Pow Pow Family Band

Images and Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers

“I write often about heartbreak—the heartbreak of seeing the world go to shit,
seeing things that you love in danger or how difficult
it is to be in love with someone who hasn’t spurned you.”
— Miles Robbins

Pow Pow Family Band
Pow Pow Family Band is the musical project of musician and actor Miles Robbins. He wrote songs for the band’s debut album All Right (2018) during his time at Brown University. Robbins is the son of actors Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.

Miles Robbins and his evolving circle of collaborators—including Gabe Wax of The War on Drugs and Fleet Foxes—recorded Pow Pow Family Band’s debut album All Right (2018) during a summer in upstate New York. The album is a collection of personal, and at times satirical, psychedelic pop songs. Robbins is currently working on Pow Pow Family Band’s second album, and recently made his feature film debut in Seth Rogan-produced Blockers (2018). He discusses loving pop music as a child, writing about heartbreak and the middle school breakup that prompted him to start a band.

Miles in train of thought:… I like the sound of planes. I like the sound of highways. They sound very good. Actually, from a distance a highway sounds like an ocean. It’s nice and very relaxing. A highway is a beautiful thing, except I prefer it when it when it has like holes in it—when you can really see all the truth and the life that it has lived. I don’t like repairing highways because it’s not the same highway, you know? When you repair a highway, it’s like the ship—the Ship of Theseus I think? Where if you replace every piece of the ship, is it the same ship? That’s what I think about the highway. Is it then the same highway? Are we fucking with highways’ identities, you know? Is that highway the same highway that I fell in love with at one point? I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. Hi, I am Miles. Good to meet you.

Where are you from?
I’m from New York City. It’s famous; there are the big apples.

Woody Guthrie
Woody Guthrie was an American singer-songwriter and one of the most significant figures in American folk music. He is most commonly associated with the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression of the 1930s, during which time he wrote the song “This Land is Your Land.”

Gang of Four
Formed in 1977, Gang of Four is an English punk rock group from Leeds. Their debut album, Entertainment! (1979), was ranked fifth in Rolling Stone’s “40 Greatest Punk Albums of All Time.”

When did you start making music?
I started making music when I was thirteen and really wanted girls to like me. It didn’t help, but I learned how to play guitar because of that and then realized later that it was a nice thing to do, outside of trying to convince girls to make you their boyfriend.

Who did you listen to growing up?
My dad played me a lot of punk. He was really into Gang of Four and X, that era of punk rock music from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties. The Beatles, and also folk music. I was raised on a lot of roots folk music. My middle name is Guthrie, so that was a big part of my upbringing. As a kid you don’t really appreciate it as much as the radio. I also loved Britney Spears and *NSYNC. That was an era of pop music where lyrics were important. They were telling stories—they might have been kind of cheesy, but you could really hear what they were talking about in a way that you can’t with pop music these days. That kind of made me interested in lyrics as a child.

“When I act, it’s like playing bongos in someone else’s band. There’s something really nice about that.”
— Miles Robbins

So how did you get started?
I broke my arm when I was thirteen. I was playing saxophone at the time, but I couldn’t because I broke my arm, and then a girl that I liked took another guy to the dance. I was heartbroken and learned that bass guitar only requires the two fingers that were sticking out of my cast. So I learned how to play the bass guitar, and I started a really bad band. I wrote bad songs, and then slowly got less bad at it.

When do you feel you got your first break?
It’s really nice every time anybody enjoys something I did with my band. It feels like a huge breakthrough. We played a show the other day and at least two people liked it, and I was thrilled.

How did you decide that this was what you wanted to do?
It’s something that I find necessary. I use it as therapy. I find that if I don’t make things I get really hungry and when I’m making things, I feel okay generally. This is one of the things I like to make. I’m a lot worse at painting—I tried it, and I’m bad at it. I like baking. I don’t know if you have ever baked, but it’s a really rewarding experience.

What life events have impacted you and your music the most?
I write a lot about loss and love, and I try to do it in an optimistic way. I write often about heartbreak and how it can be a good thing, and the heartbreak of something not as traditional as a lost lover, but the heartbreak of seeing the world go to shit, seeing things that you love in danger, or how difficult it is to be in love with someone who hasn’t spurned you. I find a lot of what it is to be alive very heartbreaking, and I think it’s more fun to sing about it.

