Interview: Jami Morgan of Code Orange

Few can discard quite how much ground Code Orange have covered in the past 18 months. Quite literally they’ve been the catalyst to usher in a new reality, one where the extremity is not only acceptable, it can be the big thing. Picking Jami Morgan’s brains at Brixton Academy before their final show supporting Trivium alongside Power Trip and Venom Prison is an absolute privilege and an invaluable insight into how the band of 2017 made it, how they aren’t settling for anything less than the best and how they’ll grind till they get there. He’s restless and wide-eyed pacing the backstage room at times or sitting up in undivided concentration, discussing the plans that make the band what they are and how the band are going to cut their way through the bullshit labels to reach as many people as they deem appropriate. And within it all, what shines through most is a pure, unrefined love for heavy-as-balls music and his bandmates. They’ve only just begun to show the scene the possibilities and the limitlessness of the shapeless, formless future. They’re out for blood. It’s out with the old, in with the new.

(c) Bukavac Photography

I thought we could begin this by recapping the past year but it’s been one hell of a year. There’s been Forever, there’s been the WWE, the last two years you’ve done the tour of the year with Gojira and now Trivium, there’s been the Grammy’s…

They keep having us back, I love it, dude. It’s fun, man, it’s been great.

It feels like you’ve been spearheading this new movement in metal and hardcore. You don’t seem like you’re an easily intimidated band.

Hell, no, we ain’t. What are we gonna be intimidated by? Nothing.

How’s the last few shows with these bands been?

Great, dude, all the other bands have been awesome, the package has been awesome. It’s a different crowd so some nights people go nuts, some they don’t. But so far, so good. We’ve played with Power Trip a million times, we come from the same scene in America so we’ve played with them a lot. Venom Prison we’ve never played with but we played with the singer’s other band back in the day (Wolf Down) and Trivium we’ve never played with.

So playing with Trivium particularly as a bigger band, has there been much you’ve taken on board on this tour? I mean you seem like a band that’s pretty set in your ways…

Yeah, I mean we do our thing. They are really good people and they treat us well personally and I think that’s something to learn. Make sure you treat people well, that’s really important. We’ve tried to do that always with other bands. We always try to treat people who work at places well, so in that way, for sure. In our performances we do our own thing. I pick a little something from everyone but we do our own thing.

And looking at the way they’ve come back with The Sin And The Sentence after a rocky patch in their career, is there anything you take from that?

I think everyone’s path is different. We both started really young and I’m not trying to be disrespectful or anything but I’m not super familiar with their records. I’ve seen them more now and I’m glad that they seem to be killing it. They have a good attitude obviously, but we’re on our own path 100%.

So looking to the next few months you’ve got Outbreak Fest coming up in June. Is this your first headline festival?

Yes. I would say so, yes. It’s like a hardcore festival.

That’s a pretty big deal, do you feel like there’s a ceiling on your music? Where do you want your aspirations to take you?

I don’t think there’s a ceiling on our music. No way. Maybe in the scene we come from, it’s not a ceiling really, it’s a ceiling that’s wanted because it’s a world created by the people in it who want it to be that way. The hardcore scene is not trying to be big. But this band, what I’ve seen by going around what’s been going on, I don’t think there’s a ceiling. I think that we’re not pigeonholed into anything. We come from the hardcore world, we’ll always represent the hardcore world but I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t headline places like this (Brixton Academy). No reason. And I think that we will 100%. It’s just going to take a lot of work and a lot of time. There’s been many extreme bands in the past that have conquered, and maybe they didn’t come exactly from our world but I don’t see a difference really.

You’ve talked before about the band ending and how you won’t fizzle out…

Well it’s easy to say that and I think Eric’s (Balderose) has talked about that, so you never know what’s going to happen and it’s no disrespect to people because when you do something for a long time, you can get caught in it. That scares me because what if it starts going downhill in terms of quality of music and stuff like that and we just keep hanging on? That’s what a lot of people do because what other life do I have to go to? Ideally, I would like to, as everyone would, go out on top. We’ll see but we’re fucking young as shit. We don’t gotta worry about that, I’m 24, we got plenty of time.

When you signed with Roadrunner to release Forever, was there much of a rejection from the scene you came from?

