While his earlier bands Choking Victim and Leftover Crack were the bands that really brought Sturgeon into the public punk conscious, his latest band, Star Fucking Hipsters seems to be the focus of his energy. After releasing an album on Fat Wreck Chords and a follow up on Alternative Tentacles, Sturgeon is planning to release his third album in four years. This bears a stark contrast to the release rate of Leftover Crack, a band that was often put on hiatus by band member tension, sojourns to South America, and battles with customs. But now that Sturgeon seems to be refreshed and is kicking out the jams at an almost frantic pace, Punknews interviewer John Gentile lit up a pipe with the modern punk icon to get the low down on his renewed energy, the meaning behind some of his more obscure lyrics, and whether or not he's serious when he says he wants to kill cops...
Before Star Fucking Hipsters first formed, you put out a post on your myspace specifically looking for a female singer to be part of the band that would become SFH. Do you feel that women are either underrepresented or even repressed in punk rock?
Punk, like so many other music genres is by far a huge boys-club. The female perspective is vastly ignored and under-appreciated. A large portion of the bands that really struck me in the punk world all had female members, such as Crass, Chumbawamba, X-Ray Spex, Nausea, Antischism and that tradition lives on in many of the modern punk bands that I listen to. It goes back to my pre-punk years where I was really struck by bands like the Pixies, for instance. I still think it's a shame that Kim Deal didn't sing more than a couple of their songs. I personally don't know why, but I sense a general disrespect in the punk world towards women and I think that it has discouraged a lot of them to get involved in starting or joining bands.
I'm confused on how to parse the name "Star Fucking Hipsters." Is a Star Fucking Hipster a hipster that has sex with famous people, or is it a famous hipster that uses the word "fucking" as an adjective? Or it's a group of stars/hipsters, it was meant to be ambiguous...
I think your song "Civilization Show" is fantastic. It has the lyrics, "When are we gonna grow up an accept responsibility." Who is "we?" Punks? Humans? Americans?
"We" is the whole lot. It's myself in my 30's trying to hold on to a life that I am gradually growing out of in however small a way. I will always be a, "punk", but I also find myself being forced to look more at the future of my life than the past.
"We" is Dick Lucas and Jasper from Subhumans/Citizen Fish whom I wrote the lyrics for while they were on their way from a venue here in NYC. Between sound-check and their show, I had them sing on another song "Look who's talking now!" where their lines were, "I'll fuck the world today, I'll fuck the world today" and I put myself in their minds. I said to myself that I needed to balance those lyrics with something positive, which is a call to everybody, humans, Americans, the world and myself that we really need to face some serious issues or we will be extinct.
The song is essentially about the downfall of man-kind from the time that humans discovered irrigation and started to build cities that separated us from nature and started to disconnect us from the world at large. Irrigation is not necessarily bad in any sense, it has helped sustain and build better lives for our species, but it also contributed to mass enslavement and eventually the corporate control of commodities essential to healthy living.
You stated, "I am gradually growing out of in however small a way. I will always be a "punk", but I also find myself being forced to look more at the future of my life than the past." Can you elaborate on that?
Well, punk is a type of music that really goes well with people trying to figure out their path in life and often they find themselves at a loss for a niche that really expresses what they are going through. For instance, it helped me cope with my anger at the realization that a large portion of the information being taught to me was straight-up lies. Traditionally punk has been a great way for adolescents to find an outlet for their passion, frustration and the pain that accompanies seeing the world and most people for what they really are to a great extent. An excellent soundtrack to youthful disillusion is a good way to put it.
As for my own changes, since I was a teenage punk, they have been very slow in coming, not really affecting my life until a year or two ago. I'm still a punk, just not who I was when I was 16. When I was younger, I didn't really see myself living past 25 and for good reason. A lot of my best friends are now dead and somehow I have survived. It changes your perspective and maybe your idea of what you want if you're gonna survive another 30 years.
