The Parallel Realms of STRFKR

How Portland’s psych-pop party band pulled itself together after the pandemic.

STRFKR (Corrine Schiavone)

A dominant presence on the Pacific Northwest indie-rock scene for the better part of the past two decades, the Portland-based band STRFKR is well known for spacey pop songs like “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” and elaborate live shows involving colorful visuals and outlandish costumes.

This is a band that thrives onstage, so it’s not too surprising to learn that frontman Josh Hodges went “a little crazy” during the pandemic.

“In the beginning I was doing a lot of music, and then I kind of ran out of steam,” he says. “I was pretty isolated, and I just lost the connection to feeling like there’s a reason to do any of it.”

After living in Los Angeles for nearly 10 years, Hodges returned to his hometown of Portland in 2020; shortly thereafter, drummer Keil Corcoran followed suit. As the two began jamming and fleshing out demos from their exhaustive archive, a new record began to take shape—Parallel Realms, their first in almost four years. “We have so many demos, and a lot of the work’s just finding songs that fit together,” says Corcoran. “We have no problem starting songs—finishing them is the struggle.”

With Hodges’ mental energy concentrated on “trying to return to normalcy from the pandemic,” the band was in no rush to release a new record, and the group had plenty of time to tinker with ideas. “This is the first time we’ve ever finished a record and then given it to the label and then they’ve had the time they wanted to do whatever they do with it,” Hodges says. “We’re almost always finishing and tweaking things until the very last minute.”

Parallel Realms, which came out earlier this month, is the first STRFKR album not to be mixed by the band. Behind-the-boards duties were handled by Chris Coady, who’s worked with big-name indie rockers like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear, and TV on the Radio. “He’s just an easygoing, smart dude,” Corcoran says. “It was very painless.”

The music on Parallel Realms may be the most seamless full-length expression of STRFKR’s sound yet. “This record feels like the culmination of everything we’ve been through,” Hodges says. “A friend said this was the most STRFKR record, and I think that is accurate.”

The danceable psychedelia on which STRFKR made their name is well-represented across the new album’s nearly hourlong sprawl. Songs like “Holding On” and “Armatron” seem destined to stand alongside “Rawnald” and “Isabella of Castile” in the annals of the band’s best pure pop songs.

These tracks are divided by four ambient “Interspace” cuts that proceed from the beat-free tinkering on 2020′s Ambient 1. This less danceable side of the band’s sound may catch some fans by surprise, yet the “Interspace” tracks feel very much of a piece with the Day-Glo aesthetics surrounding them.

Josh Hodges initially started making ambient music as a gift for his ex-girlfriend. “We liked listening to that stuff,” he says. “We put on double headphones, like split headphones, and would go scoot around L.A. on this little motorcycle thing.”

During COVID, these recordings took on a less romantic context. Ambient music gripped the zeitgeist during the pandemic, perhaps because of its soothing qualities, perhaps as an ideal accompaniment to a sedentary lifestyle.

As for Hodges: “I did psychedelics and listened to that kind of music a lot. That was one of the ways I didn’t go totally insane.”

Parallel Realms, meanwhile, seems well suited for STRFKR’s return to the stage. The group just came off a well-received tour of Europe, not the most lucrative market for STRFKR’s music in the past, and is launching an American tour in April, beginning in California, eventually making their way to Portland for the revived Project Pabst festival on July 27.

“Two people we went to high school with are on the tour,” Hodges says. “Most of the people that are on tour with us are people that we hang out with, and I think people pick up on that at shows. It’s like they can tell we’re having fun.”

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