The Milwaukee electronic-funk band Codebreaker takes its cues from Tom Jones, but the aim is not kitsch. The duo of singer-keyboardist Steven Hawley and bassist Sage Schwarm find a middle ground between the post-disco, pre-house sound of boogie and Roger and Zapp talk box-funk. The group’s turn-of-the-1980s influences made groovy, earnest music. Codebreaker does the same. It’s fun, seriously. Or seriously fun.
“We’re really not an ironic band at all,” Hawley says by phone. “When kids are introduced to us, they’re waiting for some wacky punch line. But there isn’t one.”
Lumped in with the indie-dance scene, Codebreaker has played alongside groups like Chromeo, Hot Chip and VHS or Beta. Codebreaker largely makes slower music, fit for the end of the night: Lots of wah-wah guitar, spacey keys and big, crawling basslines. “We have a natural instinct to write warmer-sounding stuff than a lot of things out today, a natural inclination toward more funk- and R&B-based music,” Hawley says.
Hawley says he mostly played and listened to punk and hardcore before stumbling upon a Rhino disco compilation in high school that, he says, “Made me feel the same way as those Minor Threat records.”
The group put out its first album, “What Is This Earth Love?” in 2005 and follow-up “Exiled!” last year. At home in Milwaukee, the two stay holed up in the studio.
“There’s not really a scene here. It’s definitely isolating to be honest,” Hawley says. “Sage and I have been off on our own planet with what we think is cool.”
Codebreaker has played Chicago a handful of times, with the crowd “sparse… slightly confused,” Hawley says. That should change, as more people get hip to Codebreaker’s breezy, carefree funk sound. Hawley’s stage persona should help, too—he says he “idolizes” Tom Jones.
“I show up like I mean it,” Hawley says. “Artists as performers shouldn’t be too scared to err on the side of showmanship a little bit more. Howling introspective lyrics in a microphone is not our thing. It would be really awkward if we were like that.” (Michael Hirtzer)
Codebreaker perform live, with headliner Yelle and Milion $ Mano at The Mansion, 2408 North Kedzie, April 29, at 8pm. $18.