Devendra Banhart: Interview
An Extensive Guide to New Sounds
As far as this music year is concerned, Devendra's Banhart Rejoicing in the
Hands is, if not the best, the most innovative and refreshing release I have
had the luck to come across. The music seems like a relic from the golden days
when songwriting was what counted, not production or the ability of machines.
Yet, if Banhart seems to echo the sounds of generations past, it is perhaps
because he is speaking to the hidden ear of this generation. In a time when
morbidity seems to be the desired approach for artists, Banhart celebrates life
and rejoices in all its displays. The boyish innocence of his voice makes
everything sung sound heartbreakingly sincere and honest, yet also absurdly
comedic; like this isn't someone who merely sings about taking his teeth out
dancing and smelling his days away, but someone who, in some way or another,
Despite the seemingly simple nature of his music, there is something largely
elusive behind it all. I wished to interview Mr. Banhart in hopes of
elucidating, for my sake as well as yours, longing reader, some of those
obscurities. Yet, after retreating both my sets of questions back (having
recently had mouth surgery, he was only open to e-mail interviews), I realized
that he would be as distant and intangible as he was before.
Despite his own declaration that he is "clear," Banhart's responses are in
perfect parallel with his music; replete with humor, cynicism, wit, and never
TMT: How is the Europe tour unfolding so far? Has your recent surgery
been an inhibiting factor?
DB: It hurts to eat and speak, but singing is very helpful because I
forget EVERYTHING! The tour has been wonderful; playing with Andy Cabic from
VETIVER every night has been AMAZING!
TMT: You have received much praise from the critical community this
year. To what extent has that affected you? On a broader scale, to what extent
do you believe an artist should believe the hype surrounding him?
DB: Well, let me tell you the truth, media is a way to turn the
people on; I could give a fuck about where I was born, but FRED NEIL! HOLY MOLY
HES THE BEST! CHECK HIM OUT BUDDY! Also, my family and friends don't really care
(in a good way).
TMT: So you don't see yourself as an American songwriter?
DB: Neither American nor songwriter, though I fetishize both...
TMT: From Black Babies and Oh Me Oh My to Rejoicing in the Hands, your
songs have enjoyed the added presence of studio effects and more polished
production. Do you see yourself moving more and more in that direction? That is,
do you see a full band ever coming in?
DB: Yes! The next tour will have three other musicians with me, I see
things going in a Jamaican direction.
TMT: Do you find it easy to expand yourself musically?
DB: Who knows.
TMT: Reading through your bio on Young God Records, I ran across the
fact that you were homeless when Michael Gira first heard you. Does that time of
your life permeate into your songwriting?
DB: Not anymore. THANK YOU MG!
TMT: Have you been able to make a living solely off your music since
DB: Yes! Including various animals (Horse I bought, mule I own-- baby
it is, but big anywhoo! etc!)
TMT: Listening to Rejoice in the Hands, I can't help but sense a
certain underlying spirituality pervasive throughout your guitar playing and
vocal delivery, though none of the songs touch directly on the subject. Was such
DB: This is a DEVOTIONAL record, Praise to the wonder of the sun, of
TMT: "Todos Los Dolores" is one of my favorite songs on the album.
There is an innocence in both the Spanish lyrics and the way you innocently
deliver them that is unlike anything on the album. Another , spanish-tinged song
of yours is the single [independent of the album], "Cada Casa Que Crece." Do you
have a fascination for that sort of thing?
DB: I grew up in Caracas, all my Spanish songs are about my family (I
wrote a bunch with my mom too!), Caracas Graffiti, and Homage. And, thank you to
Caetano Veloso for being the greatest songwriter alive.
TMT: What music-- or any art form for that mater-- are you most drawn
to? Does your music reflect that?
DB: I am drawn to essence, short poetry, short songs, I am not into
excessiveness. "Try a Little Tenderness" is long but for good reason; nothing is
wasted with Otis [Redding].
TMT: Your lyrics bear a very fictional, at times even surrealistic,
feel. Do you prefer anecdote to a more clear-cut, unconcealed method of
DB: I am CLEAR! have you heard Wings' "Band on the Run"??? That's
TMT: Ok, this is a question we here at TMT like to ask a lot, and
probably also one you've been asked repeatedly, but only because present
circumstance implores us to: what're your thoughts on today's music? Do you
believe music is suffering a sort lapse? Or do you still experience interesting
enough things to keep your hopes up?
DB: I'm gonna give you a list of musicians that I got turned on to
this year that just blow my mind!
Six Organs of Admittance
the Icarus Line
Iron and Wine
All Night Radio
Davy Graham (just played in London!)
Freeze Puppy (20 year old Bristol kid who blew my mind when we played with him )
Liars (saw them in spain , REVOLUTIONARY!)
Old Time Relijun
Yeah Yeah Yeahs (I finally heard their music and its soo good!)
Regina Spektor ( i might have miss spelled that!)
The Winter Flowers
Amps for Christ!!!
Kill Me Tomorrow!
SEEE!!!! I just thought of the people I'm listening to today who I dig so much
and they playing allover the place and there are lots more, but I will need to
go to my cds in the van!
TMT: Anybody you'd like to tour or collaborate with?
DB: Joanna Newsom, Vetiver , actually, ALL OF THE ABOVE!
TMT: What do you have planned after you finish the tour?
DB: I am moving to the south of France (Arles). My girlfriend's
mother is a bull fighter and she lives with the Gypsy Kings (seriously), and I
will live there for a while and learn Flamenco.