Josh Hodges of STRFKR on Impermanence, Dancing, and Letting Go

Photo: Shawn Glassford

Josh Hodges is launching yet another vault release of rarities, but his feeling towards the process and the peace that he's found prove distinct in its own right.

Josh Hodges explains that after the first couple of weeks on tour with STRFKR, doing soundcheck before a show is a walk in the park. They play the same song a couple of times in a row in order to make sure the sound people have everything they need from them, then each band member goes on with their day until it's time to return for the performance. For Hodges this usually means taking a nap, having some coffee, or getting to work on new material. The band just released Vault Vol. 2 a compilation of some of their demos, rarities and unreleased tracks, which is part of a three-album project, with Vol. 1 having been released earlier this year, and the final installment coming at a yet to be announced date.

Touring is an essential part of STRFKR's m.o., Hodges has been vocal about how his love for touring, despite the cons that being away from home brings, is what keeps the band from writing more new material. Having released five studio albums in eight years isn't something to look down at though, their latest, before beginning the Vault series, was Being No One, Going Nowhere a piece of melancholy electronica that explored philosophical themes filtered through a dreamlike landscape of disco and contemporary dance music.

Perhaps their most complex work to date, the album makes a case for why the richness of Vault needed to be in the world, STRFKR has by now created a discography that's aided by supporting material that makes their worldview more tangible, and given Hodges' interest in Eastern spirituality, philosophy and dance music, all material by the band is greatly appreciated.

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Thanks for doing this so soon after your sound check! Do you get to try out new material when you're on tour?

We have a list of rotating songs, a bulk of the set is the same, the order might be different, but they're the same songs. But we don't like trying new material on tour; we prefer working on that before, we want to make sure we put on a good show.

Do you end up writing a lot of new material in between shows?

Totally: I used to write a lot on tour. Lately, I haven't done it so much; there were a few years when we were gone more than we were home. During that time we went into survival mode, we needed to find ways not to hate each other. There's no one I've ever spent more time with than my band, maybe my parents when I was a baby. We've been together for ten years, we work together, sleep in the same places, spend our free time together. I value alone time, so I need to manufacture that sometimes. I play video games, I started running which helps my mood, exercise helps depression, I bought a bike too.

What do you listen to when you run?

Podcasts. The one album I've been listening to is the band we're touring with Reptilians, our sound guy mastered their album, and it's coming out soon, it's really good, they're awesome.

Have you been doing any material from the Vault records?

No, we don't play any of that stuff, the Vault albums came about as kind of an afterthought. Being No One, Going Nowhere was what we put a lot of thought into, and Vault is leftover demos that were going to get lost in this dying computer. I knew I was never going to finish the songs, and they'd otherwise be lost, some of them are very good songs and we thought some people might appreciate the more intimate, unpolished sound. Even though we were only going to do three albums, the Vault series is the kind of thing I think we can keep adding to because I write a lot, I don't finish a lot of songs.

How do you know when a song is "finished"? I think some of the tracks in Vault are great!

I don't know! [ laughs] I think I have an idea of how that works. For a long time, I had an idea that something had to sound a certain way to call it finished, but I've changed. When I listen to Vault there are certain things I think I'd changed, but that's also true for any album I've made. I've lately been thinking more that I can call things "finished" sooner than I thought, and that's been a cool, positive thing for me.

That's so interesting, the songs are like tiny ghosts haunting you.

Yeah. [ laughs]

Once the tracks are released they're STRFKR canon though, so would you be open to playing Vault songs on tour?

Yeah, absolutely. We're going to but this time we didn't think about it until it was too late. For our last two tours we wanted to play our previous album, so we play almost all of it and then do a few songs from the other albums. By going through the Vault series I started learning what things I'd like to play. We have another tour in January, so maybe by then, we'll play some of the Vault stuff.

