Posted March 7, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes

John Hodges of STRFKR: Always better than the last


Mixed by Sonny DiPerri (Interpol, Jane’s Addiction, Portugal. The Man), STRFKR’s new album, Miracle Mile, is its most accessible yet as its dance-y synth beats and whispery vocals resemble a strange cross between the Bee Gees and Animal Collective. Singer-guitarist-keyboardist John Hodges, who currently lives in L.A., called from Portland, Oregon, where he was visiting friends before heading out on tour.

What’s the deal with the 8-foot LED wall?
It was featured in Popular Science magazine. The guys who built it are friends from Portland. They’re electronic wizards. One designed the brain and it runs on a Linux system. It’s completely open source. As soon as they built it, they published the article so anyone else can build it. It’s really impressive. The guy who designed the physical structure is really clever. It’s this greenhouse plastic wall that holds the LED strips really well. It’s really cool. It syncs with the music and adds a lot to the live show. Going to see a band, the venue, the sound and the visual experience all contribute to how much you enjoy the show. We want to cover all the bases as best we can.

Talk about how the live show has evolved over the years. What was your live show originally like?
It was pretty junky. This project started as something I did in my basement. I was playing drums and doing shit with these loops that I had. I got a couple of friends with me and one was a good dancer and he would basically dance around and basically play a couple of things. We all sloppily played our shit over pre-recorded stuff. From there it evolved. We thought that since we were touring, we first needed to get a good drummer.

How long ago did you start recording music?
It must have been 2007. That’s fuckin’ crazy to think about. Time flies.

Does the group fit into the Portland, Oregon scene?
I moved to New York and then moved back and this label in Portland wanted to put out the album of shit that I had recorded in New York. I was like, “OK. Cool.” I moved back to Portland for like a year and I got sick of it. It was boring. The album was music I wouldn’t put out. It was just that someone wanted to. It wasn’t me developing. I quit that project. People kept asking me to play and we did ten last shows. I started playing STRFKR songs. I didn’t like the vibe of trying to be successful. It’s like high school. It still is. The name STRFKR is tongue-in-cheek. I’m not trying to be something with this name. It was great. I was playing house shows in Portland. The all-ages thing was really strict and it was hard to see shows if you were under 21. The house show as the black market for that. I tried to then get out of town a bit and when Shawn [Glassford], the bass player joined, he was a motivated dude and started booking shows out of town. Then we really started touring.

Are you a fan of disco?
Kind of. I like the Bee Gees and ABBA and stuff. I’m not a big fan. I like it. It gets a bad rap but there are good hooks. My dad was a fan of Steely Dan and I have a place in my heart for them even though it’s such dad music. I shouldn’t be so apologetic but anyway, their sound is so fucking clean and they did it all with live musicians. Even nowadays with Pro Tools and shit, people can’t get shit to sound that good and when they do, you know they just recorded it 15 times. But [Steely Dan] played all of that and they couldn’t just redo it if they fucked up. It’s very impressive.

Where would you say your pop sensibilities come from?
Growing up in Portland, people like Elliott Smith and The Dandy Warhols were around. I would go to their shows when I was really young. They both have really good ears for hooks.

What did you try to do differently on Miracle Mile?
There’s a lot more organic instruments. I want to get back to that. I think I will save it for another project, but some of it filtered onto this album. I’ll probably do another Sexton Blake album that’s more mellow. I had this concept to do what we were calling the “drunk album.” Half the songs on Miracle Mile are from the drunk album. It never got finished. The ones with acoustic instrument or wobbly like “Beach Monster.” The other traditional STRFKR shit was dancier. [Multi-instrumentalist] Keil [Corcoran] thought we needed to have that stuff on this album. I think it worked out well. We wanted to make it like a live show. It’s mellow and then builds back up and gets psychedelic at the end. I didn’t drink or do drugs for a long time and then started taking mushrooms. I think it influenced the album. I would eat a couple of mushrooms and start mixing it.

For me, it’s all about trying to do better than I did on the last one. This is my favorite album so far.

So are you hoping to sell lots of records?
I never even know. For me, it’s all about trying to do better than I did on the last one. This is my favorite album so far. I feel good about it. It’s not perfect. I think I’m getting there. It was fun and more collaborative and all four of us were together and not just me in a room writing. We were all together. On every song, someone has a fingerprint, which is cool. I always wanted a more full band experience.

Do you feel a connection to the electronic dance music scene?
Kind of. There’s some crossover with our fans, though I feel like we’re off on our own little thing. We’ve never been a buzz band, which I think has helped us because our fans have grown slowly and steadily. Bands often blow up really fast and fade out really fast. The way we’ve built it is that we hang out and talk to people after the shows at the merch table. We try to have a tangible relationship and be available to the fans. People send us stuff. This woman just sent me an album to sign for her husband who’s in Afghanistan.

What side projects are in the works?
I was counting about 50 songs that I want to finish up. I think after this tour I will try to finish them. They’re more mellow and more like the stuff I listen to. I have this idea for this project of using one synth to make every song. It’s like a mono-synth. I have a few songs recorded for that. I think it’s good to have other releases. I want to work on the next STRFKR.

Didn’t you change the band name once?
When we first started, we just thought, “Fuck everything.” We got this Pitchfork review and it’s like the cool kids talking shit. It’s so funny that I know this exists. It felt weird changing the name but we had this manager who was trying to sign us to XL. We thought that would be cool. She said they had a problem with the name. We had this month where we played for them and right on tour, she wanted us to change it. We did for a minute and then we fired her and changed it back. Now, it’s turned into something different, though; it’s self-sabotaging in a way that I want. It’s like a game. It’s like, “How far can we get with this fucking stupid name?” I think it’s crazy we’ve gotten this big. We’re playing crazy rooms and it’s selling out. I’m really excited for it.

Tour Dates















Austin, TX @ The Mohawk

Houston, TX @ Fitzgerald’s

New Orleans, LA @ BUKU Music & Arts Project

Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West

Asheville, NC @ Orange Peel

Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club

Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer

NYC, NY @ Webster Hall

Boston, MA @ Paradise

Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom

Chicago, IL @ Metro

Milwaukee, WI @ Turner Hall Ballroom

Minneapolis, MN @ Varsity Theater

Omaha, NE @ Waiting Room


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.