A Quick, Pre-Grammys Q & A With Devotchka's Nick Urata

That's right. Denver's Devotchka is heading to the Grammys this weekend. They're nominated for "Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or other Visual Media." If you don't know what film I'm referring to, I suggest you see it. In fact, I demand you own the wonderful Little Miss Sunshine. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, husband-wife directorial duo behind the film (and known for producing music videos for Oasis, Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins), heard one song of Devotchka's and immediately sought out this unique quartet.

The endless array of words used to describe Devotchka may never quite define their sound unless you hear it for yourself: Gypsy-tango, indie-folk, Mariachi, cabaret, post-punk, Eastern European, Southwestern, sousaphone rock. The instrumentation is just as mind-boggling until you see it with your own two eyes: bouzouki, theremin, guitar, piano, violin, accordion, tuba, upright bass, drums, guitar, trumpet, glockenspiel, tambourine, and of course, heart-stopping vocals. Nick Urata, Tom Hagerman, Jeanie Schroder, and Shawn King always have a new trick for the crowd, never failing to satisfy the senses.

I had the chance to interview Nick Urata, the foursome's frontman, just before the big weekend in LA!
Brit: It's pretty amazing that a band without a record label has been nominated for a Grammy. What did you do when you found out?

Nick: Well, it was early in the morning so it took awhile to sink in. I was in Boise, Idaho (of all places) and I just wandered around the streets saying "holy shit" to myself.

B: Annoying Red Carpet Question (for those who really shouldn't care but still do): What do you plan on wearing?

N: Luckily, we wear tuxedos a lot when we play. They smell a bit, but we are going to wear those.

B: A few years ago, I read that Devotchka was looking to start doing film scores. How did you dive into it?

N: We kind of fell into it. It's a hard gig to land, but in this case the directors found us.

B: What made the band agree to work on the score for Little Miss Sunshine? Had you already read the script?

N: I got to read the script-- which didn't strike me as that special, but what do I know? I was most impressed with the directors, and I knew they were going to do something special. Then, when we heard who they got for a cast, we knew we had to do it.

B: I also read that you all spent six months working with the directors and perfecting the music scene by scene. How was that? How does that process even happen?

N: In this film, the directors were very concerned with the music and very hands on. There was tons of trial and error and a lot of stuff ended up being cut. One scene was totally improvised on the spot.

B: I'm sure you've been picturing yourself at the Grammys. If I were nominated, I'd be having recurring nightmares about falling up the stairs or vomiting on the microphone. How are you imagining it?

N: We have been in some real pressure cooker situations over the years, and it always seems the best thing is to wing it. I'm sure I'll do or say something stupid.

B: Although playing in your hometown can be a lot to live up to after all the increasing success, what do you love most about playing in Denver?

N: It does always feel like a little bit more pressure to come back home, but we have some really loyal fans and I love how they know all the words.

B: All the interviews I've read with you are quite entertaining. Someone asked how you found Tom Hagerman, and your response was about finding him in a dumpster somewhere in Denver. My question for you is... what were YOU doing in the dumpster?

N: I was hungry.

B: On a more serious note, how did you ever come across a theremin and how'd you learn to play it?

N: I always wanted one but I ended up having to build one from a kit I found online. It is a painful instrument to learn ... especially for your neighbors.

B: Tell me about a particular on-tour fiasco that you will never forget.

N: There have been a lot. One of my favorites was when we got booked to play at an outdoor gig that turned out to be a gazebo. On the way there, Jeanie, the tuba player, had some food that she was allergic to and halfway through the first song she had to puke. I had to finish the gig solo. I hope she doesn't get mad at me for telling you.
B: I've always wondered this, and forgive me if I didn't do my homework, but when did Jeanie first decorate her sousaphone with those red lights?

N: This was something that evolved over time. There have been many colors and many broken bulbs.

B: It's been a pleasure. Thank you for letting me pick your brain. Best of luck in LA this weekend!!!

N: Thanks for writing about us.

It'll be interesting to see what Devotchka decides to wow us with next. They hope to have a new album finished by this summer... but I'm sure there'll manage to pull something off in the meantime. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for these folks-and of course, do yourself a favor and SEE THEM LIVE!


Story by Brit Horvat

A Quick, Pre-Grammys Q & A With Devotchka's Nick Urata