Once in a while, amongst all the mediocre dialogues with indie boys about what episode of Family Guy is playing on their tour bus, or how much Jaegermeister they drank the previous night, comes an interview that drags you back into the reality that musicians can be quite interesting. Well, ‘interesting’ as in ‘mad as a toaster’ in the context of Devendra Banhart. His music is slightly more conventional than his past. Named by an Indian mystic, Banhart left art school in San Francisco to wander - often without shelter - all the way to New York. “Shit….uh, hold on.” This is the Banhart I am greeted with upon phoning a hotel room in Sweden. “OK, we have something of an emergency,” rushes Banhart, in a surprisingly standard American accent, given his Venezuelan childhood. He asks me to call back in fifteen minutes (I make it twenty, just in case). When I call back, expecting to hear the end of the world, Banhart is calm. Something like a sitar plays in the background. I hope that he has cleared up his emergency, “what? Oh yeah, that, sure.”
Arriving in New York, Banhart hung out in squats, and, on good nights stayed in acquaintances’ apartments making music on a broken cassette recorder. Following a campaign of persuasion by his friends to allow a wider audience to hear his stream of consciousness recordings, Banhart began to increase his efforts to get more gigs. His songs eventually found their way to the office of Young God Records. In October 2002, after much record company debate over how the songs should be recorded, they were released, practically untouched in Banhart’s debut album, ‘Oh My Oh My.’ Brief, shrill and twisted into an unrecognisable folk, Banhart immediately forced attention upon his music. Amongst aching indie, it stuck out as if from another era, where beards and cobwebs rule. Since then, Banhart has consistently recorded acutely original acoustic tracks.
“They get shorter,” begins Banhart, describing the evolution of his songs. “They’ve changed,” he says slowly, before hastening the sentence into nonsense, “now they sell beer and cheese.” He stamps such whimsical irrelevance so regularly throughout the interview, that there are only a few intervals of normality. “Possibly whistles,” he chirps suddenly, while I’m asking some benign question. Sometimes I have no choice but to indulge him. “Words only come to me when I have nothing to take them with,” he reveals of his song writing, “when I am prepared, it never comes.” After ‘Oh My Oh My’, the EP, ‘Black Babies’ was released in 2003. But it was his second full length, ‘Rejoicing In The Hands’ that captured the critics in Banhart’s acid soaked honey trap. I ask him what he thinks of critical acclaim, “I have all their records. I have them all in plastic actually. I might Ebay them soon. And posters on my walls. Joey with the rat tail is dreamy.”
For a wanderer, it’s appropriate that Banhart’s gigging schedule is hectic. He plays sports during touring to stem the madness that crushes many a band stuck on the road. “Cricket. Basketball. We chant before playing shows. The mantra changes depending on the vibration of the day or the weather. I stretch. And we hug and kiss. We lick each other. There’s some fondling.” The ‘we’ is Banhart’s touring band, The Hairy Fairies. Apart from all the above pre-stage groping, Banhart insists they also twist nipples to reinforce their bond. It’s an entirely flippant rant. When I play along, he continues for minutes, adding ludicrous scenarios on top of one another like a magic mushroom club sandwich. When I get confused at the fact that I’m clearly talking to someone who sees the world in a very different way, and say ‘er, em, ooh’ and almost drop the phone, swiftly moving on the another question that sounds increasingly banal in Banhart’s context, I feel ridiculed by his lunacy.
Banhart has already written his next album, to be released on September 13th. “It’s called Purple Crow. I’m excited,” he babbles, “I’m crying tears of excitement.” He pauses for a few seconds and his voice rises in pitch, “RAINBOW TEARS. Check under your bed.” Not content with freaking out journalists or pushing records, Banhart also paints, and is “five hundred pages” through an illustrated novel, ‘Rejoicing In The Hands Of The Golden Negress’. Banhart says “visions” prompted him to put pen to paper to create the folktale. Back to the music, Banhart offers an indication of what the Belfast crowd can expect from his gig, “Bauhaus covers. And, Jamaican dreads.” I play along. Are these Jamaican dreads attached to fake Rasta hats, “oh yeah, fake Rasta hats. We throw them around like Frisbees. No, wait. Beach balls.” Before hanging up with more than a few questions unanswered, Banhart ensures me that what he will remember most from life are the many children he has had with various old men who have come to his shows. I hang up, and run to Tower Records to buy his CD.
listening to: Coldplay - Talk