Orange Air Demands You Take Them Seriously

Jacob Rodriguez

From left, Justin Irvin, Mike Linsky, Mike Reeder, Nathan Smith
From left, Justin Irvin, Mike Linsky, Mike Reeder, Nathan Smith, courtesy Facebook

I’d been out to Warehouse Studios once before for the Parking Lot Palooza where local bands Mikey’s Imaginary Friends, Opiate Eyes, Crowkeepers, and Orange Air all performed. When fellow Spinnaker Radio staffer Logan and I arrived outside, however, I was skeptical we’d arrived at the right place: it’s basically a rundown line of garages behind another rundown line of garages. Very old and very plain, the place is supposedly full of local talent. We pull up to the door with the most cars outside it and a small piece of paper declares “Warehouse Studios” on the door. Outside, we’re met by a middle-aged man smoking.

Rolling our window down, Logan leans his head out and asks, “We’re here to see Orange Air?”

“Cool,” the man coolly says, putting his cigarette out and walking inside. His name is Ryan Turk and he’s turned out to be the proprietor of Warehouse Studios, but we had no idea at the time. Unsure of anything as we entered the studio, it took a couple of twists and turns before we came upon the large recording room, and it wasn’t exactly what I’d have expected. Ornate chandeliers hung from the ceiling, star-spangled banners covered the walls, nag champa was lit all over the place (Ryan said it was to hide the smell of the leaky air conditioner), instruments were strewn all over the room and the band is in the center with a couple friends eating barbeque from a local joint. They offer us some corn nuggets but we politely decline, shaking hands with each band member as they welcome us to their recording session.

Jason Irvin doesn’t shake my hand, as it’s slathered in barbeque. He is the band’s experienced drummer: he’s been playing music in the greater Jax area for over a decade. He is easily recognized by his innocent insistence on wearing decaying-yellow IKEA slippers almost everywhere. Happy and amicable today, as soon as we’re done with our greetings, Jason finishes his sandwich, cleans his hands and picks up his drumsticks, eager to begin recording again.

Just having finished the first two tracks off the new EP, “Cosmic” Mike Reeder, the band’s bassist, is feeling very good. Tall and lanky, he could have been in a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band just by his look, but his attitude is something from another world. Called “Cosmic” for his spiritual views, Mike Reeder is the Mike to go to for information behind the band’s name and its meaning. I learn from him that “Orange” refers to the emotional chakra, and “Air” the spoken word—roughly meaning that “Orange Air” is emotional words, but they don’t reduce their band name to only that. “When people hear ‘Red Hot Chili Peppers’ they think of red hot chili peppers,” Mike explains to me. “But when people hear ‘Orange Air’ they could think of anything, that’s what I like about it, you know? It’s like, what does ‘Orange Air’ feel to you?”

The artwork for the new EP - the Dragonfly is representative of change
The artwork for the new EP – the Dragonfly is representative of change

Nathan Smith, the band’s lyric writer/lead singer/guitarist, is excitable and earnest, showing Logan what the band’s recorded so far. He gave us the lyric sheets to look over.

Mike Linsky, the youngest and quietest member of the band, shakes my hand and stands nearby. A recent UNF grad, he’s polite and all smiles, and after a couple more minutes of pleasantries, the band as a whole is ready to start recording again.

A couple friends and Ryan head up to the sound booth while Logan and I stay in the room with the band on a couch nearby and staying absolutely quiet. The members of Orange Air are open about their very different musical backgrounds and how when they come together it’s something special. This being the first time I see the band play live that idea has now has resonance. These guys manage to breeze through two songs in only two takes each, with minor quibbling and notes in between. They’re only recording the instrumentals at this point, but their professionalism is evident.

When the instrumentals are all done and the band has decided on which take for which song to use as a final cut, it’s break time again, and I manage to sit and chat with the Mikes of the band.

“You know, this place is haunted,” Cosmic Mike warns. Mike Linsky laughs and agrees.

Logan and I are curious. When prodded to explain himself a little more, Cosmic Mike shares that while practicing with a different band he was in the “other” part of the Warehouse, the part that Ryan has sealed off (because he is planning to sell it and also because it smells horribly). He was playing one of their songs near the door and he felt a “presence” over him. After the song ended he looked up to see a pair of treacle-colored hands slide away from the door. He says that he looked across the room to see the notably atheist drummer, mouth agape, an awestruck expression on his face. Cosmic Mike tried to figure out what he’d seen but the drummer was of very little help, suffice enough to say he saw “something.” Then they told me about strange chanting and noises and water faucets going on and off.

