THE CALCULATION OF LOVERS DeVotchKa

Where were YOU when
you first heard the band? Their latest, on Anti-, adds to the tally.

 

BY SELENA FRAGASSI

 

It could be just an estimate, but 100 Lovers – the name of DeVotchKa’s fifth album (just out on Anti-
Records) – could just as easily be the tally of couples that the worldly-minded
quartet has brought together since its inception more than a decade ago.

 

“People tell us all the time that they’ve met and fell in
love at a DeVotchKa show,” says frontman Nick Urata while walking the streets
of Boise, Idaho where the band (rounded out by Jeanie Schroder, Shawn King, and
Tom Hagerman) has landed for an early date on its national spring tour.” I
think our music sets a mood, and if we can stimulate a little romance with our
music, then maybe we’re worth a ten-second listen.”

 

Ten seconds … or in some cases a lifetime, give or take. In
one of those scenes out of a perfectly timed romcom, Urata says his entourage –
who names Eastern European wedding bands as a primary influence – had an
unlikely proposition at a show in Minneapolis to help a smitten fellow stage
the proposal of a lifetime.

 

“I was on the fence about it. I thought it might be kind of
awkward and cheesy [to stage that a marriage proposal at our show]. But I guess
the couple had met at a Devotchka concert, and he was adamant about it,”
remembers Urata, who says that in the end, the maneuver was very touching … and
worked in the guy’s favor. “How can you say no at that point? I guess that’s
the way to do it. If you’re not sure she’ll say yes, just get her on stage in
front of a bunch of people and ask.”

 

You could say that the Denver-based musicians have always
been in touch with their romantic, feminine side. Hell, their name, translated
in Russian, means “girl” and long before they were playing stages in Minneapolis and Boise,
they were playing house act for professional burlesque shows.

 

“I think it was partially because of our wardrobe we got the
gig,” laughs Urata of being hired by the field’s premiere fetish model, Dita
Von Teese. “That, and we played a lot of horns and exotic music. It actually
turned out to be a great pairing because the people that came to see the
performance had an open mind for music.”

 

An open mind is really at the heart of what has made a band
with an antiquely tuned Romani/Slavic/gypsy/Mariachi style successful in the
landscape of the modern indie pop blitz. And although many of its fans probably
couldn’t identify the band’s eclectic instruments in a lineup (think Theremin,
sousaphone, accordion), Devotchka has found a following nonetheless.

 

“One of the reasons why we kept going in the beginning was
that we always found our music broke down barriers and struck a chord with a
large variety of people from different walks of life who could identify with
it,” says Urata, before offering an unusual example. “I remember this really
big, mean club owner we were scared of coming up to me after a show and hugging
me. His favorite uncle played the accordion and I guess our performance brought
back memories for him. It was one of those times we thought we were going to
get beat up and we were hugged instead.”

 

Another time is what Urata calls the “stroke of blind luck”
when the directors of the wildly successful 2006 feature film Little Miss Sunshine came calling on the
band to score its little film that could. At that time, not many radio stations
had picked up DeVotchKa’s music for their rotation, but of the handful that
did, Santa Monica’s
KCRW turned out to be a good choice.

 

It was on that dial that the Sunshine‘s producers had been introduced to the band’s song “You
Love Me,” and was instantly attracted. The band went on to a Grammy nomination
for the soundtrack and even more widespread acclaim in their own right, nabbing
opening gigs on international tours with the likes of Gogol Bordello and
billing at premiere destinations on the annual festival circuit, including a
hallmark moment at 2006’s Bonnaroo, according to Urata.

 

“We landed a slot on the night before the official festival
started, but it turned out to be great because everyone showed up and took all
their drugs that first night. It’s probably the biggest crowd we’ve faced
before, and they were very receptive.”

 

The welcome wagon has covered yet more terrain in the years
since. In 2008, DeVotchKa released their commercially successful A Mad & Faithful Telling, which
nailed down spots on numerous music charts and portioned out singles to ad
campaigns and shows including Showtime’s Weeds.
After more tours and festivals, the quartet finally found time to begin work on
their follow-up 100 Lovers, which
took a year to refine and brought in new producer Craig Schumacher (Neko Case,
Calexico).

 

For all its loaded meanings, 100 Lovers, was recorded in the least dramatic place possible: the Arizona desert. “I find
it to be very exotic and wide open and big and I hope those elements would come
through in the music,” says Urata of the band’s unconventional destination for
studio space. “It changed perspective for us to get under those big desert
skies.”

 

The trick worked as Urata, Schroder, King, and Hagerman
together developed a narrative of 12 cinematic songs that extrapolate on the
band’s early beginnings and potential, from the poignant “The Man from San Sebastian” to the
electro experimentation of “All the Sand in all the Sea.”

 

Maybe, as Urata says, the musical mitosis was inspired by
the unending horizon of the desert … or perhaps a better rationale is found in
his thoughts on the differences of being in a band versus film scoring: “Films
are a collaborative process based on the director’s vision. Movies develop
their own universe that the music has to fit into. But, you have a little bit
more freedom when you’re just doing it for yourself and your band. I never
realized that before I started scoring films. You put all these limitations on
yourself that you really don’t have to.”

 

As DeVotchKa knows, with less limits comes more
commitment-and even in the prospect of 100
Lovers
the band is ready to settle down with the comfort of finding its newfound
fame and headlining marquees in towns from Boston to, well, Boise. “We’ve done
a lot of opening acts, and it’s always that bridesmaid/bride feeling. Now we
finally get to be the bride.”

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