Code Orange are pushing their sound to extremes on ‘Underneath’
Code Orange have become one of the biggest metal bands of the past decade through constantly evolving their sound and creating something new within heavy music. From their beginnings with speedy, full-bore aggression on Love Is Love/Return To Dust to slowing things down and intertwining hardcore with industrial, they’ve always found jarring ways to captivate audiences.
But on their fourth full-length, Underneath, they’ve completely shattered expectations. The band’s new album will likely take fans for a surprise on first listen as it sees them playing some of their most visceral material to date early on. But as the record progresses, Code Orange spin themselves into the most melodic noises they’ve ever achieved. From goth rock to dark electronic and a massive presence of rich vocals, Underneath is a huge departure while still holding on to who they are.
Drummer/co-vocalist Jami Morgan discussed with AltPress how the band evolved and maintained their identity, what they hope to see in metal’s future and how they grappled with the reality of being underground champions while performing at events such as Coachella.
I wanted to start off by asking about the themes on the record. What inspired the lyrical concepts across Underneath?
JAMI MORGAN: It leaves off where our last record [Forever] went. I Am King was, to me, about origin and reinvention: finding your self-worth and weeding out those around you who see otherwise to discover yourself and find confidence. Forever was more about taking that confidence and using that in negative ways. It’s very much a revenge record. This record is about becoming.
It’s about taking a journey through all of our anxieties, fears, regrets and pain as people and as a society. Facing the duality of yourself in this digital world of what are performances versus what we really are and how we affect people with what those performances do and how they react with our internal voices to change the rest of our lives while basing themselves on people that aren’t even being who they really are. That’s just the world we live in. It becomes an echo chamber in a lot of ways of opinion and criticism and builds into this monster inside that you have to face.
Code Orange have really expanded the electronic and industrial influences on this record. In terms of songwriting, how has the added push for synthesizers and electronics affected the band’s process?
The goal was to make a record that feels like an environment that you can step into and live inside. It was all built together. It wasn’t meant to be a band in a sense or a band of electronics. We wanted more of those lines by having the hardest possible backbone in terms of guitars, drums and vocals that feel classic like all of the hard music we love while incorporating all of the modern production elements, as well as more industrial influences.
We wanted to take what other types of music are doing with electronics and use it in an environmental way. A way that can mess with your head at times and combine that with a band to create an almost orchestra that you can step in the middle of. Things are coming at you from all angles, not just left and right. We felt that would be the best way to push our music, and heavy music in general, forward. We’re still referencing things from the past that we love, but I feel our goal was to make it sound like something new. The combo of those elements sounding like something new at least was our goal.
The presence of Reba [Meyers, co-vocalist/guitarist]’s clean vocals is a lot more common here than ever before. Was this something the band were striving for on this record?
We think about it in two ways. One, it’s always a balance of trying to create the most roller coaster ride of an album as possible. We very much take in albums still. I don’t know if that’s passé, but to us, it’s like a movie where there’s a story we’re trying to tell, and different people’s voices and different tools can paint that picture differently. I feel like we try to use every tool we have. [Reba’s] voice is an amazing tool.
The hardest stuff we’ve ever written is on this record: Just listen to the first three songs. It’s the scariest, most extreme stuff we’ve ever written. But, at the same time, the most melodic and most accessible. I think a lot of people say that about their records, but I think if you listen to this one, people will agree. I think we accomplished that.
Her voice is a huge key to painting a certain feeling and making sure there’s no monotony. I even sing on some of these songs, too, melodically, so we just wanted to use every tool we had and make this whole ride feel satisfying. There’s all kinds of music we listen to that has “clean singing,” but to me, it’s not like we need to have clean singing. It’s more about what’s going to tell the story. It’s very well balanced on the records in terms of extremes.
Comparing your sound now to what it was before, you did the name change with I Am King, and it’s almost an entirely different sound at this point. What’s your opinion on bands sticking to what they know compared to consistently evolving?
My personal feeling is that in ways, this record has some of the spirit of that first record in terms of a lot of different things coming at you compared to the last two records. We started when we were 17 or 18; you’re going to evolve.
We really mean it when we say we’re not interested in doing it if it doesn’t feel like something special every time. That’s why we make all of these changes that sometimes we get crap for, whether it’s now [that] I’m singing or whatever. We like to keep it exciting, keep it fresh and make it as good as it possibly can be. I’m sure that every band want to be as good as they possibly can be, obviously. But we love to shake it up.
We don’t want to just write songs and put them on a record. That might sound dumb, but we want to add as many layers to this whole thing as possible and create this Code Orange world. That’s what’s exciting to us. Just making the same kind of thing or even something close, you’re never going to see us do it. And if we do, then that’s probably the end of it all.
Code Orange have really exploded in popularity over the past few years. What ways do you want to shape metal’s future via your own music?
I think to each their own. But for us, we just want to push things in a direction that hopefully can be relatable to what’s going on now in some ways. I just think what we’ve attempted to accomplish [on Underneath] is to make a record that is in some ways one of the more accessible records, in terms of people outside of [this genre] to find something they like about it. Even outside of metal and rock with the production side.
