Code Orange looked set to level the world when they released their critically acclaimed fourth album 'Underneath' back in March. A dark, sinister world, and unlike anything to come before it - darting feverishly between glitching electronics and brutal hardcore sounds - it also came with visuals that were a whole new cinematic experience for the band, filled with horrifying 'mud men' and Terminator-style creatures.
But 2020 has been a year difficult to navigate ordinarily, let alone with any semblance of setting yourself apart. Since being reduced to images on a laptop or TV screen, choices have been limited for all bands, but Code Orange decided to dismantle this pixel-based world to offer a series of shows. The gigs delved deeper into their complex nature - including an acoustic show - and culminated in a Halloween set; an immersive display that the band are still "pretty beat down from," laughs vocalist and guitarist Reba Meyers. "But we're hanging in there trying to get back to it."
For Code Orange, being stuck together for the best part of the year has been a blessing in disguise. It's not just their music that has a behemoth weight behind it, even their attitude to the band and their career refuses to relent, which all comes from it being their obsession.
"It kind of feels like we're made to do this," Reba says defiantly. "But it's always challenging because it just takes so much work. I do feel like most bands nowadays, especially in the rock/metal world, aren't doing it the way that we're doing it - every day, like basically all day.
"Each one of us does the band every single day, in different facets. We're running our merch store, we're setting up our live shows, or making our visuals, making our music videos, making our merch, writing songs. We're always running the entire ship, basically, so it's just how it's always been, and it's just evolved, more so lately because there's nothing else to do."
Normally being on tour, playing a show is their respite from the day-to-day, and "always the fun part", but in this new livestream world, "you don't really get the fun part, except for that little piece where you are playing," which is "a different level of pressure because it's a one and done type of thing."
"It's a lot more work, but I think we were built for it," she continues. "We just want it so bad, and we want to prove ourselves, and we feel like we are something special now. The world really doesn't have anything similar. We have a unique way of treating the band differently - it's something special whenever all five members of the band are treating it in a serious way that we do.
"It brings out a different kind of obsessive character to it, and I think you can see that in us whenever you watch, especially this last stream, just the way that we perform in a way that it was all put together by us."
Resources be damned, Code Orange certainly have limitations, but they do their best to kick through with steel-toed boots and snarling faces. "We don't have the resources to do this," she gestures to the bigger picture. "We never did, but we found a way to do it - we've always been resilient," Reba says.
"That's kind of how it goes. We're just kids from a smaller city who needed to prove ourselves, and in order to do that you have to figure out how to do everything yourself no matter how many no's you get," she says.
"We've been doing that since we were kids. We've been forcing tours to happen, to be on shows since we were like 13 so we just have that mental attitude and stick with that, and now we can do that in the sense of putting on what looks like a Metallica level, giant-scale production with like the smallest budget ever.
"We've always wanted to do this stuff, but it's been too hard, or too expensive, to do so. Now that we've actually had time to be home in Pittsburgh and work with our friends here and be with each other every day, talking about ideas, it's been possible to bring stuff to life with these streams."
Code Orange initially planned to play a hometown show to celebrate the release of 'Underneath', which looked set to be a defining moment in the band's career, but getting "thrown into a live stream" meant adapting and with it came the want to be "more than just what other bands are doing with their live streams."
Taking things further, into more cinematic and performative realms, "even though it was from this time when bands aren't expected to be able to do much," rest is not what Code Orange do. With that, they "feel like we accomplished a huge thing; it's something that's going to be huge to our career, so I feel good about that."
Having this wealth of ideas always bouncing between the five of them can come with a downside, which Reba admits she can get "overwhelmed sometimes."
"Where there's no break and you just go and you go and you go; as soon as one [thing's] done you can kind of feel that someone else has an idea, so there's no time where everyone's sitting around and kind of doing their own thing and working on their own job - this is what we do, and it's entirely all of our lives."
The obsession is also shown in the level of detail the band have delved into across the visuals - from the music videos piecing together a storyline to familiar characters and immersion of the band themselves, it's all very horror-sci-fi. Even the 'unplugged' session 'Under The Skin' pieces together a part of their vision, which, had the world not paused, would never have happened.
"I'm happy that we have all these tools and all these ways we can express our art and 'Under The Skin', I was extremely glad to get that out there and show people that we have the underlying song underneath everything that you need in here and kind of showcase that.
"It makes us special that we have these different layers of our band and I think, especially our obsessed fans, know that. They see that. Those fans have been able to dig deeper into everything, and they've been enjoying that. They've been trying to help us get that out there to others, too."
Being the kind of band who refuse to stand still, has that affected the way look back upon 'Underneath' now, given it's been a long year, and Code Orange are a building, not reflecting band?
"I love the album; it's pretty perfect for what our brains were working at the time. We went through a big lot of big changes in the way that we write. We wrote the album differently than we've written the past albums and we're kind of learning as we went along in terms of figuring out how to basically not get fucked up whenever we were recording it. So I think it came out perfectly, and I still feel that way.
"It still has a real darkness to it that we were able to put out there with visuals, which is how it really should be seen, so I thought about that and yeah so really strongly about I just want people to hear it."
Taken from the December 2020 / January 2021 issue of Upset, out now.
Featuring... The Smashing Pumpkins, Poppy, All Time Low, Creeper and more.