(Codeine promo photo and other images swiped from http://pry.com/codeine)
I doubt they were the first band I “connected” with in the figurative sense — after all I’ve been nuts about music as long as I can remember. Yet I first heard Codeine at a pretty important time, when I was a teenager in Louisville, Kentucky, and they were one of the first out-of-town bands that I got to meet, champion, and really feel, well, connected to.
See the Louisville scene, great as it was at the time, was pretty insular. Not a lot of touring acts came through town at the beginning my formative punk/hardcore show-going years (though this changed as active bands like Rodan and Crain — as well as the legend of Slint — brought more bands interested in playing Louisville). Though despite being from New York City, the band already had some ties to Louisville: in 1990, Stephen Immerwahr (vocals, bass) recorded “Pea” with Bitch Magnet at Sound on Sound in Louisville with Howie Gano (who practically engineered every local punk/hardcore band at some point):
Somehow, I bought this single and got into it, sparking a life-long obsession with not only the awesome Bitch Magnet (more about them at a later date), but with this mysterious and nihilistic yet (unlike most hardcore I knew at the time) totally slow and sludgy song “Pea” on the flipside (sorry I don’t have it available for download). At some point I figured it out, and when I spotted Frigid Stars LP in some Sub-Pop print catalog (yes, kids, aside from going to what was called a “record store” to buy records, some of us actually ordered music out of mail-order catalogs too), I snapped it up. Immediately enthralled by the slow, yet melodic and heart-breaking sounds (the catalog described them as “a cross between Galaxie 500 and the Melvins“), I rushed off a letter to the P.O. box in the credits. Not too long after, I received a super-nice reply from Stephen (who am friends with to this day; oddly we first met at a Rodan/Palace Brothers show at the long-gone Highland House one Derby Day). Probably then I became Louisville’s biggest (and to my knowledge, only — until Scott Richter told me he too was a fan), and tried to spread the word on how great they were to all my friends.
Years later, I still listen to Codeine, and still maintain that they’re one of the greatest bands of their era. Despite what could be considered a major influence on quite a few bands (probably would put Low and Mogwai in there, among others), I still kinda think they didn’t quite get their due. Not enough people know, but then again I could be wrong. While goofing around, looking for Codeine info, I found this fantastic site filled with all kinds of great images and information. Although it doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2005, there’s pretty much everything you could want on there, including 6 songs recorded by Codeine for Peel Sessions (download here) and a live set from the Vermonstress Fest in 1992 (download here).
The Peel Sessions contain some excellent performances of four Codeine classics, plus two songs I’d never heard before: “Median” and “Sure Looks That Way.” It’s a shame neither of those saw a proper release. The live show (originally posted on Bradley’s Almanac) starts off a little shaky, but eventually gathers a head of steam. It also documents an interesting period when Codeine was in-between main drummers Chris Brokaw and Doug Scharin, with Josh Madell of Antietam and Other Music filling in on the throne.
BONUS TRIVIA: If you can name the Minneapolis band and their record on which Immerwahr worked as assistant engineer, you’ll win… something.