Edge of dawn

Natives of the New Dawn is a local band, but you can’t tell by their draw. It’s huge. A recent CD release show for their new live album, Music for Old People, sold out Fifth Avenue in Detroit two days before the date.

Most local bands count their lucky stars if any part of their fan base buys advance tickets. Not the Natives. They regularly pull between 200 and 300 paid customers. Even on short notice, they can pack houses like Fifth Avenue, and with promotion, larger venues like Mt. Clemens’ Emerald Theatre. They have groupies, if that’s what you want to call the mostly suburban women who regularly dance and sing the songs at the front of the stage. It’s as if the Natives enjoy heavy rotation on local radio.

“When people care enough about the music to sit there and close their eyes and passionately sing,” says Vince Mann, co-founder and leader of the unit, “that’s the biggest drug.”

Consider that the Natives have been playing their brand of music for only two years, then read Mann’s quote again. In that short time, their show has become a must-see for fans who want the kind of hip hop that doesn’t require its patrons to be street- or hardcore-literate. Their sound can be referenced alongside a number of mid- to late ’90s hybrid crews that sought to create musical niches without being considered novelties. Arrested Development, 311 and even Sugar Ray come to mind.

The group’s impressive run of local and overseas performances makes it clear that the sextet came, created and is kicking ass on the live circuit.

Nina Payne manages an equally popular R&B band called Hot Sauce that has played with the Natives. She understands their popularity. “I love their sound and Vince’s voice,” she says. “They have a blend of a lot of different sounds, like rock to R&B, plus the hip-hop flavor.”

Until now, decent media coverage has been a priority on the Natives’ wish list. The band manager, Jess Thibodeau, thinks the group deserves it, and Mann says the band sometimes wonders how much noise they must make before a respectable periodical pays attention. Inklings of their much-desired coverage arrived when Metro Times, in our recent Music Issue, named the crew “Best Drawing Band with No Press.” Thibodeau, though, took offense. He lambasted MT in a letter for failing to recognize the band’s skill and work ethic. He was also pissed that the “Best Drawing Band” item ran only in our online edition. Oh, please.

In true manager-cum-soldier fashion (“Hater-baiter,” Metro Times, Nov. 16), he wrote, “Funny how the award for ‘Best Drawing Band With No Press’ gets axed from the print edition. Well, fuck it — we’ve done it without you thus far and will continue to do so.”

Whether he jumped to conclusions or not, his attitude and mouth might be the reason the Natives have successfully branded their name, at least with certain clubgoers. And Mann is the first to say that his bandmates — Ryan Coomer (bass), Joe Fikany (guitar), Tom Wachter (drums), Tony Nouhan (keys) and Gary “DJ Goo” Hoenicke — work their asses off.

Mann and Goo formed this version of Natives in June 2003. They’d done time in a rap group (same name) with a female singer. They developed on some of the same stages as such area faves as Uncle Ill, the Artful Dodgers and One.Be.Lo. When that lineup dissolved, Mann was keen to form a unit that was open to making music with a greater sense of abandon.

“Goo and I were sayin’, ‘Let’s put together a live band,’” Mann says. “We wanted to be able to work the crowd a little more. We put out a couple messages on craigslist.com.”

The response to the ads was immediate. Nouhan (who is also a great singer), Coomer and Fikany signed on, and after some drummer shuffling, Wachter settled in.

Sidelined only by part-time jobs, the members were free enough to practice daily in their first year together. Once the gigging started, things took off. Shows were set up and knocked down. Then last year they reached a landmark moment, a turbulent trip to the Emergenza battle-of-the-bands competition in Rothenberg, Germany, after acing the hotly contested American one.

Theirs was a trip to remember, complete with a 48-hour layover at London’s Heathrow Airport when baggage workers went on strike. With their bags checked and nowhere to go, the Natives crashed on the floor of a hotel bar with some other bands headed for Emergenza. “We spent the night getting loaded,” Mann says.

After managing to fly to a smaller airport in Munich, they arrived in time to scramble for equipment, fight a stagehand and finally play before a crowd of 10,000 people. They nailed second place, playing on foreign gear, and also won for best live performance.

The Natives — all twentysomething suburban Detroiters — have worked their home turf since. Mann says Emergenza was a good thing to do at the time, but they’ve moved on. The plan now is for the live album to whet their audience’s appetite until their second album, Sunshine Chronicles, hits the streets in spring 2006. From there, they hope to tour and score larger gigs. They’re currently running an online campaign to pressure Kid Rock into letting them open for him.

They also, of course, want more press.


Friday, Dec. 23, at Fifth Avenue Downtown, 2100 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-471-2555.

Khary Kimani Turner is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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