The Weird World of Code Orange

Code Orange plays Summit Music Hall on Wednesday, April 6.
Code Orange plays Summit Music Hall on Wednesday, April 6. Courtesy Code Orange
Code Orange has carved a path over the last fourteen years that few modern bands have taken. Beginning in 2008 as Code Orange Kids, the Pittsburgh outfit has two Grammy nominations under its belt and several mainstream hits, including “Let Me In," an intro song for WWE wrestler Bray Wyatt. The band’s most recent single, “Out for Blood,” is reminiscent of early 2000s nu metal, which is fitting, since the band just completed a tour with Korn before embarking on a headlining tour of its own. But blending elements of metallic hardcore, industrial and alternative metal is what Code Orange does so well, garnering a large fan base as varied as its sound. And that fan base will be storming Summit Music Hall on Wednesday, April 6, for what is sure to be an unforgettable show.

“I definitely think we’re perceived in different ways, says founding drummer and vocalist Jami Morgan. "If you read our album reviews, you would think we’re this artistic, cutting-edge, forward-thinking, extreme band. And if you read our comments sometimes, you would think we’re like this dumb, beer-chugging, fucking, I don’t know, wrestling band or whatever. And I like both of those things, minus the beer part. I’m fine with that.

"I actually said it on [the song] ‘Bleeding in the Blur,’" he continues. "‘The line between art and pain no longer exists.’ What I’m trying to say is that violence and aggression can be mixed with things that are artistic. I don’t think to be an artistic band you have to make every song sound a particular way, because that’s not what I’m interested in. I don’t like listening to music that goes nowhere. It’s just not what I want. I think that we try to walk that line as much as we can.”

The bandmembers were teenagers  when they started out, and Morgan looks at 2014’s I Am King as “rebuilding the house,” when Code Orange dropped “Kids” from its name and moved away from playing straight-up hardcore punk and started to create the sound that many associate with the band now. Morgan says it's the “perfect band” to represent Pittsburgh, which was among the cities that starred as Batman’s Gotham City in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.

“The way Pittsburgh is, it’s rainy, it’s cold. It’s fucking Gotham City, you know what I’m saying? We’re the perfect band to come from that and represent that,” he says.

It makes sense, because a conversation with Morgan is like chatting with someone who has spent time at Arkham Asylum among the influence and intellect of other inmates like Joker and Scarecrow. The 28-year-old, who dedicates as much time to jiu-jitsu as he does to music, is passionate and intense when answering questions about the band’s inner workings and inspiration, particularly when pressed to define his role and where he sees the band going next. And like a true mastermind of the dark arts, Morgan certainly has a plan, but he doesn’t care to share many particulars.

“We definitely took a lot of shit for [I Am King]. I felt like what we were doing before that had reached its natural end. I wasn’t really sure where to go from it,” he explains, adding that each of the band’s albums is similar to a different subgenre of horror films, with 2020’s Underneath being more sci-fi than anything.

“It’s these different paths that spread from that first record forward," he says. "We almost kind of turn it into our own subgenre of Code Orange songs. There are multiple subgenres of Code Orange songs you find on each one of those records, and we continue to expand on that.

“As we just added more elements musically and visually, it’s somewhere between something that’s natural growth and something that’s very premeditated," he continues. "That’s kind of what we are. I’m not a super fucking relaxed person, so I think about this shit a lot. We try to plant seeds. We plant seeds in the lyrics. We plant seeds in the album layouts. There are connections through all the album layouts’ themes. There are unusual motifs that go through all three albums. It’s like trying to build our own little world, basically. I think Underneath, our last album, is a culmination of the ideas at that time and taking some of the extreme elements as far and as extreme as they can get. The first three songs on Underneath are as extreme as anything.”

The pandemic allowed Code Orange to focus on enhancing the visual side of things, as the band hosted a handful of livestream shows that featured otherworldly on-stage effects. Now that it's back on the road, those elements will be part of the live show, Morgan says. It's another sign that Code Orange continues to evolve into a new-age musical monster, even if Morgan and his bandmates haven’t stopped to smell the roses up until this point.

“I never really feel like that, so it’s always interesting hearing that,” he says in response to a comment about the level of success the band has achieved. “I always feel like we’re not getting to where we need to get. That’s kind of how my brain is wired. I think maybe I’m a negative person in a lot of ways. I’m always looking for the next thing. Not in some disgusting, 'I-need-to-conquer-everything' kind of way. We really believe in what we do, and we won’t feel rested, and probably never will, until we can get it to as many people as possible in the form we want it to be, playing by the rules we want to play by. The next goal is to just forge new ground.”

Code Orange plays Summit Music Hall, 1902 Blake Street, Wednesday, April 6, at 6 p.m. with Loathe, Vended and Dying Wish. Tickets are $23.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.