Indie Ethos exclusive (Part 2 of 2): From rough start to triumphant tour, Starfucker head home

April 22, 2011

Continuing on from my last post regarding Portland’s Starfucker, I would be remiss not to discuss the start of the band’s tour, when much drama unfolded after police placed one of its members behind bars. As the end of the longest tour of its career looms (purchase tickets through this link or see the remaining dates at the end of this post), the start of Starfucker’s road trip across the US, did not come without eventful hiccups.

In recent days, the band has posted playful images and videos from the road on their Facebook page. Sure, this indie rock band with origins in space rock and a danceable beat seems to be doing all right. But when I met the quintet in Orlando, Florida, back on March 26, when their tour had barely begun, some members of Starfucker sure could not wait to get back to their hometown of Portland, Oregon. If any one member of the group had a right to feel melancholy, it was Ryan Biornstad (guitar, keyboard, vocals, turntables). The clock had just passed midnight, and he was celebrating his 31st birthday away from his family. He also still seemed haunted by his arrest in Austin, Texas during the SXSW music festival.

Following their debut performance in Orlando, He and the other members of Starfucker stood around in an open-air alleyway in back of several downtown bars, as party music fought for sound wave space in the background. On this warm night that served as a prelude to the many hot days and nights Florida often experiences approaching the state’s seven-month-long summer, Josh Hodges, the main songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind Starfucker, noted the weather the band was missing out on in Portland. “I miss it, but I’m really happy to be here right now,” he said. “It’s really weird for me. It’s warm [here], but it’s probably 40 degrees and raining in Portland right now.”

Biornstad, his face still smudged with lipstick and bright rouge from his stage appearance, also admitted he was missing Portland. “Very much. I broke down crying last night,” he confessed.

Standing next to him, Hodges could not help but laugh. “Really?” he asked.

“I was,” said Biornstad with sincerity, though he is all smiles and energy, still buzzed from the band’s current conquest of the Orlando crowd … and maybe some beer. “It’s hard being away from them,” Biornstad added about his children and fiancée.

“It’s the most pretty family you have ever seen,” commented Hodges. “Like, all of them, it’s crazy, and they’re good. They’re a good family.”

Though many shows on Starfucker’s tour at that point had so far sold out, none of the band’s three stops in Florida did. However, tonight’s show at the BackBooth gave them a boost of optimism (read a re-cap of the night’s show here). The venue was still packed with a crowd who gave back as much energy as Starfucker threw at them. Toward the end of Starfucker’s set, Biornstad tested the audience’s affection by leaning off the stage to be pushed back up by outstretched arms. At one point, he dove on top of them to crowd surf. See the video captured by below showing Biornstad stage diving:

“Tonight was fun,” Hodges said.

“It was great, yeah,” added Biornstad.

“Orlando kind of surprised us all, I think,” Hodges continued. “We played in Tampa last night. It was awful, but it was also kind of interesting,” he added politely. When asked to explain “interesting,” he admitted:  “It was just like pretty much a cover band kind of scene.”

Orlando marked the deepest south the band had toured in its career,  and after starting off with four sold-out shows in California, the tour took a turn south in another sense, fraught with difficulties that probably hit its lowest point when police arrested Biornstad in Austin, Texas right before Starfucker’s first night of showcases at the SXSW music festival.

Via Twitter, , the band broke the news to followers: “Ryan just got arrested… WTF FUCK THE POLICE… Our show at 6 is canceled…

Most likely, Shawn Glassford (bass, keyboards, drums) sent that Tweet out. He said he was with Ryan unloading the band’s van for a show when an Austin Police officer approached them. “I was the main witness, actually,” Glassford said. “It was the most bizarre cop interaction I have ever seen in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of them, and that was just like, what the fuck is happening? This just makes no sense.”

Biornstad must have that evening burned hard in his consciousness. He offered a breathless replay of the night: “We were unloading the van, Shawn and I, and this cop came up and said I had to get off the street, and I told him I was unloading the van for a show, and he still insisted I had to get off the street. Shawn handed me some equipment, and I was like, ‘I have to get off the street, fine, but I have some equipment to unload,’ and he blocked the way for me to get off the street, and then he decided he was going to write me a ticket. We go to the sidewalk, I hand him my ID, and I’m like, ‘Fine, give me a ticket,’ and this other psycho cop ran up on me, and he’s like, ‘You’re under arrest!’ and he turned me around, and he pushed me up against the wall, and he put me in handcuffs, and they put me in jail.”

City of Austin Police Corporal Anthony Hipolito, a spokesperson for the department, responded via email to several questions. “[Biornstad] was standing in a lane of traffic in the 700 block E 7th St.,” he explained. “He was not cooperative with police, and did not comply with anything they were asking.”

Hipolito said police booked him on two charges: “pedestrian on the roadway and resisting arrest.”

Biornstad called the first charge “retarded” and the second “bullshit.” He said, “I did not resist arrest. They never told me I was under arrest. They never read me my rights… They didn’t say anything. They ran up on me and put me in jail. If they had said, ‘You’re under arrest, put your hands behind your back,’ I would have done so. They didn’t say anything of the sort. They just turned me around, fuckin’ cuffed me and put me in the car.”

