On its self-titled debut EP released in 2011, Paperhaus introduced itself as Washington’s latest alt-country band. The quartet’s sound drew from other styles, including 1960s Brit-pop and 1980s alt-rock, but most of its songs seemed designed for crying in your fair-trade coffee.
“I was going through a really horrible breakup,” explains singer-guitarist Alex Tebeleff, “and all I was listening to was, like, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Guy Clark, Patsy Cline. Just classic . . . ”
“Heartbreak country,” interjects drummer Brandon Moses.
It turns out that Tebeleff doesn’t listen just to country. During an hour at the band’s regular hangout, the Petworth coffeehouse Qualia, the musician mentions his enthusiasm for — to mention but a few — Neil Young, Radiohead, Bob Dylan and Television. Bassist John Di Lascio adds Scott Walker, Frank Zappa and pioneering electronic composer Morton Subotnick to the list.
Plus, when they were mere Montgomery County middle-schoolers, Tebeleff and fellow guitarist Eduardo Rivera took lessons from an Ethiopian musician. He introduced them to African grooves, with an emphasis on Nigeria’s Fela Kuti.
And then there’s Can, the 1970s German groove band whose songs include one titled “Paperhouse.”
More of these influences are audible on the band’s second release, “Lo Hi Lo,” which will be available at the band’s show Friday at the Rock & Roll Hotel. The EP won’t be released nationally until May, while Paperhaus undertakes its first major tour. Recently divested of some pesky day jobs, the musicians will travel coast to coast, playing about 50 dates over two months.
“Lo Hi Lo’s” four songs range from “All Through the Night” and “Corazon,” which recall such 1980s bands as R.E.M. and the Smiths, to the neo-psychedelic “Helicopters.” It opens with a trippy benediction, “I saw the world / And it was beautiful,” harmonized by multiple voices. The E.P.’s title comes from a line in “Twisted Tumbled,” a seven-minute workout that reveals Paperhaus at its most expansive.
Upon their return from touring, the musicians plan to begin recording their first full-length release, which will showcase even more of their inspirations.
‘This EP is like, pop,” Tebeleff muses. “It’s an introduction to what Paperhaus is, now that we’re mature. And then the album is . . . going down the rabbit hole. It’s going to be a bit next level.”
“This will be our first crack at a more in-depth approach,” adds Moses, a multitasker who also performs with Laughing Man, Joy Buttons and other local outfits.
Tebeleff relishes surprising the band’s listeners. “I want people to listen to it and say, ‘What the hell is this?’ ” he says. “I like people to be confused at first. Make them think about the music.”
However well the tour goes, home will remain Petworth, where the band runs an informal, nonprofit performance space called the Paperhaus.
“There’s something happening in the city right now,” says Rivera, who grew up a few blocks from Tebeleff in Rockville and has been trading guitar licks with him since they were 13. “The best shows I saw last year were here in D.C. The bands are incredible, and so diverse. There’s a camaraderie now. Something big’s going to happen soon. I can feel it.”
Tebeleff invokes the rallying cry of Los Angeles grass-roots organizer Cameron Rath: “ ‘Forget DIY. It’s DIT — do it together.’ That’s what’s happening here, organically. People are really supportive.”
Moses and Di Lascio aren’t originally locals; Moses hails from west Philadelphia and Di Lascio is a New Jersey native who landed in Washington after stints in Russia and Japan. (He came here to be a Russian translator and met the band through his sister, a singer.) But they nod when Tebeleff presents his vision of a potential D.C. indie-rock upsurge as vigorous as the 1980s hardcore punk one.
“We really want to help the music scene in the city,” Tebeleff says, “and help the creative energy grow. We’re not going to New York or L.A. I don’t want to! We’re going to do it here.”
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
“Soaring Sets of Song”
From “Lo Hi Lo”:
“All Through the Night”