STRFKR's Josh Hodges involved others in the process for "Miracle Mile."
Tonight concludes the second Buku Music and Art Project, the festival at Mardi Gras World that presents music from across the dance music spectrum. Major Lazer, STS9, Calvin Harris, Passion Pit and Kendrick Lamar are among the performers, as is the dance rock band STRFKR. The name started as a goof that became a bit of a challenge to live with as the act transitioned from Josh Hodges' personal project to a band with a national following. The four-piece band tours relentlessly, and it shows in the intensity of their buoyant grooves, even as the songs retain a melancholy undercurrent.
Recently, the band relocated from its native Portland to San Luis Obispo in California, "mostly because we want to be warm," Josh Hodges says by phone. They still have family and friends in Portland and visit it often, but guitarist Patrick Morris inherited a house in the coastal town a few hours north of Los Angeles, so they moved their to finish the recently released Miracle Mile. "It's nice because it's pretty isolated. I don't know anybody in this town, so there are no distractions."
Miracle Mile was more collaborative than previous STRFKR albums, largely reflecting a greater sense of the band as a band. Keil Corcoran played most of the drums on the album, and he and Morris wrote material for the album. "It's rare to find someone you trust and want to share writing a song with," Hodges says. "I've done it with other people in the past, and parts of it are okay, but we ended up sacrificing our strengths and compromising. It's rare to find people who have complimentary skills."
That doesn't mean that everybody who plays an instrument live was the person who played it on the album. If the part Hodges laid down when he wrote the song on his computer worked, they often went with it for the album, but not always. "There are some songs that we were all working on together," he says. "If one needed a bass line, we were all coming up with ones on our own versions and showing each other and picking the one we all liked the most."
The way he/the band used to record suits Hodges' personality, but it's also a function of how he writes. "The way that music is made today is by people sitting alone in front of a computer, which lends itself to the producer mentality," he says. "You can sit there and dick around with it until you come up with something you like. Back in the days before computers, I'd have to have other people. I couldn't put a beat into the computer, lay down a bass line, and keep adding layers."
Because music is what Hodges does for fun and for work, he doesn't always have to be inspired to write. He'll sit down at the computer, put in a beat and see what he can find. Some tracks that have ended up on albums started from such mundane origins, but "my computer is full of little, crappy songs that I don't want anyone to ever hear. It's like mining."
Just as the computer is central to the band's guitar/bass/keyboard/drums music, it has become an essential part of STRFKR's show. A group of Portland hackers did the programming for the band's new eight-foot-tall video wall so that it can be operated by an iPod. "We're playing bigger rooms, and we wanted to come up with something original and entertaining that you couldn't get at Guitar Center," Hodges says. They knew Alex Norman and Hans Lindauer, who had developed a light show for a friend's band and asked them if he could do something more ambitious and portable. "They developed all the software, and it's open source so anyone can use it."
Since the visuals are tied to specific songs, there are limits as to how much the band can vary song lengths live, but that's not much of a limitation for STRFKR. "We don't really have much improvisation in our shows," he says. "We used to back in the day, but that was when we were doing noise sets. We feel like people are paying money to come see us now, so we want them to have a good time."
From the start, one of the primary impulses has been to make people dance. He and a friend were once talking, and she said, "I only like to go to shows if it's my friends' band or if I can dance to it," and that affected Hodges' thinking about the band he would one day form. Still, he is not interested in dancing. "From the start, I wanted to make fully formed pop songs, but with a beat that you could dance to, so if you come to a show you could dance and have a good time. Or, if you're like me and don't like to dance, you could come and hear a good song."
STRFKR performs Saturday night at 9:45 p.m. in the Ballroom at Buku at Mardi Gras World.