When asked whether the arresting officer read Biornstad his Miranda rights,  Hipolito stated, “I do not have any evidence of his rights being read.  You will have to get with the Judge who set his bail.”

After a couple of emails were sent to Austin’s Municipal Court, I was redirected to Downtown Austin Community Court. Chief Prosecutor Bianca Bentzin responded by email to say she will examine the court file to see what information the APD have provided on the incident as far as whether Biornstad’s Miranda Rights were read to him during his arrest. She stated she will have a response within a week. The spokesperson for the APD did note, however, that the confrontation was non-violent. “No one was injured,” Hipolito stated.

Finally, one concertgoer posted an account by a bouncer on YouTube after he noticed the signs outside the venue declaring: “Starfucker has had to cancel. Sorry. Fuck the police”:

Starfucker would not perform its scheduled shows for that night. “We missed two because of it,” Glassford noted.

“I was in jail for 10 hours in prison stripes,” Biornstad said, adding that he found some way to wile away the hours behind bars. “I worked out a little bit … I was in jail, fuck it. I did some push-ups, did some sit-ups, slept a little bit, and then they let me out at 4 in the morning.”

The band, in the meantime, had appeared at their scheduled venues to watch other groups perform and do— what else— some networking. “These guys represented,” Biornstad noted. “They went to the shows we were supposed to play at, and fuckin’ got everybody hyped up, and they met some people, and they met a lawyer that got me out of jail because everybody knew it was bullshit.”

Biornstad said he plans to fight the charges. To cover his legal bills, Starfuckers’ label, Polyvinyl Records, is helping raise funds with sales of an exclusive T-shirt.

With Biornstad out of jail, Starfucker went on to play two shows at SXSW. Here’s the band at one of those gigs playing “Rawnald Gregory Erickson The Second” (which happens to be the song featured on the Target ad mentioned in Part 1 of this piece):

Though Biornstad’s jail stint proved the band’s greatest challenge, the omen of bad things to come first crept up on Starfucker as the band headed out of California. On March 12, the band posted this message on their Facebook page:

OMFG our trailer just fell off the van. Holy Fucking Shit that was scary… Thankfully we had emergency chains, or else we would have just either lost all our gear or killed someone… Whoa! Crazy shit…

March 12 at 10:10pm via iPhone

To top it off, on their way out of Austin, the band suffered a second problem with their transportation and had to get the van towed to its next gig. “All 6 of us in a tow truck with our van and trailer getting pulled behind!!! Crazy shit right now… Houston, here we come!!!” read the Facebook update posted on their way to Houston on March 20, Sunday night, at 10:54 p.m.

But since then, things seem positive from there on out: “Thanks to everyone in Houston last night! We’re so happy we made it (even if it was via tow truck) … Hopefully our curse is lifted…” read the band’s post on Facebook, the day after the show.

Soon after, someone in Starfucker would note the new album’s appearance on the CMJ Charts at number 11 thanks to college radio airplay. The last bit of exposure gained for Starfucker was when their name appeared on the latest creation by gourmet coffee company Intelligentsia. You can buy a 16 oz. bag of the STRFKR blend via Polyvinyl’s website.

The band is now very close to a triumphant return home for a series of intimate shows in their hometown of Portland. All of the group’s members hail from the Northwestern city, which has its own unique metropolitan quirks. During the interview, I had to ask the members of Starfucker what they thought of the IFC-produced sketch comedy Portlandia, a show that parodies the lifestyle of those living in Portland. It features comedian Fred Armisen, most famous for his work on Saturday Night Live, and Carrie Brownstein, probably best known as a founding member of nineties riot grrrl group Sleater-Kinney. She is now an active member of Wild Flag, a new band based in Portland that has been around for just under a year. As Wild Flag is part of the same music scene as Starfucker, the members of Starfucker know her particularly well. “Ryan and I have played foosball with Carrie,” Hodges said.

“Yeah, I know Carrie pretty well,” added Biornstad. “She’s been living in Portland for 10 years.”

Biornstad and Hodges agree that “Portlandia” has its witty moments, and, they said, it even paints a pretty accurate picture of life in Portland, but when it comes to the Armisen-lead music video that declares “the dream of the nineties is alive in Portland,” the pair beg to differ.

“I feel like Seattle is stuck in the nineties,” Biornstad said. “Portland is very much more forward-thinking than the nineties, I think. But I can see some value into their humor for sure. Carrie is awesome. Fred’s awesome. I hung out with him for a little too. He’s rad. He’s a really nice, kind of shy guy.”

Asked if the band would ever entertain an appearance on the show, Biornstad said, “I’ve been talking to Carrie about it, and I think, at some point, what I’d like to do is kind of like a spoof on the Portland music, hipster scene and make fun of ourselves, make fun of Starfucker a little bit.”

Biornstad better watch what he says about Seattle, though, as the band stops there for a few days before their finale in Portland. Here are Starfucker’s last up-coming tour dates:

04/22/11     Vancouver, Canada @ Biltmore Cabaret
04/23/11     Seattle, WA @ The Vera Project
04/26/11     Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile Cafe
04/28/11     Portland, OR @ Holocene
04/29/11     Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
04/30/11     Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios

Read more about Starfucker in Part 1 of this profile piece.
Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
Ryan just got arrested… WTF FUCK THE POLICE… Our show at 6 is canceled…

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