Pittsburgh four-piece Code Orange bring their cathartic metalcore to Subterranean on Wednesday, January 18. Last week the band released their third full-length, Forever (Roadrunner), which explores a more melodic sound—it dials back the punk rallying cries but doesn’t abandon the aggression. In the following interview, drummer-vocalist Jami Morgan discusses his connections with Chicago, the process behind the new album, and the importance of DIY spaces as a bulwark against the ascendant alt-right.
TJ Kliebhan: Code Orange are from Pittsburgh, but I hear you have a lot of ties to Chicago.
Jami Morgan: I was actually born in Chicago. We have a lot of family ties there. Chicago was one of the first cities that we ever feel like we had real great shows in. We’d play lots of weird DIY venues in Chicago, and they would be packed, which was awesome for us. In the early days of the band, we even played people’s garages in Chicago. It’s always a city that has embraced Code Orange, thankfully.
On Forever you were still working with engineer Kurt Ballou, but things were also different because you moved from Deathwish Inc. to Roadrunner Records and added producer Will Yip (Circa Survive, Title Fight) to the fold. What about this new album’s process felt the same and what felt different?
We always work with Kurt, because we think he’s the best at getting guitar tones and drums to sound heavy. Will’s skill set is in layering music and vocals. We wanted this record to be layered in a different way than our past albums. We saw Kurt and Will as the best at what they do, so we wanted to work with both. I’m really happy we got them. We wanted to build on the last record but implement a new sound, and we hope that difference comes across.
It sounds like the idea behind these decisions was to hold onto your roots while pushing your sound in new directions.
We want to push the sound in our direction. We know we have a distinct sound, but we felt we had some new ideas to introduce. The only time I want to make a record is when I feel like we have a new take on our sound. I want our sound to be a distinct from other bands and from album to album. We were striving for a record that didn’t emulate anyone else.
We also didn’t want to have the “rah-rah” mosh sound though the whole record. We wanted different sounds and dynamics—peaks and valleys, like a lot of our favorite records in other genres do.
This record seems to simultaneously feature your heaviest material and some of your most melodic and ethereal work. Was that a conscious decision?
Yeah, definitely. We feel like our sound has corners that we can push and shed light on. We compartmentalized these songs so the album has a range of color. We want to hit different sounds and moods with different songs, and when we put it together we try to make it fit in a cohesive way. I think we’re getting better at incorporating heavy and atmospheric sounds together to create a more full experience.
In a recent Rolling Stone interview, you said that “Our band is not about fun, but it’s rewarding.” Could you expand on why Code Orange isn’t fun, and what the rewarding aspects are?
It’s totally fun to be doing what we do, and that is rewarding in itself. What we thematically represent, however, is not a good time. We convey a set of feelings and ideas that are painful. I don’t want to go into interviews and say “This is so much fun!,” because our music addresses serious and heavy topics. I get it if people think we take this too seriously, but this band represents us fully and we think the painful side is important.
I don’t think we take ourselves too seriously—we’re still people, after all. We just don’t play music about what we like to do every day. We love being in the band, and almost everything that comes with this band is rewarding. We just don’t give that to people on our records. Our records are about pain and power. We try to represent those two central themes in our music, images, videos, and merch.
We’re not brooding, mean people. We like talking to the people that come to our shows. We just want to provide an aggressive outlet for people to release some of these emotions that I know we sometimes feel too. To me that is a very real experience worth conveying.
It hasn’t even been two months since the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland—a DIY warehouse space burned down, killing 36. The tragedy attracted a lot of attention, including from the alt-right—some alt-right people have been talking online about trying to infiltrate and close down these spaces. Code Orange have played a lot of DIY spaces, especially in your early days. Could you elaborate on the importance of these spaces and how the threat from the alt-right should be received?
There is nothing more important than those spaces. They breed real bands. They breed culture outside the mainstream. They bred us. Most importantly, they’re safe spaces for kids. I booked my first show at a place like Ghost Ship when I was 14. There is really nothing more important than those spaces in this scene.
It’s very sad what is happening. Those people in the alt-right are willing to fight, so we have to be ready to fight back too. We need to fund-raise and fight and get these spaces up to code. It’s fucking horrible what those people are trying to do to these outlets that so many enjoy and even rely on. Targeting these spaces is just terrible.
Code Orange now have three full-length albums, and you’ve played hundreds of shows. What still challenges your band and you personally?
The challenges are what keeps us wanting to do it. One challenge we’re working with right now is a new live show. We have a whole new live show coming up that we’re doing with our own resources.
The constant challenge is better representing us and displaying our vision for the band, which is difficult. We try to incorporate a lot of different genres, like metal, shoegaze, industrial, noise, alternative—everything, really—and put it into a big pot to stir. I don’t think there are a lot of hardcore bands trying to do that. We want to avoid the crutch of being derivative.
So for fans coming to your shows on this tour, what can they expect from the live show, since it’s new?
We have a new member, actually. We’ve been working with a new member for a year now, and I’ve been keeping it under wraps—but people are going to know soon. Our current guitarist, Eric, will be playing guitar but also focusing on these electronic soundscapes he’s been working on that are eerie and aggressive. He’ll be layering these sounds with the band. Eric has an album’s worth of material outside what we’re using for our live show that we will also be playing in between bands, with the idea that it will contribute to a more full experience.
We’ll be selling a limited number of these soundscapes on cassette at the shows, but if the response is really positive maybe he’ll release them to a wider audience down the line. We think with the atmosphere Eric provides, our sound will have a nice full presence that will be great for a larger venue like Subterranean.
Stream or purchase Code Orange’s Forever via Roadrunner Records.