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Photo by Jen Rosenstein

Devotchka Revels in a Return to Its Dark Roots

After releasing its first studio album in seven years this past summer, the iconic Denver band is back at its happiest place—on a headlining tour.

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Devotchka didn’t intend to disappear from Denver’s music scene. The band’s four members were riding the buzz of 2011’s 100 Lovers and touring with the Colorado Symphony (with whom they also released a live album in 2012). But then, by all appearances, they sort of fell off the grid. That was until last summer, when they released their first studio album in seven years, This Night Falls Forever.

While the band wasn’t putting out new music together, they weren’t exactly underground either. Frontman Nick Urata has been busy scoring films over the last several years with Hollywood orchestras. You may have caught band members Shawn King, Tom Hagerman, and Jeanie Schroder having their throats sliced by a barber in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company’s 2016 rendition of Sweeney Todd, a production for which the trio readapted the musical arrangements.

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The years flew by, but now Devotchka is back in its happiest place—on a headlining tour.

“It’s been a welcome return. It kind of feels normal for us again,” Urata says. “We were wanting so badly to get these new songs out. It took a little longer than expected, but now it’s happening. People are connecting with them and we get to travel and play again. It’s kind of our reason for being.”

Urata wrote This Night Falls Forever from a nostalgic place. Thanks to the contributions of numerous symphony musicians, the album’s standout characteristic is its soaring transmission. At the same time, each tune features Devotchka’s signature polka sound—wrought by exotic instruments like the sousaphone, accordion, and theremin—as well as a throwback style harkening to the dark pop of the 1980s (á la Siouxsie and the Banshees, Peter Murphy, or the Cure).

“We’re definitely a product of that ’80s sound,” Urata says. “It had an influence on us. We made it through our tough years listening to that stuff.”

Having formed Devotchka in Denver back in 1997, Urata’s sentimental inspiration for the new album was sparked by a trip back to New York, where he grew up north of the city in a musical family.

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“I’m sure other songwriters talk about this, how you tap into certain places and they can be a conduit,” he says. “The city is constantly changing and refaced, but I kept seeing these little hints of geography that never change. It brings me right back to those days of adolescence. You didn’t realize at the time, but those days are the building blocks of your future self. You never know which nights are going to influence the trajectory of your life.”

There is, however, no single night to which This Night Falls Forever refers.

“I guess it was probably a year of nights,” Urata says. “It’s that first time you fall in love, that time when music never sounds more powerful. I was trying to communicate with my 13-year-old self.”

DeVotchKa
Photo by Jen Rosenstein

The new songs have been hitting big with audiences—and not just in Denver. Thanks largely to the exposure gleaned from scoring the Grammy-nominated soundtrack of the 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine, Devotchka has established a die-hard fan base across the globe. Their reception of the band’s fresh material has been enthusiastic.

“There’s been few times I’ve been blown away by how much people are connecting with it,” Urata says. “Last month we were in Europe and people were actually singing some of the songs back, especially our first single, “Straight Shot.” That, to me personally, was a great big moment. That was one of the songs that was near and dear to my heart this run. I didn’t know if we were ever going to cross the finish line on this album. To see that people in other countries knew the words was kind of a spike-the-football-type moment.”

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Besides Devotchka’s one-of-a-kind sound, anyone who has witnessed the live show knows how wildly entertaining it is. For many years, the band was a fixture at the Boulder Theater on Halloween, staging theatrical performances. In one performance, the male band members materialized onto stage through thick fog, dressed in elaborate geisha costumes and twirling parasols, while Schroder swayed and stomped underneath the weight of her sousaphone (a Dr. Seuss-style tuba), which glowed with cat-shaped orange lights.

“That was, in hindsight, what took us so long to finish our new album…because we were always doing stuff like that,” Urata says. “It always looked effortless, but those shows took months to prepare for. Now that we have completed the album, we are going to go back to it. Logistically, we had to give up our great spot at the Boulder Theater. We have to clear the way for new Halloween bands. We found a new home, a new collaborator for Halloween.”

That new home is none other than the famed Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Devotchka performed at the property, which inspired Stephen King’s The Shining, last October—complete with black-tie masquerade ball and pre-concert aerial show. While the performances didn’t elicit rivers of blood pouring out of the elevators, the location was deemed a winner.

“This year, we’re doing Halloween proper at the Stanley Hotel. I can go on and on,” Urata says. “Not only will we have our usual shenanigans, but we’ll do two or three days there. You can buy a room and stay…hopefully a haunted room.”

In the meantime, Devotchka will continue headlining shows throughout the U.S., landing back in Colorado for a performance at Washington’s in Fort Collins on February 14.

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As for those “new bands” taking its place, Urata admits there are a lot more acts emerging on the Front Range than during Devotchka’s last post-release wave back in 2011-12.

“The music scene has grown exponentially with the population growth. It’s been cool to see it,” Urata says. “We’re lucky to be where we’re at, constantly being exposed to new bands. One of the great things about Denver is there’s so many cross-pollinations of bands and different players. It’s awesome to see it blossoming the way it is right now.”

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