Most musicians will probably dry heave when faced with the idea of selling out. In reality, we’ve seen a number of bands buckle when big corporations come waving even bigger cheques. Pittsburgh quartet Code Orange, however, are big believers in following their own path, strictly on their own terms. It’s an ideology that drummer and vocalist Jami Morgan feels very passionate about.
“We do everything,” explains Jami. “I want to stress that we’ll never change for any reason other than us wanting to change. If you hate it, then it’s on us. If you like it, it’s on us.”
The band – whose line-up is completed by bassist Joe Goldman and vocalist/guitarists Reba Meyers and Eric Balderose – found their feet playing punk aged when they were around 13 years of age. Gradually, they stumbled across a whole other raft of genres including hardcore, industrial, metalcore and grunge, all of which would seep into their brooding sound. Naming themselves Code Orange Kids, they started to release a series of EPs, including 2009’s Winter Tour Demo and Embrace Me/Erase Me in 2011, and caught the attention of Converge frontman J. Bannon’s Deathwish label. They released their debut album, Love Is Love/Return To Dust the following year.
As the band prepared to release their second full-length I Am King earlier this year, they opted to drop the ‘kids’ from their moniker. It was a decision which marked a big step forward for the quartet.
“We wanted to do something different – it had to represent us and what the new record is about,” explains Jami. “In the past, we did stuff that was a bit more abstract and it just wasn’t getting across the same. There were a new set of ideas on I Am King; it was less about trying to beat yourself down and more about trying to accomplish things. It’s about doing what you want to do if it’s the right thing, and that’s represented in the music.”
The imagery and lyrics found on I Am King are sinister to say the least. In the months leading up to the release, the band launched a viral campaign called Thinners Of The Herd, which was accompanied by lyrics from the album that read like they’d been torn directly out of your friendly neighbourhood cult’s handbook. The video for the title track was unsettling and it was all topped off with album artwork which featured a man with the title carved into his forehead. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find a positive message at the band’s core. The idea of staying true to yourself and not letting others drag you down, is clearly very important to the band. Perhaps because of this they’ve no interest in being pigeonholed.
“We’ve always been the black sheep of whatever scene we’ve been in,” says Jami. “We stayed apart from a lot of those dark hardcore bands because they have no vibe, no aesthetic. It’s just fucking black band t-shirts, black jeans, black boots. That’s not cool to me. It’s overdone and it’s the same shit, so we wanted to blend things. In a way, [what we do] is for everyone, except those who aren’t open to it.”
Although they’ve played their fair share of tiny sweatbox shows in their time, Code Orange’s desire to escape the hardcore scene has seen them play shows with an eclectic mix of bands: Every Time I Die, Killswitch Engage, Anti-Flag and At The Gates, to name but a few. They’re a band who want to reach as many people as possible, but are dead against compromising their vision in the process.
“We’ve can survive at each end of the spectrum,” says Jami with a steely confidence. “We’re trying to reach out but that doesn’t mean we’d change a single thing. A lot of bands change to fit in when they get opportunities. We’ll never change.”
Code Orange’s new album I Am King is available now through Deathwish.