The frontman of DeVotchKa, Nick Urata, sums up his approach to music and his life simply: “If I am taking up the space, I should be useful,” he said. “This is the only positive thing I can offer to the world, [so] I want to do as much as I can.”
Urata and M. Ward (above) — the opening act and headliner, respectively, of this summer’s second-to-last Twilight Concert presented by the Salt Lake City Arts Council — are musicians with the spirit of generosity when it comes to collaborations with other musicians and artists.
Urata leads the Colorado-based Gypsy-rock ensemble DeVotchKa, but most recently he has been heralded as the composer for one of this summer’s most beguiling romantic comedies, “Ruby Sparks.” The movie was directed by the duo behind another film Urata scored, “Little Miss Sunshine.” He also composed the score to last year’s Jim Carrey film “I Love You Phillip Morris.”
As for Ward, he’s a folk-inspired singer-songwriter who’s perhaps best known for two side projects: Monsters of Folk (with Jim James, from My Morning Jacket, and Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis, from Bright Eyes) and She & Him ( a duo with actor Zooey Deschanel).
In separate interviews, both talked about performing in Pioneer Park and why they can’t be limited to just one horse in this life journey.
Nick Urata of DeVotchKa • Urata never expected what he called a “foray into film.” He was contacted by directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris as they were looking for a composer for their debut, “Little Miss Sunshine,” the 2006 Sundance-premiered road film starring Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin.
They were fans of KCRW-FM in Los Angeles, one of the few radio stations playing DeVotchKa’s music, and they thought the band’s song “You Love Me” would be perfect for a scene in the film.
That one song grew into much more as the trio talked. “That was a great moment of serendipity,” said Urata, whom the directors eventually persuaded to try scoring for the first time.
He was unsure if he could do it. “You compose for yourself for your entire life,” Urata said. “But writing for film brings out stuff you would never do in a million years.”
The film became an unlikely success, going on to gross more than $100 million and win two Academy Awards (Best Original Screenplay for Michael Arndt and Best Supporting Actor for Arkin). “A lot of indie films end up on the back shelves in video stores,” Urata said. All of a sudden, Urata was earning a reputation as a composer, and DeVotchKa was invited to perform all over the world.
So, several years later, Urata jumped at the chance to work with Dayton and Faris on their film “Ruby Sparks,” featuring Dano as a writer whose dream girl comes to life. “We didn’t know if I would be the right person because it was a totally different movie,” Urata said. So the directors showed him an early edit of the film, then asked him to write music based on the emotions he felt.
“You’re groping around, looking for the right voice,” Urata said. But then he had a brainstorm for a thread that would be used throughout the film — music that would represent “the fragility of the ridiculousness of the male ego.”
At the Twilight Concert, don’t expect to hear instrumentals from the film, but a collection of songs taken from the band’s six albums, including its most recent, 2011’s “100 Lovers,” along with some covers, Urata said.
M. Ward • The singer/songwriter M. Ward grew up in Southern California, and his first two concerts were classical music at the Hollywood Bowl and Sonic Youth at UC Irvine, illustrating his competing and complementary musical interests. Ward was exposed to many musical ideas while listening to influential rock station KROQ as well as classic pop radio station K-EARTH, when he wasn’t watching his father play in a country band.
The 38-year-old guitar player released a solo album, “A Wasteland Companion,” in April and said he doesn’t mind when people think of him only as someone who works with other people. “If people’s definition of me is evolving, that’s a good thing,” Ward said. “I have never come up with a cut-and-dried idea of who I am.”
That willingness to try new things included teaming up with Deschanel for 2011’s “A Very She & Him Christmas,” although he admitted that some holiday songs “drive me crazy.”
While he’s glad for the experience, Utah fans shouldn’t expect to hear any Christmas songs at the next Twilight Concert.
Twilight Concert Series
Thursday’s show will feature M. Ward with DeVotchKa.
When • Thursday, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m.
Where • Pioneer Park, 300 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $5 at the gate or at Graywhale Entertainment stores