DeVotchKa frontman Nick Urata says he has a pseudo-photographic memory for songs that are under construction. He doesn’t have a filing system for song ideas, but he has a thousand demo recordings and a thousand pages of lyrics that he’s constantly working toward getting finished. While he might start a song, sometimes it will lay dormant for a few years, and sometimes he just has to just experience more life before finishing the writing process.
“It would come to a place on the page, and I look back now, and I just had to do a little more living before I could finish that verse,” Urata says.
Many of the songs on This Night Falls Forever, which drops today on Concord Records, were written that way. And the band, which also includes Jeanie Schroder (acoustic bass, sousaphone), Shawn King (drums, percussion, trumpet) and Tom Hagerman (violin, viola, accordion, piano), hasn’t had a whole lot of time to work on albums. This Night Falls Forever is the act's first studio effort since 2011’s 100 Lovers.
Why the delay? Urata’s been busy in Los Angeles scoring films like Paddington and Focus, and more recently the Netflix series A Series of Unfortunate Events and Davy Rothbart’s forthcoming documentary, which has been described as Boyhood meets Boyz in the Hood. Hagerman has arranged music for local and national artists to perform with the Colorado Symphony while King has worked with Ozomatli’s Raul Pacheco as Los Dreamers.
“We got into this sweet spot where we were getting all kinds of collaborative offers that a band like us couldn’t resist, what we always dreamed about when we were starting off in living rooms and garages," Urata says. "And before we knew it, we were like, ‘We’ve got to finish these songs and get an album out.’”
Urata started working on what became many of the songs on This Night Falls Forever about six years ago. He says he’ll usually start with lyrics and the form first. Some of them came fully formed, while others took years. “It was almost like personal development that made me finish them,” he says.
“Straight Shot,” This Night Falls Forever’s spirited opener, started out as an epic poem from which he had to cut out ten verses.
“It was hard, because you never know what it’s going to mean to somebody,” Urata says. “So that part’s hard. You never know if the part you like is the part someone else is going to like.”
Urata says he has no idea when some of the songs on the new album were written or where he was coming from when he penned them.
“It’s almost like a gift,” he says. “There was another song – ‘Love Letters.’ I was working for years on the second chapter of it, and it was never going anywhere. I didn’t think it was ever going to come out. Then one day I walked in, and it finished itself. To kind of look back in a third person at that process, it kind of gives me hope for the process and makes it a little more romantic.”
Since scoring films, Urata’s work ethic has changed somewhat. He says working on movies is like being on a train that doesn’t stop, and he has to force himself to write music every day, something that’s quite different from a typical band situation.
“You don’t realize how much time you have when you’re sitting around in a living room with your buddies jamming,” Urata says. “But then when you’re on this kind of schedule and working on music every day, I was finding it was opening up different pathways. And also, when you’re scoring a film, you’re also dependent on the story and the director, and it forces you down different roads you never would have found yourself on if you were on your own. In that way, it definitely pushes you out of your comfort zone, which I think is the most positive thing.”
While many of DeVotchKa’s albums have had a sprawling cinematic quality, This Night Falls Forever might be the quartet’s most cinematic to date — not just musically, but in how it was mixed by Jason LaRocca, a film-score mixer Urata has worked with on many projects.
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“We love that sort of mixing style that soundtracks can have,” Urata says. “We wanted to bring it in, hopefully with this crop of songs we were working on. We were basically working in the same studio with the same equipment, and we wanted to put that sort of take on it.”
The use of strings has long been part of DeVotchKa’s recordings, and 2012’s Live With the Colorado Symphony shows just how much strings can help accentuate the band’s cinematic sound. But Urata says the strings on This Night Falls Forever were meant to sound big and powerful but at the same time intimate, subtle and not too overpowering.
Although DeVotchKa has been based in Denver for the past two decades, the group recorded many of its albums in Tucson, including its last studio effort, 2011’s 100 Lovers. But the band recorded most of This Night Falls Forever at Capitol Records in Hollywood, where artists from the Beatles and Frank Sinatra to Snoop Dogg and Dua Lipa have worked on projects.
“That was a big thrill,” Urata says. “I’m hoping some of the ghosts rubbed off on the album. You can kind of feel the weight of the history of that place when you’re working there. It’s pretty cool.”