Devendra Banhart: The Essence of Things

 
My definition of selling out involving artistic integrity is essentially when you start premeditating shit that shouldn't be premeditated. There's a lot of things that should be done with discipline and focus but there's a lot of things you can't try and plan. When those two things get switched then that's selling out. That hasn't happened.

-Devendra Banhart

 
Photo by Lauren Dukoff

Stardom And Creation

Devendra Banhart by Lauren Dukoff
Besides the recent move to SoCal, Banhart signed on last year with Elliot Roberts, Neil Young's longtime manager, who's been instrumental in getting the word out about his new client. Banhart played last year's prestigious Bridge School Benefit Concert and you'd be hard pressed to visit a newsstand this Fall and not see his bearded mug on the cover of every remotely hip music magazine. Banhart largely takes it all in stride and is adamant that he's actually more free to create as the mood strikes him than ever before. Still, there are bad days, like when we spoke hours before the current tour began.

"Right now I'm under a giant turd. I just need a little bit of time to get it together," says Banhart. But in the next breath he adds, "I don't feel I'm in the spotlight. I don't feel any pressure. It isn't like Axl Rose, who has people around him who to make sure he never reads bad reviews. It isn't that I'm in some bubble, where I'm living this weird, enclosed little world with myself at the center of it. I feel like the same ratty pain-in-the-ass I've always been."

To those who think he's grown more commercial since his simple four-track beginnings, he offers, "My definition of selling out involving artistic integrity is essentially when you start premeditating shit that shouldn't be premeditated. There's a lot of things that should be done with discipline and focus but there's a lot of things you can't try and plan. When those two things get switched then that's selling out. That hasn't happened."

For clear evidence of the immediacy and juicy zing in Banhart's music today one need only speak to his collaborators like '70s folk-rocker Linda Perhacs, who returned to making music partially because of Banhart. After releasing a single beloved album in 1970, Parallelograms, she's got two new albums in the can including one with Banhart. Perhacs says, "When Devendra asked me if I could add some of my 'otherworldly harmonies' to his new CD, my answer was an immediate YES! All of us who know him, love him as a brother and just sharing time and creating music with him is pure high vibe! Because of this, when we experience Devendra's music and his artwork and live performances, as well as the delight of recording with him and all his closest friends and musicians, what all of us are really experiencing is the total ambiance of his soul, that is both deep and sensitive with a generosity of spirit to all that is very unusual. The composite of all these textures is what draws people to him. And it is genuinely deserved by him for he is truly unique!"

"Music is like raw cedar and you chip at it until you get the form you want. Sometimes you mostly work elaborate, long lines in the surface or you chip at it until there's just a splinter left. You're guiding AND you're guided. And you're unveiling but you never unveil all the way. And you know it comes from a space outside of yourself and your job is to collaborate with that space, not excluding the interior or the exterior," says Banhart. "At the beginning and now, it's meant to be given as a gift. I've written a song for you, whoever you may be. The only way I ever got a four-track in the first place was Noah [Georgeson, bandmate and co-producer of Smokey Rolls] saying I want to hear what you do. It was always meant to be shared. But, when it came to recording Rejoicing In The Hands and Niño Rojo, it was done under circumstances that were the most affordable. Essentially, there wasn't enough time or money and this is what came out. In the end, I had to get each track down by the fourth or fifth take because we had a completely unworkable deadline. There was no flexibility, and overdubs in that world were a complete luxury. I've never had an aesthetic that was minimalist. I try for a distillation that gets to the essence of a song by either adding and adding or by stripping away as much as possible. The goal in the end is the essence of the words and music."

JamBase | Higher Spheres
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http://www.devendrabanhart.com/

[Published on: 11/1/07]

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Comments

whodoyoudo Fri 11/2/2007 06:19AM
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whodoyoudo

what a freaker

emgriffi Fri 11/2/2007 09:26AM
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daverosenheim starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/2/2007 10:07AM
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daverosenheim

I was enchanted by the artwork accompanying Smokey Rolls--the CD comes with a booklet of individual drawings and watercolors by Devandra's hand. The pieces are fun, mystical and musical, and I wanted to learn more about his visual art.

A week or two later I learned that the art from Smokey Rolls is actually on exhibit at the SF MOMA, so I checked it out. It's a really cool exhibit featuring Devandra's work alongside that of Paul Klee, whose work I've long loved. Interestingly, Paul was also a musician (a classically trained violinist, I think), and his visual art was often an exploration of musical themes. Supposedly he did a bunch of writing on the symbiotic relationship between the two forms. The juxtaposition between Devandra and Klee's work was really cool- there is actually a lot of similarity, perhaps even a dialog between the two. Highly recommended.

HOPEFULPHAN Fri 11/2/2007 11:00AM
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DrownedInSound starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/2/2007 11:14AM
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DrownedInSound

Really cool article on one of most interesting artists out there. I've been reading a lot of articles about him (he's on the cover of every major music mag it seems), really cool how Neil Young's manager (and Young himself) wanted to work with Banhart, gotta love legends picking up the new breed. I love how Banhart mixes sound from all the places he's lived. He's a charismatic person and a true original... we need more musicians like Banhart. Oh, and Dennis Cook is the shit!

snappy Fri 11/2/2007 11:24AM
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snappy

A note about the 2006 Bonnaroo performance: Devendra was unknowingly dosed by some jackass just before their set. The shit kicked in during the show and he was really disoriented the rest of the day. That band and performance bears zero resemblance to the band today, which is pretty disciplined and rehearsed. I spent time before two gigs with them in September and no one partied beyond a single glass of wine or beer before shows.

snappy Fri 11/2/2007 11:26AM
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snappy

