Denver's music scene sucks ass. This shining jewel of the Rockies gets more days of sunshine than San Diego and is two hours from the world's best snow, but when it comes to the unnatural resource of rock 'n' roll, it has traditionally blown chunks (case in point, The Fray is the city's biggest export of the decade). Considering all this, it's freakin' mind-blowing that DeVotchKa came out of Denver.
DeVotchKa's often described as an "Eastern Bloc indie-rock band," but that only gets at half of the band's weirdness. It fails to capture their punk-rock ethos, cabaret aesthetic and Mariachi-band flourishes. No, DeVotchKa's got little in common with Colorado's predominate music genres-bluegrass, country and the endless, endless jam.
"Some of our sound was influenced by the city, but I think that it mostly just came out of us and we just happened to be here," says Nick Urata, DeVotchKa's lead gypsy punk, singer, guitarist, pianist, trumpeter, bouzouki and Theremin player. "There's a small, thriving scene that's here, but what we do isn't really linked to this geography."
Urata formed the band in the Mile High City in 1997 to play at burlesque shows. The band eventually caught the eye of Bettie Page-meets-Elvira fetish model Dita von Tease. Caravaning the states with von Tease attracted the attention of bigger patrons, and in the last decade, DeVotchKa-which is now made up of Urata and multi-instrumentalists Tom Hagerman, Jeanie Schroder and Shawn King-has opened for M. Ward, Mike Doughty and Regina Spektor.
A bit Balkan and bit Brechtian, they gravitated to the Dresden Dolls and Gogol Bordello-both of whom they've toured with. But Urata didn't realize those bands actually constituted an Eastern Euro-punk "movement."
"I have no idea how this scene got started," he says. "It must be a case of same time, same influences. As soon as we started traveling, people in other cities would get in touch and say, "Hey, look at us, we're like you are.' And then we started playing together in those towns. Then Gogol Bordello asked us to go on tour... and it was then that I felt that there was a movement."
Gogol Bordello even helped the band land their tune "How it Ends" in the trailer for the film Everything is Illuminated. But in a bizarre twist (which is a phrase you end up using about eight times per DeVotchKa story), the Everything is Illuminated gig didn't lead to the band doing the soundtrack for Little Miss Sunshine. Instead, Sunshine's directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, just clicked on the radio at the right time.
"There was something about us that just struck a chord in them when they heard us on the radio, and they got in touch with us," says Urata. "It was just a stroke of luck."
What Urata attributes to luck, most would attribute to talent. No only did they reel in Dayton and Faris with a single song, they also managed to compose a great soundtrack to a film that has nothing to do with gypsies (at least not genuine gypsies).
"We couldn't use some of our main weapons composing the soundtrack, so it was a real challenge," says Urata about DeVotchKa's uncharacteristically mellow and un-creepy music on Little Miss Sunshine. "But it was really great to step away from our normal thing for a while. [But after the film] I'm definitely feeling like a caged beast right now. We'll see if we have any bite left to us when the tour gets going."
Don't worry. He's only teasing. They've got plenty of bite left. And plenty of bouzoukis, squeezeboxes and sousaphones, too.
DeVotchKa plays with Eric Bachmann at the Belly Up on Sunday, Dec. 17. Doors open at 8 p.m. $14-$16. 858-481-8140.