“Every time anybody enjoys something I did with my band, it feels like a huge breakthrough.”
— Miles Robbins

What’s the story behind the name Pow Pow Family Band?
I started a band called Pow Pow in college with a friend of mine, and it slowly started to grow. It was a duo, then it became a four-piece, and then a five, six, and eight piece. Then suddenly we had a horn section, and there were all sorts of people playing. It became this kind of circus family, where each show would have different arrangements because of everything that we were doing differently.

It felt like more of a family, where you can come to this Thanksgiving and if you miss the next one, you can always come the following year. There’s no set group. It’s a fun game that we all play together. We figured out who we were onstage and what kind of show we were trying to put on.

A few months ago you put out your first album. What can you tell me about it?
It’s called All Right, and it’s an album I wrote in my early twenties. When you’re in your early twenties, you experience a lot of transience. There are very small moments of incredible passion between lovers, friends and people that you can really think and talk with, but it all seems so fleeting when you’re in your early twenties. It all disappears so quickly, especially if you leave school or you’re changing jobs. So this was an album about finding something beautiful and then losing it, but being better for it. Kind of that whole “better to have loved and lost” thing. When something beautiful is found, it’s wonderful, despite the fact that you lose it.  And if you do lose it, you’ll become stronger because of it.

Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
David Byrne does all these great collaborations, and he’s a hero of mine. I really enjoy the way he steps out of himself to do these interesting collaborations. I loved his album with Caetano—it’s amazing. I’ll just resurrect George Harrison if that’s cool. I’d like to hang out with him and make a record. No, you know who I’d prefer to collaborate with is all my friends who I’m already collaborating with. I love them, and they’re really great people and beautiful musicians. A big part of what I enjoy about making music is getting to spend time with your friends.

“I started making music when I was thirteen and really wanted girls to like me. It didn’t help, but I realized later that it was a nice thing to do.”
— Miles Robbins

What are your interests and passions outside of music?
I also act in films. That has a been a part of my life in the past three years or so. It’s been really wonderful. I’ve met a lot of great people through it, and it satisfies a different side of creativity. When I act it’s like playing bongos in someone else’s band. Music is about going inside yourself, and acting is about going outside of yourself. So there’s something really therapeutic about that.

Andy Shauf
Andy Shauf is a Canadian singer-songwriter who played with the Christian pop punk band Captain until 2006. He has released three solo albums: Darker Days (2009), The Bearer of Bad News (2012) and The Party (2016).

The Free Design
The Free Design was a New York-based pop band active until the early 2000s. Although they did not achieve much commercial recognition during their recording career, their work is cited as an influence by Stereolab and Beck.

Sorry to Bother You
Sorry to Bother You is a 2018 science fiction comedy film written and directed by Boots Riley, starring Lakeith Lee Stanfield, Tessa Thompson and Armie Hammer.

Brazil
Brazil is a 1985 dystopian science fiction film directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro and Kim Griest. The film has become a cult classic and was ranked the 54th greatest British film of all time by the British Film Institute.

I really like baking treats. I like feeding my girlfriend, and I like petting people’s dogs. If you have a dog, everyone should be allowed to pet it. It’s really not that hard for you to just say, “Yes, you can pet my dog.” But some people walk their dogs, and they act like you’re crazy because you want to touch their animal, which is a really natural thing to want to do. That’s something I believe in strongly.

What’s your favorite book, film and music right now?
I have been loving the Andy Shauf record The Party that came out this past year. It tells a really beautiful story. I appreciate that, because I feel like we’re getting to a kind of singles-based world, at least on the internet. The Party felt like an album, and it was the first one I’d heard in a while like that. I’ve also been listening to a lot of The Free Design lately. I got a reissue of their first record, and they’re amazing. Stereolab is one of my favorite bands and they cite The Free Design as their number one inspiration, and it makes a lot of sense once you listen to it. They were hard to come by. I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of them before.

I saw a movie called Sorry to Bother You, which is fucking awesome and I am so excited about it. I can’t wait for everybody to see it. It is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a really long time. It’s like Brazil for the post-2008 American climate.

I’m re-reading my favorite book right now. It’s like my third or fourth time through it. It’s a book called Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami. It’s incredible. I appreciated my mom’s review of the book when I gave it to her. She texted me, “Just finished the book. It blew my mind. Is it my mind? We have to talk.”

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