I also wrote the cover story on Devendra for the upcoming Winter issue of Signal To Noise magazine, which i think will hit newsstands in December. It's considerably longer than this piece and features completely different quotes, insights and stories. That concludes my shameless self-promotion. Thanks for good word to those who offered one on my work...

roberto767 starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/2/2007 11:59AM
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21mmer Fri 11/2/2007 03:24PM
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21mmer

just out of curiosity....what is the source for this acid story? it seems to me that this is a man who could pull a performance together while being a little out of it....or a lot out of it.

as a much heralded artist, i've tried to get into this guy but i just can't pick up on his vibe. i'm all about freaks, and folk, and weirdness, and combinations of those but devandra's mix just doesn't do it for me. is it my fault? anyone?

rulosa01 starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/2/2007 03:34PM
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Well, I just can't get enough Devendra in my life. A real original cat, and I find his music to be rather inspired and always quite interesting. I guess it is cool to hate on folks just trying to express themselves.

snappy Fri 11/2/2007 03:51PM
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snappy

The source is the man himself, and it wasn't acid. It was an unknown substance that just messed with his system. The random things that came out of him at the Sonic Stage later that day spoke to the power of whatever it was.

roberto767 Fri 11/2/2007 08:16PM
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roberto767

Snappy, you said "he was dosed by some jackass..." So Wots Uh the Deal?

All Loving Liberal White Guy Sat 11/3/2007 11:43AM
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All Loving Liberal White Guy

emgriffi, your thoughtless and ingnorant but funny as balls. i was laughing my ass just from reading it.

manjotar starstarstarstar Sat 11/3/2007 11:53AM
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manjotar

i dig devendra. he makes me smile and his music is good on seven seperate levels that i don't even know about.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstar Mon 11/5/2007 09:30AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

I will be listening to his album real soon.

Only because I have to :P we shall see how it goes, I have no idea what to expect, which is cool, because I will listen to it with-out bias. peace.

roberto767 Mon 11/5/2007 10:59AM
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roberto767

This poor guy ate way too much acid for his own good.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Tue 11/6/2007 04:35AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

I am not a fan of drag. whats up with that anyway? just his way of being different? I would not pay to see any performing man dressed in drag.

I just think its too weird for me.

jimmy row Tue 11/6/2007 07:25AM
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so he said he got "dosed with something" and thats his excuse for a less than steller show? Sounds pretty weak to me

snappy Tue 11/6/2007 07:44AM
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snappy

I'm continually amazed at how folks get caught up in a single moment like one bad show or a surface detail like the drag photos. That most of the discussion here has centered on that stuff rather than his broad, wildly eclectic music or richness of spirit, both as a human being and an artistic collaborator, is kinda sad. I write about music and go to see it live because I love music. I mean that in the archetypal sense, something bigger than the tiny details. When I encounter someone who channels that greater spirit I'm happy to celebrate it. Devendra does this with alarming regularity and I could care less if he's a little off one show or wears ladies clothing from time to time. Besides, I think he's pretty cute for a bearded lady...

aquariumdrunk Tue 11/6/2007 08:12AM
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aquariumdrunk

"...too weird for me."

Once again, JamBase members show their open minds! Are you really getting on the fact that he's too "out there?!" Would you be more accepting if he was sporting ratty dreads, a poncho, and a mouthful of rotting teeth?

21mmer Tue 11/6/2007 09:04AM
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21mmer

nice one aquariumdrunk!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstar Tue 11/6/2007 09:29AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

I do not care what hair style, poncho, or kinda teeth he has.

the drag photo is down right creepy.

If you like it, then you are more freaky than I am :P

aquariumdrunk Tue 11/6/2007 09:33AM
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aquariumdrunk

Well I guess I don't LIKE IT -- in that I wouldn't hunt down pictures of Devendra in little dresses, but I guess I'm not sure why someone would go out of their way in a very open forum such as this to point out why it's "too weird." I'm not trying to start an argument, just pointing out that I find the "too weird" comment to be a little weird in and of itself! :)

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstar Tue 11/6/2007 09:38AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

haha! then it fits perfectly :)

besides I was only commenting from my perspective. which in and of itself maybe just as strange as mr banhart himself. now I have no idea what to think. perhaps I will throw the towel in on this one and give up :)

aquariumdrunk Tue 11/6/2007 10:27AM
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aquariumdrunk

Ditto!

RothburyWithCheese starstarstarstarstar Tue 11/6/2007 02:45PM
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RothburyWithCheese

This guy kicks ass. Nuff said.

sunnbear Tue 11/6/2007 03:12PM
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sunnbear

Alot of people thought that Marc Bolin and David Bowie were too "weird". They hated them because of the way that they looked and presented themselves. "FREAKS!" they said. Now, where would we be without them? What do you think many, many people thought about Frank Zappa? Now don't get me wrong...I'm not comparing Devendra to Zappa or even Bowie or Bolin, but you get the point. To quote Popeye, "IYAMWHATIYAM!!!"

manjotar starstarstarstar Wed 11/7/2007 04:45PM
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manjotar

he doesn't usually perform in drag, i've only seen one instance of that a couple years back. he was singing these amazing old jazz and blues songs with a piano player backing him up. a very small show too.

to quote the man himself,

"i love that man, when he's onstage,

i'd hit that thing, in a good way..."

canoftunapudding Thu 11/8/2007 03:51PM
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What kind of random things did this man-woman say on the Sonic Stage at Bonnaroo? I'm all about unknown substances.

Hayle Fri 11/9/2007 08:30AM
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All the freaky people make the beauty of the world . . .

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstar Fri 11/16/2007 09:35AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

I heard the album. Meh. :)