If all goes according to plan, it seems that SFH will release a new album in 2011- their third album in 4 years. This is the most rapid pace at which you've ever released new material. What's the cause of your recent productivity?
Sometimes the music just flows freely from our minds and songs write themselves in 5 minutes and sometimes there'll be years of mental blockage. I might not write a song for a year and then, one day, I'll start writing and have 20 in a month. We luckily have that again... Plus I stopped drinking heavily and I found that I was in a horrible relationship, with a person that didn't care about me at all and a few important things were being terribly neglected. Basically, my life was unraveling. So when I became focused again, the songs started coming back too.
You stated that you have been drinking less. Are you more focused on a healthier lifestyle now? Has that affected your art?
Yes. After my best friend died at the end of 2007, I slowly started to drink more and build a huge tolerance to alcohol. It led to me making a lot of bad decisions concerning my own life. It didn't affect others around me like it affected my own state of mind. But, once I cleared out the cobwebs and cut down the drinking drastically, I started writing more than I had in years. Hopefully that'll show next year, when we release some new material.
The bands that you have been in have all re-recorded previously recorded songs by your bands, as seen by the songs "Look Who's Talking Now," and "Heaven." What is the value if revisiting older material?
Well, for one thing, when you're trying to get that 13th song done for your record, it helps to have poorly recorded or performed songs to re-make and get right. In the case of "Heaven", it was an amazing instrumental song by Degenerics that was played for me years ago before it was ever released. Craig, the vocalist, had written lyrics long ago that I really liked, so we tweaked it and came out with a stand out track for our last record.
"Look who's talking now" was recorded live on the BBC many years ago & was released on a limited edition 7". It was written by my best friend Brandon (R.I.P.) and myself during Leftover Crack having a cigarette break during a practice. It wasn't exactly intended to be recorded, but I was MIA, lost in London trying to find the studio and the band did it, which I'm glad of, because we would have never had a song recorded by our dear friend and drummer before his untimely and tragic death in 2004.
Your bands often feature cameos of our punk forefathers, such as Dave Dictor, Dick Lucas, or Jello Biafra. Is it important to pay respect to the punks that came before us?
All of those folks have been tremendously influential to my song/lyric writing and I still find them inspirational. When I'm on a long tour and I'm just exhausted, I look up to them and others, because they are still doing it and still sincere about some a lot of the things that they may have sang about over 25 years ago. They were integral in paving the way for political punk and if they never existed or put out a 7" I might be doing something quite different with my life. They deserve massive respect and I think a lot of people that do what I do or what I try to do at least, would agree.
Do you think there is a danger of deifying punk rock trailblazers by paying them tribute? No, I don't. I mean "deifying" is a very strong word and I don't think that most people that look up to the people in question would use that word. I think there is a danger in deifying people like Sid Vicious, who didn't hold any strong political beliefs and died under horrible, unhealthy circumstances. But the positive influences should always be celebrated if only for planting the seeds for future generations of artists.
In the past you have written a number of lyrics about killing police officers. Are your lyrics about killing cops literal or metaphorical?
I have a lot of issues and have had a lot of clashes with the police over the years. I stick to belief that they are a gang- Which entails any corrupt officers being backed-up, without question by every other officer until the gun-smoke and tear gas clears. Even then, officers are rarely disciplined by their own standards, which also makes them hypocrites. The police refuse to release any statistics that have to do with the wrongful use of force and murder on their behalf. Every once in a while there will be news about corruption and abuse, but the headlines clear away quickly and only the most extreme instances ever become public record. I feel a bit like police brutality and their abuse of authority is akin to a roach infestation. For every case that makes it to the news there are thousands that are unreported and untold.
