POW!’s Byron Blum on staying put

Pub date January 22, 2014

When John Dwyer announced that he was leaving San Francisco for LA a few weeks ago, he caused a bit of blogosphere melodrama, to say the least. One thing that wasn’t controversial: His vocal support of the young’uns in POW!, whose album is out on Dwyer’s own Castle Face Records. With the record out this week, we caught up with Blum to hear about the passing of the baton.

I set my laptop on the wobbly table outside of Mojo Bicycle Café and make a sheepish remark about having a computer in tow for an interview I assumed would involve a plethora of tech industry shit talking. I was meeting Byron Blum, guitarist and vocalist of POW!, an SF garage trio with a ratty, fuzzy sound and a new album that pummels our city’s digital infiltration. 

“Oh, are we gonna talk about tech?” asks Blum, straight-faced with an air of disappointment in his voice. I laugh awkwardly and nod my head yes. He hands me a tortilla chip in agreement. We bond over the street we both call home, noting the usual Divisadero characters and talking favorite spots before launching into grievances about the changing landscape.

“All the quick fixes showing up around the city—the cranes everywhere, the condos—redevelopment that’s so disposable looking. Fuck this,” he says from behind round sunglasses. “Our neighborhood is so timeless, so beautiful, so San Francisco. These convenient solutions are not sustainable. I get bummed out.”

A quick listen to POW!’s debut full-length, High-Tech Boom, and it’s obvious the landscape isn’t all that’s getting Blum and his bandmates down. The album was released mere days ago on John Dwyer’s Castle Face Records, but conversations around the punchy, aggravated lyrics have been hot for weeks.  Lines like, “There’s a new breed creeping into town/they’re starting up and taking over…” and “I’m seeing red as they take away our bread” aren’t shy to point fingers at the deep-pocketed “noobs” — as coined by Dwyer in his own strongly worded press release promoting the band’s new tracks.

The audible volatility of High-Tech Boom feels spot on with the pissed-off vibes breeding in the Bay: The guitar encourages sly rebellion, the drums rabid and tense; the synth sneers and stirs. These songs birthed from a place of anger and aggression — seeing his friends displaced and then replaced with entitled strangers left Blum feeling obligated to write about the changes.

“As a songwriter, I want to have something important to say. I don’t want to just sing about cool shit,” Blum explains, clarifying that this doesn’t mean he wants to take sides in the debate or hand out advice. “I don’t have answers to what rent should be for the world. That’s not my department. I’m just writing about what’s happening in my environment. Naturally, I feel resentful after seeing what’s been happening to my friends. I wanted to be able to give something to them. “

Amidst all of this unrest, Blum seems chill, relaxed, and in general, happy with San Francisco. He attributes keeping it cool to his newfound “acceptance phase”: It is what it is, a notion he repeats when passing a fleet of corporate buses or gross construction. He repeats that it’s no one’s fault — which I take to mean he’s not blaming the individual, expensive toast-consuming, one-bedroom-renting computer cats in our hood — and reminds me that punishing those who find success isn’t fair either. Unfortunately, their success still jeopardizes that of others, and alongside Dwyer and Ty, a host of Blum’s artist friends have flown the roost in search of decent rent.

Blum isn’t packing his bags for SoCal…yet.

“I’m gonna stay until it feels right to go. I still feel like I have stuff to do here.”

POW! album release party
With Warm White, Mane
7:30pm, $5
Makeout Room, 3225 22nd St, SF