FEATURE: DeVothKa’s Day of The Dead Gala Is Sure To Bring Out More Than Just the Freaks

When first exposed to their startlingly original sound, it is difficult to believe that DeVotchKa hails from right here in Denver and was formed a mere 10 years ago. Their Eastern European sound and the emotional crooning of lead singer Nick Urata could be the soundtrack to an Eastern Block nightmare, circa 1950. Perhaps they are musicians born in the wrong era or, more likely, they are trying to bring a neglected and largely untapped genre into the public eye.

“When I started this band 10 years ago I was kinda treading water in a sea of unknown musical styles,” Urata said in a recent interview with Listen Up Denver!, from a studio in California. “I just kind of honed in on what felt natural and what I felt like I could do some justice to. I definitely wanted to do something exotic, use unusual instruments and break away from the drudgery of guitar rock bands.”

With roots in burlesque theater, DeVotchKa often pairs their unique sound with surreal visual elements in their stage performances. “The visual aspect of our performances has always been a big part of the vision and inspiration for DeVotchKa. It is funny, whenever The Slavic Sisters, the acrobats who tour with us sometimes, perform during our shows, it is what everyone seems to remember most,” said Urata.

The Sisters will be performing their aerial stunts with DeVotchKa at their Day of the Dead Gala at the end of the month. As if that isn’t enough, the band is pulling out all the stops and has invited The Yard Dogs Road Show to join them as well. The Yard Dogs are an amazing act who Urata says, “have developed their show into a dark carnival side show that transports the audience to a different reality much like a great circus should.” Though Urata didn’t want to give up any of the other surprises that DeVotchKa has up their sleeves for the Gala event, he did stress the fact that “when people walk into the show they are going to be treated like they are going to a formal dance.”

As evidenced by the formal aspects of the event, Urata holds the Halloween holiday in high regard. “Halloween is my favorite night of the year,” he said. “There is a spiritual element that dwarfs that of Christmas and hallucinogens can really open your eyes to that. I think back to some of my favorite shows as an audience member and they were life-changing. They led me to abandon the safe straight life and heed my calling. I can only hope that we live up to that sort of standard.”

Over the past several years it is fairly safe to assume that the music of DeVotchKa has changed several lives, including those of the band members themselves. Starting with the 2004 release of the band’s critically acclaimed How It Ends, a national audience began to take notice and touring intensified. “It sorta snuck up on us. We had a little bit of a cult following and it made us able to sustain things and it made going out on the road fun, but we were so used to being the opening act that we were just starting to accept our fate of being a junior varsity band, so to speak,” Urata said.

Though Urata isn’t sure that DeVotchKa has really “taken off” yet, he did allow that they have exceeded the goals they set together as a band. “We never thought it would get to this level. Earlier this year we sold out the Fillmore in San Francisco, which I never thought would be possible, so we’ve already surpassed our expectations,” he said.

While DeVotchKa’s eerie sound may not mesh with today’s indie-rock and new wave punk-filled airwaves, the band has been given some airtime on independent stations such as KCRW in Los Angeles. One morning, the husband and wife team of directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris happened to hear DeVotchKa’s “You Love Me” on the station and thought the sound would be perfect for the project they were working on at the time. “It was sheer luck,” Urata said. “I wrote the song while riding through the wide open expanse of the Arizona desert and, coincidentally, the script they were working on at the time was about a family traveling across the wide open expanse of the Arizona desert. As fate would have it, they heard the connection and called me up.” Working with the directors and composer Mychael Danna, DeVotchKa adapted a film score from several of their existing songs. The project turned out to be the indie smash Little Miss Sunshine and it gave Urata’s band the break it had long deserved and earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Compilation Soundtrack.

Though the soundtrack and a 2006 EP entitled Curse Your Little Heart were interesting diversions, fans of DeVotchKa have been waiting for a proper album of original material since 2004’s How It Ends. Even though Urata was working furiously on the mix of the currently untitled new album when he spoke with The Marquee, he said that it wouldn’t hit shelves until early 2008. He did promise that the band would unveil some of the new material at The Day of the Dead Gala. “We aren’t going to torture anybody because they don’t have the record yet, but we’ll kick out a few of the new tunes for sure.”

Urata was fairly tight lipped about the sound on the album at first, only quipping that it is “like Mexican food on a long Russian winter night. ” However, he did eventually elaborate by saying that “we had some pretty grandiose aspirations on this record and we used a ton of strings and some more dance beats. It is a little more fun than our last few albums have been. It’s just more eccentric and silly, I think.”

Check Out DeVotchKa If You Like:

  • Gogol Bordello
  • Beirut
  • Andrew Bird
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Who Is Timothy Dwenger

Music has always been a part of my life. It probably all started listening to old Grateful Dead, Peter Paul & Mary, and Simon & Garfunkel records that my parents had, but it wasn't long before they were taking me to concerts like Starship, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Huey Lewis & The News. I got the bug to write about music after reviewing an Eric Clapton concert for a creative writing project in high school but didn't really take it up seriously until 2002. Since then I have published countless articles in The Marquee Magazine and done some work for Jambase.com, SPIN Magazine, and various other outlets. I started Listen Up Denver! as a way to share the music information that is constantly spilling out of my head with people who care. Please enjoy!