Located right between Seattle and Olympia, Washington, port city Tacoma is less notorious for its musical history. That’s not to say it has none — home of The Sonics, The Ventures and The Wailers, there’s many a mutton-chopped record nerd who views it as the centre of the universe.
The members of Criminal Code, however, operate entirely outside of their city’s garage rock-obsessed history. “We commonly get called an Olympia band,” says frontman and founder Taiga Dinger. “Maybe because we don’t sound like The Sonics or a heavy metal bar band.”
That’s not to say it’s all “Louie Louie” covers in town, as Dinger goes on to describe a scene of art school kids with expensive keyboards, attempting to emulate the Factory Records sound. “They usually get all the girls, and sell out the cool bar,” he explains. “We usually play house shows, and get that random 30-plus-year-old guy that tells us that we sound like an SST band and buys us beer. I think that’s more rewarding to me.”
If there’s one SST Records band they sound like, however, it’s not those four black bars you were expecting (though Criminal Code’s crisp black-and-white artwork does recall Black Flag’s signature look). Instead, their guitar-driven post-punk anthems recall the melodic aggression of Hüsker Dü.
“I think the Hüsker Dü comparisons we get are very flattering,” Dinger says. “[The Wipers’] Greg Sage, [The Replacements’] Bobby Stinson and [Hüsker Dü’s] Bob Mould are my three influences when it comes to guitar playing.”
While the sound may be built on meaty rock gristle, however, Criminal Code attack every aspect of their band with the work ethic of a DIY hardcore band. Since forming in 2010, the quartet has self-released a cassette and a 7-inch, and put out last year’s acclaimed Cold Thought 12-inch on Inimical Records. Between it all, the members have managed to tour North America extensively while dealing with shuffling personnel changes.
The current lineup, which features White Wards’ Miles Green on second guitar, bassist Andrew Getz and drummer Jawsh Hageman, is creating the definitive Criminal Code sound that Dinger wanted from the beginning. Now that they’ve sorted that out, they’re hard at work on No Device, their debut full-length for the venerable British Columbia-based Deranged imprint, along with a European tour.
To accomplish all of that in two short years suggests a sense of extreme urgency in the band’s approach, but Dinger’s daily routine is much more cavalier. “I wake up every morning with a cup of black coffee, listen to records, and then walk around my house in my underwear with my guitar and write songs,” he says. “I don’t really have any difficulty writing material or having ideas.”
Unlike so many of their peers, Criminal Code aren’t forcing anything — not even an escape from their surroundings. “We don’t care to be from a big notable city, we don’t care to be acknowledged for anything, and we’re kind of destined to just be barflies and die here,” Dinger says of his city.
“Being from Tacoma is cool,” he adds. “There are times where I just walk down the street and see some uppity bar, and across the street is some dudes trying to sell hot dogs on their porch, while some garage rock band is playing in the park. It’s just really bizarre and humble at the same time.”