Every regional music scene needs a few things to thrive. Local artists committed to writing and performing original tunes. Promoters who know the intricacies of the market. Venue owners dedicated to providing comfortable spaces for folks to gather. Audiences intrigued by the talent bubbling up around them. And a few ambitious bands committed to the community while still casting their sights beyond it.
Le Orchid checks that last box for Northeast Florida. The quartet formed at the end of 2014, when frontwoman Lori Button and bassist Michael Carter met and started jamming. They added guitarist Malakai Fisher and drummer Jake Stofan to the equation, started playing open mics and local showcases at every venue in the area, and quickly earned a reputation for soaring indie pop that seamlessly marries acoustic elements like ukulele and upright bass with electronic ones like synthesizer, which adds up to a unique overall “sound design,” as Button calls it.
“Merging the electronic with the acoustic is something I’ve always thought was important,” Button tells Folio Weekly Magazine. “You don’t want to lose the authenticity of what you get when you sit down with a guitar or ukulele and a regular band. But there are also all these new toys and sounds that we’re lucky to experiment with in this day and age. In Le Orchid, we’re trying to use everything but have it make sense at the same time.”
Carter chalks up Le Orchid’s adventurous spirit — think Metric by way of The Beatles, Beach House, The Cults, and Vampire Weekend — to everyone’s divergent backgrounds. He and Fisher, who were both born and raised here in Jacksonville, have played together in Southern rock, folk, punk, and ska bands for a decade, while Fisher has toured the country and written two of his own albums. Stofan, another Bold City native, has jazz training but comes from a primarily punk background. And Button, who grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, pursued a solo career in Miami and then New York while remaining on the lookout for producers and DJs to work with. “We try to find common ground by putting our different interests together,” Carter says, “and creating something new from that.”
For now, Button, whose captivating voice soars on early tracks “Day Trip,” “Secret Chord,” and “Sparrow,” serves as Le Orchid’s primary songwriter. Their forthcoming Sandcastles EP, recorded at Riverside’s Endangered Wise Men Recording Studio, will be celebrated at a Feb. 20 release show at Jack Rabbits. But both Button and Carter say the band is moving toward a goal of writing together as one unit. “Right now, I’m the one who comes to the band with new songs,” Button says. “But the band is a big part of that writing process, too; sometimes I’ll have an idea of how I think a song’s going to end up, but their input affects the structure and entire sound of it.”
Though they’re keeping day jobs in addition to playing music — Button as a music teacher and vocal coach, Carter as a computer programmer and adjunct math professor — Le Orchid still has the big picture in sight. They plan to set up a regional Southeast tour this summer — “possibly even a camping tour,” Button laughs — and they already know how much control they want to retain when a label comes calling. “We’re ambitious,” Button says. “We don’t want to be held back. We’re definitely shooting for the stars — we have fun doing this, but we’re not just doing it for fun.” As it should be: They funded the recording of their Sandcastles EP themselves, and Carter jokes that their biggest goal of 2016 is to pay off that debt.
Even with those aspirations, Le Orchid is definitely rooted in its local terra firma. They’ve worked with Crux Collective on album and T-shirt design and utilized Jacksonville photographers Jesse Brantman and Luis Rivera for press shots. And they regularly share bills with local bands like A Vibrant Lye, Speaking Cursive, and Canary in the Coalmine. “We don’t think the grass is greener in another city,” Button says. “In fact, I went to New York and thought it would be this artistic mecca, and it wasn’t. When I came here, I was, like, ‘This is perfect!’ The community is so supportive, and so many other artists are down to collaborate. Jacksonville’s a lot cooler than maybe the rest of the nation thinks it is. So we’re excited to keep this as our home base and see where things take us.”