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INTERVIEW: Jami Morgan – Code Orange

CODE ORANGE have set the world of heavy music alight with their new album Forever and live shows that are quickly becoming the stuff of legend. On their UK run supporting Roadrunner labelmates GOJIRA (read our review of the show in Manchester here), we spoke to drummer and vocalist Jami Morgan about the record’s fearless approach to the genre, their ethos as a band, and just how far a band this savage can get.

So Forever was released at the very beginning of the year and set the bar stupidly high very early on. Did the record do what you hoped it would do upon release?

Jami: Yeah for sure. All our shows got way bigger, we started getting way more opportunities, it’s been great. I think all we wanted was to make the record that we’d had in mind the whole time and we created exactly what we wanted to create.

It’s a record that keeps throwing surprises at you. How conscious a decision was it to try and toy with the very building blocks of hardcore and push its boundaries?

Jami: Well, it started with the beginning of an idea with what we could do mixing these different things together. We had ideas coming out of our previous record of things that we could push further, as soon as we did that record we knew that. The point of I Am King was to create a new base for what we were gonna build on but not to get rid of our skills that we had developed previously. I think Forever’s just what we wanted to make but we weren’t skilled enough to make it until now.

With the amount of stuff goes on right up to it just cutting out at the very end, it must have been a hell of a task putting it all together.

Jami: We did something like the cut at the end even on our first record, that’s a little toy we’ve played with. We like to try and use tools that people would them identify and associate with our band specifically.

How many failed experiments were there before getting it right?

Jami: Well there were some songs that just weren’t good, some riffs that weren’t good. The idea was obviously to ditch every song or riff or part that we felt wasn’t up to the standard, and there was a lot of that, but that goes for every band. There were a couple songs that went in the wrong directions for this record but that we can maybe mess with in the future.

One thing that really shines throughout the record is just how confident it is in all of its twists and turns and everything it does, to the point that you shout “CODE ORANGE is forever” almost as a mosh call during the title track. Is that confidence a defining characteristic of your band in general?

Jami: Yeah I think it is. In terms of that line in that song, it made sense in the context. That song’s almost like a teaser trailer for the rest of the record. I think confidence is just key in anything. It’s what we lacked before the previous record, and the thing about confidence is the more you put that out there you’re gonna get a lot more attention, both a lot more negativity and a lot more people caring about what you’re doing because YOU care about what you’re doing.

Have you been faced with a lot of people who don’t get it?

Jami: There’s definitely times when things get to you, but just as I get older I feel like I’m becoming cold to it. There’s stuff you could say that’d cut me pretty badly but just, what does anybody know about what I’m trying to do? I know, my friends know, my band knows, that’s it. Everyone has an opinion and I just don’t care about most of them. Criticism that’s constructive is super useful and we took a lot of that on board and put it into this record, but it depends.

You talk about the idea of pain in music a lot, and CODE ORANGE’s core idea being pain. There’s of course that line in Bleeding in the Blur “The line between art and pain no longer exists”. Is doing CODE ORANGE painful for you?

Jami: People like to make it seem like their music is the most important thing in the world and that what they’re feeling matters, and there are many, many people who go through way more on a daily basis than I’ve gone through in my entire life, but this band’s about art. Our lives, our perspective. This kind of music and where we’ve come from is about releasing anger in a positive way. We just have our own take on that and to me pain is a mood more than anything, something to be played with and manipulated. We’ve shown that on the new record I think with the different types of songs and parts and that makes sense to me with the lyrical content, the narrative of what we’re doing in our discography and with CODE ORANGE as a whole, so I think when it’s all said and done it’ll be understood.

With aspects such as that and then the clear aesthetic and visuals, do you see CODE ORANGE as almost beyond just a band and more of an art project?

Jami: It’s just person to person, but I would never do a band that wasn’t like that. I need everything to work together. The visuals, the vibe, the aesthetic, the shirts, all of it matters to me. It’s not materialistic. My favourite bands all have that, where they’re all-encompassing and I want to wear their t-shirts and be a part of what they’re putting forward, and we want to be like that. We changed our name a little bit and I had a new vision of what we were going to do aesthetically, and when you’re first doing that it’s easy for people to criticise because you’re changing but it’s about what happens in the long run. This is record two of that new vision, and there’s a lot more to come. We like to have continuation, with threads running through videos and songs, there’s an important melody line from I Am King that then surfaces again on this record. Nothing prior to that connects but we retained those skills, things like changing things drastically out of nowhere and using melody. An art project is a decent way of describing it but it’s a life. To me it matters more than anything. I don’t expect it to feel like that to anyone else, but to me every aspect is important. We control every single aspect of this bad from the bottom to the top, down to how the shirts are put up on the wall at a show.

You’ve spoken about your vision for Roadrunner as a kind of cultural label for heavy music as it has been in the past, which is really refreshing to see a band care about that type of thing instead of just talking about their label as a business tool or distancing themselves from it altogether. Do you have an ideal vision for the general scene around you?

Jami: Sure but you grow to learn that’s unrealistic because I can’t control other grown men and women to do things that I think are cool. I can implement my vision as much as I’m given the platform to and try to create a platform for other bands or people who are into that because I’d love to include them, but a lot of people are pretty set in what they’re doing and I don’t wanna control that. Of course I have all kinds of ideas though. There’s so much that I’d love to be able to do. Anyone who’s creative has them. We can build around us but a lot of people when you try to explain it to them they take offense to it almost so I don’t try to.

