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Pittsburgh's own Code Orange did it the hard way ... all the way to the Grammys

| Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, 8:55 p.m.
Code Orange
Code Orange

If Code Orange wins the Grammy Award for best metal performance Sunday, drummer/vocalist Jami Morgan is prepared to make an acceptance speech. He'll confidently accept the award — Morgan is planning to wear a black fur coat — and thank the band's families, its label Roadrunner Records and fans.

But the moment will not overwhelm him. Morgan thinks — he knows — that Pittsburgh-based Code Orange deserves to be in the company of the world's best metal bands. He respects the other nominees, including Mastodon and Meshuggah, but Morgan refuses to be star struck.

Band belongs there

"If you start thinking that way, you are on the outside looking through the glass," he says. "I'm not trying to look through the glass anymore. I'm trying to be in there, I'm trying to be on top."

There's evidence that Code Orange — which also features Eric Balderose, Reba Meyers, Joe Goldman and Dominic Landolina — is on its way to bigger things. The Grammy nomination for "Forever," the title track from its most recent album, was the culmination of a breakthrough 2017. The band, whose members attended Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts school, opened for System of a Down at arenas in Europe and played live at a WWE event in New York.

All notable achievements built through an almost slavish devotion to work.

"We take no time off," Morgan says. "If we're not touring we're rehearsing in our practice space. We design every single T-shirt, we've written every single video, we do all the promotional materials ourselves. We're in it 24/7, so I feel like when you're in it that deep it's hard to see the changes, but we're still changing. We still have a ton of work to do. There's a ton of people who don't know who we are who love older bands that are packing arenas. We need to make them know who we are."

"Forever" may turn out to be the lever that gives the band wider exposure. Rolling Stone named it one of the 50 best albums of 2017, writing that the band "delivers state-of-the-art heaviness." Code Orange's approach on "Forever" was to extend the parameters of its sound.

"I think we tried to push the boundaries a little bit, of the kind of music we're playing," Morgan says, "of what metal and heavy music can be by incorporating electronic elements, rock elements, all kinds of things. We have a lot of self-belief and I think that can carry you a long way."

Label, family support

Roadrunner Records has been supportive from the start, Morgan says, allowing the band to keep control of its artistic and musical ideas. The label celebrated the band's Grammy nomination by paying for an electronic billboard in Times Square in New York City.

"That's belief," Morgan says. "You don't do that if you don't think someone can win."

Code Orange started touring when the band members were 17 or 18. Now 24, Morgan notes that starting that early was providential and is grateful his parents, Gabe and Jajean Morgan, believed in him.

"Eric's dad (the noted bagpiper George Balderose) allowed us to practice in his basement for many years, and the same with Joe's dad," Morgan says. "Reba's parents helped us. We're very lucky in that regard. None of our parents handed anything to us — they never gave us money so we could go on tour, but they said if we can make it work, we'll support it. I think that's a good balance to have, because you learn to work hard and you also have that support."

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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