With Code Orange’s Forever landing in the hardcore scene like an atom bomb in 2017 and then their follow up Underneath hitting the world just as it was being locked down for 2+ years, there’s a lot of speculation around the follow-up and what Code Orange have been up to in the meantime. Punknews’ own Sam Houlden caught up with frontman and one of the people most responsible for the band’s continually-evolving aesthetic, Jami Morgan on the roof of Depot Mayfield in Manchester, on a blazing hot Saturday afternoon at this year’s Outbreak festival.
Thanks for your time man. Outbreak’s turning into kind of a big deal over here, are you guys happy to be here?
JM: Yeah, I’m very excited.
As a festival it seems to be evolving a little and changing its profile instead of just being a pure hardcore festival. It seems that you guys fit in well with that as you’re not just a hardcore band.
JM: Yeah, I think it’s kind of the perfect year for us. We played it once before years and years ago when it was in a small club with Turnstile, but this is crazy now.
So here we are in 2023, Forever was 2017, Underneath dropped just before the pandemic which had to be a real pain, but it also helped you guys experiment with the live-streaming side of things as well, to great effect. Did that work out well for you or not, in the end?
JM: I felt that it was definitely rough. A lot of our momentum was cut from under us. We were able to explore creatively which was cool, but it was also very testing and trying, so a bit of both.
So it’s been 3 years, but you’ve never really been away with the streams, singles, etc. but my suspicion is that we’re now heading into a new record? Is it fair to say that’s in the pipeline?
JM: Yeah, I think we’re going to start unfolding what we’re doing next pretty damn soon.
Excellent. I saw you guys on the Trivium tour however long ago that was, so I’m really excited to see the Underneath material!
JM: Well we’re down one man as our guitarist is having foot surgery, so Shade (guitarist/keyboardist) is really stepping up. But we’re doing a good lot of Underneath stuff, some stuff from the record before that, some new stuff, a real mix.
With your headline shows, you always have a pretty big focus on production, but the Outbreak setup isn’t quite so production-focused, it’s more DIY, no barrier…
JM: We have visuals tonight! This is the only show on the whole tour where we’re doing the whole set of visuals. I’m pretty excited because this is kind of what I imagine the band as, which includes a performance art element and a real in-your-face crazy element. So it’s kind of my dream scenario where people can jump off the stage but you also have the visuals. Because that’s kind of fresh to me. That combo, you know?
Yeah, you don’t often see that. The connection between band and audience when you do have the greater degree of production. Sometimes I guess they’re seen as being at cross purposes, but I am really looking forward to this now!
JM: I can’t wait! I hope they work. They didn’t really give us time to check anything but we’ll figure it out.
Well so far most bands have only had maybe one backdrop at most, but it seems to have been ok.
JM: We have different visuals for every song…every single song.
Ok, wow. This is going to be nuts. Is there anyone else here today who you’re looking forward to seeing?
JM: I’m really excited to play with Death Grips. We kind of picked this day so that we could play with them. We’ve also played a lot with Machine Girl before and Jesus Piece before. There’s a bunch of cool bands playing.
Yeah, yesterday there was a real thugged-out feel to the second stage, this day has some more electronic influences. Basically it seems like it’s been curated really well. Someone suggested to me that actually Outbreak was basically a skate culture festival as opposed to a hardcore festival. Does that make sense to you?
JM: I personally fucking hate skateboarding. Really?
JM: I would say Code Orange is more school shooter than skateboarder… I’m joking, but there’s art here, and we’re thugs too, we’re everything. We’re fucking hard, we bring it all together. We have that amalgamation of different stuff.
Yeah, I can see that. It feels like today is gonna be a great show. It’s handy that the venue is kind of underground in a big-ass brick building because it stays cool. And it is hot out today…
JM: Yeah, I’m glad it stays cool. I was about ready to pass out. But we’re going to give it our all. This is probably the show we’re most excited about, all tour. I’m genuinely really excited.
Sick. You guys got a lot of prep time given how crazy this show is shaping up to be?
JM: Well I’m doing interviews literally from now until the show. Including one that has a crowd! Plus I just did another with my buddies for a podcast called Hardlore.
Ah yeah, I know Hardlore.
JM: I’ve never done that before. But yeah, I’m just gonna be running my mouth all day. But we’ve been out here a couple of weeks, we’ve been playing, so we know what we’re fucking doing. Now we just gotta execute.
The two new singles? That shit is hard. But there is a stylistic gulf between them and Out For Blood, so you’re keeping people guessing what the record’s gonna sound like when it does come along.
JM: We’ll see… I guess these songs are like red meat in a way. And I love that, it’s a part of what we do, but there are a lot of parts to what we do. I don’t really know…it’s hard to tell if people are gonna come along for the ride or not. But we’ve been working on our album for a very long time. I don’t think I was supposed to say that…whatever. And when it’s time, it’s going to be unveiled in a grand way. What we just did was not as grand as we would normally do and there’s a reason for that. It’ll all unfold.
There’s a lot of excitement around the record. 2017 you guys tore up the rule book and then a lot of people were chasing your shadow, then Underneath kind of did the same again, so you now have almost this expectation to shake shit up, but also stick it first time?
JM: Thank you. And I promise you what we’re doing now? It’s gonna shake shit up. I think…it’s gonna shake shit up for sure. I have no idea how people are going to take to what we’re going to do but I just know that it’s not at all what people would expect on any side. You know, it’s something a little bit different.
I feel like i’m not going to get much more out of you in terms of specifics!
JM: Hey, I would, I just wanna make sure that people are able to open the package the way that it should be, you know what I mean? From an art perspective.
Of course. You’ve put a lot into it.
JM: Yeah. I just want them to see the trailer before they see the movie. I want them to see how it all plays out. So I think what wee did was cool. We go right and left. We did Out For Blood and that was one thing, we did a remix album, we did the singles which weren’t even that similar to each other, there was the WWE theme that was also very different and kind of melancholic or something and not with a lot of gusto. So we always do something different, but it all fits into one big piece. I kind of see it all on the same wall. Pieces of our little puzzle that we’ve been building for a while.
Sure. I think because what you’ve done and continue to do; you basically have so many strings to your bow, that people just don’t know what to expect next?
JM: I hope so. I mean, people get off the train and some get on the train…we’ve replaced fans with other fans… but it’s hard for us to build on our group because we accidentally polarise people. I just hope there comes a time when people can see the whole thing and understand it doesn’t follow the linear path they’re used to. You know what I mean? There are branches to it.
I know what you mean. That more typical band trajectory seems to be something you’re wilfully eschewing and just doing what you want to do?
JM: I also think that’s why it’s important for us to keep an aesthetic and artistic through line of things that add up. Since we do play in a lot of different styles, I do want the art to have sense to it. When we make our records, we try to make things link thematically and lyrically and motif-wise and art-wise so it does all feel like one worked you’re living in. Doing that has had a lot of positives but it’s also had a lot of negatives. Sometimes it seems it’s hard for people to grasp onto what really is. It’s easier for people to distill it into easier versions to try and find more of an audience which can be frustrating. But we just do what we’re put here to do. And that’s go first.
There probably isn’t much better to do as an artist than be the one pushing the boundaries.
JM: It’s hard to say until it’s all done and out there, but we try, man. No-one can say we don’t try. No-one can say we do things out of fear. We push forward from the soul.