Code Orange: All Obstacles Are Opportunities, Even Coronavirus
Code Orange are a band who have fought hard their entire career. Their latest record, Underneath, is a slug-fest smattering of claustrophobic, electro-padded paranoia and sledgehammer heaviness and one that took careful experimentation to craft. Discussing it all on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program was vocalist Jami Morgan, who relinquished his role behind the kit in the live setting to focus exclusively on singing.
In this interview, he explained what necessitated his move to the front of the stage as well as Code Orange's intentions when creating the Underneath album as a means of bridging the gap between genuinely heavy music and other forms of music that plays a big role in their passion.
Morgan also touched on the group's fully produced live concert stream held in an empty venue in mid-March.
On numerous levels Underneath is a calculated and intricately crafted album. What prompted so much complexity?
The mission statement was to somehow make an album that walked the tightrope of being entertaining and having all the things about metal and hard music that we love — things that you can remember, things that you can grab on to... that hard raw sound.
But we wanted to then layer that and surround that with as much atmosphere as possible. Not necessarily musical atmosphere, but putting you like in the middle of this environment and making it feel more like a movie than a record even.
Just in terms of attention to detail and things coming back and things being important from previous records and just rewarding the listener to make it something that can last for a long time and bridge some gaps between different kinds of music.
Onstage, up until now, you've sung and played drums. How will focusing on just singing change your vocal technique?
We’ve spent a lot of time trying to get our voices better. It was definitely toward the end of our last run that Reba [Meyers]'s voice and mine were having a little bit of trouble, so we worked on that.
The reason I switched is just purely based on what we created. We realized that as we were going along, this stuff was going to be very limiting in the current live situation that we had and it was going to make the show less energetic. We also just love to change it up every time and give people a new piece, a new layer to get excited about and keep things fresh.
Once we started rehearsing this, it really felt like the right thing. It felt like it was going to help us connect with people even further and it felt like we would be able to continue. As you said, the record’s very intricate and now the stage show can still be very energetic — I won’t be glued down to the drums and singing.
When it comes to stage production, Code Orange are very hands-on. How is the way you construct music directly shaped by your ideas for performing it?
Well, yeah, we’ve always had a lot of ideas for what we wanted to do in that realm, but we’re a band that doesn’t - and most bands now currently - we don’t have a lot of resources to put together a stage show financially. We decided early on in this process, we need to do something and we need to show visually what this music’s making us think and what we want to be represented that’s going to help us click with people in what we’re trying to get across.
We made a pact that no matter what, even if we lost every cent of the money we were going to make on a tour, we were going to have production and we were going to make it as cool and intricate as possible.
We began working many months ago on the visuals. For every minute of every song we just wanted you to be able to touch it and smell it and feel it. I want it to be like a multi-dimensional experience and that’s what a lot of time was put into, whether it’s all the stuff moving around the headphones or our time spent just listening to soundtracks and listening to electronic music and stuff that jumps off the page, maybe more than a lot of the metal that we love. That aspect was very important to us.
Code Orange are visible on many fronts. Coachella, WWE, Slipknot's Knotfest Road Show — what makes this band transcend musical and cultural borders?
I think that we just have no fear in terms of our willingness to project the vision that we see. We love hard and heavy music. We love metal and we don’t want to lose any of the aspects of extreme music we love, but we see a bridge with a lot of different worlds, whether it’s on the production side or visually or whatever. We like a lot of different things and we just saw a little bit of a hole that we felt needed filling and that’s kind of how we always look at it. We found that to be our area, which is something that can bridge a gap amongst genres while still having the soul of hard music, which is obviously where we’re from and what we love and what we’ll never lose.
It makes us multi-dimensional in that way. That’s at least what our goal is — getting those opportunities, taking those opportunities and trying to slowly educate everyone that we’re not just a token band on one of those bills, we can fit on all of those bills because we have our own corner and are trying to develop a bit of our own sound. That’s a big part of our mission statement and it’s important to us.
Because of COVID-19, Code Orange made headlines by live-streaming a concert without a live audience. By the way, the show was amazing and intense considering there was nobody in the crowd. That must have been challenging.
I’ve made this joke a couple of times, but I feel like we’ve spent a lot of time playing to nobody. For real. We’ve been a band for a long time — we started the band when we were 14-years-old and we’ve toured America many, many times playing to nobody at houses and basements, staying in cat-piss dungeons and we have that experience.
The combination of us having the experience to kind of get through that, but also having that youthful energy of wanting to solve this issue for us, which was, "Okay, so we’ve worked for two years, we’ve basically done nothing but work on this record and work on this show in hopes to just hit the road for years on this record, and now that’s gone. So, are we going to sit there and woe is me about it and cry about it, or are we going to figure something out?"
We have all of our shit for this one day — we have all of our production stuff, we have our people, so let’s go, let’s make something out of it, and we stayed up all fucking night making calls and making it happen. That’s just the way we try to approach stuff and I’m always proud of my friends for doing that.
Reba was calling everyone and people from our community helping us on that front. We also have that youthful energy to make shit happen. So when you have that, it’s unstoppable, it’s un-penetrable. So, we saw that obstacle and it became an opportunity and now we've got to lay back and chill because these things are obviously really serious and we feel for everyone because we’re experiencing it as well. But we had to take that shot, so I’m glad we did.
In what ways was this adverse scenario extremely beneficial?
I wouldn’t say the scenario was beneficial, but when we saw we can pull this off, not only can we do this first, which will be awesome because we can open the door and have metal open the door and have hard music open the door, which is heavy music which I think is great for all of us... I know the show we’re going to be able to give and the way we’re going to be able to intersect the visuals because we worked on them for so long. Everything lined up.
Our record came out pretty much the day this started going down — I mean, like, really picked up. So, at first, it was like, "Damn, this is a wall. Everything we built up is wasted." But then it’s like, "Well, first of all, we wrote a record that has a lot in common with a lot of what we’re seeing — big time. And we have the ability to figure this out. So let’s turn that wall into something special for everyone and that’s what we had to do."
Thanks to Jami Morgan for the interview. Grab your copy of 'Underneath' here and follow Code Orange on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.
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