I don’t give a shit so it doesn’t really matter. Like I said, I don’t think there’s a “ceiling” on hardcore. We come from hardcore but we’re clearly not just a hardcore band, we never were since day one. We do our own thing and if people are mad about it, fuck ’em, I don’t give a shit, doesn’t matter anyway.

That’s awesome to hear you say that…

I mean we got respect for everyone but if someone’s got something to say about it then whatever, that’s on them. What am I gonna do about that? I’m not gonna be like “Oh, man, they said we probably shouldn’t do that so I guess we shouldn’t”. What kinda loser-ass mentality is that?

It seems there’s quite a few bands out there who suck up to what they “should be” so it’s great to hear you say that…

We get a lot of shit for it, I couldn’t even get into it but we’ve got tonnes of shit from tonnes of people and a tonne of people don’t like us, but I know that I never… we never treat any band or anyone any kind of way. We’ve tried to be cool to every band we’ve met and if they wanna get mad about something we do in an interview or whatever, it’s like “fuck you then”. Whatever, what are you gonna do? My friends are in my band.

We talked a little bit earlier about a new movement sort of breaking out especially in the UK. Stop me if I’m wrong but I always saw it as sort of response to the innovation and creativity in other forms of music like grime or rap and I wondered if it was hardcore and metal trying to get back to it’s heavier roots to show it’s still relevant and heavy as shit…

I kind of disagree with this. I feel that what we’re doing, it needs to modern-ise to get to that level, so I think there’s a lot of stuff to learn from those people. We’re always gonna be heavy and hard because that’s what we like. I see it much more as a response to bands in this genre from metal and hardcore that went the weak-ass way. After their good record, they go this weak-ass shit way. With other kinds of music, good for them. I learn from them. Rap promotes new young people. Does metal really? No, it’s starting to, but does it? No. Like, look at this thing (O2 gig schedule) you’re gonna see young artists on there, but if you look at the metal and the punk, it’s all old. Every one of the heavy bands that can play venues like this (Brixton Academy) is old. I see it as a backlash to that, at least from our perspective.

Having said that it’s great to see a band like Trivium take you guys and Power Trip and Venom Prison to these bigger venues…

I think that’s great and Gojira took us out and they were a big one for us. Deftones took us out for a couple of days in America, they’re one of our favourties. Hell, yeah.

I asked Ash (Gray) from Venom Prison last November why more and more people our age are getting into heavier music and it’s obviously a path you’ve lived and seen other people come into so why do you think people like us are getting into this music when it’s not the big thing anymore?

I think that there’s a lot of parallels with what’s popular in the mainstream, whether it’s rap or grime in the UK or whatever, they’re all fucking taking the style and culture of this. Like, look at all of them. They all look like they’re in metal and hardcore bands so I think it makes it easier for bands like us and I think that’s gonna help bands like us. I think it’s exciting but I still don’t think enough people are getting into it. I see a lot of people in the crowd are older. That’s what bands like us have to change. What do you think?

It’s cool that older metal fans are coming down to see bands like yourselves, I’ve just started a course with a lot of music journalism students my age and the one heavy band whose name keeps going around is Code Orange…

I love that. I love that. You shouldn’t have told me that. You’re really fueling my ego here, man. No, that’s amazing, that’s what I want. That’s why Shade’s remixing fucking alt-J and turning it into this crazy shit. If you listen to the actual track, it’s sick! And yeah, I don’t know their music that good either but if we can do stuff like that, that means we don’t gotta change our music. We can bring them all back to our music, which will be what it is and we can do these other things sometimes to try and bring ’em in and show them what’s going on in these different worlds and make people aware of us – like the Grammy’s, like the WWE. I don’t want anyone to come in and making our music all commercial and condensed. We’re gonna do songs with singing in, we always have but it’s still gonna be hard as shit. I want it to have that attitude of fucking Pantera in its prime. I don’t wanna have to be like bands now where you have to be a super… I don’t know the word… a weak-ass band to get yourself heard. I want it to be hard attitude. Listen to those Pantera records, that shit ain’t weak at any point. It’s fucking hard as shit. Listen to those early Slipknot albums or Metallica. I feel it’s possible.

How did the alt-J thing come around?

