By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
Code Orange’s Jami Morgan is ready for a change of scenery. No, he’s not leaving the band. You’d have a better chance at removing one of his limbs than removing him from his bandmates.
After all these aren’t mere bandmates, it’s fucking family. Family that was forged in 2008 when Morgan got together with Reba Meyers, Joe Goldman and Eric Balderose while still students at CAPA High School and started playing the beginnings of the hardcore/punk they play today.
But ever since those days, the one constant has been Morgan singing from behind the drum kit. Even as he’s taken on the role of frontman, even after the band was nominated for a Grammy, Morgan has stayed behind that kit since the original four were freshmen.
But when they, along with guitarist Dominic Landolina, take the stage on March 14 at the Roxian Theatre in Mckees Rocks, the front man is finally moving out front.
“It’s been the five of us for so long but when I’m singing from the drum kit, you always felt that gap there,” Morgan says over tea at the 61C in Squirrel Hill where most of the band lives. Three of them in the same house. “We were in Europe opening for Slipknot and Shade (keyboardist) said this is what we need to do. So, I started practicing.
“I think it makes us scarier, it gives us a new power. It’s going to help us connect to the crowd; it’s a different energy.”
You get a taste of that energy, cranked up to level 300, on the band’s newest video, “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole.” Morgan walks into the frame at the 1:48 mark, grabs the microphone with both hands. He stands still, staring at the camera for less than a blink of the eye with a determined look that tells the voyeur, “buckle up, this is a brand new ride.” He begins to rock forward and back, before unleashing power that’s hard to replicate while sitting behind a snare and cymbals.
Morgan snarls and growls through the tune. He now owns the space and is as comfortable out there as singer/guitarist Meyers. She had a similar starring role in the video for the album’s title cut. The video is stark, graphic, loud and mesmerizing. It begins with emulation and ends with Morgan stepping off a building in a scene that you’ll swear was in the Crow.
The band’s videos are worth pondering for a moment. The creation of these mini-films is completely made and controlled by the band. Those videos tell a tale that follows a storyline laid out by the songs, videos and album before before them. Code Orange has found an impressive level of success at such a young age and that’s not by accident.
They design their own merch, in the video for “Rabbit,” they outfit the set in chrome, not because it looks sweet (although it does), but because it follows the story. On the day I met Morgan, he was wearing a pair of pants that a band member made. Yes, they make their own fucking clothes! But all of that is just evidence of the hard work and close fabric of this band. The kind of hard work that led to a Grammy nomination in 2017 for Forever.
Morgan says the work ethic comes from longevity and the kind of deep bonds that kids make. And while some of those friendships wane after high school as people go their separate ways, Code Orange doubled down on the togetherness to make the band work so well.
“We’ve been around a lot of other bands, toured with other bands and you see that after awhile they’re not doing so well,” Morgan says. “Unless you start at the age, there’s no way you can grow together the way that we did. We were in high school playing in basements and VFWs. We were 16 playing adult house shows.
“We’ve toured with Anthrax and we’ve also toured together crammed in a truck. We’ve been together for more than a decade and we’re 25, 26 years-old.”
Their progression as a band and as friends can be heard in the music. Morgan says Underneath is the third installment of a story the band started two albums ago with 2014’s I am King, continuing on with 2017’s Grammy-nominated Forever and the recent, Underneath.
“I am King started a thematic journey for us,” Morgan says. “The music lays out the bravado that we had,” Morgan says. “We were finding ourselves, our confidence.” That can be seen in interviews from the time. A reporter from the Portland Mercury asked Morgan why the band, touring in support of King, didn’t play any of their old stuff. Morgan replied: “Nothing else matters. To me, when you make a record that [makes you] feel like how we feel about this record, the other records don’t matter. They’re obsolete.”
Forever came after and Morgan says the industrial-heavy tracks came from a place of “revenge, resentment and bitterness.” Now with Underneath, Morgan says this record is kind of a reflection of what’s come from those previous experiences. It’s about, “living in a digital world; living with all the noise; everything is a joke; everything is horrible and everything is over in a very short sliver of time.” Each song also has “a duality to it.”
When you think about it, there’s also a duality about Code Orange. Their music and their sound has certainly evolved in the past 12 years. Evolved but not changed. In a world where everybody thinks you have to change to “make it,” they are still playing on their own terms. But on the flipside, they are actually making it. They have been nominated for a Grammy and with what I’ve heard of Underneath, a second isn’t an impossibility.
Also, in a couple months, Code Orange is playing Coachella. Let that sink in… Code Orange is playing Coachella.
Code-Fucking-Orange is playing Coachella. The amazing part of that isn’t that they’re playing one of the biggest festivals of the year because they’re a really good band. It’s amazing because they haven’t changed what they do. Not only are they evolving, but the rest of the world is evolving into a place where the hardest of the hardcore can share a stage with the poppiest of the pop. That’s why, Morgan says, things like Grammy nominations are important. It opens a door and let’s you in, just the way you are.
“That’s how I measure success,” Morgan says. “Being able to do what we do, without compromising who we are. There were definitely shortcuts along the way that would have sped things up. But we’re out here working hard. Nobody outworks us. I’ve seen a lot of bands, nobody does what we do. It’s who we are.”
To illustrate that, Morgan tells the story of the day the band heard they were nominated for a Grammy. They were going to spend the day at Universal Studios in Florida. It’s one of their favorite activities.= and they drove all night to get there.
“We were at Universal when we heard about the Grammy,” Morgan laughs. “We were yelling and running around. Then later, to celebrate we went to Olive Garden and told them we were nominated for a Grammy. They gave us a private room and we celebrated at Olive Garden.
“I know that’s some true Pittsburgh trash-shit right there. But it was such a fucking great day.”