DeVotchKa: Seriously, there’s a new album coming out

by Patty Templeton

Were DeVotchKa born a river, instead of an orchestral indie rock band, it would be a wide, wild tributary that led to Virginia Woolf’s lighthouse. Perhaps, Woolf would have written about gazing on them, “She had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness, and it silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach and the ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is enough! It is enough!”

Because when you listen to DeVotchKa, it is enough. Life is enough. The elegance of each day overpowers the weight of one’s heart through lush, sonic satisfaction.

It’s been six years since DeVotchKa’s last album, “100 Lovers.” The band didn’t bust-up, they just slowed their production as lead singer and head composer Nick Urata began scoring movies like “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Paddington.”

DGO spoke with Nick Urata about the art of the movie score and the new DeVotchKa album.

Is there an all-time favorite movie you’d love to score? Similar to how Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet scored the 1931 “Dracula?” We actually just did! We were contacted by the San Francisco Film Festival to put together something like that and we did a score for the film “Man with a Movie Camera.” That was sort of a dream come true.

Another band called Mercury Rev had done [the 1932 horror classic] “Vampyr” last year. They are pretty amazing.

It was a rare opportunity because they gave us carte blanche to do whatever we wanted and (“Man with a Movie Camera”) was always in the back of my mind as, “Wow, wouldn’t it be cool to do a score to that?”

Do you know the movie at all?

It’s beautiful. It fits in to your other work in the sense that there is something uplifting to it but also melancholy. It was such an amazing opportunity to add music and perform live at the Castro Theatre. The thing about it is that everybody on the screen is most likely dead now, even the children, and it seems like it could have been filmed yesterday. It was an extraordinary experience that amplified the connection we all take for granted.

How is playing live to a film different than playing a concert?One of the things that I love about scoring film is that it does take the focus off of you. The motivating factor is what’s going on in the film, the story, and not what’s going on in your life or in your head. You know what I’m saying? That can be very liberating.

The audience couldn’t really see us that well. We were dimly lit. That was liberating, as well. You immerse yourself in what the audience is feeling. It’s unique and cool and much different than when the spotlight is on you.

Is there a genre of film people don’t think of you for but you’d love to work in? Is there a cyberpunk score in your future? [Laughs] Well, I think the great thing about music is that it can come in so many forms. It is unfortunate when you get to a certain point, people lump you into only one genre. It can be a little frustrating.

I’ve always been a huge fan of sci-fi and electronica and I would love to do some stuff like that.

Is there a director you’d die to work with? Oh, god, there’s so many. [Laughs] I love Wes Anderson and how he uses music as almost another character in his universe. I love Tim Burton. I love Martin Scorsese. They’re all still working and making films. Those would probably be my top three, besides Stanley Kubrick, but he’s no longer with us. I think he’d be my top.

Is collaboration in a movie setting harder than a band setting?That’s something you have to learn to navigate that nothing really prepares you for … You have to learn to navigate and realize that sometimes someone coming from a different perspective can be really valuable.

In a lot of ways, I look at it is a positive thing because you can get so entrenched in a scene you’ve watched 1,000 times that someone coming in with a different perspective can open new doors.

That’s a great thing. When someone forces you down a path you’ve never been down musically, it can be uncomfortable but that’s when a lot of great art happens, when you’re out of your comfort zone.

Is creating a soundtrack markedly different than writing an album? There are a lot of similarities, but I think the one place where it differs is when you’re writing songs, you’re mining your experience and your observations. When you’re scoring a film, you’re beholden to the story and the characters, though you bring in your own experience, of course.

It’s kind of two different treasure troves of inspiration.

DeVotchKa and a lot of your scores have been labeled as uplifting. What kind of music do you listen to to feel uplifted?I’m all over the map. That’s another curse and advantage of the times we live in. It’s getting easier and easier to access stuff you’ve never heard of before. I’m constantly being inspired by new people.

Really, to be uplifted, sometimes I go back and try to listen to stuff that, to me, feels untouchable. Tchaikovsky and Beethoven and Mozart and Dvorák. I feel like I’ve been listening to that stuff since grade school and still there’s so much I haven’t heard. It’s music that if you hear it in the wrong environment does nothing and then hear it alone there’s such a goldmine there. I feel like those guys were operating on a different level. There’s so much inspiration to be gained and that music takes me out of my whole world. You realize, or I feel like, they were writing at a superhuman level, an otherworldly level.

Brass tacks. What’s up with the next DeVotchKa album? I’ve got some good news to report about that. I’ve been saying this for a long time, but we do have a due date. We are finishing it at the end of August. I wish I could announce the label, but we are solidifying who is going to put it out. We are hoping it is going to come out at the end of this year. It is technically done. It’s gonna happen. I know we’ve been saying this for years [laughs] and frankly exaggerating, but now I can honestly say we have a bunch of songs done and we are waiting to cross the T’s and dot the I’s and get a release date. It shouldn’t be too long.

And DeVotchKa will tour again? Definitely. We are really excited to get out there and play new songs.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer


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