CODEINE Songs like slow-motion car crash test footage.
Eighteen years after disbanding, slowcore progenitors Codeine have re-formed for a run of shows commemorating the re-release of their entire catalog. The original lineup of Stephen Immerwahr (vocals/bass), Chris Brokaw (drums), and John Engle (guitar) is intact. In June, Chicago-based, Grammy-nominated archival label Numero Group put out a limited-edition Codeine box set called When I See the Sun, complete with singles, demos, Peel sessions, live tracks, and their Sub Pop output: two full-lengths (Frigid Stars and The White Birch) and the Barely Real EP. Active from 1989 to 1994, Codeine became known for their slower, dignified, minimalist approach to rock that inspired bands like Mogwai, who requested that Codeine play with them at this year's All Tomorrow's Parties in the UK. Immerwahr and Engle spoke, slowly. They gave their answers collectively.
Codeine's songs are like scenes shown in slow motion. There's more time to ingest details. It's like car crash test footage, with the mannequins moving gracefully toward impact. Arms flail with an abnormal elegance as necks bend to breaking angles. Bodies without seatbelts flow weightlessly through the interior into pain. It's grotesque, but there's a beauty to it that's unique. This seems fitting for Codeine. Your tempos appear oblivious to the outside world. The pace is inside its own rotation. Does your music seem slow to you?
I like the point you bring up with crash footage. People ask us why we play slow. But we're not slow just for the sake of being slow. When you were describing seeing something that's usually fast happen at a slower speed, especially something that has violence, in slow motion, there's a sense of inevitability. That this thing is going to happen. I think that's part of what we do. When you hear it, and you feel what's coming—it's still a ways off, but you'll get there eventually. The space, the slowness, and the sparseness are meant to convey a distance. There's something to the way it all unfolds. The sound takes on another meaning than if we played it at a normal pop tempo. I think there's an inevitability that comes from playing so deliberately. The pace is more of a tool to bring across what we're trying to communicate.
What draws you to that deliberateness?
The feel. We came up with a conceptual musical approach, a band name, and an area of emotional states to write about and to draw creativity from. With John's guitar playing and what Chris was able to come up with on drums and guitar, it worked. We were always a three-piece. It's been interesting listening back to the reissues for rehearsal; so much of it has two guitars. That's not how the band sounded live.