doing it again on march 14th.
What about money? Is there a cover charge?
Alex: We provide food for the bands. Andrew Passel who works at Qualia Coffee brews beer and is also an amazing chef so he helps us out. He makes great food. As far as pay is concerned we accept donations so bands can get gas money. Sometimes people will give a ton and sometimes they give nothing, which can be a let down. But some bands just don’t care and just want to play. We are not in it for the money. We make no money off these shows.
For the upcoming house show on Saturday you guys have Typefighter, a local DC rock band and two New York City bands—Bridges and Powerlines, and Watermelon playing. How do you find these guys and what’s the selection process like? Do you keep in touch?
Alex: Watermelon are old friends of ours. They are a funk band actually. The coolest thing is that we actually know them from High School. They actually gave us a gig in NYC so in return we gave them a venue in DC. We’re trying to create a network of musicians here. We get bands that come from all over, Connecticut, Utah, NYC, etc.
How would you describe the music scene in DC?
Alex: I want to see it continue to grow because it has lots of potential. I think it’s embarrassing the lack of attention we get nationally. There’s definitely a lot of people who we would consider friends. Its crazy you can go to a show and run into Ian Mackaye one of my childhood heroes and he’s like one of the nicest people we’ve ever met. The community aspect has pervaded throughout the entire music scene as far as I can tell. I feel too like there’s a growing creativity and the bands are becoming more original the music is getting more interesting and reaching more people. It’s about bringing in people who are not necessarily in the music scene, but they just want to see a good show.
You and Eduardo are true DC locals and have been for quite some time. How have you seen the music scene evolve since you first began playing here and going to shows?
Alex: I can say that without question the bands have gotten a lot better. I’d say even five years ago the music wasn’t as good. The music scene right now in DC is so much more fluent and exciting with bands like Presto Bando, Ugly Purple Sweater, and Typefighter. Really talented bands with different types of genres, I would say probably the most intelligent live music is coming from here in DC right now.
Eduardo: We are extremely proud to be able to promote their music and be their friends and support their music.
Alex: Laughing Man for example, they came here from Philly and from the very beginning they’ve done everything they can to build a community and be a part of it and it is people like that who truly make a difference. That’s why I love playing with Brandon and respect him so much. I was living in the suburbs out of college and when I came back to live in DC to start making serious music, one of the first things I did was start going to shows at the Red Door Studio, and that told me ‘this is the place I want to be’ and Brandon had a huge impact on that. Also it was the DIY shows not just the conventional shows. The standard and the quality of writing has also improved drastically. It’s impossible to make good music unless the songwriting is great. That’s the foundation! They are original, thoughtful, rich, and inventive and that really says something. I’ve seen a lot of good music and I think there are a lot of good bands that have thoughtful songwriting and cool arrangements. Most of this music that I’m talking about is shockingly accessible too. They are not done in generic or conventional ways at all. It was people like the Beatles or Dylan that pushed the song pop format and reinvented it. It’s a great format and a great place to start but if you keep repeating what other bands have done it gets stale and boring. There are a lot of bands today that are all about style over substance, in DC its all substance.
How has growing up in the district impacted you as a musician? Was there a defining moment that made you decide this is the path you wanted to follow?
Alex: That’s a tough question. Definitely I would say outside of DC it was Radiohead. I think they really got Eduardo too and we really connected in that respect. As far as DC is concerned there is an activist organization called Positive Force that does really great work founded by Mark Andersen who wrote a book called Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation’s Capital. It’s about the DC punk scene and I remember reading it when I must have been 12 or 13. It happened right when I started playing guitar. I was so inspired by the fact that these bands cared so much about making music that meant something more than just delivering catchy tunes—and you know the great thing is that they were actually making catchy tunes. That got me into DC music and punk music in general. We are all extremely inspired by punk music. Even though I wouldn’t call Paperhaus a punk band—we strive to make music that’s honest, authentic and natural. I think that’s the most treasured aspect of the punk attitude: honesty.
What artists are you guys listening to right now?
Alex: I am currently obsessed with Bob Dylan’s The Basement Tapes. I’ve been listening to it non-stop and again talking about honest music— they didn’t even plan that album to be released. I also have the bootleg box set of A Tree with Roots. Its great, you can hear them laughing in the background having a good time and just loving playing their music. There is boundless creativity under really simple structures. It shows u that there really are no limits to what u can do creatively. As far as what the band has been into…
Eduardo: Right now St. Vincent, Radiohead, Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen. I also have a thing for euro pop.
Alex: Yes, Bob Dylan, and Leonard I am hearing go through the house recently.
What advice do you have for bands that are just getting started in DC?
Alex: Go to as many shows as you can! Come to DIY shows especially. You know—go to the club shows too but try to get into the DIY community. Build a community and become a part of that community, don’t isolate yourself. Meet other bands that you believe philosophically or conceptually fit with what you are doing. Bands in DC are really open and willing to help each other out. Imperial China, for example, I’m always hearing how they helped out many bands. That’s just one example of the kind of openness and comradery that u get from the DC scene. There’s a website for DC DIY shows called DC showspace http://inyrbasement.tumblr.com/. It’s really comprehensive and u can go there and see what shows are going on as far as DIY.
Also the best way to start is to get more intimate and get to know the bands as human beings, and the rest will fall into place. It can happen really quick if you’re open and make the effort to help other people as well. The musicians here are really approachable, no matter how big of a band, there’s are no fuckin’ egos. People are all down to earth which is kind of refreshing you know? Go to shows! Go see local music in DC because more than likely you’re going to end up at a really great show.
You can see@ 8:00 pm
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