Interview: STRFKR (US)

STRFKR is a band that falls directly into my wheelhouse. Glistening, eccentric indie electro pop with a lo-fi sensibility and a somber, though never cynical, outlook on life – the American band, based out of Portland, were part of a host of electro pop bands that emerged in last decade and took the scene by storm. Their 2011 LP Reptilians remains one of my favorite albums of that year and in many ways shaped by early years here in Beijing. And despite some lineup shakeups and a change of name (I much preferred Starfucker) the band has managed to keep it together, releasing one Billboard charting hit after another all the while retaining their street cred. The band returns to China next week with a stint at Yugong Yishan on October 1st. I shot some questions to frontman Josh Hodges about existential dilemmas, their modest rise to fame, and music as therapy. 

Welcome back to China? Guessing the first time round wasn’t so bad? Are you excited to be back?

Yes! We love China. I want to come back sometime and travel all around the country. I really want to see the natural beauty. I like camping and seeing the national parks in the US and I’d love to do the same in China some day. Also the best meal we had on tour was in Beijing. I love the food in China.

On your last LP, you seem to be working through some existential questions? Has the fog cleared up somewhat since then?

I don’t think that fog will ever totally clear up. I think it’s just built into me for whatever reason to think about, and stress about that stuff. Music is also a good outlet for it for me. It’s a place to process that stuff I think.

From your days of turning 80s singles into glum lo-fi anthems to years of settling on a name, it’s almost as if you were daring the industry to endorse you. Have you been surprised at the band’s success and strong following since your debut in 2007?  

Ha yeah I am surprised by our success. I think we’re a rare case where we kind of did it outside the system. We’ve never been pitch4k darlings, or anyones darlings really. We kind of built ourselves the old school 90s way. By just touring a ton around the US. There were plenty of years where we were gone more than we were home. There were a few years where I didn’t even have a full time place to live. Just the tour van and friends homes when we weren’t touring. It’s a lot harder to do that outside the US without the help of press telling people what to check out. So our shows outside the US aren’t usually the same. But I’m just really grateful for the opportunity to be able to see these places I might’ve never seen, and meet people we might not have ever met. And of course for the opportunity to play for people. Playing for even just a few fans makes if worth it. Plus who knows if we’ll ever be back.

There’s a buoyancy to your music that feels perfect for a live setting – how much pleasure do you take in shaping and designing your live set?

Yeah a lot of the new record was written with the live show in mind since thats a big part of what we’re known for. We put a lot into our live set. We had a big homemade light-wall designed for us along with programing some DMX lights that synch with our stuff. We can’t bring most of that stuff when we play overseas so we have to come up with other ways to do it. This tour we’re using a projector and a few light strips that run on the same system as our wall. 

This year you’ve released two compilations (with a third on the way) chock full of rarities, b-sides, and unreleased material that provide a look at the creative process behind the band’s sound. How does it feel to give listeners a peek behind the curtain?

I mean for me that series was about not letting anything go to waste. That was my old batch of demos I’d listen to when I needed to be working on an album or something. The old computer the songs were on (which used a non cross platform program) was dying and I decided I’d had those songs around for long enough and never finished them so it was time to move on. I thought just letting them out into the world for even just a few people to appreciate would be better than letting them die on that old machine. And yeah, I think this record is def a raw exposure of my writing style, which feels nice to share.

I imagine making music is in many ways therapeutic. If that’s the case, I imagine they’ll be no slowing down anytime soon. What’s on the horizon for STRFKR?

Yeah it’s absolutely therapeutic for me. I’ll probably never stop making music, even if we stop touring and get real jobs I’ll be making something in the basement on my weekends. But for now, we have a live album that we recorded a while back that’s mixed and almost ready to go. We’re doing a couple shows for NYE in Portland this year which is really exciting for me since my whole extended family always comes when we play in PDX. I’m also working on an r&b album that I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, might not be a strfkr record, might be a new project.

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