By Matt Jordan
(Photo provided by Nativity Singers)
Nativity Singers have been a part of Lexington’s music scene for a while, but it was only with the release of their debut EP this year that the group really found strong footing in the local community. Dave Cobb (guitar, vocals), Hiram Lee (drums) and Nick Coleman (bass) have whipped together a debut that’s reminiscent of some late ’90s/early ’00s indie rock but with some raw, jagged edges of their own design. It’s easy to see tracks such as “Cave Story” as the continuation of Lexington’s college rock tradition that traces back to Pontius Copilot and beyond.
I talked with Nativity Singers’ vocalist and songwriter Dave Cobb about the group’s beginnings, recording their first album and how Kentucky has shaped their songs.
Q. How did the band form? Were any of you in any other local groups
before Nativity Singers?
A. Nativity Singers began with four-track recordings that I’d been sharing with friends for a few years. Hiram kept encouraging me to put together a live show and eventually offered to play drums — so at that point, I had no excuse to put it off. We played several shows as a duo, and Nick joined us later. The three of us have known each other since high school and have played all sorts of music together over the years, a lot of it improvisational. I’m sure that we are guilty of playing fake jazz. More recently, Nick and I were the rhythm section of the Dialectics. Nick also plays bass in Big Fresh.
Q. This year you released your debut album. What made this the right time to do that? Was there a certain amount of songs you wanted to have written or a fundraising goal you wanted to meet before recording and releasing the album?
A. It was a matter of realizing that the songs were ready. Plus, every time someone would come up to us after a show and ask if we had a
record, it seemed like a missed opportunity. That was very motivating, because for me, it’s hard to connect with a band if they haven’t released anything.
Q. What was your experience recording the album?
(Photo provided by Nativity Singers)
A. We recorded with Duane Lundy at Shangri-la Productions. It is an inspiring space. The room is huge, and you are surrounded by vintage organs and echo units and stuff — so there is a sense of history, like you can imagine a classic album being recorded there. As many people will tell you, Duane is ridiculously talented and creative. There are parts of the building that he uses for natural reverb — I think he did that with the drums. He spent a lot of time talking to us about how we wanted the tracks to sound, and he made great suggestions about how to get there. For instance, on most of the songs, we layered a hollow-body bass guitar on top of the synth bass. Duane explains everything with anecdotes about certain albums and producers. I love that kind of stuff, so it worked well.
Q. For fans who might’ve started being aware of you all after your recent release: How has the band changed — if at all — since its beginning?
A. Adding Nick on the synths definitely gave us a bigger sound. When we were a duo, we really embraced the idea of minimalism. This is a guitar. This is a snare. I didn’t even use reverb. We were sort of anti-reverb, because so many records at the time were drenched in the stuff. But now we tend to blend all the sounds together, so that it’s hard to distinguish one instrument from another. Nick and I layer our notes until we find incidental harmonies. It’s more cluttered, but I like it. Duane captured it really well at the end of “The Tourist Song.”
Q. In your song “Cut Up the South,” you talk a bit about the geography and landscape of the southern U.S. Are you guys lifelong Southerners? Were there any areas or landmarks that led to you writing a song about it?
A. I’ve lived in other states, but we’re pretty solidly Kentuckians. Yes, geography definitely figures into “Cut Up the South.” I’ve always been fascinated by how the boundaries of states are defined by rivers, mountains, and other features of the landscape. Kentucky has its own particular history, heroes, folktales, etc., but its physical boundaries are largely defined by rivers. Cross the Ohio, and you encounter a whole different set of heroes and myths. So I guess the song proceeds from thinking about geography and how ordinary or
accidental things become symbolic.
Q. Have you all done much playing outside of Lexington? Outside of Kentucky?
A. We hope to. We’ve played in Louisville, and we’re headed back there on Sept. 7 for a show at Zanzabar. It’s nice that Lexington is close to so many larger towns. It’s just a matter of making the effort.
Q. What’s the near future hold for the group? Any projects you’re working on at the moment?
A. We have enough new material for another EP — almost enough for an album. I definitely don’t want to wait as long as we did last time. Sometimes we talk about doing another conceptual project like the one we did for Boomslang (songs based on the book Invisible Cities). But as long as we are writing new music, I am happy.
Nativity Singers’ new EP is available online at their bandcamp page, in store at CD Central in Lexington and in person from the band after shows. You can catch the group performing at CD Central’s Labor Day
event on Monday, Sept 3.