“A little heartbreak can make you realize how good you have it,” DeVotchKa singer and guitarist Nick Urata says. “Romance in general influences me the most. That’s sort of what attracted me to music in the first place. There is a lot of great protest music out there, but mostly mine is about love.”
Armed with a small arsenal of instruments, including violins, violas, trumpets, sousaphones, accordions and vintage theremins, DeVotchKa makes bittersweet songs with whistled melodies and sorrowful tales of lost loves and broken hearts. It’s an inventively quirky hodgepodge of Eastern European folk, American pop, polka, circus music and cabaret.
Best known for scoring the endearing Grammy-nominated soundtrack to Little Miss Sunshine, DeVotchKa continually works on its extraordinary array of material. The band formed in 1997 and spent several years on tour with burlesque shows until self-releasing its 2002 debut, Supermelodrama. Una Volta followed the next year and the critically acclaimed How It Ends dropped in 2004.
How It Ends is a beautifully orchestrated conceptual album that tells the story of a young Ranchero who survives going to war, only to find his childhood sweetheart has married a rich man for the love of money. It’s these romanticized ideas that fuel the bulk of DeVotchKa’s whimsical lyrical content and make its colorful catalog so unique.
“I try not to bum people out too much,” Urata says. “I think my place is more to escape and focus on what’s good about everybody and what we have in common.”
DeVotchKa’s 2006 covers EP, Curse Your Little Heart, proved the band is not reticent about traversing genre with versions of songs by everyone from Frank Sinatra and Siouxie and the Banshees to The Velvet Underground and Leonard Cohen.
In the summer of 2007, DeVotchKa returned to Tucson’s Wavelab Studios to record its first full length album in four years. The band reconnected with producer Craig Schumacher (M Ward, Calexico, Neko Case), who left his inspiring imprint on How It Ends and Una Volta. The result, A Mad and Faithful Telling, contains some of the band’s best work yet. The surprisingly pleasant burst of sonic sounds and personal stories works well without seeming overly precocious or campy. Urata showcases a hauntingly gorgeous voice, while interplay between sousaphone player and bassist Jeanie Schroder, percussionist and trumpeter Shawn King, and violinist and pianist Tom Hagerman sounds elegant and inspired.
While DeVotchKa draws from a large pool of musical traditions, it’s the Slavic and Balkan inflections that have become increasingly popular in rock of late—most notably represented by Beirut and Gogol Bordello.
“Ten years ago, we were considered a ridiculous, wacky band that no one would pay to see. But I saw from our first show that there was an audience for it,” Urata says. “I think people always underestimate what the audience will respond to. It’s not really a conscious thing for me. This is honestly what we can do.”
DeVotchKa does what they do at the College of Santa Fe’s homecoming celebration and is joined by CSF alums singer-songwriter Alissa Moreno, the Balkan women’s ensemble group Rusalki, DJ Pablo77 and other local performers who embody the carnivalesque atmosphere of the headliners.
DeVotchKa at the College of Santa Fe's Homecoming
Noon-6 pm, Saturday, Oct. 4
1600 St. Michael’s Drive