This is not just a problem with American police. It spans that world. To paraphrase Michael Parenti, the police are not an entity to protect and serve the people in general, they are the foot-soldiers of the rich and they are much more concerned about the protection of property than our well-being. They are our own occupying army and they are essentially used protect the rich and their property by criminalizing petty crimes most often committed by poor people that in most cases are harmless to others. The government spends billions of dollars occupying and killing people half-way around the world, locking up people for drug possession in their war on drugs and even arresting people for sleeping in public places. A lot of what the police do has nothing to do with public safety. They could pool their resources to block the shipment of drugs into this country or put a stop to human slavery but they are corrupt. Just because you know a good cop doesn't mean that when they are called in and given orders they'll do the right thing- they must follow them right or wrong.
Literal vs. Metaphorical? The lyrics to these songs are poetry. Not necessarily great or good poetry, but it's art and we still have free speech, so it's all subject to interpretation.
I love the thematic imagery that you have brought with you through your various bands. In some ways, the consistent use of a particular style of art reminds me of Crass. But, where does artistic statement end and marketing begin? Maybe they overlap?
Sure, they overlap. I mean, Crass was one of the greatest bands of all time at advertising. When you wear a band t-shirt, you are advertising that band. A lot of great bands will never be heard because they have no marketing skills or their art doesn't move people. Without Gee Vaucher, Crass may never have been heard of.
When you write your lyrics, is the purpose just to get people to pay attention to a particular subject, or is the purpose to make a specific argument?
I think that when you write about a particular subject, especially in politics, the most important thing is to get any kind of discussion going about the matter at hand. Even if it's a negative reaction, you are still helping people to think about it, or hopefully doing that. If you can, then you have a chance of reaching people, even if it's years down the road. A thought is in there, somewhere, even subconsciously. It might affect your actions or thoughts down the road.
In previous interviews, you've stated your fondness for 80's pop bands, Modest Mouse, and Death Cab [for Cutie]. Is the distinction between "punk" and "pop" helpful, or are they really two sides of the same coin?
I think that punk has more to do with the political side of music, though others might say that it's about attitude or fashion. My musical interests are more about what I like to listen to and that can be a world away from punk, ska or metal. I don't take a lot in from these other bands besides some good poetry & pretty melodies or in the case of 80's music, I like to dance to it, I grew up on it, it makes me smile.
A lot of news dealing with SFH will often mention the "Donut Social" fiasco where you were arrested during a public performance after throwing a donut at police officers. Do you think people focusing on that event has either benefit or been a detriment to the band?
I think it has mostly been detrimental, as the majority of people that have heard or read about it have absolutely no historical context to accompany it, which is completely essential to what transpired on that day. There were federal issues about decibel levels for public events both local and nationwide. In addition to that, the police had been harassing my bands for years, threatening venues with tickets for code violations and their closure. This somehow followed me to SFH's first show, which is a fairly long story that involves a lot of off-duty officers from different government agencies making sure that our show did not happen, although nobody had heard us play yet or heard any of our lyrics or music. But there is so much more to it than even what I've just said...
What can we expect to hear from SFH in the next year?
A new record on Fat and we will hopefully get around doing these two split records that we have been talking about for over a year now. Also, we are heading to Australia, I believe...
For a brief time, on the SFH myspace, you encouraged SFH fans to become friends with a band called "No Parking!" No Parking! featured the same members as SFH and was described on the page as a "Collective of non-denominational, but spiritual musicians. We are Jewish, Christian & Atheist. We are against Racism, sexism & homophobia!" What is (or was) the No Parking! band?
That was how Frank of SFH and I got into Australia as tourists. We figured that if they asked us about being in a band, we'd show them the No Parking! Myspace and show them that we had a meager following and no shows booked down-under. In the end, I just flashed my copy of Lonely Planet around and we acted like we were a couple, even though we are both in relationships with other people. New Zealand made me show them my money, so they knew that I could support myself for the 5 days I was there...
Is Leftover Crack on hiatus, or will we see new material and shows in the future?
Leftover Crack already has a show booked in December and we plan to book a few more, as well as possibly write some new material...
Any last comments for punknews.org?
I'd just like to thanks punknews for being one of the very few web-sites to actually post anything about me or my bands in the states ever. We don't really get "press" in the traditional sense. Cheers P.N.