The Rise and Fall and Rise of Starfucker

In its infancy, Starfucker taught Portland indie-rock audiences how to dance. In dank basements and tiny clubs all over Portland, Josh Hodges' explosive drum 'n' synth one-man dance band sounded—and, coming out of an era when many dance musicians simply clicked "return" on their Macbook keyboards, looked—like nothing else in the city. It was 2007.

But Starfucker wasn't supposed to catch on. Having grown frustrated in his role as a singer/songwriter with his solo-project-turned-band Sexton Blake, Hodges started the project to try and salvage some joy from playing live music. He gave away CD-R copies of his music (packaging them with stickers or radish seeds) and opted to play free, all-ages basement shows over stuffy club dates. Most tellingly, though, was the name. Hodges called his project Starfucker as a refusal of rock band culture: An act with such a dumb name couldn't possibly catch on, Hodges thought. "That was the whole point...fuck doing it for any other reason besides that it's like therapy for me," he told WW in 2009.

Hodges gets sentimental about the early days. "The first few house shows that I ever played, where it was a packed room and people were all dancing, that was the most incredible thing for me," Hodges says. "That was pretty much my main goal, so we accomplished it a long, long time ago."

One by one, Hodges' friends began to join the band. First Shawn Glassford, who "just showed up and started playing," Hodges said at the time. Then Hodges' old Sexton Blake bandmate Ryan Biornstad, who both upped the energy level and fleshed out the live sound by introducing live guitar (though all the members are multi-instrumentalists). By the time the band released a self-titled full-length in 2008, Starfucker was a completely different animal onstage than it was in the studio, where Hodges was still a one-man band.

Somewhere along the line, Starfucker started making money and stopped having fun. It went through two managers, neither of which, Hodges says now, was a good fit. The group had slipped out of its members' control—something Hodges still blames himself for—and become Starfucker Inc. 

In the summer of 2009, everyone around the band agreed Starfucker could be wildly successful—it might even score a big record deal—if it would just change its name. The band, on tour at the time, went along with the plan of having fans come up with a new name, and Pyramid (later Pyramiddd, because there were already  bands named Pyramid) was born. The change was confusing, and it also felt wrong. This project began as a rejection of the concept of "making it." Now everything, including the band's name, was up for sale.

"By the time the dust settled, we got back from tour and said 'What's going on?,'" Hodges says. "To me, it felt like the project was dead. And it was such a stupid way to go out, to change the name and then fizzle. Shawn [Glassford] was the one who said 'Fuck that, you can change it back, you can do anything you want to.'"

Hodges took the advice to heart. Starfucker fired its manager, vowing to never hire one again, and the band signed with one of its favorite labels, Polyvinyl (Reptilians, Starfucker's excellent sophomore record, is out this week). Much of the minutiae of running a band—including merch-table duties and email correspondence with fans—is now shared by Starfucker's four members (Guidance Counselor's Keil Corcoran was the final addition).

Despite scaling back its operation, Starfucker is at the height of its success. The band sold out shows across the country on its latest tour, and it has done so in startlingly old-school fashion. "It's really cool to see how it's grown," Hodges says. "I feel like we grew through hard work and word of mouth, and just going out and putting on good shows."

That's where Starfucker fascinates, and why the band—despite its foibles—is worth rooting for: In an era where over-hyped bands-of-the-minute draw curious (rather than enthusiastic) crowds, Starfucker has built a cult following the old-fashioned way. It has had little help from Internet tastemaker Pitchfork, which recently gave Reptilians a chilly review before concluding—funnily enough, given the history—that "this band's name sucks."

Hodges likes being out of favor with the blog world. "I was never cool growing up. But when Starfucker first started, and it was just me, that was like the coolest I've ever felt in my life. It was kind of uncomfortable, really. That's not who I am—I'm a nerd. Now I feel like we're back to that—that's where we fit into the whole blogosphere. Starfucker is not cool."

SEE IT: Starfucker has three sold-out record-release shows this week. See listings for details.

Willamette Week's journalism is funded, in part, by our readers. Your help supports local, independent journalism that informs, educates, and engages our community. Become a WW supporter.