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The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist JT Nolan, the Lovely and Talented seems eerily similar to fellow Denver outfit DeVotchKa. After all, both gather sounds from a similar pool of eras and genres, and Nolan has even appeared on stage with DeVotchKa — not to mention the fact that that group's drummer, Shawn King, makes a guest appearance on the Lovely and Talented's new full-length, The New American Fable.
Similarities aside, though, Nolan takes his band in an entirely unique direction, mixing in more contemporary alternative rock with a grim, gritty singer-songwriter bent. The recent addition of vocalist/accordionist Kate Shoup, plus a Tom Waits-esque reworking of the Pixies' "Subbacultcha," has only made Nolan's sprawling, sepia-toned vision more compelling and distinct. We spoke with him recently about a number of things, including how the band has progressed since forming and who came up with the idea to cover Frank Black and company.
Westword: How has the project evolved since the release of your first album in 2006?
JT Nolan: Mostly that first album was just me and my friends. I was playing in a wedding band at the time, just doing covers, but I had all these original songs. I just wanted them recorded, so I got some musicians I knew together. It took forever and a day, but when I finished it, I thought, "Maybe I should play this music out." So I started to put a band together. About a year ago, the four core members of the current group came together.
How did having that core band make this album different from the first one?
In a lot of ways, I'm still the main writer. But when I'm collaborating with people more, it's easier to cover up my weaknesses [laughs]. I can get Kate, who's a really strong singer, or get one of the other guys to play a certain part. It's a stronger project than I could have done myself.
The band's look and instrumentation is retro to a degree, but your sound mixes in a lot of contemporary and multicultural elements. Was that contrast a conscious one?
I'm always looking for something new. For better or worse, I can't not be all over the board. I'm always trying to find a different style or rhythm I haven't tried before. Like that second song on the album, "Angelitos" — it's a huapango rhythm, almost like a mariachi rhythm. I teach guitar and singing, and one of my students, he was twelve, played in a mariachi band. He was learning these things and showing them to me. I just absorb things from everywhere.
Where did the idea of the Pixies cover come from?
I've always loved that song. I love the vocal phrasing; it's so different from any song I've heard. But hopefully, I can confuse people enough that they don't really know they're listening to a Pixies song. Thievery is how I write [laughs].