Editor's Note: This show has been cancelled due to the Waldo Canyon Fire. Tickets will be refunded or honored at the rescheduled performance.
Beauty and the beast keenly describe DeVotchKa's allure. On one hand, their music — particularly on record — moves with the dramatic sweep and elegant grace of an exultant movie soundtrack. After all, their breakthrough was the result of scoring and writing songs for the unexpectedly popular 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine, whose soundtrack included the chart hit "How It Ends." But the Denver musicians have also earned a reputation as boisterous performers, which led to touring with similarly spirited gypsy-punks Gogol Bordello. They're the musical embodiment of the mullet — with the class up front and the party out back.
"We've always sort of had this dichotomy," says frontman Nick Urata. "When we get in front of a live audience, the gloves come off and we'll do anything to survive. That's where the training and the thousands of crappy gigs come in handy. I think we're never going to lose that, but we sort of wanted to take a more esoteric approach on our recording projects.
"It's always seemed a better opportunity to dissect and illuminate some of those subtleties you lose when you're trying to play over the din of a sports bar."
A dozen years after its SuperMelodrama debut album, DeVotchKa — which consists of Urata (lead vocals, guitar, bouzouki, piano, theremin and trumpet), Tom Hagerman (violin, accordion and piano), Jeanie Schroder (additional vocals, sousaphone, flute, double bass) and Shawn King (percussion and trumpet) — doesn't have many sports bars on its tour itinerary.
Quite the opposite. In February they did a gig with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra that threatened to unite the two impulses. The band's rich, flowing arrangements become even grander in the process of performing backed by a 60-piece orchestra. After the layered sounds of last year's 100 Lovers, you had to wonder how much more cinematic and symphonic they could get.
"We are just all suckers for the grandeur of it all," Urata says with a laugh. But he believes they will stop short of remaking Tusk. "The thrill of having the orchestra backing you up is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but on the flip side, we're definitely feeling the urge to make a more intimate four-piece style record like we used to. That's where our writing is going right now. I'll say that and I'll probably have the USC marching band on the next album."
Why don't you love him?
Although a great deal of energy lately has gone toward mixing the concert with the CSO for a recording that will come out later this year, Urata and his bandmates have found time to do some writing. Interestingly enough, the bandleader confesses to being the slowest worker in the band.
"I'm constantly editing my lyrics and hemming and hawing over them," he says." It's sort of the same old thing. 'Why am I here' and 'Why don't you love me?' But yeah I'm just finding that, more and more, the basic simpler truths are standing out to me, and I'm trying to get those across more than the metaphoric sort of lines."
DeVotchKa will be doing more writing during the run-up to the live album's fall release, and also between this summer's roster of festival dates, which have become a big part of their touring these last few years. The band's eclectic style has opened them up to a wide variety of bills and genres. It's something they've gladly taken advantage of.
"Starting out I would've never have thought we could've pulled it off, but we've fine-tuned our live set to reach a larger audience and it's been really cool," says Urata, who loves the fact that festival offers continue to pop up. "You get exposed to all these artists that you've never heard of and you sometimes end up friends."
These days, Urata sounds in particularly good spirits, although he still confesses to being drawn to drama. Certainly last year's 100 Lovers reeked of existential angst. The musician sees it as a side-effect of growing older and wiser, along with the inherent recognition of one's own fallibility.
"As you get older — it just seems like everything I had a handle on seems to slip away," he says. "You don't have that sort of youthful assurance. Also, the idea that it's the stuff you do when nobody's watching you that really counts. I think that was an overarching theme that kept coming up for me in my words."
Of course, Urata's been given perspective the way many of us achieve it as we get older ... he's had a child.
"It does refocus your whole ego, your whole psyche, and spirituality. I don't want to go on about it, but it's true," he says. "We've had some little children join the group, so we've been cherry picking and doing it in short bursts, trying to find a balanced way to do it. It's something that we still love and as long as people still want to hear us, we'll still climb in the van and go."