You may not be familiar with Powfu (aka Isaiah Faber), but if you’ve spent any time doom-scrolling through social media in the last year, there’s a very good chance you’ve come across his music. Early on in 2020—before we were equipped with terms like doom-scrolling—the 21-year-old songwriter’s collab with Filipino-British artist Beabadoobee, “Death Bed (Coffee for Your Head),” went massively viral on TikTok. We’re talking four billion plays in one month type of viral.
The lofi sad boy hip-hop single is more of a remix than an actual track—the song was originally released by Beabadoobee in 2017. Due to an issue with licensing and sample clearance, the commercial release of Powfu’s rendition was delayed, but that didn’t stop the TikTok wildfire from spreading as the song’s most iconic 15 seconds—featuring the endearing and mildly confusing lyric, “Don’t stay awake for too long/Don’t go to bed”—from infiltrating every kind of post. Providing the audible backdrop for everything from scenic travel clips and cute dogs, to one video of a teenager separating all the marshmallows from a box of Lucky Charms for his girlfriend’s birthday, Powfu was in more homes in 2020 than Amazon’s Alexa.
If Faber’s last name sounds familiar, it’s because his dad was the frontman and namesake for the popular Canadian pop punk band, Faber Drive. Remember the 2007 smash hit “Tongue Tied”? “I was probably eight or 10 years old when they were at their peak,” Faber says, speaking into a massive Shure condenser mic from his bedroom over Zoom. “It was kind of weird. In my elementary school, all the kids knew me as this famous guy’s son. It put pressure on me [as an artist], but I don’t know, it was fine.”
Faber is from Mission, British Columbia, a small district one hour east of Vancouver and just 15 minutes north of the US border. With a population of less than 40,000, it has smalltown vibes and is heavily steeped in farm culture. Faber reminisces about his childhood home on a big ranch. “We never had a big farm with cows and stuff. We had horses, dogs, and chickens, though.” He has since moved to a new locale, sheltered from his rabid online fanbase.
Talking with a collage of maps on the wall behind him, you quickly get the sense that Faber isn’t a country boy, but he’s also nowhere close to a big city kid either. While the pandemic has raged on throughout the bulk of 2020, it’s become quite clear that his smalltown fixings have put an inconvenient wedge between the rising artist and his international fanbase. Especially considering that he hasn’t even performed live yet. At least not as Powfu.
“I only had the chance to play one show,” he says, while taking a bite of his morning toast with peanut butter and jam. “I was in a music group called Lonely Music and we all flew out to Texas together to play one random show for fun. I loved it. And then I was getting ready to go on tour because ‘Death Bed’ was blowing up, but I never got the chance.”
Needless to say, 2020 was an awkward time for any emerging artist to have a song blow up, but Faber has mixed feelings. “It’s kind of good and bad,” he says. “I think the quarantine probably helped ‘Death Bed’ get a lot of recognition. But yeah, it kind of sucks that I can’t perform.”
Still, when Faber leaves his house, his star power doesn’t go unnoticed. “That’s a weird thing that’s been happening lately, being recognized. I don’t go out too often, but I would say 50% of the time I go to a restaurant, the waitress will be like, ‘Hey, are you Powfu?’ I’m not used to that.”
TikTok recently struck a new music licensing agreement with Powfu’s label, Sony Music Entertainment, which gives users of the app access to the label’s archive. Since then the number of plays “Death Bed” and countless other tracks from Powfu’s discography—including his most recent EP, some boring love stories pt 5—have been racking up streams that make his dad’s band look smaller than a push-pin on one of the maps Faber has on the wall behind him.
The maps, which cover the entire back wall of his bedroom, could easily be interpreted as a vision board of sorts, subtly charting Faber’s plan for global domination that he intends to command as soon as the world gets back to normal. With the world both in front of him and on the maps behind him—literally—Powfu is in the driver’s seat and his creative output isn’t slowing down.
Looking towards 2021, he doesn’t mince words when he talks about his plans to take his recording project out of the bedroom and onto stages all over the world. “My goals for 2021 are to work on music as much as I can, and go on tour.”