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Code Orange’s Jami Morgan on Underneath, Stepping Up Front, and Touring with Slipknot

on March 18, 2020, 5:21pm

Pittsburgh’s finest metallic hardcore export, Code Orange, have hit a home run with their new album Underneath. According to drummer and vocalist Jami Morgan, the band’s ambition is only beginning to be realized.

Code Orange began in 2008 as Code Orange Kids, playing a chaotic and sinister style of hardcore not too dissimilar from what Integrity and Ringworm pioneered in the nearby city of Cleveland, albeit augmented with electronic touches. They released their debut album, Love Is Love/Return to Dust, in 2012, and then dropped the “Kids” from their name in time for 2014’s I Am King. Their Roadrunner debut, 2017’s Forever, earned them a dedicated following, with its mixture of chaotic and abrasive songs alongside surprisingly melodic fare, often sung by guitarist Reba Meyers.

Underneath synthesizes both sides of the band’s sound and adds a dose of technicality to boot. As lead single “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole” proves, Code Orange’s next evolutionary stage involves mathematical grooves, even more densely layered electronics, and ever-present vocal hooks by both Meyers and Morgan.

These new songs are so complex that for the first time, Morgan is stepping out from behind the kit to front the band on its upcoming tour dates. Unfortunately, Code Orange had to postpone their spring headlining tour due to the coronavirus pandemic, but they delivered a high-energy show at an empty Pittsburgh venue via livestream on March 14th.

As of now, Code Orange are still scheduled to open for Slipknot on the latter’s Knotfest Roadshow summer North American tour. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? Rather than intimidated, Morgan is chomping at the bit to bring his band’s new monstrosity on the road when he gets on the phone with Heavy Consequence.

Read our interview with Code Orange’s Jami Morgan below, and pick up the band’s new album here.

On preparing to tour behind Underneath

These new songs are very hard, and on top of that, we’re bringing production elements to our [now-postponed] headlining tour for the first time — every element of that we’ve designed. [Multi-instrumentalist] Shade has made a video for every song of the set, and [singer-guitarist] Reba has been setting up the lights. We’re still very DIY because we’ve had trouble finding people. Maybe it’s a control thing, but it’s also because we don’t make a lot of money, so we’ve got to get it going on our own to make the best show possible. I’m happy about it, we’ve just got to make sure everything works, but I’m a very specific guy about those things. That means a lot of rehearsing.

On the dense and technical direction of Underneath

We wanted to make our most dense, our most layered, our most repeat-value record in terms of being able to discover more and more things under the surface. By the same token, we like listening to entertaining music where things come back. I think Underneath is our most challenging and yet most accessible record. I think we absolutely have a signature sound at this point that we keep expanding, and I don’t think anyone really sounds like this record at all, even though it’s obviously influenced by different things. At least that’s the hope. I don’t want to make a record that sounds like anyone else once you put all the elements together.

On learning from the response to Forever, and balancing their influences

If you listen to the songs on Forever live, they are much catchier because of touches we have added, and the tempo we play them at. This record was based on learning from that. These songs now sound only like Code Orange, it’s made of elements that people have heard but presented in a different way and we’re proud of that. That was something I didn’t like about the response to Forever. People would say “this song is grunge!” or “this song is that!” and that’s never what we intended, or maybe I just didn’t see that at the time. Once we started making these songs, I can see that they contain everything. But I don’t think it’s crammed in for the sake of being crammed in. I think it’s a cool sound where, when you get bored something different happens. At least that was our goal for the listener.

On touring for the first time as a frontman, not a drummer-vocalist

I’ve never been up front before. It’s always been drumming and singing since the conception of the band, so this is brand new territory we’re going to. We’re doing it for a number of reasons. One, because we realized that if I was going to be drumming these songs and singing I would be very locked down. These songs are challenging, they’re technical. This is going to free our whole performance up and make it easier to connect with people. I’m really proud of what we did before, with me behind the drums and everyone else up front really taking the reins and bringing it, but this is going to change the game for us. There’s no barrier now between us and these people. As long as I can pull through, I think it will be unstoppable.

On improving his vocals

I really wanted my vocals to be better on this record, it’s something I wanted to improve on. We focused on enunciation. I wanted to make sure things were understandable because I knew we were putting a lot of extreme on the table, and so to balance that out, I wanted to make it catchier, without sacrificing the chaos. I put a ton of effort into the lyrics of this record, and there’s a story being told in the record. I want that to come across.

On the lyrics of “Underneath” and double meanings

The record has a duality to it. Almost every song has a double meaning. There’s what’s going on the surface in terms of what we are going through as people and as a band, and then there’s also what we’re going through living in this noisy, distorted world full of whispering opinion and people screaming with a bigger platform but somehow their voices are smaller than ever. Everyone has this device in their pocket that they use to project who they think they are, and people live their lives based on that. It keeps building until … where are we even? We’re trying to break down down self-discovery in this age and look at why we do the things they do. I’m also assessing my own bitterness, frustration and self-worth and trying to come out of it on the other side something different. It’s like we’ve had this monster building up inside of us over the course of these records and that’s personified in the cover art on the front of them. They each connect.

On the conceptual arc of Code Orange’s career

The way I look at the records is: I Am King was indoctrination and rebirth of who we are and trying to rebuild our self-worth. The records previous to that were about beating our selves up, so I Am King was trying to rebuild that mindset. On the cover, it’s a scarred man who has given himself over to a cause. On Forever, it’s a man on fire. That fire is revenge. He’s wielding this power to try and put himself in a better situation, but there’s a lot of bitterness involved with that. Underneath is the same character who has been scarred and burned. Now, he’s trapped in this glass shell of technology and perception: he’s become his own inner monster.

On the addressing topics like the internet and mental health on Underneath

It’s not so much about my own relationship to the internet as what I see it doing to other people, and what it does to our mental health. The song “Erasure Scan” is about mass shooting tragedies. “The Easy Way” is about people who take the path more-traveled but don’t think about the implications of that. “A Sliver” is about not feeling like you have a voice — It’s like Alien, “in space, no one can hear you scream,” but we aren’t in space, we’re just surrounded by noise.

On expanding their fanbase, and touring with Slipknot this summer

First, this record was totally built for this. It wasn’t meant to be hyper underground. I don’t want it to be hyper underground. I don’t care about that. I only want to make the kind of music that I think should be out there, and I want it to be as big as it could possibly be. I have no bones about that. The only thing we won’t do is make songs to particularly put us in that position. But we want this music to have the biggest platform possible and we’ve said that for a long time. We’ve toured our asses off for so long. We are not willing to sacrifice the art to do so but we absolutely want a bigger platform.

Two, Slipknot — especially now knowing some of them personally — are coming from the exact same perspective. Whether people in the underground like it or don’t, when Corey Taylor is writing his lyrics he’s 100% reflecting on his truths. There’s no bones or bullshit about it. Some people may like that or not, but they’ve accomplished so much musically and artistically just by doing that. Obviously they’re one of the biggest metal bands out there but they were told so many times they wouldn’t make it. Look at where they’re at now. I can see why some people don’t like it, but those guys have gone out of their way to help us out. When I texted Corey to ask him to hop on our song, he responded “absolutely, we will do it on our off day in Iowa.” No money was discussed, no nothing. What else can you ask for? I am more than proud to go and support them.