Creative duo: Songwriting partners How???, coming to Carson City, mix Americana and electronica on their debut album

Can Americana songwriting and lyrics blend together with electronic production and instrumentation? The answer is yes—and the musicians combining these two sounds have already anticipated your next question, as the name of their group is How??? 

How???, composed of Alex Tebeleff and Matthew Dowling, connects wildly different genres into one body of work. Their debut song “How???” is a feel-good groove with synths and guitar effects galore, along with poignant lyrics filled with metaphors—echoing some of the best contributors to the folk genre. They’re releasing their self-titled debut album in April, and they are hitting the road to celebrate, making a stop on Friday, April 19, in Carson City at the Tap Shack Summer Stage.  

During a recent Zoom interview, they explained how the band originated out of the ashes of previous projects. 

“Alex was doing a band in (Washington), D.C., for a long time called Paperhaus, which I ended up playing in,” Dowling said. “I was doing a band called Deleted Scenes for many years that sort of kept me from doing other stuff; then that broke up, and then I started playing in Paperhaus. … I dropped in as a guy who was a good friend of the band, and then wrote with him for the last record for the band. That’s where Alex and I started developing a musical language together. The band broke up, and then this is kind of the next thing.” 

They pondered whether to keep the name Paperhaus, but decided against it. 

“We felt like, for many reasons, it was important to start something totally fresh—and a lot of that is the move to the West Coast,” Dowling said. “… We’ve made enough volume of music in our lives that we just make the next record; we hope for the best; and we do the work, but we’re not going to stop.” 

Said Tebeleff: “It was pretty clear to me early on that this is not a Paperhaus record; this is something new, and it deserves to be a debut record for something else. For Paperhaus, people would bring songs in, but a lot of the songs were actually written collaboratively, and it was very much a band in a room. … This record was the opposite. Me and Matt came in with songs and let them grow and change in the studio, and really radically used the studio for all sorts of transformative processes. We’d have a friend of mine record drums, and then I’d take them and throw them in my sampler. It’s an Elektron Octatrack—we used it a ton on the record—so I’d send the drums into the sampler, chop them up, create lots of different variations that no human would ever play, and then bring that back in. There was very much a relationship with technology here in a way that Paperhaus just never had.”  

Tebeleff and Dowling mixed the record themselves, before bringing in outside help for the final production elements. 

“I wanted to make sure we had a second pair of ears on it,” Tebeleff said. “I’m a big believer in, ‘Don’t ever have the same person master who mixed.’ It was already enough of a risk to have me mix it. I’m a massive Beatles freak; they’re a huge influence on my life and on every piece of music I’ve ever done, and it helped (the Beatles to have) George Martin there to balance. One of the arguments against the White Album I hear from people is, without George Martin there, it was too all over the place. … You have to really be self-critical and almost mean to yourself at times, like, ‘Does this suck? Is this good? Do you love it or not?’” 

As their own producers, they were able to combine sounds and styles from across the spectrum. 

“I view music as music,” Tebeleff said. “To me, it’s all one thing, and I tend to prefer projects that regard genre as something superficial. Radiohead was a big influence on both of us growing up, and they were probably the reason I got into electronic music in the first place. Boards of Canada and Björk, and all of those things I found through Radiohead ended up actually being really influential on this work. We have no interest in sounding like Radiohead. … The rock stuff is often pretty separate from the electronic stuff, but sometimes it hybridizes.” 

Self-producing had financial benefits as well.  

“I have slowly invested for 20 years in home studio equipment, and partly thanks to my work here on this record, I finally was like, ‘OK, I can do professional mixing and mastering,’ so I do that now for other projects too,” said Tebeleff. “It gives you a lot of freedom, but again, it’s dangerous to spend way too much time on something, so I always have to be careful. It saved us thousands of dollars to have me record and mix this.” 

Added Dowling: “…That was another reason for saying, ‘OK, this is just a whole new project for Alex and myself to a degree,’ because we are kind of taking on a new life as producers and mixers. We play music because that’s what we do, and we’re going to do a tour, we’re going to make records—but we’re making records for other people now.” 

As for live shows, the duo plans on experimenting. 

“We haven’t played a ton of shows as a band yet, but it is possible for just Alex and I to do it, and that’s probably how we’re going to do the majority of this tour—but it is configurable in that we can plug in a seven-person band if we wanted to,” Dowling said. “We’re actually taking from some live playbooks that I’ve done with my project SWOLL, which is my own thing. I play bass and sing live, and I have a drummer who has a couple organic elements, but it’s largely tracks. … For this one, we can do tracks as well. One of the things I figured out with SWOLL is by having some crushing keyboard amps onstage to sort of act as the live drummer for the track, so that it’s not just PA-focused, it gives it some of that boominess and feeling live. … Somehow, it’s still interesting.” 

Tebeleff promised that things will get weird. 

“This Elektron Octatrack sampler is sort of the brain, and we run some of the tracks from the recording through it, but I’m doing things to remix those tracks live with the sampler,” he said. “Part of what makes the sampler very special is the ability to take loops and tracks and transform them very musically on the fly if you set it up. Even if we’re playing tracks, it’s not just playing tracks; it’s often me scrambling them live in musical ways, so that in a way, we’re live remixing ourselves for a lot of the stuff. Some of it, I’m playing synth, and he’s playing bass, and we’re singing over tracks, but a lot of it is actually taking the tracks and musically transforming them in a way that, to me, makes up for not having a drummer.” 

I got to listen to the debut record, and a big takeaway was the band’s attention to detail when it comes to honing their singer/songwriter influences. Even though the tracks are filtered through numerous effects and electronic soundscapes, the lyrics and vocal phrasings wouldn’t sound too out of place being sung by one guy with an acoustic guitar. 

“We care about songs,” said Dowling. “We’re a song band, and the live show is a celebration of that. This isn’t a novel idea, but that’s what we want to do—celebrate songs and have some fun.” 

How??? will perform on Friday, April 19, at Tap Shack Summer Stage, 112 Rice St., in Carson City. For more information, visit