Even though we’re borrowing a lot from and learning a lot from hip-hop, there’s some stuff on it that’s very extreme, and that’s the other balance. We also make something creative and artistic that feels more extreme at times than the most extreme underground bands. That’s our goal. I’m not saying we accomplish that necessarily, but that’s our goal, and I think that can help move this whole thing forward.
We obviously have some big ambitions that we’re not afraid to voice at all and whatever happens, happens. When you voice those ambitions, you leave yourself on the chopping block to be made fun of or to be told you didn’t do it. But that’s what we have to be. My goal is to talk to you in a year. You said we’ve exploded in popularity, but I hope where we’re at now, compared to in a year or two years, is a dot on where we are as opposed to then.
You touched on the stylistic shake-up you're doing with hip-hop influences. It was interesting to see your collaboration with JPEGMAFIA and Injury Reserve. Was that song a stepping stone to injecting a hip-hop influence into your sound?
It was already well underway when that happened. I wanted JPEGMAFIA on our tour two years ago. He was very close to being on it, but it didn’t end up working out. I’ve known Injury Reserve for a long time now. But I think what both of those artists are doing is really pushing boundaries. They’re very influential to us in a lot of ways. Injury Reserve have told me that we’re very influential to them, and we’ve become good friends.
It’s been a natural progression. You’ll probably see more of that from us in the future. You won’t see us doing rap-metal collaborations because that’s not what we’re interested in. To me, that’s moving backward instead of forward. But you will see us in unique ways working with hip-hop and other artists because we love all kinds of music, and there’s a lot of really great stuff out there right now that’s really pushing boundaries.
With Code Orange gaining popularity and playing gigs such as Coachella, how do those types of shows compare to the small club shows?
It’s just different environments. We’re always building toward playing those big places. I think our new setup will really allow us to be free in that big-time environment. Because now I can really get up there and connect with those big crowds. I’m really excited about that, but we’ll always love both.
We’re always wanting the band to grow, and we love the energy in both capacities. They can both be really fun, and they can both suck. There’s pros and cons to both, but it’s all about playing and connecting. We’ve played shows where the audience is onstage, there’s less than a barrier between us and people are standing all around me. We’ve also played shows with the giant barriers. But I think we’re getting really good at it, and on this record, we’re hoping to be able to get upfront and really connect with those people.
Code Orange came from an underground niche hardcore scene but have expanded far beyond it. How do you see your band now genre-wise? Do you still feel Code Orange are a hardcore band?
Our souls are forever tethered to hardcore. We’ve learned everything from hardcore. I think we exist on our own plane. I think we’ve gotten so much from other bands, and we’ll always support the hardcore scene. There are many parts on this record that are hardcore parts, but I think people are going to see more and more with the stuff we’re talking about with the different things. We have our hands in all of the different tentacles we put in different worlds. We exist on our own platform and our own plane, and people will really start to see it on this record.
Code Orange’s latest record, Underneath, arrives today via Roadrunner Records. They’ll be hitting the road on a headlining tour this month before opening for Slipknot on the Knotfest Roadshow. You can see the list of dates below and pick up tickets here.
03/30 – Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
04/01 – Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of Living Arts
04/02 – Virginia Beach, VA @ Peabody’s
04/03 – Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
04/04 – Pensacola, FL @ Vinyl Music Hall
04/07 – Austin, TX @ Mohawk
04/09 – Mesa, AZ @ The Nile
04/10 – Indio, CA @ Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
04/11 – San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s
04/12 – Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre
04/13 – Seattle, WA @ Neumos
04/15 – Sacramento, CA @ Harlow’s
04/17 – Indio, CA @ Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
04/20 – Salt Lake City, UT @
04/21 – Denver, CO @ Marquis Theatre
04/23 – Chicago, IL @ Bottom Lounge*
04/24 – Detroit, MI @ Magic Stick*
05/02 – Concord, SC @ Epicenter Festival
05/10 – Daytona Beach, FL @ Welcome To Rockville
05/17 – Columbus, OH @ Sonic Temple Festival
* without Show Me The Body
05/30 – Syracuse, NY @ St. Joseph’s Health Amphitheater at Lakeview*
05/31 – Mansfield, MA @ Xfinity Center
06/04 – Quebec City, QC @ Centre Videotron
06/05 – Montreal, QC @ Centre Bell
06/06 – Toronto, ON @ Budweiser Stage
06/08 – Clarkston, MI @ DTE Energy Music Theatre
06/10 – Nashville, TN @ Bridgestone Arena
06/12 – Memphis, TN @ FedExForum
06/14 – Orlando, FL @ Amway Center
06/15 – West Palm Beach, FL @ iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre
06/17 – Charlotte, NC @ PNC Music Pavilion
06/18 – Alpharetta, GA @ Ameris Bank Amphitheatre
06/20 – Birmingham, AL @ Oak Mountain Amphitheatre
06/22 – Dallas, TX @ Dos Equis Pavilion
06/23 – Austin, TX @ Germania Insurance Amphitheater
* without A Day To Remember