Falling Out of Love With Indie Dance

Five dance albums in, STRFKR's Joshua Hodges is coming to terms with the genre.

STRFKR (Photo by Cara Robbins)

Joshua Hodges is not a fan of dance music.

“I never dance,” he says from his home in Los Angeles. “I’ve never been dancing in my life, and I will probably never do that.”

Were Hodges just another indie rocker, this confession would hardly be a surprise. But Hodges is the frontman and principle songwriter for STRFKR, an indie-dance trio from Portland that’s made five albums worth of danceable alt-pop since 2007. From the start, the band’s penchant for writing synth-driven and hook-oriented pop songs drew inevitable comparisons to MGMT and Passion Pit.

But when the time came to record the group’s newest record, Being No One, Going Nowhere, Hodges decided to try other genres on for size. He started writing decidedly un-STRFKR songs, beginning with R&B, then switching to a “super-mellow” sound. In the end, he shelved it all and started over, ultimately deciding to give the people what they wanted: a dance record.

So while he might eventually finish and release those first attempts at the album under a separate name, he’s focused on this one for the meantime. He certainly doesn’t resent his listening public for expecting a certain type of music from him, nor does he hate the record.

“I think it came out pretty well,” he says. “As close to what I was going for.”

Being No One, Going Nowhere is, at its heart, a straightforward dance record. It’s full of the slick synth-pop we’ve come to expect from STRFKR, wrapped in polished production and driven by disco rhythms. Tracks like “Never Ever” show the band’s classic sound at its best, with its trebly synth riff bouncing atop a groovy bassline and an irresistible dance beat. “Tape Machine” takes a similar approach, though it trades synth solos for handclaps and cryptic lines like, “I know your darknesses better than you think / While all your old lovers falling on their knees / And all their hearts exploding underneath.”

High on Hodges’ priority list for the record was writing songs that would be fun to play live. STRFKR has toured relentlessly since its late-aughts beginnings, so much so that Hodges gave up his apartment for a while and lived on the road. Although years of touring can wear on musicians in an assortment of ways, it was the monotony and repetition of playing the same tracks over and over that irked Hodges the most.

“These songs were so fun when I first wrote them and started playing them,” he says, “but there’s no way anything could be fun every day for eight years.”

So he wrote Being No One, Going Nowhere with his own enjoyment in mind, until he remembered that he had to think of his listeners, too.

“People don’t want to come to a STRFKR show and watch me make noise for 45 minutes and play drone music,” he says. “They want to come and dance.”

Hodges’ early shows as STRFKR, however, were exactly that. In its earliest incarnation, it was his solo passion project. He played gigs and house parties in his native Portland, taking advantage of the city’s booming DIY scene and booking shows through Myspace. His performances mixed long, wordless soundscapes with the occasional proper song — music, he says, that he would have made with or without an audience.

“Every show had only one rule: It has to be fun,” he says. “I really didn’t expect this to be more than a few house shows.”

He had every reason to expect it wouldn’t go anywhere. His first band, formed after getting expelled from the local Catholic high school for smoking weed and failing his classes, was just three friends having fun and writing 10-minute-long psychedelic jams. After graduating, he moved to New York and recorded an album under the name Sexton Blake, released in 2004 on the small Portland label Expunged Records. In retrospect, he regrets releasing that record.

“I probably wouldn’t have put it out on my own,” Hodges says. “It was just me learning how to write songs.”

Neither project achieved anything remotely close to STRFKR’s current status. The project expanded to a fourpiece in 2008, garnering attention for the band’s tendency to perform in drag and its near-annual album releases during its first five years.

This productivity made the three-year gap between Being No One, Going Nowhere and 2013’s Miracle Mile all the more surprising. The band quit touring for most of those years, giving Hodges some much-needed time off the road to write. Returning to the drawing board came with its own drawbacks, however, mainly due to the lukewarm reviews Miracle Mile received.

“Reading anything negative, it’s like, ‘Fuck, man,’ ” he says. “It goes into the soup of my brain. Then, when I go back to write another album, that shit is in there and makes it harder. It’s not as innocent as it was when I first started.”

“Innocent” is the right term. Hodges came to music on his own as a teenager, convincing his parents to let him have a drum set before he added keys and guitar to his repertoire. He’s still surprised that his parents were as supportive as they were.

“Once I said I wanted to play, they actually let me buy a drum set and play drums in the house, which is fucking crazy,” he says. “I cannot imagine letting my kid do something like that.”

He can’t help but miss those days, and, while touring Being No One, Going Nowhere, he can’t help but miss life off the road, as well.

“I fucking hate touring. I would never do it again if I didn’t have to,” he says.

But he does have to, if only for the fans.

“There are kids that come to our shows who really vibe on the music,” he says. “There are kids that are super-pumped. I think that’s so rewarding.”

STRFKR plays at 8 p.m., on Monday, Nov. 14 at the Fillmore. $27.50; thefillmore.com.

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