Paperhaus is one of D.C.’s hardest working bands. They’re in the midst of a very long tour that took them through a very long Midwestern winter. In addition to playing roughly 100 dates per year, they also run a house venue of the same name. They’re a group of guys that are always in the midst of a show, whether it’s as a performer or a music lover. After performing for nearly a week in Austin, we asked guitarist and singer Alex Tebeleff if the trip to SXSW was worth it. -ed.
We wouldn’t have done it if we hadn’t recently put out an album. To be frank, I’ve heard nothing but bad things from most people saying it’s chaotic, it’s not worth it, it’s a shit show, but man, it was awesome. I want to go back every year after this experience.
I think the highlight was the last night. We played at the BirdDog Promo and Paper Garden Records Showcase with Pree and Yonotan Gat and Monogold and Laser Background and more, it was like the whole bill was just friends of ours. When we played, man, it was packed, people were screaming, going crazy, yelling, clapping. It was such an amazingly wonderful open crowd that I just felt that was the best we played and the most interactive. It wasn’t necessarily the biggest crowd we had even though it was actually a really nice crowd but you know it was such interactive crowd that it made the show awesome. People were literally screaming during Yonotan Gat, it looked like some people people were close to crying. He destroyed it, it was unbelievable to watch, he turned the crowd into animals. It was awesome.
Monogold closed it out with like a really great set, they were super fun, people were dancing to them, so after this like very aggressive, visceral, animalistic experience). It was kind of a magical night, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever been a part of.
The day before we played the Exploding in Sound showcase, which was just an unbelievable bill, I saw so many bands that I love. We played super late so it definitely wasn’t as busy, we did have a crowd, but you know if we played earlier – I mean that’s the thing about it, you know, when do you play, where you play, all of that, we were just happy to be part of that bill so we told them, “Hey we’ll go last, we don’t mind,” even though we didn’t play until like 1:30 in the morning. But there was still a good crowd and, man, I met so many amazing people and the bill, oh god, it was just so awesome, Ave Luna, Pile, Krill, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat was one of my absolute favorite of the whole festival. He’s really turning something on, he is spectacular.
This could have only happened at South By Southwest because of the convergence of people.
The perfect example is that same showcase. I was sitting, having a conversation with the guy Scott Lapatine who owns Stereogum, about Scott Walker, nerding out about Scott Walker for like 20 minutes and then next thing I know I’m watching Ed Schrader’s Music Beat and talking to Scott afterwards about what a badass Ian Svenonious is, I guess they’re like good buddies, and then the next thing I know I’m watching Krill, who are one of my favorite bands, and then all of a sudden I run into one of my buddies from Reptar, he played in another band called Semicircle and I booked them in D.C. so I’ve gotten to know him, so we hung out and he was there with the people who run his label, Joyful Noise Records, who are amazing people and so I got to meet them and hang out. Not only are you seeing amazing music in an intimate way, but you are actually making genuine connections with people who are the most hardcore passionate music people, and that was so interesting to me. And I don’t mean connections in a networking sense, I mean like actually getting into interesting conversations with people who are just so passionate about music.
I was worried things would feel too corporate or something, but it was not that way at all. The only time I saw anything negative was when we went to see, because we had an official showcase we had artists badges, the first one we went to was amazing, we went to two official showcases, we had two nights off, and we got to see The Damned which was unreal, they were so good man, we saw Future Islands, Metz, bunch of amazing bands, the vibe of the crowd was great, wonderful.
The next time we went to see an official showcase at Cheer Up Charlies, went to see Deerhoof and Of Montreal and the bands were spectacular, but there were definitely some entitled motherfuckers in the crowd who I really really wanted to just…it took everything I had to not just go off on these people, they were just such entitled assholes. They were really being nasty to other people in the crowd about their space. You’re at a fucking concert! That was kind of unbelievable to me. That was really the only negative thing. And yeah, there’s stupid things like the Spotify House or the Stubhub House but I didn’t go there, I’m not going to go support them. I think Stubhub is an evil company so I’m not going to go to the shows that they put on. I know that’s there and it’s part of the festival but you don’t have to go support it. I didn’t go to the Spotify House or the Pandora House or the Stubhub House, I just don’t think those are ethical companies. I don’t want to support them so I just didn’t go because guess what, there are a million other amazing things happening.
A lot of it is like make your own festival. Make your own Bonnaroo. What do you want Bonnaroo to be like? I want Bonnaroo to be Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, Krill, Of Montreal and Deerhoof one day and that’s what I did. What other time do I have that opportunity? Even as a music fan, for me, I learned so much too, just seeing all those bands, I feel like our band got better from seeing that many good bands in a row for context to see what it really takes to be a great band.
Energy. Energy, man. Seeing Metz followed by The Damned followed by Thee Oh Seas and seeing the level of energy that those bands bring. I was standing next to this guy who works for the BBC. He’s from Scotland and his first show when he was 12 was The Damned in the early 80s, and at one point I’m sitting next to this super fan, super interesting to talk to, I mean he works for BBC music, he knew so much about music and he was so interesting, he was such a passionate music lover. It was super cool to hear his perspective, and get some perspective like what it really takes for an American band in the UK, to do things out there while making a genuine connection with someone who has basically dedicated his life to introducing people to music. And then dancing like maniacs with this guy 20 minutes later to the band that made him fall in love with music. I don’t think it could have happened anywhere else.
The stuff that’s terrible about this festival, and there is a lot that’s terrible, let me make that clear, there’s a lot that’s terrible about South by Southwest – you don’t have to be a part of it. You can totally have nothing to do with the Stubhub House and you don’t have to support them or any of these other mediocre generic indie bands, and there’s plenty of ’em, but I didn’t have to sit through any of them, because I put some effort in so like, “Okay what do I want to check out, who do I want to see, where do I want to go as a music fan?” and then also I was really into playing shows with bands that I like and promoters I think are artists first people. All of the people we worked with Community Records, Inflated Records, Paper Garden Records, everyone was really great.
The showcase we did with the DC Government, the We DC showcase, was incredible. Rare Essence is one of the most incredible bands on the planet. I was front row, dancing my ass off, they gave about 15 shout-outs to Paperhaus. We bonded with those guys. Even though we live in the same city, I don’t know when we would have connected like that. South By Southwest allowed us to connect with other parts of D.C. They (We DC staff) treated us really well, they really cared about putting on a good show, they had R&B, pop, psychedelic rock, it was really a diverse bill that properly represented D.C. Every show was special in its own way. That one was particularly special. Being in the front row was as good as playing it. I really hope they keep doing it and keep making it a diverse bill. It’s a positive thing for the D.C. community. Those connections we made are going to last. It’s extremely likely there’ll be a Paperhaus and Rare Essence show in the future.