Don’t put them in a box, because Bang Pow is sure to break out of it with their own set of rules that lead their unique, upbeat sound forward. The indie-dance-rock group has been creating synth-filled music with soul that welcomes its listeners to groove freely and enjoy the moment. Recently, the energetic band just booked their first festival slot at KAABOO Del Mar after winning the Discovery Tour battle of the bands competition.
DiscoverSD had the chance to grab a brew with band founders Doug Kunnath and Tommy Dubs, as well as guitarist Johnathan Zander, to chat about their road to success in San Diego, how rules have given them complete creative freedom and the happiness that comes from having a stoked audience.
Q: How did the members of Bang Pow meet?
Tommy: We’ve been playing music for 15 years together, Doug and I. John, we met through the bass player and drummer of Bang Pow. They all play in another band called Omega3. We have all been playing in bands together for the last 15 years in some form or another in San Diego.
Q: So after playing in different bands, what made you want to start anew with Bang Pow?
Tommy: Doug and I were playing a different style of music, music that was more indicative to San Diego, I want to say. More beachy-surf, reggae rock. That’s really what I grew up on, but we really got tired of it, to be completely honest. We started getting into a lot of different bands and kind of started talking about a new project. One day, we just quit that old band and said OK, this is the new band we want to form. We wanted to play dance music, disco-punk style and focus on the bands that we want to go see. We set out rules, which may seem counterintuitive to the creative process, but we knew exactly how we wanted it to be, and we didn’t want to stray from it.
Q: What are some of the band “rules” you set?
Tommy: Right now, which I could see we may stray from in the future, we wanted to emulate a live DJ set. So around the same time we started this band, I started DJing a lot. I saw how people freaked out over dance music. In order to emulate that, we said let’s make all the music 120 beats per minute. No matter what. It may seem like a box, but it’s been so freeing because we don’t have to make those decisions. You never have a question if you’re playing the song too fast or too slow. We wear suits on stage every show.
Doug: Once the rule was set, it became its own thing, and we just couldn’t let ourselves break the rule. You have to find ways to change the dynamic at 120 beats, too, so it’s kind of challenging.
Tommy: If we were to change it, we would probably change it by setting another rule. The thing about setting these rules and really committing is that it’s working. It’s the only project I’ve been in where we set rules and it really helped us.
Q: How did you end up playing at KAABOO Del Mar?
Tommy: Our friend, Steve Grubbs, was like, ‘You guys should play KAABOO.’ We were like, ‘Yeah, OK, we should play KAABOO, for sure, it’s up to us ...’
Doug: Yeah, it was like, ‘OK, sure. Maybe we should play Woodstock, too.’
Tommy: He filled out the application for us to do the Discovery Tour for KAABOO, which is hosted by Gigtown - a great music app for artists. Our buddy filled it out, we sent it in, and we didn’t hear anything back. Then one day we got an email and they were like, ‘You guys have been selected to do this battle-of-the-bands type of event, and I haven’t done anything like that since I was younger. It happened to be at Winstons (Beach Club in Ocean Beach), and again I used to live in OB, so we were like f***, this is so great. So we competed against bands at Winstons and then we won against a few other bands - Grim Slippers, Broken Stems and Alexa.
Doug: Oh, also this guy (Casey Turner) who took his music to outer space. Well, an astronaut took his music to outer space, which is super cool. So, we were surprised. They announced it right after the show concluded so we were all just having beers, and drunkenly found out we had won.
Tommy: There was a good sense of camaraderie and people supporting each band so it was a cool thing to be a part of.
Q: Is San Diego typically competitive to you, or is there often camaraderie in the music scene here?
Tommy: I think musicians, in general, can be d**** to each other. Bands can be passive aggressively d**** to each other.
Doug: Like, not getting off stage quick and lollygagging around. We made that a rule too, actually, to get off stage quick and be totally respectful. With our lighting rig and all, the complexities of our shows now makes it extra important for us to be efficient in setting it up so we aren’t being dd**** to the other bands or taking someone’s time.
Tommy: I don’t know if it’s super competitive though, but the scene is so widely dispersed. It’s such a transient place with people coming and leaving all the time. Bands start and break up all the time. It’s a different scene, there’s just so much to do in San Diego that it’s hard to get people to pay attention to music.
