Once a Starfucker, Always a …

The Portland band aims to be less vulgar, but will their career suffer in the process?

Too many overeager bands armed with synthesizers and guitars have sprung up in indie pop in recent years–the commercial success of bands like MGMT and Metric is evidence of that. Yet Starfucker is difficult to dismiss as merely part of a tiresome trend. The Portland-based group utilizes the same synthesizers, big beats, and hazy vocals as their more famous peers, but there’s also an irony to their music that sets them apart. A knowing wink from the guys indicates they’re highly aware that going from playing oh-so-cliché twee pop at basement parties to SXSW in less than two years is based mainly on luck.

But Starfucker has also had its share of troubles. The expletive in the band’s name has limited their airplay and cost them the opportunity to open for Passion Pit on their national tour this year. Even more problematic is that there’s already a garage-rock band called Starfucker—in Belgium. The Portland Starfucker has had a good run, according to founder and frontman Josh Hodges. But it’s finally run out of luck.

That’s why by month’s end, Starfucker will no longer exist. In what appears on the surface to be a publicity stunt, the band announced in September a contest for fans to submit new band-name suggestions by e-mail (newnameideas@gmail.com) or at the merchandise table at its shows. Sure, there’s logic behind the band’s decision. But is it really a good idea for four young guys to ditch their distinctive moniker just as they’re gaining major momentum on the national music scene?

“Fuck, I dunno,” Hodges said over the phone about two weeks ago from Boston, where Starfucker was performing that night. “Maybe not. We’ll change our name and it could all be over.”

It’s typical of Hodges to provide blasé answers to questions regarding the band’s success, perhaps because of its humble origins: He began Starfucker as a one-man project in his bedroom, recording dance music using just a drum kit and a microphone to deal with post-breakup depression. Soon after, he began playing house parties in the Portland area. But word spread, local media outlets caught wind, and he began to get gigs at venues like Doug Fir and Holocene. None of it was intentional.

“I didn’t think it was going to last more than a few shows,” Hodges says. “It was just a small project. I named it Starfucker because people always make up weird phrases and shit like that. Had I known I’d keep getting asked to play, I wouldn’t have chosen such a stupid name.”

But, on a roll, Hodges opted to transform Starfucker into a band rather than call off the entire thing, enlisting friends Ryan Biornstad (vocals, guitar, keyboards, mixing), Shawn Glassford (bass, keyboards, percussion), and Keil Corcoran (drums) to add oomph to live performances.

“The live show obviously has more energy because there are three other people involved,” Hodges notes. “It’s great because I always wanted to be in a band that sounded better live than they did on an album.”

Starfucker’s EP Jupiter contains eight fairly bare-bones tracks recorded on Hodges’ home computer. It’s playful electronic music that borders on but never crosses into “cute” territory. Hodges’ vocals, similar to those of Ladytron or Air, are aloof and cutting on certain tongue-in-cheek songs like “Boy Toy” and “Medicine.” And the band’s fantastic cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” drips with sarcasm. Hodges doesn’t hesitate to mention that “It’s the ringtone on my mom’s cell phone.”

Performed live by the entire band, Starfucker’s songs make for a hell of a party, regardless of the sardonic aura the recorded versions exude. The guys dress in drag, dance frantically, and interact with fans as though they’re still playing a friend’s kegger back in Portland. “It’s weird that people even come to shows now that Xbox and the Internet exist,” Hodges says. “It’s really easy to find entertainment without leaving your house. That’s why we try to make our shows as fun as possible.”

Two years into the game, the guys have concluded that only so much fun can be had with a name like Starfucker. At this point, they claim, they must either lose the name or lose the music altogether. They could also lose both. Influential hardcore punk band American Nightmare broke up in 2004, just a year after changing their name to Give Up the Ghost. They cited “personal reasons,” but they’d essentially had to start over, after alienating fans and confusing talent bookers across the country. But Starfucker is willing to take that risk. And on the other hand, name changes didn’t end the careers of artists like Prince, Puff Daddy, or Seattle-based Say Hi to Your Mom, who changed his moniker to Say Hi and has had even more success since.

“This is as far as we can go as Starfucker,” says Hodges. “We’re at the point where we can either get 9-to-5 jobs or change our name and pursue music seriously. It’s got to be one way or the other. We’re going to go through with the name change at the end of this tour, and hopefully the music we create from this point forward will speak for itself and it won’t matter what we’re called.”