Age is Just a Number A Tale of Nostalgia and Hope for the Future featuring Code Orange Kids By Jason Gardner
Photos courtesy of Topshelf Records and Deathwish Inc.
If you’re anywhere past the age of high school or perhaps even more so your college years – like I am – hearing the music of your younger years can often trigger a predetermined cycle of memories and emotions that harken back to your earlier days as an angsty youth desperately searching for meaning and direction in your life. It would be difficult to pinpoint this exactly for everyone, but let me put it in perspective from my eyes – terribly singing Sum 41’s hit “Fat Lip” at karaoke the other night reminded me just how far removed I am from that song’s heyday back in 2001. Please note, that was my sophomore year of high school.
Oddly enough, a band such as the hardcore foursome better known as Code Orange Kids strikes a similar retrieval of thoughts and questions about my teenage years. Most importantly – what the fuck was I doing with my life that these kids seem to have it so figured out? Out of high school, collectively still teenagers and recently signed to highly touted independent label Deathwish Inc., the band, made up of drummer/vocalist Jami Morgan, guitarists/vocalists Reba Meyers and Eric Balderose and bassist Joe Goldman, have already made quite a name for themselves with a vicious live set and a hefty handful of feverishly abrasive tracks over their various releases – including their Cycles EP and most recently a split with Full of Hell via Topshelf Records. Totally locked in on their own brand of heaviness, the band has logged miles upon miles touring including a recently wrapped support slot for Touche Amore and Defeater. It’s certainly a sight to see live – on top of the band slinging guitars, knocking over micstands in mid-jump and stomping the stage like a trio of Godzillas – the varying vocals of the collective members and pure energy poured out in their set is both exhaustive and engaging to even those unfamiliar with the band.
But as impressive as our first glimpses into the brand of gritty screamo-spiked hardcore have been, the remainder of 2012 might simply enough hold the key to unlocking the full picture for this band with their debut LP set to come out later this year on Deathwish. The experience up to this point is tough for the band to put into words.
“It’s really crazy,” admits drummer and vocalist Morgan over the phone as we chat about how the deal with Deathwish came about. While Morgan said the band talked to several labels, of which seemed to be great in the band’s eyes, the influence of Deathwish on the Kids’ musical and mental outlooks steered them towards a deal with the undoubtedly well-regarded label. “My friend Clayton [Stevens] from Touche Amore called me and and was like ‘Hey, I was talking to Deathwish and they’re going to offer you a deal.’ We were really excited. That label is part of the reason that we’re a band. There’s so many bands on that label that have shaped the way we think musically and about everything.”
That bond between Morgan and Stevens extended through to the duo behind Deathwish – Jacob Bannon and Tre McCarthy – not only in that they were interested in what Code Orange Kids were doing, but that they too saw something special about this band.
“I got a text one night from Clayton from Touche Amore demanding that we work with [Code Orange Kids],” recalls Tre McCarthy of Deathwish. “I told him that they were already on my radar. I believe a typical snarky exchange followed, something like, ‘Get them off your radar and on the label!’, ‘Don't tell me what to do, or else I won't, and then it will be your fault!’”
“But listening to them, or watching videos,” says McCarthy, “didn't hold a candle to the first time I saw them live in a 200 square foot space in Allston[, MA].”
Bannon’s tale tells a similar connection of interest between him and McCarthy after Converge shared the stage with Code Orange Kids at a show in Braddock, Pennsylvania. While perhaps not as struck with the group’s younger standing as others, Bannon sees something different in the approach to art that this group of Pittsburgh natives take in their music.
“I was much younger than them when I started Converge, so I relate to their position. Youth isn't exclusive to them as there have been relevant bands as young or younger creating music for decades in punk and hardcore. In fact some of the most influential hardcore [and] metal releases to this day were written by people around their age. A lot of what Code Orange Kids collectively have reminds me of the natural drive I have towards art and music as well. It's a collection of qualities that are tough to describe, but I get excited when I see these qualities in newer bands.”
The extending hand of Deathwish to Code Orange Kids was quite difficult to sink in, as Morgan admits to “being pretty floored” over the offer to join the Deathwish family.
“At the age we’re at, all the people who are working at Deathwish have known these guys forever,” says Morgan. “We’ve had interactions with those people, but when we signed we didn’t know anyone. So when we went to just go meet them, it was really cool. Now, they’re just really great dudes. Jacob Bannon is a huge influence on us, the art and the music in Converge. It’s really cool to some extent to have the approval of those people. I mean if we didn’t have their approval we’d still do exactly what we do. But, it’s cool to see Jacob Bannon chiming in on issues relating our band.”
