"You listen to our record a hundred times, you’re going to hear a hundred different things. I don’t think you hear that a lot in heavy music" - Jami Morgan
The rise of Code Orange over the last half a decade has been nothing short of monumental. Pushing heavy music into places others don't even dare to tread on '14's 'I Am King' and '17's 'Forever' has seen the band forge a lane of their own and pop up everywhere from the Grammys to supporting Slipknot.
Now with third album 'Underneath' they're preparing for total world domination and there's nothing you can do about it. We caught up with drummer/vocalist Jami Morgan and guitarist/vocalist Reba Meyers to find out how they set about making one of 2020's most visceral, daring and essential metal albums.
It feels as though the Code Orange story has passed by in three year intervals, from ‘I Am King’ to ‘Forever’ and now to ‘Underneath’. What do you feel has changed over the past three years in particular to help you reach a point where you’re making an album like this?
Says Jami Morgan: "I think that we’re just always building off the last one. As you said there's a conceptual aspect to these three records, almost like a flow that not only goes with the trajectory of the band but also with the story that we’re trying to tell. We are always trying to take things to a completely other level, and those who then hear this record will hear that as well. I know that other bands always say that, but I feel like we really did take it to another dimension. There’s no re-treading here at all."
Well a lot of things have happened between ‘Forever’ and now that hadn't happened before. You were nominated for a Grammy, you hit the road with some absolutely massive bands and you started experimenting with different styles of music through an array of remixes. Was there ever a time where you thought ‘This has gone further than we ever anticipated’?
Jami: "I think so, but this WAS always the plan. It changes though. There’s always a trajectory. It’s not like we knew on the last record that 'Underneath' would sound like this. We just knew the direction that we wanted to go. A lot of what we do is influenced by skill. There are skills that help us to one-up in such a way that we're able to make things that we wouldn’t have been able to make before."
Say Reba Meyers: "Also being in those situations like the Grammys and being on tours that we didn’t expect to be on, we’re not necessarily surprised but getting those opportunities allows you to see and learn how other people operate and how they approach making their music. It’s always that extra little inspiration that pushes us and our ears to evolve."
Jami: "I wouldn’t say that stuff is something that would influence our sound though. Like being at the Grammys isn’t going to influence us to be anything else."
By that it’s more a case of having your art appreciated in a way and on a bigger scale than anything before...
Jami: "Exactly. It’s more a case of that we feel like our momentum is leading us in a positive direction, because that’s why we do it. We’re never doing stuff to get bigger but at the same time we don’t set limits on our creativity or the platforms that we feel like we can achieve. We obviously have big ambitions and dreams and we have been willing to put the work in that's necessary. So what we’re making might not be for this mass audience but it is pushing the boundaries of what this style of music can be. That’s always our goal. It's about that fire inside."
So where does ‘Underneath’ come into this? What does that word in particular define for you?
Jami: "The names of all of our records have been representative of not just what they sound like but also the message that we’re trying to get across. ‘I Am King’ was a lot about rebirth and starting a new journey and finding inner confidence. ‘Forever’ is about revenge and resentment and taking it all on. This record is more about self and societal reflection on this digital world that we appear to be living in. There’s this constant noise and over-exposure we all feel from our constant processing of information. The duality of how we present ourselves as a society to how we actually are is definitely reflected within the music on the record. There’s a lot of different angles. It can be looked at in terms of our true trajectory as a band and how we’ve been going through those issues and it can also be looked at from the complete opposite side with a more conceptual point of view. It was written with two distinct sides in mind."
Another aspect of the band’s progression is the character that has appeared on all three albums and the journey he has seemingly gone on. What does he represent for you and what does having him there do for you?
Jami: "The way I look at it now, and it’s not always been like this, on ‘I Am King’ he's almost scarred from the rituals of rebirth. On ‘Forever’ he’s burned in the fires of revenge and ambition and bitterness. This record he's almost like his own monster inside what we call The Shell, that glass shell that's actually of the character which is also in a lot of our visuals, someone we refer to as The Mud Man. There are a lot of layers to that aspect. He’s his own monster now, trapped inside this cocoon of perception."
Do you feel like he reflects you as people? Has his journey reflected what you've been through?
Jami: "Yeah, I think so in a way. I feel like that person that we’ve built up in a way to protect ourselves is the one who is being examined on this record and checked, per say. It’s more a sense of becoming what we think we can be, in the most general sense. It’s not all about the band though. It’s also reflective of what we feel within the society that I was just describing. We’ve built this monster because we didn’t feel like we fitted in. That’s what people do when they feel that way. Now, we’re harnessing it and facing it to become the best versions of ourselves."
