Much has been made of the NAME of a Portland-based electro-pop band most commonly known as Starf***er (I’m sure most of you can supply the missing vowel and two consonants). What is now a cohesive, touring four-piece band actually started out as a solo project for multi-instrumentalist Josh Hodges. Working under the pseudonym ‘Sexton Blake’, Hodges released his eponymous solo debut in 2004, and, still working under the Sexton Blake moniker, followed it up with an all-covers album in 2007, called ‘Plays the Hits’. Eventually, Hodges found the musical direction of Sexton Blake a bit of a downer, and decided to form a new band, bringing former Sexton Blake collaborator Ryan Bjornstad with him, later bringing Shawn Glassford into the ranks. At that point, Starf***er was born. There has actually been a lot of misinformation about name changes, and alleged name changes with the band, but I recently spoke with Josh Hodges, and he set me straight. “Starf***er was orginally just me, and then I got Ryan to play, and then Shawn (Glassford) joined,” Hodges explains. “Pyramid (or ‘Pyramiddd’, for that matter) was never really the name of the band. We just changed our name for a second – more like ‘contemplated’ it.” Hodges seems weary of conversation about the band’s name, and it sounds as though their current (and former) name is here to stay but they also seem open to the use of the more PG-13 ‘STRFKR’.
2008 saw the release of Starf***er’s self-titled debut album. Obviously, the band made waves with their attention-grabbing name. At that point, a three-piece band with Hodges, Bjornstad, and Shawn Glassford in the fold, managed to win fans and keep their attention, however, because, as it turns out, the new electro-pop approach of Starf***er worked, mainly because the songs were good. With amazing artwork by Sohale Kevin Darouian, and a radical departure from Sexton Blake’s glum, lo-fi sound, Starf***er gained new fans when the began to take their sound on the road, bringing their very danceable synth-dominated alterna-pop sound to the masses. The band quickly followed up their 2008 debut album with release of the Jupiter EP in 2009, which is basically an extension of the first album.
After briefly contmeplating changing the band’s name, Starf***er came back in March of this year with their third album, Reptilians. The new album is still filled to the brim with dance-friendly hooks, but, if you pay attention to the lyrics, you’ll notice that subject matter has taken a turn for the grim. Many of the songs contain lyrics referencing death, with spoken word interludes by philospher Alan Watts, about how death gives more meaning to life. The distinctive album artwork for Reptilians was provided by Sohale Kevin Darouian, a Portland artist whose work has graced the covers of previous Starf***er efforts. “When I moved back to Portland, I kept seeing his show posters, and thought they were really the only really great ones I’d seen. I said, ‘gosh, I need to talk to that guy…and he’s been working for us ever since,” Hodges enthuses. “For this album, I told him I wanted a sort of sci-fi album cover, since the album is kind of about the end of the modern world.”
In addition to the more serious tone the lyrics have taken this time around, Starf***er have also gotten a little less playful when it comes to their stage attire. In the past, they have been known to hit the stage, now and again, in feminine attire. On their current tour, Hodges claims that “we haven’t been ‘dressing up’ lately, we’ve just been dressing kinda ‘nice'” (translation: we won’t be seeing any dudes wearing dresses on this tour). Hodges added that “we’re kind of moving on to the next thing; we’re kinda done doing drag.”
Obviously, Starf***er are no strangers to controversy, but recently, they were very surprised to add an offbeat arrest to their CV. During South by Southwest, some of Austin’s finest decided Ryan Bjornstad needed to cool his heels in the pokey. Hodges explains: “While we were loading in our geat, Ryan was standing in the street, waiting for Shawn to hand him the equipment. A cop came up and said, ‘get out of the street.’ I think Ryan was talking to the cop in a way that the cop didn’t appreciate. He was going to give Ryan a ticket, and then another cop ran up and said to Ryan, ‘you’re under arrest.’ It was the weirdest thing. He was charged with standing in the street (!), and resisting arrest, which he really didn’t do. He spent the night in jail, and missed our show. The judge wound up throwing out the charges, but we still had to pay a lawyer, so now we’re selling these ‘Free Ryan’ shirts at our shows, and the money for that goes to reimburse Ryan for his lawyer fees. We’ve also been having fun with it, telling people things like ‘he was standing in the street naked’, just to make it more interesting than it really is.”
Controversial names, cross-dressing, and bogus arrests aside, it’s really all about the MUSIC. Fortunately, Starf***er don’t shortchange us in that department. They’ve managed to sell out 21 (and counting) dates on their current tour, so they’re doing something right. “This has been our best tour yet, no bad shows…things are going really well,”, Hodges says. Moral of the story: you can overcome a naughty name with nice music.
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