A great pop song doesn't require a lot—a nice melody, a memorable line or two, and perhaps an interesting texture. Starfucker's "German Love" owes a debt to The Flaming Lips, a band that's exemplary at creating sonic warmth from layered loops, a tactic Starfucker employs here. The passel of sounds flood over you in layers, drowning you beneath wave upon wave of the same chorded melody. Though it opens with cool backwards masked guitar, sounding at once alien and familiar, it explodes into a guitar strum and builds with various synthetic sounds even as other odd sounds race across at cross-purposes, like squirrels negotiating traffic.
The lyrics are coolly minimal. He wants to give his German love to her. She won't have a thing to do with him. Is this not every brokenhearted love song ever written? It's not complicated, but it is awfully catchy. Pop's not like algebra, but sometimes elegant simplicity is the tougher task. We caught up with Starfucker founder Josh Hodges before a show in New York.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: What is German Love?
JOSH HODGES: It's nothing— just the elusive girls that constantly want me.
So why isn't it Czechoslovakian Love, other than the syllabic difficulty?
It's really all about phonetics. German sounded good singing it, and it's exotic to me. Germans are very open sexually, and they're into lots to taboo stuff, which is awesome. And America's so repressed sexually.
How did the tune come together?
I was homeless, and I was staying at my friend's parents' house. I was working on this other project, Sexton Blake, this covers album [2007's Plays the Hits] that I did under that name, and I was using their grand piano, and I just had my computer and everything set up in their living room. His dad has this really amazing Martin guitar from the '60s that's worth like $1,000 or something. So that's the guitar I used for the guitar stuff off that, and I was listening to a lot of [The Flaming Lips'] Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and they do this really cool thing where they sample one guitar strum and loop it. That's where I got the idea for that. I'm like, "That sounds very fresh. I'm going to do that." And that's "German Love," pretty much just me fucking around. I didn't think it was going to be a song for anything. Starfucker didn't exist yet. So that song was before it existed. All that existed was that song and maybe one other song that I released, "Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second." I started playing those as Starfucker, and submitted them to this festival in Portland, PDX Pop Now! I think they put "German Love" on the comp, and a girl found out about it that's a writer, and was like, "Oh, this is really good."
So this caught up with you by surprise a little bit?
Yeah, it totally did.
How many layers are there? It sounds like there are at least 4-5 instruments and probably some multi-tracked guitar.
I don't really know. I really like thick sound, so I record and keep recording, and usually end up with way too much stuff, and then go back and deconstruct it. I always write and record at the same time. I never write a song and then [say], "I'm going to record it and have this idea of what it will sound like." It never works out for me that way. I don't know how much is going on in that song. There probably is a lot. I like to double up things, like double up the guitars and vocals and stuff. And now there's a full band, so we can do a lot more of that stuff live, which is good.
I wondered about how you did that live. How hard is it?
Well, when I first started out, Starfucker was just me. And I just had a drum set and a keyboard and a guitar and my loop station, so I had to have my loop station ready to go. I'd hit it, and it'd like queue up at the start of something and I'd record stuff on top of it, just build songs that way, or have entire songs on the loop station that I could sing along to and play drums to. Starfucker was mostly instrumental at that time. There were only a couple songs with singing. I thought it would be a mostly instrumental project, but it just turned out that I just keep doing more pop stuff.
But then I got Ryan [Bjornstad] to play with me for the next few, so he could do some of the stuff I was doing. He could also sing and do some harmonies and stuff. Then I got Shawn [Glassford], and there were like two drums and he could do some bass stuff, so I could take that off the loop thing. Now there's four of us, so Shawn just plays bass all the time, and I don't play drums anymore. We have a real drummer. Ryan does scratching stuff. The live show is more energetic than the recording, too. It's a totally different thing. It's the same songs, but ... we're still working things out.
Typically a live drummer produces a much more vibrant sound.
Totally. When I first started out or even when it was just me and Ryan, it was like, "Yeah it's electronic," but it's always so much more interesting for me to see someone play drums to electronic music than just have recorded beats. The only band I've seen that does it really good without a drummer was Ratatat. They're just amazing, but I don't know. I think drums are so—there's something primal and universal about it for everybody, just rhythm in general. I've just thought that's the most important instrument to have is the drums, and I love playing drums even though it's not my main thing at all. It's like masturbating. It's really fun for me, and that's really how it started, as a masturbation project. It's just what I did in my basement alone—make loops and then play drums to it. It just ended up we started playing shows in L.A., and it was fun.
So have you always been someone who fools around with a laptop?
Yeah, but I've never owned a laptop. I hate computers, actually. I only use one to record because it's the cheapest, most efficient way to do it. I got a $99 computer from Fry's and a friend helped me set it up. We downloaded a bunch of illegal, pirated software. So it's really cheap for me to record. I hate learning computer programs. I just want to know the bare minimum of what I need to know so I can use it to record. I used to record on four-track, and, with a lot of the loops, I would just build it. With a loop station you can record live, so I would just build it in my basement like that. My other band, Sexton Blake, was like that and was a project I had for a long time.
