interview by Jim Beckmann
photos by Chad Syme
Your favorite band that nobody else has heard of? Not anymore. The “Hungary meets High Plains” rock of DeVotchka broke through with 2006’s How It Ends, and a Grammy nominated soundtrack to the film Little Miss Sunshine. Toss in a relentless touring schedule, and these gypsy cowpunks — equal parts Morricone and Mercury Rev — are poised to reach a heck of a lot more listeners with A Mad And Faithful Telling, out this April via the ANTI- label. Singer/guitarist Nick Urata has a croon as smooth as the swoops of his theremin; Jeanie Schroder often puts her bass aside to hoist a sousaphone; Tom Hagerman’s accordion and violin stylings are a big part of the band’s sonic palette; and drummer Shawn King, not to be outdone in the multitasking sweepstakes, is as apt to be at his trumpet as he is pounding the skins. Backed by the Austin-based Tosca Strings (who have worked with Spoon & Mark Cohn) it’s a pleasure to have them perform live for KEXP here at SxSW 2008.
After the performance, Nick Urata sat down with Jim to answer a few questions:
KEXP: I’ve seen you guys a few times but I’ve just recently learned that you were a backing band for a burlesque show?
Nick: Yeah that was one of our first big breaks.
KEXP: With Dita Von Teese or was that a separate thing?
Nick: Yeah she did a few of the shows yeah, she was an act.
KEXP: What led to the band separating from that?
NICK: Well, it was a kind of a thing where the girls needed time to change, you know the girls have elaborate costume and they needed extra time, and we played more and more and it seemed like every night. So half the show became about DeVotchka and we’re playing these huge rooms because you know nothing packs them in like scantily clad beautiful women. We made a little bit of an impact and we’re able to continue touring after that.
KEXP: Is that where the name DeVotchka came from?
NICK: No, we were already an established band for a couple of years at that time. We got hooked up with a local burlesque troop in Denver that was pretty popular and they had the audacity to start touring with national burlesque stars and it sort of all happened at the perfect time. And we became the pit orchestra.
KEXP: But then you kind of carried that theatricality for your shows?
NICK: Yeah, that’s why they chose us because we already had an old-timey kind of feel so it was kind of a great fit and it was a great audience, sort of a perfect fit.
KEXP: So what inspired you to bring the Tosca Strings out for this show?
NICK: We did a lot of string arrangements on our new album and we’ve been using string quartets for a couple years now. Tosca Strings is one of our favorites and they’re one of the best around. And being here in Austin, we had to use them. Luckily they were available.
KEXP: Did they play on the album?
NICK: No, we didn’t get to use them on the album. We used some friends of ours.
KEXP: You’re only using them a few times? Are they going to tour with you?
NICK: No, they weren’t available to tour. They’re pretty busy, but we’re going to have another string quartet.
KEXP: Is that a conscious decision to incorporate more orchestration into the sound?
NICK: Yeah, Tom Hagerman, our violin player, is a great orchestrator and we’ve always wanted to do that and we had more freedom to do that this time.
KEXP: Did the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack inspire that?
NICK: Yeah, that was sort of the start of that. It’s really satisfying and it’s beautiful
KEXP: That was nominated for a Grammy right?
KEXP: And the new album, A Mad And Faithful Telling, is coming out on ANTI- on Tuesday.
NICK: Yeah, it’s been a long time coming. We were constantly touring and did a couple of EPs and the soundtrack work, but we’ve also been doing a lot of writing.
KEXP: And you’re coming to Seattle again soon right?
NICK: Yeah, we’re playing The Showbox, it’s one of our first dates.
KEXP: Well, we’re looking forward to seeing you then.