Not many bands can say they got their start playing at burlesque shows. Of course, not many bands are like Denver, Colorado’s DeVotchKa. The band’s unique blend of Gypsy folk, indie rock, and punk served them well on the burlesque stage, but soon led to even bigger opportunities. In 2006, they scored acclaimed indie flick Little Miss Sunshine and were nominated for the Best Compilation Soundtrack Grammy. Several years and albums later, DeVotchKa have expanded their sonic palette once again, recording a live album with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. We chatted with frontman Nick Urata about the unique challenges of writing for, and rehearsing with an orchestra.
OS: How did the opportunity to work with the Colorado Symphony come up?
Nick Urata: It was a long time in the works. We have close ties with principle violinist Claude Sim. He and several other CSO players appeared on our last two albums and have done many concerts with us. The CSO was looking to expand into this area and we said why not us?
OS: How did you choose which songs you were going to perform with the orchestra? Were there some that worked better with an orchestral arrangement?
NU: I wish we could have done more, but these were the most interesting of the bunch we had complete by showtime.
OS: What kind of challenges did you encounter when rehearsing for the show with the orchestra? Was it harder than rehearsing just as a band?
NU: Yes and no. Sometimes, things that look good on paper don’t work when you put them in front of muscians, but that is obvious. Luckily, we had a very talented group and a great conductor to keep things moving along. Also, with a band, you can take as much time as you want, but with a symphony, we were up against union overtime fees, so we had to be very disciplined to get it ready by performnce time.
OS: Did you tailor the dramatic flair of your regular stage performance to fit this particular show at all?
NU: Well, we had to tone it down a little. There was already so much going on up on the stage, so it was very visual and the music is pretty melodramatic to begin with [laughs].
OS: Was there a kind of symbolic importance of doing a show this big with the CSO in DeVotchKa’s musical hometown?
NU: For us it was very meaningful to play with the best muscians in town at a classic theatre considering we used to have to beg to play at complete shit holes. It was a beautiful thing. The Governor John Hickenlooper, who is a big music fan and supporter of the band, came out and gave a beautiful intro. I am constantly defending Denver’s cultural relevance in the press; this felt like the perfect example of what is possible and what already exists in what I think is a great and very unique city.
OS: If an up-and-coming band were considering moving to a big hub like L.A./New York or putting in more time in a smaller scene like Denver, which would you suggest they do?
NU: I can only offer my experience and those of my friends. I have done both, and they both can totally suck for an unknown band, but these are great days we live in and geography is not as important as it used to be. I always tell people who ask my advice that the best thing you can do is surround yourself with people you love to be with and put all your energy into getting your songs on tape; if you make a great record, they will find you!
Pick up DeVotchKa Live with the Colorado Symphony now!
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