Code Orange's Reba Meyers on the Hardcore Band's Work Ethic, Aggression, and Grammy Nod

The passion and drive you have at the start of your high school band is too often traded away to meet the responsibilities that come with post-education life. Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you that the hardest part of being in a band is keeping it together. Never one to follow the norm, Code Orange stuck to its craft and, year by year, guitarist and vocalist Reba Meyers and her bandmates have more and more to show for it.

The band maintains the same enthusiasm and work ethic they employed when they first started playing and touring in the underground hardcore scene—and their records and performances serve as a testament to their passion and discipline. We took the opportunity to talk to Meyers during a drive to Connecticut, while the band was on tour supporting hardcore legends Hatebreed.

When I listen to your discography, I hear a lineage of a band refining itself. With your latest album, Forever, I felt like you succeeded in carving out and projecting a distinct identity. Was this something you consciously sought out?

Code Orange - Forever

Yeah, it’s definitely on our minds with each record—especially this one. With our first record and the material before that, it's kind of just like we were writing what we liked and what we thought was cool and what we thought sounded good and was creative. We weren't really thinking about the bigger picture because we were pretty young. Then, with I Am King we started to really work on that. When we switched our name to Code Orange and everything too, it's like we were trying to think who we are as a band and what are we trying to put out there. [Ed.: Before I Am King the band went by Code Orange Kids.]

How did the concept of Forever come to be, and what was the writing process like?

Jami [Morgan] writes lyrics, so he definitely helped with the overall statement of the record, and he usually thinks of the name of the record first. He has ideas floating around—he'll wait a little while—we'll start writing the music for it together and everything, and then he'll kind of throw the ideas around to us. That'll get the ball rolling more, because we then get the idea.

With Forever and I Am King, those are also both title tracks in the records. Forever was the first song we wrote for the record that I remember, so it was kind of like we wrote the staple, statement song that's now up for a Grammy. So that was obviously the banner song for us and for this era of Code Orange.

We write together, we work really hard, we practice all the time during writing—the time we have to write, which is never a lot of time—we have to practice a lot and we do it together. We don't just keep in mind those ideas of his, we all talk about it a lot. We hang out a lot—we're all like very close friends and that kind of gives us time to talk about the ideas of what we're trying to say, what we're trying to put out there. It's very important to us for sure.

Code Orange - "Forever"

Speaking of writing that record, was that mostly done in between tours for I Am King or was that during down time after that record cycle?

I always kind of forget the timelines, because we do so much touring and whatnot, but, yeah, we had a couple months here and there, but it was always split up. We'd have a couple months here—or, not even a couple, like a month or a couple weeks here and there. Pretty much just any chance we got to write, we would.

And when we went on tour, if we had demos or songs, we would look at the demos and criticize them, pick them apart, and do things that—you couldn't necessarily play together as a band when you're on tour—but you can do other things that will further the writing process. Like, we'll all be sitting around playing, trying to write riffs on a mini amp or something. Just stuff like that to help continue the process when you're not home.

It's hard, because you feel like you're getting the ball rolling and then you gotta leave, you gotta go, but we try to keep it in our brains, because that's just how it is. You gotta keep your band relevant and keep in people’s faces. And the way to really do that is either put out a record or go on tour.

There's a lot to learn every time you go into the studio. Specifically with Forever what would you say were the biggest takeaways or the biggest lessons that you learned at the end of it?

This is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week job. When you're not sleeping, eating, and breathing you have to be writing—writing riffs and thinking of ideas and looking for info."

There's a lot. I definitely realized I have to start writing riffs constantly, even before we start writing the record. It’s one of those things that's like, I'm going to write so many riffs, but only 25 percent or maybe 10 percent are going to be good enough to go on the record. If anybody brings anything to the table it's going to be corrected by everyone. It has to be good enough—we're not just going to throw in something because it's cool or because it's a pretty good riff. It has to be held to our highest standard.