They just hit us up. They wore our shirt on Conan O’Brien and I retweeted it. They also wore it at a festival and then they hit us up. They hit up our people and we were like “Shade, what can you do with it?” and it turned out sick. I was like “What the fuck happened to the song? It doesn’t even sound like it anymore”. So we’re gonna work on more stuff like that. That’s gonna become another lane for us. Nobody else can do that because he (Shade) is so talented at that stuff. Me and him are working on a few more projects like that.

You spoke in an interview about how metal needs to embrace rap’s tendency for constantly putting out singles and EPs rather than waiting two years for an album cycle to complete, and that’s something you’ve begun doing with “Only One Way”…

Yes and I think we’re gonna do more of that. At the same time I think for bands to make albums and promote them in the label setup, you still have to have that build to get people to know about it. So we’ll still do that as well. I wanna be able to do singles and stuff and I wanna be able to do albums too. We’ll do the two together. We have a thematic thing going on, and I think one lane is the LPs and the other lane is gonna be the singles. The singles will build up to the LPs and the themes will crossover. I want our band at the end of the day to be a cool full experience with music, visuals, themes, ideas. I think that’ll be really cool, that’s what I want. We’re always working dude, don’t worry we’ll have a new record. Sure.

So speaking earlier about younger people getting into music, it’s something you’ll have been asked a lot but I wanted to know how you got into all this stuff. I know there’s a lot of Nine Inch Nails influences…

Yeah, I didn’t get into stuff like that probably till later high school. I only started off really from punk and from punk we got to hardcore and then metal and then we found all these other kinds of music. And a lot of the punk and hardcore shows in Pittsburgh where we’re from had noise artists and weird shit on so you just kind of naturally find out about that. I didn’t really come from metal. Dom, our guitar player, the new one, he’s been around since day one, he came in through metal. He came in through all that fucking stuff like death metal. But also when he was really young, Metallica, Pantera, Slayer, Slipknot. So I feel having that mix is good for our music. So we definitely got in through punk, hardcore, then metallic hardcore and then metal. We come from a more punk perspective. My parents as well, they were really young so they would go to goth clubs in the 90s in Chicago with all this industrial music, dance music and rap.

With all these different bands, when you guys are driving between shows, what’s playing?

We all like different sorts of stuff. There are bands that we all like and that we all share, but it depends. I definitely listen to a lot of rap, but I also listen to all sorts of stuff. We all like dark music. I think that’s the thing we have in common for the most part. Things that are mean and in the darker direction I think.

Does that extend into the rap you listen to as well?

A little bit. I mean definitely aesthetically sometimes and I think depending on the artist. That’s kind of my escape in some ways but I’ve learnt a lot from it as well. I learnt a lot about production and things like that.

I wanted to end on a bit of a cliched question but I figured if there was anyone to ask this, it would be you. Having just started up a new band myself with a lot of inspiration and direction from the new heavier music, but not very much practical knowledge of this, what advice would you give to these younger bands?

Don’t fucking think, just do it. If you want it you’ll do it. If you don’t want it that much, don’t do it. But if you want it, go for it. We’ve been going for it since we were 16 and people just found out we existed. Most of these people (queuing outside Brixton) don’t know we exist yet. They’re gonna find out in 2 hours. I’ve been in this band for 10 years. That’s the work, that’s the grind. You might get lucky and start on fire real quick and get popular fast like some bands. We didn’t get popular fast. If you believe in it, go for it and network and just make it happen. Practice and be good and don’t worry about bullshit. Don’t worry about labels and all this stuff. Just work hard ,man. But if you don’t want it, you don’t want it. If you do, go for it because it’s not coming to you. Ever. No one’s coming to you. No one’s coming to your doorstep to say “Hey, you wanna be somebody?” or you’ll just end up nobody and dead.

To me, this is a life worth living and like I said, dude, I guarantee you, people will come up to me saying it’s their first Code Orange show tonight. You don’t think that hurts in terms of, we’ve been over here 10 times, never making any money? We’ve never even been on a bus once in our lives. We’re still in a van right now. The other bands are in a bus together. Good for them. But we grind and we’re gonna hit the fucking top so it’s all good. Do it. If you wanna do it, do it. Don’t put a toe in, just jump in. If that’s what you want. If you, especially find someone else who really wants it, leech onto them and just go for it together. You got plenty of time, but get on it now, bro. You’ll have the jump on everybody, that’s what we did. We’re still the young band because we’re in our early twenties, but we’ve been together so long, we’ve got old band experience, so fuck yeah brother.

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