Music News & Reviews

Not that type: The Nativity Singers aren’t what you might expect

David Cobb and Nick Coleman of Nativity Singers rehearse in Cobb's basement. The Nativity Singers will perform on Winterfest '14 at Al's Bar, 601 North Limestone, with Oh My Me, Satellite Giant, Wol and Weeps, and Cherry Crush at 9:30 p.m. Dec. 20, 2014. Photo by Rich Copley | Herald-Leader staff.
David Cobb and Nick Coleman of Nativity Singers rehearse in Cobb's basement. The Nativity Singers will perform on Winterfest '14 at Al's Bar, 601 North Limestone, with Oh My Me, Satellite Giant, Wol and Weeps, and Cherry Crush at 9:30 p.m. Dec. 20, 2014. Photo by Rich Copley | Herald-Leader staff. Staff

David Cobb made the name intentionally misleading, in the same way some of the first people to see 10,000 Maniacs might have been surprised to find a fairly calm group of folky rockers — though Natalie Merchant can twirl like a madwoman.

"You hear 'Nativity Singers' and think you're going to hear a group of singers singing Christmas songs," Cobb says with a bit of a grin, "and you show up, and it's two guys, and only one of them sings."

That was the first incarnation of The Nativity Singers, the power pop group that formed as the duo of Cobb and drummer Hiram Lee and now, five years later, is one of Lexington's best established bands as the trio of Cobb, keyboardist and guitarist Nick Coleman and drummer Austin Wilkerson. Saturday night, they are part of the lineup at Al's Bar's Winterfest '14.

It comes on a busy week at the end of a season of change for the group.

In September, Lee left for Germany, and Satellite Giant's Wilkerson took over the drums.

"I had to pass a rigorous audition," Wilkerson says with a laugh. Pressed for details, he says, "The guys calling me and asking me if I'd be available to play the drums, and me sitting in my room reading a book, and me saying, 'Well, I really can't say no, because I'm just sitting in my room reading a book."

At 22, Wilkerson is the youngster in a band that formed as a group of old high school buddies that had a shared love of music, though not always the same music.

"We liked the same bands, just not the same rock bands," says Cobb, 35.

Coleman, 36, says, "We agreed more on hip-hop bands than rock bands. We both liked Tribe Called Quest in high school, but I didn't like Pavement in high school. You sure did, and I came around eventually."

Cobb, who went to Tates Creek High School with Coleman, says, "If I was riding the bus, I was listening to Pavement in high school."

"I think I skewed toward the cheesier, mainstream stuff, but he liked the noisier, artier music," Coleman says.

They eventually agreed on making music together.

"I think I've always tried not to sound like the bands I like, because I'm afraid of making that mistake," Cobb says. "I'm sure I sound like some bands. Just as long as I don't sound like Pavement."

All of the band members were already busy when they came together. Coleman is part of Big Fresh and both he and Cobb play in Attempt.

"We're a supergroup," Wilkerson says, laughing.

The catalyst for forming the group was Cobb's songwriting.

"This guy writes these crazy songs that had to get made," Coleman says. "We had been in several projects for a while, and Dave had this batch of really interesting material to work with, and we just sort of brought it to life."

Cobb's songwriting starts with the lyrics, with storytelling takes like Ship Dream, based on a dream his father had.

"I just keep a notebook with a lot of narratives, and will sit with the guitar and try to come up with a sound I like," Cobb says, noting he tries to have three songs going at a time, so if he gets stuck, he can try something else. "The story should drive the song, definitely."

Coleman says, "The structure of the songs often follows the lyrics," and Wilkerson adds, "That really helps keep you focused."

Once the basic song is written, Coleman and Wilkerson move in to round it out.

Cobb is prolific enough that only one of the songs from the group's self-titled 2012 EP, Lobby/Home, is still in its sets.

"When I joined the band, I learned all the songs on the EP, and when I told them that, they were like, well ... " Wilkerson says.

So, new drummer and lots of new songs would seem to indicate it's time for a new record.

"Yeah, we've about come to the end of shopping this around," Cobb says the night before a Nashville show. "We have enough songs now we can choose what to record, in a sort of Darwinian song competition."

The members of the trio say the main decision about recording is how to go about it, like whether they want to go into the studio or record themselves and have it mixed. Cobb even jokes about recording on his old four-track cassette console.

"We'd just have to find a place where we can buy a lot of cassettes," he says.

But for now, the focus is ending the year with fellow musicians in Saturday night's show at Al's, which includes a reconstituted Oh My Me, Satellite Giant (so Wilkerson will be busy), Wol and Weeps and Cherry Crush.

One thing Cobb can promise from Nativity Singers Saturday is no Christmas songs.

He scans the air and says, "I don't think we actually know any Christmas songs."

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