How big a difference has the bigger Roadrunner budget made to you?

Jami: It just lets us to do what we want to do fully. We definitely stress less. We wouldn’t have been able to record with both Kurt Ballou and Will Yip because it’s expensive and there’s no way we could have done that on Deathwish or wherever, so we got to make the record we fully wanted to do. We got mastered by a guy who mastered fucking Kanye West and SYSTEM OF A DOWN, and it sounds fucking great, and that’s expensive. Those things help.

Part of the Roadrunner collective is obviously GOJIRA who you are here with tonight, and while on paper you sound very different the obvious link beyond label is that you’re both very forward-thinking with the style that you play. Are they a band you feel kinship with?

Jami: Yeah. I didn’t meet them until recently but if I was going to make a list of ten bands we wanted to open for, they’d be one of them. It’s unbelievable that we get to play with them. We’ve been super blessed with the bands we’ve gotten to play with, we’ve opened for DEFTONES and KILLSWITCH ENGAGE. These are important cultural bands who have fanbases that are real and there for the long haul, which are the kind of fans we need that I want to go get.

For a band with their roots in death metal to be playing venues this size and to be nominated for Grammys as GOJIRA were recently is incredible, and similarly a band as nasty as yourself have been gaining a lot of traction recently. Do you see things like this as evidence that the tide is turning in rock music against a lot of the more middle of the road stuff that’s dominated much of the last decade and moving torwards more exciting and organic bands?

Jami: I’m not sure. I think it’s possible and it can grow again but it’s gonna take the people at the top of these machines getting on board. I was talking to someone yesterday who works at a big magazine and I was saying to them to push a band like a CODE ORANGE or a POWER TRIP or a TURNSTILE, put them on the cover of your big magazine. Don’t put them as a line or a little corner because that doesn’t do anything meaningful. We will continue to just grind and keep going regardless but there’s got to be some kind of change and the machine has to evolve in some kind of way. Roadrunner’s doing that and stepping up, signing these bands. I don’t really see many other places doing that.

Do you think there’s potential for a domino effect there though, that if Roadrunner start doing this then labels around them will start doing it?

Jami: If our bands do well. I agree, there’s potential, and there’s also people in hardcore who don’t want anything of the sort to happen because they feel it’ll ruin that and I see that side of it too. We just focus on what we’re gonna do. Of course I have grandiose ideas but first things first you’ve gotta make things happen for yourself. It’s interesting, my dad sent me an article that said something like “CODE ORANGE have no reservations about trying to be huge”, and what does that mean? We’re not TRYING to be huge, we’re doing what we’re doing and making the records we want to make, and we’re glad to have the platform to push that. We’re not doing anything to try and be big, if that happens that’s more of a by-product.

It’s letting the mainstream come to you as opposed to you going to the mainstream.

Jami: And we will go to them to an extent, we’ll go play for them as much as we get the opportunity to, but we’re not going to change ourselves musically or morally in any shape or form to do so. It’s a different world now so it’s not going to be the same as when bands achieved these things before, but the metal world needs to look at the models of hip-hop and other types of music to see how they break new artists constantly while metal does not because it’s archaic in the way that it’s structured and that it’s presented. Young people’s minds are wired to this different way of presentation and nobody at the top adjusts to that, but they expect it to succeed. Bands at the top stay there and everyone else hits a certain wall and that’s it. There’s gonna have to be a change. We’re going to kick down as many doors as we can but it’s not fully in our control. Do I think that it’s possible? 100%. All I’m saying is the people in the business need to push those great young bands. Hip-hop gives young hip-hop artists a platform and overnight there are big changes.

Do you not see signs of that happening though? It won’t be overnight but there are signs of subtle changes, for example you had your video for Forever premiered on Rolling Stone.

Jami: Very true, that takes a lot of work. A lot of opportunities in recent times have been given to maybe more Warped Tour kind of bands, but hardcore is a hotbed of organic, cultural music. Look at the things that have been done by THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN or EVERY TIME I DIE or CONVERGE. What were SEPULTURA influenced by? Hardcore. What was Peter Steele influenced by? Hardcore. People don’t realise it but hardcore is the basis for a lot of what’s organic in heavy music. PANTERA or extreme metal, it all has traces, and we have bands like TWITCHING TONGUES or HARM’S WAY or OATHBREAKER all coming out of hardcore recently and doing different things. I think it can swing back that way but it’s going to be down to the people who have some real say to say “Let’s go with this”. Bands like GOJIRA bringing us out and LAMB OF GOD bringing out POWER TRIP, they’re helping and doing their bit. But you ain’t gonna walk into a bar and find the next whoever though, on any side, in the way some industry people seem to think so. You ain’t gonna find the next OASIS anymore and you ain’t gonna find the next METALLICA. It’s a different world, and these people need to adjust their eyes and look at bands and see where it’s all coming from. And I know my band and a bunch of other bands are doing well, but none of us are going to change for the system. The system has to change for us.

Forever is out now on Roadrunner Records.

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