Playing Austin's SXSW music festival is special enough, but canceling two of your gigs there because your guitarist got arrested and spent the night in jail? Extra credit for that one.
STRFKR — previously known as Starfucker, Starf**ker and, briefly, Pyramiddd — has already gotten substantial press for the band's electronically inclined indie-pop, occasional cross-dressing, and, uh, upwardly mobile name. So Ryan Biornstad's arrest, which resulted in "Free Ryan" and "Fuck the Pigs" signs being taped up next to the venue's cancellation notice, was all in a day's work for the wistfully provocative Portland, Ore., band.
So what exactly happened? "I don't really know," demurs frontman Josh Hodges, as though he hasn't been driving around in a van with the guy for the past three years.
"Well, I know, but I was inside while it was going down. It's not even that interesting. It's not like he was naked, masturbating in public."
Asked if that's what he'd initially assumed when he learned of his bandmate's arrest, Hodges chuckles. "I kind of wish that's what happened."
Instead, the guitarist was merely unloading equipment when a policeman told him to get out of the street. "Our van door only opens in one direction, and parking was crazy down there," says Hodges. "So Ryan was like, 'I can't, I have to load in for a show.' So the cop was like, 'I'm gonna give you a ticket.' And then this other cop pulled up and was like, 'Fuck that, we're arresting you.' And that's pretty much all there was to it."
A couple days later, the band's van broke down and had to be towed to their Houston gig.
Still, at least a few things have gone right on this tour, most notably the fact that more shows have sold out than not. Which isn't that surprising, given the growing enthusiasm for a band whose music Pitchfork described as "a combination of Chromeo and ELO."
STRFKR's newly released Reptilians album, which was helmed by Dandy Warhols producer Jacob Portrait, is a sunny dose of electro-pop with a decidedly moody lyrical undercurrent.
Since the band uses a sample of eternally bemused zen lecturer Alan Watts to open the song "Hungry Ghosts," I ask Hodges if maybe he shouldn't be listening to more Watts these days.
"I don't think it's really that depressing," says Hodges of his own Buddhist-influenced worldview. "It's true that this album especially is about death, but it's more about the end of the modern world. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing."
And while the late Elliott Smith was a big inspiration for Hodges, he says his main musical obsession these days is with hip-hop.
"I listen to a lot of mainstream gangsta rap like Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame. These newer hip-hop beats are just really weird," he enthuses. "They'll be like 74 beats per minute, which is super-slow. Or they'll be double-time, like 140 or whatever. So there are a couple of songs on this album that have slower hip-hop beats as their foundation."
And while Hodges' wispy vocals are never going to be mistaken for gangsta rap, he did recently produce an online album of STRFKR mashups that feature snippets of Gucci Mane, De La Soul and Lil Jon — artists who've got pretty much nothing in common with each other, let alone with STRFKR.
"Yeah," agrees Hodges with a self-effacing laugh, "I don't see many musical connections there."