The cliché of the tortured frontman is one that gets recycled over and over again. When watching Jesse Lee Hofbauer, singer / guitarist for The Paragraphs, images of Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison spring to mind. His heart is on his sleeve, and a chip is on his shoulder, which often translates into a magnetic, charismatic onstage presence.
Then again, that kind of appearance also means exposing your flaws and opening yourself to criticism.
"He looks like a petulant child," offered one show-goer at The Griffin earlier this year. As Hofbauer chucked a guitar off stage and made a quick exit, it seemed technical difficulties had gotten the best of him.
That night, the other three members of The Paragraphs kept an even keel. Guitarist Adam Feilmeier shrugged off Hofbauer's antics while drummer Mike Hunt and bassist Abel Perez smiled affably as they finished the set. Because while tension can erupt in any band, the bond within The Paragraphs goes deeper than surface flame-outs.
"All four of us have been friends longer than bandmates," Feilmeier says.
The Paragraphs—who play at The Office with Tori on Saturday, Sept. 14, as part of San Diego Music Thing—started in 2009 with Hofbauer and Hunt. Perez joined after a couple of tours, and Feilmeier became the final puzzle piece last year. "When Adam joined, we kicked into fifth gear," Hofbauer says. "Our vision is to stay in fifth gear."
Listening to The Paragraphs' debut album +/- (nominated for a San Diego Music Award under the Best Rock Album category), the emotional charge the singer puts forth comes through in each tune. He pairs his delivery with the band's '90s-era grunge sound, touched up with contemporary alt-country and a kick of '60s soul. Together, these elements produce an unlikely, but intriguing, rock 'n' roll fusion. The foursome is now poised for a new phase as they prepare to take more than a dozen new songs to The Lost Ark Studio to record.
At a recent show at the Belly Up, The Paragraphs previewed some of their new songs, including the harder rocking "Now and Then," which features a hypnotic give-and-take between Hofbauer's vocals and Feilmeier's guitar riffs, and "My Beat Goes On," which juxtaposes Hofbauer's lyrical vulnerability with Perez matching the morose melody on keys.
"If the crowd isn't feeling it, but I look over and Mike is going ape-shit, and Abe is having the time of his life, and Adam is just in a ball of fury, then I'm really excited," Hofbauer says.
For a brief period during the summer, however, some of the previously mentioned tension in the band led to some uncertainty about its future, as Feilmeier considered leaving the group. Yet in spite of this, The Paragraphs remain intact, with Feilmeier continuing his role as guitarist. As Hofbauer explains, whatever disagreements have arisen in the group's past, the hatchet has since been adequately buried.
"Everyone is so passionate about [the band] that things will be said and things will be done," the singer says. "But it's a matter of forgiveness between the parties involved, and I think that's what's happened with us."
Feilmeier echoed how The Paragraphs got back on track: "We keep finding ways to come back to what's important," he says. "I am still in the band, and we are moving forward and recording this album together."
"When you have four people pouring everything into something, you're going to butt heads," he continues. "And if we weren't, we probably wouldn't be making very good music."