For the both of you, what's the moment that defines what this record is?
Reba: "We've worked really hard to make sure that every single song fills every moment. It’s like a movie. The intention is to not have gaps. So when I think of the record as a whole, I have a different feeling and a different mindset dependant on whatever mood I’m in at that point. Each moment is important and integral. So depending on how I’m feeling or what I’m thinking about is how I relate to different songs and moments. It’s a whole journey. It would be hard to pick something specific."
Well while you're saying that, ‘Forever’ felt like a horror movie when you listened to it as a whole. It was frantic and fierce from beginning to end, whereas 'Underneath’ feels much more considered...
Jami: "It’s more psychological. It’s more ethereal. It’s deeper. It’s still very dark though. We had to put in a lot more hours because of that. We had to do a lot more surgery on it to make those things work and make things make sense."
What’s it like being in that space, working so meticulously on every intricacy? What effect does it have on you?
Jami: "We recorded the record twice pretty much. We recorded some very specific demos that took a long time to do, and we mixed them ourselves. From the headphone stuff we like to do to the audio approach of making each song multi-dimensional so it felt like it was also visual, it took a very very very long time."
Reba: "The experience just made us dig deeper. That was the whole goal. We had the chance to actually take that kind of time. It was exhausting but it was also inspiring to see every person doing that in their own way. We all just bounced off each other and really learned how to communicate and create something like this. It was an extreme digging process to reach all of those places. This is what we wanted to be doing though."
When you think back to where you started and you were just making music because that’s what you wanted to do, it must be pretty incredible to reflect and know you now have the means to be able to take as much time as you need to produce your exact vision…
Jami: "The actual truth of it is this; when you’re in it you just go for it. It’s tunnel vision. You go until you can’t go anymore. You then reflect as you go, looking at the things that went well and growing because of the things that didn’t. You just have to go and do the work. For us doing the work isn’t just aimlessly going on the road. There were a lot of technical challenges that went in to figuring out how to make this work. I think the hours and the attention to detail say it all though. You listen to our record a hundred times you’re going to hear a hundred different things. I don’t think you hear that a lot in heavy music. I love heavy music and there are a lot great heavy bands out there now. I just think the way we approach it is very different. That surgical aspect while also keeping the soul of what hard music is, which is making it feel real and raw and pissed off, is where our difference from the pack lies."
That’s perhaps the most refreshing thing. This has always been about that guttural feeling and trying to find the thing that keeps the fire burning…
Jami: "People have told me this is a bad goal to have because it leads you down the wrong path, but our goal has always been to be different. We’re not trying to recreate anything. We’re trying to create a completely different listening experience for heavy music. It’s a process that’s taking hard and heavy music and artistic music and puts them together in a different way without compromising on either. I think a lot of times when you’re going down either side you lose the other. That’s why we took as long as we did to make ‘Underneath’."
How do you feel knowing that the album is about to be out in the world, no longer just your project?
Jami: "We’re just ready to go. We’re ready for people to see the full scale of the vision that we have and just how much attention has gone into it. This is probably the first record where we don’t feel ready to go onto the next thing because there’s so much to unpack."
Reba: "There are so many layers to unpeel and so many ways you can listen to this album. There are so many levels of depth and darkness you can go in to, if you’re willing to take that time. I’m just excited to see people unpack that."
Are there parts that even surprise you now?
Reba: "For me? For sure. When you have that tunnel vision, you’re just trying to reach this goal. There’s not a lot of moments where you can step back and look at it as something that you made rather than something that you’re still making. It was almost hard to stop messing with it, but now when I listen back I can hear what mood we were in or what we were thinking. It’s definitely been a different sort of reflection."
Jami: "Now the real job starts. We're now showing people what’s up. We’re out of one phase and straight into a more important one."
It’s almost like remembering that there's a world outside of the one you’ve created and that you still need to introduce people to the one that you're been existing in...
Jami: "People are going to see us however they want to see us. We just know that this is how we want Code Orange to be presented on every level."
Reba: "I think we’ve learned that to have that come across you need to take charge of every aspect that you can and be willing to speak up about the little things. We’ve learned to verbalise that and make it clear why we believe in it so much."
Jami: "I’m not scared. I want to let people in."
'Underneath' is set for release this Friday (March 13) via Roadrunner Records.