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Anything but a McBand

With newfound acclaim, DeVotchKa gives up a little control but no singularity


Starbucked: Mickey D's isn't a band favorite.
  • Starbucked: Mickey D's isn't a band favorite.

Much hubbub has been made over DeVotchKa turning down an opportunity to contribute a song to a McDonald's McRib commercial. So it's a bit surprising when Tom Hagerman says the Denver band just recorded a track for Starbucks.

Starbucks is OK, but McDonald's isn't?

Hagerman laughs and admits that although he visits Starbucks more than McDonald's and believes Starbucks treats its employees way better and doesn't sell "cow meat from slaughterhouses across the country" he's never been politically minded. It was really frontman Nick Urata's call, he says, to reject the McDonald's deal. Hagerman says he actually wanted to do the McRib ad out of curiosity, just to see what the reaction would be.

"It would be some sociological experiment on my end," says the Colorado Springs native. "Whereas Nick is more like, 'This is our career, don't mess it up.'"

Understandable, since it's taken more than 10 years for the quartet to finally get to where it is, with a successful 2008 album, A Mad and Faithful Telling, on Anti- Records and a Grammy nomination for its Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack.

Both of these developments, though, have resulted in the band doing things a little differently. Hagerman says it's great to be associated with a label that has such strong bands and can lend legitimacy to what DeVotchKa is doing. But, he adds, "We're so used to doing everything on our own. It's been a bit of a shift for us to relinquish some of that control."

One thing that can't be controlled is the number of labels that critics and fans have bestowed upon DeVotchKa over the years: Think gypsy, tango, cabaret, Mariachi, Eastern European, post-punk, indie-folk. Add to that adjectives such as haunting, intoxicating, bewitching, drunken, spiritual and rousing. And then there's the fact Hagerman (violin, piano, accordion), Urata (vocals, guitar, Theremin, trumpet, piano), Jeanie Schroder (acoustic bass, sousaphone, vocals) and Shawn King (drums, percussion, trumpet), got their start as a house band for burlesque acts.

"I think people have a lot of expectations of what we're supposed to be," Hagerman says.

Perhaps it's more that people are uncomfortable with anything they can't put in a nice little box.

Hagerman himself is a bit of an anomaly. He started playing violin at 9, and piano even younger. He hadn't wanted to play accordion; he'd been interested in the bandonen, "the tango version of the accordion," but couldn't afford the much pricier instrument. Instead, he found an accordion in a New York City pawn shop for $100, thought he'd give it a chance and now has been playing it for about eight years.

"It's kind of like playing a big lung. It just breathes," he says. "It's a little band in a box."

Likely the only box you'll ever find connected with DeVotchKa.

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