Q: Has Bang Pow been your most successful music venture so far?
Tommy: It seems to be going that way. It honestly feels like more has come with somewhat less effort. People, press, everyone seems to be reaching out to us more without us having to try. It’s weird.
Q: Maybe it’s because you’re good?
Tommy: Maybe so, that couldn’t possibly be it! Yeah, but it is probably the most attention I have ever gotten in a band. The crowd, most importantly, is responding to it the way we want them to respond to it, which is a trip. I see looks on people’s faces - not to toot our own horns or anything - but literally, you see people like, totally stoked, and I’m just like, ‘Wow, that’s really rad.’ We have been in other bands and no one usually talks to the keyboard player or anything other than the frontman or lead guitar and, in this band, they pay attention to everything up there we’re doing.
Doug: And more free drinks after the show come for us! But that’s probably just because of the suit, not me or my skill.
Q: You guys wear suits to every show. Do you have tons of different suits then?
Doug: No, unfortunately not yet. The point of it was to make it look like we take it really seriously. Something to say, we took that extra bit of effort for this show. We were nervous that people wouldn’t like it or get it.
Tommy: Yeah, I’ve got two, and I literally just wear the one and I have not dry-cleaned it once. I remember I was sitting at Winstons with C Money, the trumpet player from Slightly Stoopid, and this band comes on stage and he goes, “Look at these f-ing slobs!” because he’s always wearing a super nice suit because he does jazz-influenced music. He was saying that, like, if someone doesn’t take themselves seriously, how can you? Like you see someone in cargo shorts and flip-flops and you’re like, ‘Uh, did you just walk off the beach?’ You can do that, but it’s something we wanted to do: Get in costume and mentally prepared. Fake it ‘til you make it.
Q: What musicians have influenced your music, locally and otherwise?
Tommy: A lot of it had to do with Hyena. I worked with Brian of Hyena, and he was playing this new, electronic music back in the day, and he was so excited. He showed us all he had made and we really liked it. !!! (pronounced Chk Chk Chk) has inspired us a lot, though. They are probably the biggest influence, musically, as well as LCD Soundsystem. With !!!, they were all punk rockers before and now are into the electronic stuff, kind of like us. Locally, I also like Digital Lizards of Doom. I love Prayers, they’re rad. Anything Al Howard is involved with is great.
John: Yeah, as far as local, Botanica Chango are great. I’ve always loved them and now I actually live with them now. Hills Like Elephants are really cool. I also like Sleeping With People.
Q: What is the new album you’re working on sounding like, and when will it be released?
Tommy: We are aiming for November. It sounds a lot like us, but this one was a little more serious lyrical content. We wanted to be able to sneak serious lyrics in with happy music. I think some of the lyrics on this record talk about some s*** beyond what the first one did. Technically, it sounds a lot better because we have better equipment at our studio that we run. Tim, the bass player, and Joe, the drummer, have a big new wave influence, and we have a track that sounds like The Cure. It’s called “By Chance (Could You F*** Off?)
Doug: After writing so many songs, this album shows what we could do by adding more to the process. Not necessarily by adding more sounds, but more intelligent work.
Tommy: We didn’t know what we were capable of doing with the first record and now we are bringing in different influences. John brings a new flavor, since he wasn’t on the first album. Having two guitars versus one helps. It’s just different, more developed. We are stoked on it.
KAABOO Del Mar, Friday, Sept. 16 (at 2:15 p.m.)
U31 with Strat & Mouse, Friday, Sept. 16 (at 7 p.m.)
Pacific Beachfest, Oct. 1
Ocean Beach Oktoberfest, Oct. 7-8
Full list of band members
Tim Powers - bass
Joe Gastelum - drums
Doug Kunnath - synths
Tommy Dubs - vocals
Johnathan Zander - guitar
About the brew
DiscoverSD met up with Bang Pow at Mike Hess Brewing’s satellite tasting room in Ocean Beach. This location is the third location for the brewery, which also has locations in Miramar and North Park. The tasting room is in the heart of Ocean Beach and serves up a rotating tap list, beers to go and fills growlers, as well.
4893 Voltaire St., Ocean Beach. mikehessbrewing.com