It's a really hard thing, to one up yourself whenever—like, you feel you wrote something really good, especially with Forever. I think it's our best record, and I know the next one is going to have to be better than that. I just realized in my head how doing Forever and beating I Am King, it was, thinking back, not that hard, but at the time it felt super difficult.

So, I just have to constantly be writing and constantly be trying to think of ideas and there can’t really be any dull time where I'm doing something else. This is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week job. When you're not sleeping, eating, and breathing you have to be writing—writing riffs and thinking of ideas and looking for info. And there's other ways to do that than sitting and playing guitar, but either way, you should be thinking about it and creating some sort of plan in my head about what I want to write and what I want to put on the record. That’s my personal side of the band. And everyone else I'm sure has their whole thing too—Jami and Eric [Balderose] and hopefully more Joe [Goldman] too.

Code Orange

On this record it feels like the singing got more refined. You added another guitar, you added a lot more electronics, and the production in general went to a higher level. What was it like trying to incorporate all that into the live show?

It was very difficult actually. That's another thing that we learned during the writing process—we wanted all these other things, we wanted all these new tools and these new colors in the music, but we were also sort of in the process of really learning how to technically do them.

I had sung before in another band, but it's different when you're on the Code Orange platform and between other sorts of songs doing it—so I just kind of had to figure it out. Our first show with Dom [Landolina, as an additional guitarist] and Eric on synths, and Joe on bass, was our Pittsburgh record release show. That was January 13th or something like that, when our record came out, and that was the first show that we were playing these new songs. We had practiced up to that point because we were so worried about it—just with everything moving around—and we wanted it to be really good.

With the time that we’re putting in we want the songs to be really good. We want the ideas to be really good. We want the band’s performance to be really good, and it’s hard to leave time to perfect your craft technically."

It’s like the Pittsburgh home town show—it was like the biggest show we ever played in Pittsburgh as a headliner. And it was amazing. It was great. It actually worked out really well. I’m sure we’re a lot better at doing it now that we’ve done it a bunch of times. I’m sure we sounded, like, kind of loose if we listened back, but we made it happen, you know. It was a big thing for us.

We’re not always all focusing on our technical ability, to play our instruments and stuff like that, because it’s like—there’s not even time for that. It’s like creativity usually takes the number one place. With the time that we’re putting in we want the songs to be really good. We want the ideas to be really good. We want the band’s performance to be really good, and it’s hard to leave time to perfect your craft technically.

So we tried to do that a lot more just to get ready for these shows as soon as we got the chance to when the record was done. I think it paid off. I think it worked because, you know, we didn’t want to come out there with a new guy who didn’t look like he belonged there. No one knew he was going to be there, and we wanted it to look right. I think it really paid off, ‘cause people say now that we sound better than we ever have.

Who handles the electronics in the live setting?

Eric does. He’s called Shade. A lot of people call him Shade. He started off with a lot of guitar pedal stuff and I think he always—I could tell, even, any of us could tell—he wanted to delve into it further. He was always doing more than what was really possible with guitar pedals. He would go the extra mile, and we always had loops in between our songs and stuff like that, and even before he was doing sampling he would do it with guitar pedals.

Eventually he just started really delving into it on his own and researching things and learning a lot. He taught himself, basically, how to create a whole live setup, which I think is pretty amazing, and it definitely took our band to the next level with Forever. I think that was the first time he was really learning how to do it, because we did it in the studio—we figured out a lot of new cool sounds and then he took that live.

How important or how instrumental has it been to have had the opportunity to work with Kurt Ballou?

It’s been amazing. I mean, he definitely helps us continue to keep that in-your-face, raw sound. We could go to anyone and they could maybe make our vocals sound good, but he keeps the hard aspect really hard and really raw—and there’s not a lot of producers and engineers out there that can do that. There’s a lot of people who can get you to sound like a radio rock band or can get you to sound really polished and whatever, but he knows how to make you sound really just punchy, really punchier, in your face, and I think that kind of started us off in a really good way.

