Starfucker Figures Itself Out—Maybe

After three years of indecision, the formerly Portland-based dance-pop band nears a return.

Josh Hodges is ready to grow up. He's just not sure if he knows how to do it yet.

But he's trying. It's part of the reason why the 36-year-old Starfucker frontman now lives in the California desert. About three years ago, each member of the long-running Portland electro-pop outfit started gradually trickling down to Los Angeles. Hodges—who for years lived a mostly transient existence, crashing on couches when not on tour—was the last to arrive. When he discovered it'd be cheaper to rent a house in Joshua Tree than a practice space in L.A., Hodges made the sound financial decision to get out of the city for good.

"I mostly wanted to save money," he says. "It was a reward to myself for being homeless all those years."

For the first time in his adult life, Hodges is trying to get a handle on his future: save money, maybe buy a house, finally put down roots somewhere. But that's the long view. In the short term, things are still fuzzy, for him and the band. It's been three years since Starfucker last made a record. In between, the band has started plenty of recording sessions, but finished few. It's got enough songs now for another album, but no label to put it out. Its live performances have slowed, too. Once a touring juggernaut, the band has recently limited itself to one-offs, college gigs and short jaunts like this upcoming road trip, which brings it back to Portland for the first time in over two years.

When Hodges discusses the group's immediate plans, you can hear the tenuousness in his voice—a lot of pregnant pauses, half-formed responses and I-don't-knows. Then again, when it comes to Starfucker, Hodges has never thought too far ahead. He had no grand ambitions when he started the band a decade ago, playing basements with just himself, some drums and a synthesizer; he sandbagged the project's name with an expletive precisely to ensure it would stay small. After it got big anyway, Hodges has navigated success through a process of trial and error: changing the name to Pyramid, then Pyramiddd, then back to Starfucker and the more marquee-friendly alternate, STRFKR; adding members, losing members; hiring and firing managers and winding up as an almost entirely self-run operation.

Moving out of Portland was another part of that process—a step toward figuring out the next step. Hodges had some regrets about the last Starfucker album, 2013's Miracle Mile, and being on the road had begun to wear him out. "There was a while when I didn't want to write anything after touring a lot," Hodges says. "Coming back to it, it was like, 'What do I want to do?'" In L.A., he thought he might meet new people, maybe try his hand at being a songwriter for hire, so he wouldn't have to leave home for a while. When that proved uninspiring, he went back to writing for Starfucker. The problem has been deciding what that means. Hodges says he wrote, then scrapped, an entire album of mellow, R&B-leaning songs, because it wouldn't fit the Starfucker imprimatur. He thought about revisiting some of the "drunky guitar stuff" left over from the Miracle Mile sessions, but concluded that wouldn't work, either. "We've been recording and starting albums, then starting different albums," he says. "We've been working on stuff a lot. We just haven't finished much."

But the band is getting close, Hodges says. And fans of Starfucker's energetic, idiosyncratic dance pop shouldn't be disappointed. "Creatively, I feel like I could do whatever I want. I could do a drone album and release it as Starfucker, and no one would like it," Hodges says. "I could do that, but people are paying money to come to the show, so I should make it fun."

It sounds like a compromise, sure. But for an artist, balancing creative autonomy with audience expectations is part of growing up, too. As of now, the plan is to roll out the new album over the coming months, one song at a time, perhaps through the band's old label, Polyvinyl. Hodges' plans for his own future are less defined. He isn't sure where he wants to end up, but at least he knows it's someplace different from where he is now.

"I feel like I'm waiting for something to feel like the right thing, then I'll take action," he says. "Or maybe I'll just go back to living on the road."

SEE IT: STRFKR plays Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., with Nurses and Fake Drugs, on Tuesday, Feb. 16. 8:30 pm. $22 advance, $25 day of show. All ages.

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