Following the departure of Rice to play bass for H2O, Davide Gentile joined the band, and soon after, Detroit native Matthew Cross took over on drums. With this line-up, they began writing material for their 1995 major label release Driver Not Included on East West Records (a subsidiary of Elektra Records). The album was recorded in Los Angeles with Dave Jerden (Alice in Chains, Jane's Addiction) producing. Additional songs, "Magnet," "Suspect," and a re-recording of "Can't Decide" from the Revelation EP were later recorded in New York.
Following the release of Driver Not Included, Orange 9mm toured the US with Helmet, Quicksand, Korn, and Deftones; they were also featured on the first Airwalk Sno-Core Tour. Later, they toured Europe with Biohazard, and were on the bill for three shows with The Offspring.
With shifts and mergers occurring in Warner Brothers (the parent company of Elektra and Atlantic), Orange 9mm moved to Atlantic Records. During the writing sessions for what would become their second full-length, Davide Gentile left the band to pursue audio engineering. Orange 9mm's second full-length, Tragic, was recorded in New York City, with Dave Sardy (Barkmarket, Helmet, Marilyn Manson) producing. For these sessions, Chris Traynor played bass. At the end of the intitial recording sessions for Tragic, Taylor McLam joined the band on bass (McLam played drums in Traynor's previous band, Fountainhead). On the first day of rehearsals, McLam offered one of his own compositions, which became the minor hit "Failure." The song was recorded immediately, and included on Tragic.
Two weeks prior to the first tour to promote Tragic, Chris Traynor left Orange 9mm to play second guitar for the seminal New York band Helmet. The band recruited former Supertouch bassist Chris Vitali to take over on bass, and McLam was moved to guitar.
In support of Tragic, the band toured the U.S. with artists including The Misfits, Deftones, Sick of it All, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Local H, and Clutch, among others, including headlining runs and one-offs with the Sisters of Mercy and Type O Negative.
Struggling both for real support from the label, and from not fitting neatly into an established commercial niche, Orange 9mm was released from its contract with Atlantic following the Tragic tour cycle. For the next three years, Orange 9mm would write and record a great deal of material under a wide range of influences. Periodically, the band would perform one-offs and small weekend runs; during this period they released a split EP in Japan and did a week's worth of shows in that country.
Midway through this creative process, Orange 9mm released a five-song EP, Ultraman vs. Godzilla, with Ng Records. The fit between the band and the label seemed a good one; Orange 9mm was given a great deal of room to work on material, and new songs and new sessions kept coming. Over 15 new songs were recorded in the summer of 1998 in the basement of Taylor's Long Island home, and for a few months this material was assumed to be the foundation of the next record. The music was raw and experimental, incorporating more progressive rhythms, more percussion, and 70s-era synths and electric pianos. However, the only piece from these sessions to be finalized and released was the song that became "Alien," which would appear on their third full-length, 1999's Pretend I'm Human. Soon after, bassist Chris Vitali left the band to pursue other interests. Again a three-piece, Malik, McLam, and Cross continued writing.
Now working in the basement of Ng studios on New York City's lower east side, the three refocused and redirected their creative energy by reducing new material to its barest elements. New songs were far more stripped down and refined, yet sounded larger than anything the band had done previously.
Five songs were quickly recorded with legendary hardcore producer Don Fury at Fury Studios on Spring Street. These included "Pretend I'm Human" and "Tightrope," which would also appear on Pretend I'm Human.
When it came time to record what would become Pretend I'm Human, Orange 9mm moved to California in the late winter of 1998/early spring of 1999 to work with producer Neil Perry. Much of the material that appeared on Pretend I'm Human was written in the studio. Typically, the band would arrive at the studio in the morning, have breakfast and coffee, and as a band listen to music, either something created the day before or to a CD. Rush, Jay-Z and Miles Davis were on regular rotation. The band spent the morning and early afternoon writing in the studio and by afternoon would lay down the basic tracks for the song.
The end result was a real departure in many ways from their previous work. Gone was the haphazard, almost rushed feel of their early work, replaced with a new focus and with production that allowed the full range of sound to come through. There was of course a trade-off here; many Orange 9mm fans appreciated the frantic pace and tone of previous records, while the band found the creative process incredibly rewarding.
In the interim between finishing the recording of Pretend I'm Human and beginning to tour once again, a new line-up was solidified. Alex Bongiorno, who'd played with Cross in Detroit during the early 90s (the two would play again later in the Detroit industrial band Firewerk), played second guitar briefly; the slot was eventually filled by Dan Spellman, and bass duties were assumed by Greg "Bass" Eckelman, formerly of Ng labelmates The Phoids. The addition of a second guitar was crucial for the new material, and added to their previous material.
(more to come)