The room with white bare walls, a blue clock and creepy lamp
The room with white bare walls, a blue clock and eerie lamp

Perhaps being a masochist, perhaps being a weirdo—perhaps being a staunch atheist himself and wanting to prove to everyone there was nothing to be scared of—Logan insisted we visit that side of the studio. The Mikes give us the tour, and beyond the stench was a decidedly creepy area of the studio. A room with twelve foot ceilings that had no lights but a bunch of debris was my least favorite, but there was also an awkward almost-empty room with nothing besides a blue clock and eerie lamp. Eager to leave that place, we headed back to the main room to hear Nathan record his vocals.

Nathan expressed to me that his vocal style and signature screech is something he has trouble with. He tells me he’s never sung before and he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in his voice. More pronounced than anything on their first album was how terrifyingly earnest and panicky Nathan’s vocals were. When he records today it is much of the same. The band has a friend in, local artist Jessica Sanders, to do some vocal harmonizing on a couple tracks. Ryan, producer, seems perturbed, making a comment on how it has been a long day and that the band doesn’t have to necessarily use this batch of vocals on the final cut.

From left, Nathan Smith (guitarist/vocalist), Justin Irvin (drummer), Haley (friend), Jessica (friend), Mike Linsky (guitarist), and Mike Reeder (bassist)
The band enjoying a short break between recording sessions, courtesy Orange Air

Before we leave the studio, I got the chance to sit down and talk with each member of the band. Mike Reeder, talking to me next to his matte black, ’92 Camaro, explains how he “pulled the seat out. It’s like a taxi. I can fit a bike in there. You know these beach cruisers—well, it’s like that but a little smaller. I can even fit two-by-fours in there.” We eventually get around to his career in music. Cosmic’s been in the local scene for fourteen years and sixteen bands. In the studio he behaves like a father to Orange Air’s music, doting over each track with a bit of a neurotic, perfectionist’s hand. Critical of no one more than himself, he tells me that he actually likes Orange Air’s sound, which is, from the sound of it, a big deal. The story of how Cosmic Mike and vocalist Nathan Smith met is important to him. Coming off an office job he’d held for five and a half years, he was down on life and feeling negative. After receiving an invite to go to (I shit you not) Madam Xena’s belly dancing studio—which was converted into the Melody Harem on the weekends—he almost didn’t go but did at Jessica’s insistence, and there he met Nathan and things started rolling from there.

Mike Linsky-meyer, the self-described baby of the group, plays guitar and shares leading duties with Nathan. Telling me that his idols are men like Jimmy Paige, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn, he also tells me that Orange Air’s style isn’t directly up his alley. “I play what the band needs,” he says, “rather than what I want.” But he stresses to me that there is no ego in the band, and everyone has an “our band mentality” to boot. Linsky and Cosmic met over myspace when the younger Mike was just eighteen and he earnestly tells me that he feels like he’s way over his head, but also like he’s a part of the band. A good five years younger than the next closest bandmate, he says he’s used to being the oddball out, having playing with an all-girl band and a couple dad-rock outfits prior. Jokingly he says, “I prefer to be with older guys.”

Older guy number two, or Jason Irvin, has been playing music since high school. Suddenly depressed, Jason realizes while talking to me that that was over a decade ago. Some quick platitudes about “where’d the time go” later he tells me he’s feeling good about Orange Air. “You know, it’s hard to make a group of strangers work out,” speaking of his previous outfits, plus they felt like they had “no certain direction.” When asked about their most recording session that day? “Felt good.” And he laughs. Jason knew Nathan since they were in the noise rock outfit Slippery Alvin and the Sock. All the info he’ll give me about that project is a nostalgic, almost embarrassed grin.

It wasn’t until about a week later that I caught up with Nathan to listen to the first cut of the new album that I got any news about his vocals. He was very excited to show me the new tracks and told me “something happened.” But before he would explain anything he had me check out the tracks.

Not giving too much away—the band’s EP release is still up in the air, Orange Air manages to sound like late 90s garage-rock, mid 2000s Indie, and early 2000s Brit-rock. It’s kind of great. Standouts for me were tracks “Stacy Sweat” and “Naked and Starry-Eyed.”

Nathan Smith at Warehouse Studios, photo courtesy of Jessica Sanders
Nathan Smith at Warehouse Studios, photo courtesy of Jessica Sanders

After the listen, Nathan explained to me that the night they recorded the majority of music, three things happened that helped him change the way that he sang. Because missing from all the tracks were Nathan’s previous screeching, panicky vocals. Instead there were howls from a man urgently getting his message across. This new EP, the Dragonfly, the signifier of change, is a step in the right direction for Orange Air. That might mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but for Nathan and the rest of the guys, it just means crafting some haunting, almost transcendental garage-rock tunes. Nathan and the rest of the gang will be a couple shows through September in run-up to their new EP’s release sometime soon. Jessica Sanders, who performs back-up vocals on the album alongside Nathan and who did the artwork for the new album, will be at a bunch of these shows as well – it’s a must-see live performance.