Interview conducted by Ryan Warner
Portland, Oregon’s Starfucker have been making waves in the indie circuit with a fantastic new album that feels familiar without pegging them to any specific genre. The group’s smooth electro-pop hooks and buried-in-the-mix vocal arrangements make their self-titled debut one of the most intriguing and listenable releases of 2008. Just over a year into their existence, Starfucker are getting noticed by critics and dance-ready fans alike far away from their west coast home.
As inescapable as it is a publicist’s nightmare, the band’s name may be the only thing preventing them from breaking into the public conscience. The press release on Starfucker addresses this issue by stating that the name is meant to challenge perceptions in the music industry. While the industry is evolving in many ways that are making labels squeamish, it’s difficult to imagine any group conquering this type of hurdle. Even in an era where internet buzz is more indicative of a band’s success than traditional advertising, there is likely a limit to what can be gotten away with.
Girl Talk can sample anything he wishes without paying royalties and Radiohead have made huge profits on a record that doesn’t have a price tag. Whether Starfucker can transcend established rules and continue rising is still to be seen. In a landscape where boundaries are evaporating faster than you can say Tay Zonday, it may be possible, however unlikely, for Starfucker to become an exception rather than a punch line.
I interviewed the band last week to get some more insight into their surprising and welcome appearance. The obvious questions about their name are covered, as well as what it’s like to be a new band in the unprecedented, internet-fueled music landscape. They also appear to be huge Miley Cyrus fans and seem excited about the outlook for the Portland Trailblazers this season.
Starfucker are headlining a show tonight at the 7th Street Entry with Alpha Centauri and Ghost in the Water. 18+. $8. 8 p.m.
City Pages: When you decide to go ahead and call your band “Starfucker,” you are effectively shutting down avenues that would otherwise be open to entry level musicians. Out the window goes radio, a big recording contract, and to a great extent the overall picture of success often associated with rock-stardom. Tell me about the decision to purposely handicap the band by including the word “fuck” in your name.
Starfucker: Well, I don’t think we see it as a handicap, it’s more of a reminder that we do this for fun and not for corporate recognition or approval. Plus it’s a funny, ironic and stupid name.
CP: While high gas prices hurt everyone, they are especially bad for touring musicians who have to drive long distances, often in vans that get terrible mileage. Is this still a pain for you now that you have been “signed?” Do small labels pick up the gas bill?
SF: Well, it doesn’t really affect the label since we pay for everything on tour, and our label is pretty small anyways…um, yeah, we’re poor and gas i[s] expensive…it’s cheaper in the middle of the country though. We eat off of a camp stove and buy pasta with food stamps. So we make it work.
CP: There’s a fair share of famous musicians from Portland, Oregon. Isaac Brock [of Modest Mouse], Britt Daniel [of Spoon], and Stephen Malkmus [of Pavement] are all “Portlonians,” and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Can you think of some other, lesser-known acts one might want to check out while visiting your great city?
SF: No one in Portland thinks of any of those bands or people as “Portlandians.” They live there now maybe, but in general they have nothing to do with the music scene there. Portland didn’t produce those bands…they just moved there after the fact. If I was recommending bands to check out I would say Dykeritz, Guidance Counselor, Flaspar, Eskimo and Sons, Typhoon, 40 Hundy Thundy, White Rainbow, Southern Belle, Junkface, Talkdemonic, Double Dutch, Strength, Helio Sequence, Fist Fite, White Fang, Reporter, Matress, Joe Von Appen, Sqeegeeweegy, Recess Time, Copy, Marmits, Randy Bemrose, Boy Gorilla records, Lucky Madison Records, and actually a whole bunch more just ask Aya Imig.
CP: CP: To expand on the question of the band’s name: as unlikely as it may seem to people outside of the “indie” circle, you are not alone in including an expletive in your name. Along with you, Fuck Buttons and Holy Fuck (both bands with pop sensibilities) are PR nightmares with improbable record deals. Do you think it is possible, in the iTunes age, to be a profitable act with this kind of burden on the band? If so, what does that say about the current state of the music industry?
SF: Maybe it’s a little more likely now because of the interweb. I mean you can just download anything you want without having to go to a corporate music store that won’t sell bands with expletives in the name. We’ll never be sold in Starbucks or Best Buy and that’s just fine!
CP: Judging from the pictures on your website, a Starfucker shows seems more like a dance party than a listening experience. How much effort do you put into getting your audience moving? Do you think it’s a result of your stage presence or something that can be attributed to the nature of your music on its own?
SF: Maybe it’s a little of both. We always wanted to make music that is good but also danceable, and I guess us having fun on stage can be contagious. I mean, we started as a basement house party type so yeah, I guess some of that can carry over onto the stage.
CP: I understand that you guys are big basketball fans. Being from Portland, I have to imagine you are excited about the Trail Blazers’ outlook this year. Is Greg Oden the real deal?
SF: No. But Rudy Fernadez is. Just joshing ya. Greg will be perfect in a year or 2.
CP: On the subject of sports, I see a picture of one of you wearing a Minnesota Twins t-shirt. Is this merely a coincidence or is there in fact a Twins fan in your ranks?
SF: We found that shirt after a show. Someone was using it to wipe up puke.
CP: With the year winding down, there’s a pretty good representation of the music that will soon embody the sound of 2008. What are your favorite records or trends from the past year?
SF: Deerhoof, Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana), Jonas Brothers, Radio Lab series on NPR, Democracy Now with Amy Goodman, Manowar.
CP: When new bands come out, journalists have a tendency to make base comparisons between them and other “similar” groups. This is a practice that appeals to the lowest common denominator and should only be used sparingly, if at all. Since your band is new to the scene, I’m going to give you a chance to bastardize yourselves before someone else comes along and does it for you. Answer this: Starfucker is like ____ meets ____.
SF: Starfucker is like Miley Cyrus meets Earnest Beautler, with sprinkles on top!