For the metalheads out there who think the genre is fading, allow me to introduce you to Code Orange.
Code Orange blends headbanging metal with sci-fi and industrial-electronic aspects. For the past decade, the group has been continually proving there are metal bands producing fresh music worthy of public attention; the group has even been nominated for two Grammy Awards. Code Orange will be playing Coachella on Friday, April 15 and 22.
“It’s always been an uphill battle for us, in terms of growing the band and getting out there to more people, because I think we definitely do something that’s unique—something that checks certain boxes for some people, and doesn’t for others,” shared frontman and drummer Jami Morgan. “I think that we are different, for lack of a better word. It’s a long-term game that we’ve been playing, and any new opportunity to present ourselves in front of a different group, or just be out there in a different light, is very exciting to us. We’ve never felt like we’ve quote-unquote ‘made it’ or anything, because it’s not like we’re going somewhere specific, but at the same time, we’re not shy about the fact that one of our top goals, besides our art, is to grow the band. … (Coachella) is another one of those awesome opportunities, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
The band’s music, while rooted in metal, has morphed through phases of punk, electronic and more throughout the group’s career.
“A lot of the things you hear us do now, there were embryos of those things on earlier records, and you can go back and hear those things are not fully realized,” Morgan said. “We weren’t fully confident in those skills or in those moves, and it’s kind of similar to the way we view growth. I think we’ve always had similar goals; it’s just our scope changes of what’s possible or what you want. At the end of the day, though, if you follow us from a distance, you might see one thing—but those who follow us closely know the investment we make in our art is absolutely everything. It’s been absolutely everything since we were teenagers, and we just push and push and push and push until we nearly drive ourselves totally insane.
“During the pandemic, we were pushing the entire time, and we weren’t taking any breaks. We did a livestream; we started a series; we made some animated videos. We did everything that we could do, and it took up every moment of our time.”
Morgan is grateful for the close relationships he has with his bandmates.
“I think we’re so tight personally that there’s no line in between band and personal,” Morgan said. “At times, that’s difficult, because we’re just pushing it so far, but at the same time, it’s really not. We’ve known each other for so long, and I think we have a closeness that is unparalleled. … I think that we’re walking a different path, and it’s hard at times, because nothing’s off limits, but I think at the end of the day, we all have the same goal, and that is to push it forward as much as we can push ourselves to make something as unique as possible and grow the band. Those are kind of our two simultaneous goals. That can be a tough tightrope to walk, but we’re all on the same page with that. The love is already there between us, and I think it will always be there.”
In 2020, Morgan, who was the drummer and lead vocalist for both the band’s recordings and live shows, announced he would no longer be playing drums live.
“When we were kids, we kind of had the band on one path artistically,” Morgan said. “We hit a wall. We didn’t know where to go with it, and therefore, it was time to take a new route—and that’s kind of the same situation with me on drums. … I’ve always written all the lyrics, and we were playing shows where we didn’t feel like we were really connecting. At the same time, we were writing a record, which was our last record, Underneath, that was much more complicated, and would be really difficult to play, in the manner that we were set up, with any type of real energy. There was no way for me to play those drum parts and connect more; if anything, we were going to connect less. I was scared for sure … but it’s been the best choice that I’ve made. It’s been a lot of fun, and anybody who knows me knows that’s how my annoying ass is, anyway—I always try to be in the front.
“I’m still sharpening my sword, but I think it turns us into a whole new monster. It frees up all my other guys to not have to be a half-frontman as well; they can still be their most energetic selves and play really well. We just look like an absolute monster out there, and we’re definitely not going back.”
Finding a drummer meant finding someone who could match the unrelenting approach of the rest of the band.
“Our drummer now is actually a kid named Max Portnoy, who has his own little following as a drummer,” Morgan said. “He’s just a great kid, so we’ve been loving that experience. He’s hungry, wants to work, and wants to win—and that’s all that really matters. It’s all about the effort, and if you’re willing to put in the effort with us. We practice a lot, but we’re all just punk kids at the end of the day. That’s what we come from. We’re not these amazing musicians, but we want to play like amazing musicians.”
Where does Code Orange go from here, after the Grammy Award nominations and an appearance at the biggest music festival of them all?
“When it feels stale, when it feels stagnant, when it feels downhill, we’re pulling the plug,” Morgan said. “The mission statement of the band is excitement, and keeping it fresh in the music, and the records, and the presentation, and the growth. That’s not to say we haven’t hit many, many, hard walls. We’ve played to no one a million times, and I’m sure we’ll play to no one again. When it starts feeling like it’s not fresh, that’s pretty much it. … We want to grow, and we don’t want to make a stagnant record, so we have to live and die by that.
“We’re not scared to say we’re going to try, either. We’re not like fearful of failure, because who gives a fuck? It’s all self-constructed, and we believe in ourselves, Things get hard, but we believe that we’re doing something different. For Coachella, for instance: There’s not one fucking band that’s ever played Coachella that is anything like us, so we’re doing something the right way, and I think we’ve just got to keep pushing.
“I’m ready for Coachella, I think it’s gonna be really interesting. I don’t think they know what they signed up for.”