DeVotchka’s Nick Urata has always had a unique and engaging voice.
In 2011, Urata used that voice to defend an engaging issue – advocating on behalf of National Public Radio (NPR) to members of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Urata and his bandmates, Tom Hagerman, Shawn King, and Jeanie Schroder, argued at the time that if it had not been for NPR, they would have never been discovered by filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Dayton and Faris first heard the band on the Santa Monica public radio station KCRW, and later asked the band to score their breakout movie Little Miss Sunshine – which went on to receive an Oscar nomination for best picture. DeVotchka would later send a letter to the Colorado Congressional delegation referring to NPR as an “important platform for American musical culture.”
Still today, the band focuses much of their efforts on arts advocacy, inclusion, and helping underfunded non-profits in any way it can. We recently spoke with Urata about the importance of these issues and how DeVotchka will continue to use its music to help arts in even the “crappiest” of settings.
Explain how you became involved with advocating on behalf of National Public Radio.
It happened quite naturally. NPR and public radio were the first to embrace our music and allow us to find an audience. To show our gratitude, we began by donating our time and money to stations whenever we could.
In 2010, some members of Congress began to push for the defund NPR–and things got serious. Fortunately, NPR is beloved by millions and the people are rising up and fighting back on many fronts – including on Capitol Hill.
Have you been involved in similar advocacy efforts since then?
We started a tradition where we donate to struggling arts programs in every city we play. We found the small ones really need the money, and this way we could make sure the money stays local. The programs range from music- and performance-based organizations to groups focused on circus training or transitioning homeless kids with arts education.
Have you gotten other like-minded musicians involved in advocacy efforts?
Luckily there is already a strong spirit of advocacy and empathy among musicians – but there is always strength in numbers. This year we hope to turn a lot of bands on to El Sistema Colorado , which helps get instruments directly into the hands of low-income students.
You have recently done shows with the Colorado Symphony. Can you talk about that collaboration?
It was a long time coming and it was a great event for us. It is such a blessing that we have this world-class symphony and a stellar performing arts center. They were good enough to rehearse and play two sets of our arrangements and in return I think we got some people down to the Boettcher [concert hall] that otherwise might not have a reason to ever go. We had such a great response on both sides that we are reprising the show at Red Rocks on September 20. I should mention that both of these shows will benefit The Colorado Symphony Orchestra.
How important is art inclusion to your band? What other ways have you, or will you, include other art forms into your music?
Going back to when I was organizing tiny shows in the crappiest of venues, I always saw it as a golden opportunity to encompass as many different art forms as possible. We have always collaborated with dancers, acrobats, filmmakers, poets and painters. The philosophy being, if you have the courage to get up there in front of these people and kill some time, I will gladly part the curtain for you.
Written by Andy Thomas