The lyrics here are interesting in that you've culled every love song down to its most basic element: "I like her/ she doesn't want me"?
Yeah. [Laughs.] I've always really liked when people do the thing where they repeat something and build. Construct and deconstruct whatever this repeating foundation is. That's kind of what that song is. It's the same fucking chords, and the same with "Rawn," which is probably one of my favorite songs, and one of my favorite people.
And there's a false ending.
Yeah, there are a few different versions of that song, but that's the one my friend said, "Yeah, do that one." I was like "All right." Just to make it a little bit longer. I have a really cool old analog drum machine that I used for all those beats, but I really wish I would have been able to record live drums for a lot of that stuff. I like the mixture of live drums and drum machines. I think Of Montreal does that really well.
Well it goes back to my other band Sexton Blake. That music was really my mellow, depressing music. This guy wanted to release it. He was starting a label, and I was just, "OK." So I was his project. He was like, "Dude, we're going to make you big," and I was just, "Eh, I don't know." And I'm playing shows in Portland and I just hated it, standing up there with a guitar. I don't like being the frontperson. If I had my way—well, now that I'm in Starfucker, it's different. But I never liked to perform at all. I just wanted to be in my basement recording. That's the fun part. I hated it. And another thing, just performing mellow music, I don't really like to see that stuff live, unless I really love somebody, like Elliott Smith was great to see live. In general, it's not that fun.
Then there was this Blonde Redhead song that I thought was fucking amazing. It's like the first song on Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons ["Equally Damaged", we wonder?]. I don't know what it's called, but I thought this was a perfect song: You can just listen to it, or you can dance to it, and I think that's what I want to do. I want to make music that if someone's at the show and they don't like the music, they can at least dance and make themselves have fun, or if dancing's not their thing, they can listen to it and still enjoy it. That's pretty much what I try to do. Or at least that's my intention with that stuff. That's what I think would be a good live show.
And then also getting Ryan on board after that—but going back to the name, that was— totally intentional on my part because I was pretty much like, "Fuck trying to 'make' anything." If I try to make it or whatever, because I felt I had a little bit of that in Sexton Blake, and I thought, this is totally retarded. I hate doing this, and I'll probably still hate doing this even if we got successful, and that's no way to live. And we could die any minute—2012, who knows? So it has to be about life and the present moment. It has to be something I would be doing anyway, no matter what. It can never be something where I'm just doing shows because I have to. I can't handle that, and I won't. Plus I'm a control freak, and I always do what I want, which is definitely not a good thing. That's just how I am. I know for anything to be sustainable, musically, or any other way I have to really enjoy it.
So the name Starfucker is obviously not going to make it big, and it's just like a fuck you to the music industry and the whole idea. The whole world of confusion that people get about—it's not just music, it's everything in life. People thinking they need to sacrifice their lives in order to get something so they think they'll be happy. I think happiness can only exist in the current moment. For me, it's a reminder that we're not doing this for any other reason other than right now. It's fun, and these people are having fun. And the shows are fun. Ryan and I have known each other for a while. It seems like folks are having a real good time playing this music, and it's just kind of contagious. I think that's why it was even successful at all in Portland: "These guy really enjoy what they're doing." People dance. People go crazy in Portland at our shows. So the name was basically that. It was just a fuck you, and it was also the name of my friend's zine in Chicago, and it was also a really funny term. When I chose it, I meant someone who has sex with celebrities, not a celestial starfucker. Because I was on tour with this other band, and this girl was like, "I had sex with Nick Cave. I'm such a starfucker." And I was like, "That's so fucking sad and funny to me." I don't know. I just thought it was so ridiculous, it was the perfect name for this ridiculous project.
I kinda regret it sometimes now because now that it is kind of successful, we are kind of almost making living on it, and it would make it a lot easier if we had a more marketable name. It's a lot more fun to play music than serve coffee, or wipe old people's butts, which is what I used to do. I mean I like to wipe old people's butts. I mean, I like to work with old people. I don't necessarily like to wipe their butts. But it is what it is, and I feel like also now, 'This is kinda funny.' We're actually touring and stuff now, and let's see how far we can go with this stupid fucking name, and see how far we can push it. People play it on the radio and say "Star F-er" and stuff. So it's kinda another cool thing, because it shouldn't matter. The other thing is the whole FCC thing, like pushing that to the limit. And it definitely has nothing to do with the Nine Inch Nails song. I don't even like Nine Inch Nails, it and has nothing to do with the really bad Rolling Stone song "Star*" ["Star Star"] or whatever, which is like their worst song ever.
Starfucker plays Local 506 Friday, April 24, at 9 p.m. with Guidance Counselor. Tickets are $8. DJs Uzi and Silvaback spin for the free Final Friday Dance Party at 11:30 p.m.