New Times / Art
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 27, Issue 11
Say what?Portland's pop-electronica quintet, Starfucker, plays SLO Brew
BY ANNA WELTNER
The story of Starfucker is one so paradoxical, it ought to cancel itself out.
It all began in 2007 as the solo project of Portland native Josh Hodges, for whom the tongue-in-cheek moniker, it seems, was mostly about flipping the music industry the bird.
While touring with another band, Hodges recalled, “I heard this girl, some music industry schmoozer person, and she was bragging about sleeping with some famous guy. She’s like, ‘I’m a total star fucker.’ And I was like, wow, this industry sucks. You guys all suck. For the first few years, it was about that same attitude of ‘fuck trying to be successful.’ That’s not the goal.”
“Then I became more successful than I’ve ever been.”
Hodges wrote and recorded the band’s first album, the self-titled Starfucker, before even meeting current bandmates Shawn Glassford (bass, keyboard, and drums), Patrick Morris (guitar, keyboard, and vocals), and Keil Corcoran (drums, keyboard, and vocals). The playful, innovative, and infectiously danceable sound Starfucker produced was immediately at odds with its remarkably offensive name, which is either awesome or the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard. Either way, the band knew how to make an impression, and steadily gained a devout indie following that stretched beyond their Portland stomping grounds. Starfucker had the bright, giddy loopiness of labelmates Of Montreal, combined with the musical experimentation and philosophical questioning of the Flaming Lips and the adorable dancy rock of Passion Pit. The album’s yearning vocals—often purposefully hazy and obscured, as if Hodges and company were shying away from the mic—were complimented by samples from lectures by British philosopher Alan Watts, known for his efforts to translate Eastern philosophy into terms easily understood by Westerners.
Despite its upbeat sound, the album was imbued with a kind of vague melancholy. All my life/there you go, lamented “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second,” Oh please stay/for the night anyway.
You’ve got the money and the heartache/and the rest just turns to dust before I get to you, Hodges sings on “Pop Song,” a track that, musically anyway, lives up to its name.
“‘Pop Song’ is like about how every time you get your life and the world to be the way you want it, it’ll just change inevitably,” explained Hodges, munching a salad in a café in downtown San Luis Obispo, where the musician is currently staying. “Because even though impermanence exists, we all have a relationship with it, but we all live as if everything is permanent, and we’re shocked when things change.”
“German Love,” which quickly became an audience favorite, is catchy yet cryptic; a proclamation of love morphing, through repetition, into a kind of sinister warning. (German love, I’ll give it to you, give it to you, give it to you … .)
The project had stemmed from an indifference to fame and popularity, those dirty tramps, but now it seemed they were at Starfucker’s door—if only the band would change its name to something more, you know, accessible. But after toying with a few name changes—Pyramid and Pyramiddd were tried on for size and discarded, though the nifty abbreviation STRFKR is still used on posters and marquees—the band decided to stick to its guns and see what happened.
“Now it’s just like, we can only get so big because of the name,” Hodges said. “Now it’s just this experiment to see how far we can go with it.”
With its name as a kind of built-in protection against selling out, the social experiment known as Starfucker has had ample time to find itself. A few members came and went before the group established its current lineup. The band’s live shows, known for their sweaty, dance-party atmosphere, started to tighten up as well.
“It used to be all spectacle,” Hodges laughed. “We didn’t know what we were doing musically for a long time.”
Starfucker kept the lights, makeup, and occasional cross-dressing (“I think people think we’re just kinda homely girls,” Hodges reflected) while improving its live sound. These days, the band, which plays SLO Brew on Tuesday, Oct. 16, gets far more love for its live performances than for its recorded work. Reviews of the band’s second full-length album, Reptilians, released in 2011, were mixed, while their live shows consistently turn jaded critics into fawning teenage girls.
The Starfucker experience, one might conclude, is more about feeling than thinking, about imagery over narrative, about letting a moment course through your veins rather than observing and dissecting it, thereby draining it of its magical powers.
Such a hypothesis might also explain Hodges’ intuitive way of writing lyrics, which he described as “more about the phonetics of words, and how they fit into a song first, and then where I find the meaning in it.”
Reptilians is a far more streamlined and mature-sounding album than the band’s debut; the lovely cascading melody of “Bury Us Alive” and the anthemic buildup of “Julius” belie the death-centric themes of the album’s lyrics, perhaps clearest on “Death as a Fetish” and “Mystery Cloud,” which again samples a lecture from Watts.
“We all die,” Hodges reflected. “And everyone knows we all die, but it’s like this thing where we don’t know what to do with this piece of knowledge, and so it kind of rules our life in a secret, hidden way, because we’re scared to really look at it.”
A similarly deathy vibe permeates Starfucker’s forthcoming album, Hodges says, which he’s currently working on while staying in San Luis Obispo.
Hodges describes the next album as the group’s best and most collaborative offering yet, with at least one track written by each of the other members of the band.
“I always wanted to be in more of a band type situation, and not just like me writing stuff,” he said, “not like the Josh Hodges Band.”
Talk of the new work prompted reflection on Starfucker’s evolution.
“When it started,” Hodges continued, “it was just me, so there would be almost a whole song being played back, and then the drums and vocals. It was good, it was fun, there was no expectations. Now it’s totally different. Now there are expectations. It used to be about fucking off, and now its about creating a show. Now we have fans.”
The thought seems to baffle him.
“We used to just do shit like, we’d make noise and feedback for 30 minutes, and we’d play two songs, and that would be our set. We could not do that now, you know? People would be so mad at us. People would be like, ‘You guys are assholes.’ And there would be like one or two people who’d be like, ‘That’s the best thing!’”
Today, despite having real, actual fans, Hodges remains surprisingly humble: “Recently we were playing San Francisco, and I ran into my ex-girlfriend there, because that’s where she lives. I was kinda bummed out, and I was caught up in my own head, and I was playing the drums on ‘German Love.’ I saw these two couples right up front, and they were super cute, just singing along, and I was like, Oh, that’s why I’m here. It’s not about me. It’s about making this show for them. It’s not cathartic anymore for me; I’ve played this song fucking hundreds of times. It’s for them. It was good. I needed a slap in the face.”
Arts Editor Anna Weltner is always ready with a slap. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.