That sense of family has fostered itself even early on as the band meets and interacts with bands both in and out of the Deathwish family. Morgan is reflective both of Touche Amore’s support during their touring with them, including loaning equipment, offering advice and just being around to hang out. On the flip, fellow Deathwish band Birds in Row, touring outside of their native country of France, bunked up in a van with Code Orange Kids to create a very packed, yet incredibly tight-knit atmosphere for this tour. Yet, the influence of every person they’ve met so far as part of the family has definitely given Morgan and the rest of the band a valuable lesson.
“All the bands, they’ve just wanted to help us out and treated us with respect even though as far as respect we don’t even deserve [it] at this point,” says Morgan. “They treat us that way and it helps us to know to treat people and bands with respect all the time.”
Though certainly a high point to start off 2012 with the signing, the year otherwise has been anything but quiet for the band. Besides their seemingly non-stop touring, the quartet most recently put out a split with a particular band that Code Orange Kids has looked up to and respected for a long time according to Morgan. “Full of Hell played in Pittsburgh when we first started as a band,” begins the tale of the split put out by Topshelf Records last month. The friendship between the two groups progressed as Full of Hell would return again and again to play Pittsburgh, leading to a particularly strong bond between Morgan and Full of Hell’s vocalist Dylan Walker. “Just talking about the ideas behind our bands,” says Morgan of the weekly phone calls that would occur between the two. “It’s not conceptual in any way, shape or form, but about how there’s an idea and a theme and things we want to come across about our bands. It’s not just like playing this loud music, like the art and the music and the lyrics. We realized our ideas are really similar, even though it’s a totally different angle.”
But the biggest thing on the band’s plate right now is their Deathwish debut, which Morgan says for the most part is already written and ready to be fine tuned, more than likely as you read this article. As far as where they’ll go for the LP, connecting and bringing things full-circle seems to be the plan this time around. “We’re gonna record in June and it should be really fun. We’re touching on a lot of different things. The record’s probably going to be about ten songs and it’s going to have a mix of everything that we’ve done. The heavy stuff and the dark stuff, the punk stuff. [...] Lyrically, it kind of ties into everything else in a way that, it’s about me. I write all the lyrics. I come up with the ideas behind it. It’s all things I struggle with basically. I struggle with some depression and stuff like that and it’s the way I’ve always been able to deal with it by writing about it. We kind of have some themes that have been going through our 7”s and our tapes that hopefully will come full circle with the record and then we can do something else. It’ll be the same thing, but maybe do something else with the content after that. But it ties into everything.”
With the music done, at least for the most part, the band also already has Converge guitarist and production stalwart Kurt Ballou on deck to engineer their upcoming record. “I figured we’d get some shit like, ‘All the Deathwish bands do that,’ but I just didn’t give a shit. If we can do this, let’s do it,” says Morgan. “I want to be able to experience cool things in my life and that’s definitely one of them. We didn’t overthink it too much, but I think it’s going to be really cool. [...] I don’t think our record is going to come out sounding like anybody else, no matter who records it.”
The plan, according to Morgan, is for the record to hit sometime in the Fall, but between now and then the band has plans to tour Europe with Defeater and hit a few festivals in the midst of all that – as well as put out another song as part of a four-way split some time this summer. Code Orange Kids is no exception to the road though, as the gig life has kept them busy this time around since December – a reflection of their work ethic and punk roots.
“I don’t think that bands should be internet bands though. They gotta hit the road and get in the car. We used to tour in a truck. You’re never gonna get anybody’s respect unless you do that. That’s how you connect with people, that’s at least what I think hardcore punk and all that shit’s about. Anybody who doesn’t agree with it just doesn’t know. Even the bands that have done this forever still do it, and they do it for different reasons. But like, it’s something thats kind of addictive about it and you love it. But it gets hard sometimes. We’ve been touring basically since like December and it’s [...] May now. A lot of bands do that and it’s been tough and everything, but it’s so worth it to see your band grow and that you had a part in going somewhere and doing your thing the best that you could do it.”
Morgan says the plan is to go a little easier this summer though, “so we don’t totally burn ourselves out by the time next year comes around because we really want to hit it hard next year once the record comes out.” Apparently, their schedules aren’t quite packed enough to have the desire to say something like that about what their future might have in store.
Yet for a band this young, it doesn’t even seem like there’s any pressure or stress to consider for the band, whether it be a potentially daunting touring schedule or the anticipation of recording their first full-length. Even from the standpoint of their age, which Morgan admits he isn’t really sure about. “We’re just trying to take advantage of it,” suggests Morgan considering the youth of the band. Though others seem to be completely boggled by it considering the way the music industry has worked in recent years, Bannon and the rest of Deathwish couldn’t sound more in tune with what the band has planned in the immediate future – only a further symbol of the bonds formed and strengthened through the two’s now conjoined future.
“As with any band we work for here,” says Bannon, “I'm just grateful that they trust us to release and promote their art and music.”