Slowcore band Codeine briefly reunites after 18 years
Codeine, an influential '90s trio that played rock very, very slowly, has reunited to promote a six-LP retrospective of its work, "When I See the Sun." The band performs Monday and Tuesday, July 9-10, at Seattle's Triple Door.
Special to The Seattle Times
On the Internet
See Codeine: www.youtube.com, search "Codeine," "Realize"
Codeine8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle; $15-$18 (206-838-4333 or thetripledoor.net).
Say something once — why say it again?
That's what David Byrne asked us on Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer," and what New York band Codeine asked itself 23 years ago, when bassist-singer-songwriter Stephen Immerwahr, guitarist John Engle and original drummer Chris Brokaw formed the band.
Immerwahr "had a specific goal that he wanted to accomplish," Brokaw says, referring to the band's relatively brief existence, "and once that was done, he was out."
But the long-dormant indie-rock trio has returned. It's playing the Triple Door on Monday and Tuesday to celebrate the release of "When I See the Sun," a six-LP retrospective on Chicago's Numero Group label.
The songs on Codeine's three studio albums — 1990 debut "Frigid Stars LP," 1992 EP "Barely Real," and 1994 swan song "The White Birch" — are stark. No solos. No pedals. Lots of open space.
Echoing the therapeutic effects of the opiate for which the band was named, Immerwahr's stoic, half-spoken vocals, Engle's melancholic guitar work and Brokaw's agonizingly slow rhythms at once upended the way rock music is traditionally constructed and contrasted sharply with the noisy, aggressive status quo of the era.
"Not everybody dug it," says Brokaw, "but those who got it, really got it."
One person who got it was Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman. Codeine was the label's first non-Northwest, non-grunge signing, and in the box set's liner notes, Poneman calls them "the exception to everything we did. Sure, all their songs sound the same — like it's all one song — but it's a great song."
Brokaw is the only one of the three musicians who kept playing after the band broke up 18 years ago. Immerwahr works for the City of New York, Engle for a market-research company.
Says Brokaw, "They both felt like Codeine was a complete statement."
Since then, Codeine's members have resisted appeals to reunite. But when Numero Group proposed to re-press the band's albums as double LPs with bonus material, they finally agreed.
Brokaw is quick to clarify this is a commemorative tour as opposed to a full-fledged reformation, and says the shows so far have been "surreal."
"John told me after [our first show back] that he felt like he was on Mars," Brokaw says.
Codeine's career was short but influential. Its legacy of restrained power is carried on in post-rock and doom bands such as Earth, Mogwai and others
"It's funny," says Brokaw, "because this music seemed really strange 20 years ago, but [since then] I feel like I've heard echoes of it in ... all kinds of rock music."
Charlie Zaillian: firstname.lastname@example.org