Even with our earlier records, when the music wasn’t as hard as it is now, it sounded really aggressive ‘cause that’s how we play. Even if some of our riffs on earlier stuff are a little bit all over the place, you could tell that the aggression was there. ‘Cause it was there—it was always there when we played live. He definitely could see that in us and he was able to get that through on the record, which is hard, because it’s hard to make the feeling you get when you watch us live come through on a record.

Code Orange - "Bleeding In The Blur"

You are receiving a lot of accolades for the record. As you mentioned, you guys are nominated for a Grammy, As a band that’s coming from the DIY scene, from the underground, how do you guys take this? What does it represent for your band?

You know, we have kind of two sides to it because it’s like, one, we were never really looking for the Grammys’ nod to us, or the Rolling Stone nod. It’s like, oh, now they decide that what we’re doing is really great and really cool, congrats. It’s like we fucking know, like, we’ve been here—we know that we’re doing the best shit that’s out there. So, it’s kind of more like, OK, finally these people understand.

They’re starting to understand that we’re number one in this whole world, not only the underground. We’re just coming from the underground, and I think that makes us even better because, you know, we had to fight to get where we are. We weren’t just like LA-born, rich—we just put ourselves in everyone’s eyes and ears and that’s how we got where we are. It’s like we forced ourselves onto people for five years, you know.

So, to us it’s like, it’s great, it’s an honor no doubt and it’s an honor to represent our city and our hardcore scene and metal and everything like that. It’s definitely an honor, but at the same time, you know, it’s like, finally they understand where we’re coming from and that they understand what we have understood this whole time.

When you’re going out and you’re going to support a band like Gojira, are you consciously looking for things to learn from a band that size?

Yeah, definitely. I’m watching them. I always want to watch their live set and watch just their whole production behind it, too, which is a lot to learn from—the behind the scenes type of stuff. How they set up their stage and how they set up their gear and how they work. Also, I’m there to show our side of it. That’s part of the reason why I’m watching.

I respect them, but I’m watching so that we can learn from them. I want to take everything from everywhere so that we can make our thing the best it can possibly be. So, it’s like, they have a lot of production and stuff like that, so we just have to make up for that. Watching that, I’m like, OK, they have this crazy snow cannon, now we’ve got to make up for that in our performance and in our sound and playing, cause that’s all we have right now. We’ve got to grab people’s attention in a different way with a little bit less to work with.

And they’re all—Gojira especially were super cool to us and would always answer our questions and give us advice and stuff like that. We’d always take that to heart and listen to that and learn from them. I’m always thinking, OK, what are they doing here and how is that grabbing people’s attention, and how can we also add to our thing and make it the best possible thing?

Code Orange

You guys have been a band since you were very young. It’s a hard thing to do to keep a band together. What is the glue that holds Code Orange together?

I think it’s like a little bit the work ethic and just the passion to be in the band. Yes, obviously, we’re great friends. We are—and that helps, but as far as it goes with keeping together, it gets rough, it gets really hard, you know. Just personally, you start to go completely crazy, so really the only thing you could say that makes sense and that’s the truth of why we’re still here is because we’re all just extremely passionate about it and the work ethic’s there.

Everyone really wants it, wants to be here no matter how hard it is, because we all believe in it really hard and we all know that we’re the best thing out there. We have to believe that, otherwise it’s like, why are you here? If you don’t think that you deserve to be here or that you have something to give to the world, to tell people, to show people, then what’s the point of doing it? We’re here to share our music and share the aggressive hardcore scene with everybody and hopefully draw people into that whole realm of music, not even just our band. We feel like we have a statement to make. So, yes, no matter how hard it gets I think we’ll stick with it, all of us.

Code Orange - "Kill The Creator"

You mentioned earlier that you have taught yourself to always keep writing and all that stuff. Are you guys currently planning to write a new record in 2018?

I don’t know exactly the format that we’re going to be doing this, but we’re writing for sure. We’ll figure it out as it goes along, as we usually do, but we’re definitely throwing song ideas around right now. As soon as we get home, I’m sure we’ll be doing that again. I can’t really say if that’s going to be a record or when it’s going to come out, but definitely writing right now. A lot of ideas.

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