Despite their brief existence as a band, Codeine maintain a legacy as the pioneers of a genre that eventually came to be known as "slowcore." Releasing three records from 1990 to 1994, the trio gained exposure on Sub Pop records as the East Coast eccentrics on an otherwise genre-specific Northwestern label.
With Stephen Immerwahr (bass/vocals), John Engle (guitar) and Chris Brokaw (drums), the band's sound consisted of seemingly slacker lyrics and glacial-paced tempos that culminated into an onslaught of heavyhearted vocals and heavy-handed instrumental crescendos.
"There weren't terms out there like 'slowcore' back then," Immerwahr reminisces. "People were still trying to determine what was out there in indie and alternative music. It's kind of hard to recall, but in the end I think we just thought that stuff sounds good slowed down. It was an emotional heaviness that was the focus of the band's sound."
Brokaw says that they were aware that what they had was special.
"We all knew that we were doing something very unique and very specific when we were doing it," he says. "And people recognized that even back then."
Despite being a New York band, Chris Brokaw lived in Boston, where Codeine had their first official show. Eventually resigning to start the band Come, Codeine would continue on, but the band's life proved short-lived.
"When you're in a band, you want it to be the greatest band of all time," says Immerwahr. "And when we were in a band, it wasn't the greatest band of all time -- which was terrible. But we had to try. We had a couple of really good songs, and we had a stylistic tool that a lot of bands didn't have ... especially in indie rock. And we had more of a coherent and aesthetic sound that we were trying to hone. [At some point], I think the muse kind of left. It's hard to describe it. When there weren't new songs coming, that was it. It didn't seem right for the band to continue."
Outside the box
After years of being asked to re-form, the band recently reunited for a limited run of shows, including the Mogwai-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties in London last month. While the show would prove to be their biggest gig to date, it was the extensive Codeine vinyl box set reissues that provided the impetus for their reunion. Set to hit stores soon, the six-LP compilation includes each album along with previously unreleased studio tracks and 4-track demos.
“I haven’t seen the finished product yet,” says Immerwahr, “but I assume that seeing the re-releases with the liner notes and the booklets will be right up there with the time we first saw the release of [debut] ‘Frigid Stars.’”