Starfucker, as it turns out, is more than just an awkward choice for a band name. The Portland indie pop/electronica group learned this the hard way when they announced they would play their last show as such at the Wonder Ballroom on Halloween in 2009. Soon after, they became PYRAMID (yep, all caps), a name that would morph in the weeks that followed into Pyramiddd. The renaming of Starfucker was the beginning of what the members would agree was the low point of the band.
“After we changed the name,” Josh Hodges says, “it just felt really wrong.”
In a situation that was eerily similar to one faced by the Rolling Stones back in 1973 (then, label brass forced the Stones to change the final track title on Goat’s Head Soup from “Starfucker” to “Star Star”), Hodges was label-shopping last year and was being advised the band would go farther up the music-business food chain if they cleaned up their name.
“I feel like we got swept up in it, and I kind of drank the wrong Kool-Aid for a minute,” Hodges recalls. But Starfucker was more than just a joke that got out of hand. It was, for lack of a better word, their brand.
Starfucker came about in 2007 as a solo project. Stories about Hodges writing songs to survive a breakup are only partly true, he says; mostly, he was bored with his work in Sexton Blake. “I really didn’t expect anything to come out of [Starfucker] except to be a therapeutic project for me.”
With Ryan Biornstad, Shawn Glassford and Keil Corcoran, Hodges made cheery but danceable guitar/synth pop that resonated with Portland fans. The band’s reputation for combining good music with drag tendencies spread. The drag thing has tapered off somewhat, though, and they only wear dresses when it feels appropriate, Hodges says, or when it feels like it will make people uncomfortable. (“Like, in Birmingham, Alabama. Some guys there were weirded out by it,” he says, and then laughs. “But I think it was really good for them.”)
“The whole project started as a kind of fuck-you to the music industry and the normal way of doing things,” says Hodges. “Like, I’m going to start something and call it something that will never be successful.”
But it was successful. By spring of this year, they had a deal with Polyvinyl, and they were back to being Starfucker, now sometimes abbreviated to STRFKR, an accommodation granted in response to letters from angry parents and fan pushback received by their new label.
“Apparently, [Polyvinyl] got a letter from somebody who bought stuff from them all the time, and he wrote, like, ‘I’m never gonna buy anything from you again because you have a band called Starfucker.’” Hodges says, sounding genuinely sorry. “I was kind of shocked, but I feel bad for Polyvinyl.”
Otherwise, it’s business as usual for the quartet.
Earlier this year, Polyvinyl released a remake of “Julius” on 7-inch and digitally (there are plans to release a new full-length album next spring). “We had another song in mind to be our first single for Polyvinyl,” Hodges says. “[But] when we went to the studio to do drums, a friend heard both tracks and said ‘Julius’ was the one.” The song is about a person Hodges met when he worked as a caregiver for seniors.
“In general,” he says, “I usually write about the same stuff. It’s not maybe obvious, but it’s about death and loneliness. The music isn’t necessarily that dark, but that’s the shit that inspires me. And it scares me.”
Hodges moved to New York when he was 21, and that’s when the loneliness—and thoughts of death—set in, he says. A decade later, he still has periods when he imagines being dead and having no influence on the world and what that’s like, he says, and he panics.
“It’s never big things and accomplishments that I would regret missing,” Hodges says. “It’s the little things that I would miss, things like hanging out with good friends, eating good food. It’s weird, though. Having thought about [death] a lot, I still get caught up in the day-to-day bullshit, and it’s easy to take things for granted.”
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Starfucker perform at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Thurs., Oct. 28, 9 p.m. $10. 21+.
This article appeared in print as "What’s In a Name? Starfucker tried changing their name until they remembered it was all about the music."