A lot of the songs are very simple. I want to try out a tour that's more mellow. Most of our tours right now are about creating a dance party, so even though a lot of our music isn't high energy dance, a lot of the stuff in Vault is very mellow. A lot of the more mellow songs never get played live, so it would be fun to focus on that stuff. I hope our fans won't be too bummed. Perhaps we'll have to advertise it like that.

If you owned a nightclub what would a typical night sound like?

Keil [Corcoran] and I DJ sometimes -- he's more into that. I didn't grow up listening to dance music. I certainly like it. I like Todd Terry and his style of old sounding, synthy sounding music, that's generally the vibe I like.

Being No One, Going Nowhere is such a tight album, every element sounds so precise. Was releasing Vault in any way an exercise in letting go and losing control?

Yeah totally, even when we were deciding whether to release the stuff or not, it was nerve-wracking. I wrote a whole essay explaining that it's all unfinished stuff, probably not for everybody, but more for certain fans to have a peek into the writing process. I definitely felt nervous, and there are other points in my life when I would have been embarrassed about releasing something like this.

But by now since I'm older I think that even if two people like it, it's worth the embarrassment. It's fun, it's nice to not be so precious, I'm precious and disappointed all the time working on things like Being No One, Going Nowhere and still finding things I would've changed. But with Vault I don't feel that way, whatever flaws it has, it's supposed to be flawed.

It's also interesting for me as a listener, because I've been building tiny albums from within the Vault tracks. One can see songs that go well together, that maybe came from the same unfinished project, or were done around the same time. You're giving listeners the opportunity to create along with you in a way.

Totally, I like the idea of it being that. I'd never thought about it in that way of people being creative with me, but I like that, I like thinking of people making playlists and changing the order around. For me, it was a way to answer a question like "How do you write a song?", releasing Vault was a better answer. There are songs in Vault that became STRFKR songs later, I've listened to songs and realized where some melodies came from. It's the kind of thing I've liked that other bands have released, it's cool to hear the process.

What was the process of deciding what tracks would go in each volume?

I actually didn't do that, the band started as one guy doing everything, but for this project, Shawn [Glassford] was the one who encouraged the project, he's very into that, he's usually the one who does the song order. I gave him like 80 songs, and he put together the three Vault albums. I don't even like to listen to old stuff once it's done sometimes, I also don't care about order so much, I don't think I have the ear for that. Even before STRFKR, I had friends do the track order for me. Shawn definitely felt there were themes to each Vault album.

You're great at combining electronica with philosophy. Listening to Vault I felt you were distilling all the things you've learned, some of the tracks made me think of simple concepts, kind of like reading a haiku rather than an epic poem. Was there any of that in the songs?

Buddhism, in particular, has been a great influence for me. Meditation, in general, is something I've been putting more time into, I struggle with depression and there was a period when I moved back to Portland from New York, I was living on my dad's couch, going through an existential period where I wondered what's the point of any of this.

I got this book by Thích Nhất Hạnh -- MLK was a big fan of his. Anyway, his books are pretty simple in their delivery and helped me a lot, I always have this little nagging feeling inside, but back then I was ready to just die, the books really, really helped me. The meditation was so practical, it's not about a belief system or an identity, I don't talk too much about it with people, but it's kinda like how running is good for depression, meditation is like that.

You can be any religion and get benefits from meditation. For me even with the music, sometimes it feels silly and fun, but I also like dropping little Easter eggs in it because some of these things have been very beneficial for me. People like Alan Watts, who I do love because he's so accessible and entertaining, and he's so colorful that even if people aren't into what he's saying, his voice doesn't detract from the song. The words he uses, like "wiggly wiggles" and shit, are really cool.

I've met people on tour who got into stuff like that after listening to him in songs, I've had some great conversations with people about that. Sometimes it's more important to me than even the music. The whole realm is too much to go into. We live in this changing world, so the fact that in this realm we can have conversations about impermanence and death... Because we have a very strange relationship with death. We mock it and try to pretend we're not aging, so stuff like this is a different tactic. I really just want it to be playful.

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