Following up a celebrated record has never been easy, particularly when that record is the Grammy Award-nominated Forever from Pittsburgh hardcore trailblazers Code Orange. And yet, with Underneath (out March 13), the five-piece has sailed past those sky-high expectations and delivered something captivating, innovative, and defiant. It’s clear now that the only thing to expect from them — drummer/vocalist Jami Morgan, guitarists Reba Meyers (also a vocalist) and Dominic Landolina, bassist Joe Goldman, and guitarist/programmer Eric “Shade” Balderose — is the unexpected.
“Metal, a lot of times is so — even though I love it — it’s almost like a beautiful drawing on a flat piece of paper. And this is 3D. It’s coming at you from all sides,” says Morgan.
Underneath amplifies the band’s grunge and industrial influences alongside their aggressive core. The results are masterful, as the album leaps between sounds, from Balderose’s insistent electronics to the stirring melodic hymns dotted throughout the album by co-vocalist Meyers.
“When we went into it, our number one goal [was to] make the most creative, in one aspect challenging, but also the most accessible [album] — try to walk that tightrope. And I think we did,” says Morgan. “It has our biggest choruses and it also has some of the hardest shit we ever wrote. The first couple songs are so damn hard. I’m really happy with how it turned out.”
Code Orange began the arduous task of putting new ideas together after the whirlwind that followed the release of Forever, which included several trips across North America, performances at WWE’s NXT Takeover, and their Grammy nomination.
About a year after the release of Forever, Code Orange spent nearly every day of 2018 at their Mt. Oliver rehearsal space working on new material before heading to Nashville twice last year to work with producer Nick Raskulinecz (Alice in Chains, Foo Fighters).
Raskulinecz’s decision to work with the band came easy after hearing their demos. “I was excited to work with them because they were so different,” says Raskulinecz via email. “I am really proud of [Underneath] … I think it’s the shot in the ass that metal needs right now” he adds.
The band felt that Raskulinecz could help them fulfill their goal for this album by ensuring they stayed focused throughout the process, got their best takes, and by challenging them to elevate some of their choruses. “He just helped us to follow our vision because he knows what kind of band we are. He knows what we wanted … as opposed to attempting to water it down or make it more commercial,” says Morgan, who also notched a production credit on the album.
Upon returning from Nashville the band got to work on mixing the album, an undertaking they oversaw themselves.
“We did a lot of post-production on our own. With [Balderose] and [Meyers], we would work on it, chop up a lot of our own takes, do a lot of the weird digital stuff,” says Morgan, adding that they went back to do the final mixes with Will Yip, who worked with the band on Forever. “It was a whole team process,” he says, explaining that they went back and forth, sharing over 20 mixes of each song with Yip via email, listening to them in every way possible to make sure they got what they wanted. The band even battle-tested tracks in Morgan’s preferred venue: Joe Goldman’s car.
Code Orange’s hands-on approach during all stages of the album, and the amount of time they spent on their fourth full-length reflects the work ethic that has carried on throughout their career — one that began while the members were still teenagers. Whether designing their stage show, merchandise, and album covers or writing their video scripts, Code Orange straddles the major-label world with a working-class mindset.
Morgan points to their two most recent videos for the album’s lead singles “Underneath” and “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole” as exemplifying the band members’ involvement with all aspects of their craft. Morgan wrote the script for both videos, understanding that if they wanted to accomplish what they envisioned with the small budget they had, it would require a substantial amount of work on their part — the band built many of the set visuals and props featured throughout the two videos.
The band credits their success to the years spent doing things on their own. Morgan describes the Code Orange evolution as a “game of inches,” progressing slowly over the years as the band has learned how to achieve their goals, learning tough lessons from the contrast of experience versus expectation. Through playing basements shows or VFW halls, these early steps forged their work ethic and sound.
“What I’m proud of is that we have not changed course for anyone. No matter what anyone says. We have had an artistic vision we’ve purely followed. There’s been no one else involved, and we just believe in it,” he says.
This unrelenting drive was also noted by Raskulinecz in Nashville. “All five members of the band are super dedicated and super hard working, and they really care about every element of their songs. Their relentless pursuit of their vision through the process was very inspiring,” says Raskulinecz, adding that they were one of the hardest working bands he's worked with.
Morgan also chalks up the band’s focus and distinct mix of punk, noise, hardcore, and electronic music to their hometown. Not often given a chance to perform here as a result of their continued success on the road, the band always enjoys playing in Pittsburgh, says Morgan. “It is the city that is most important for us to build in, as we intend to represent it around the world,” he adds.
Code Orange is ready to share the fruits of their labor with their hometown at their upcoming Underneath release show at the Roxian Theater. For the Coachella-bound band, this bump to the largest venue they have ever headlined in Pittsburgh is a testament to all of their work, as well as those who have stood by this band since they were kids. Morgan hopes this is the natural step in their progression to another venue they have their eyes set on: PPG Paints Arena.