August 17, 2005

Interview :: Devendra Banhart

Devendra Banhart is a young man who comes to us from Texas by way of Caracas, Venezuela. Barely reaching into his middle twenties with long spindly fingers, Banhart has already carved out a mythic niche for himself through shamanic charisma, child-like artistry, and media hysteria. A potent combination that if befell a mainstream performer, would either kill them, or brand them the next Elvis. Banhart is far from the mainstream current, you'll find him floating on his back in a tiny, rocky stream, slipping over the rocks like a long slender leaf; a verdant green in the steely blue water. With a voice characterized as "a quivering high tension wire [src]", "beautiful [src]", and as "a strange and ineffable instrument [src]", Banhart can divide and conquer listeners with his voice alone. Divide into 'for or against' camps, pushing the 'against' down the stairs and out the door and drawing the 'for' closer into a world of little yellow spiders, friends named Will, dogs, beards, and sexy pigs.

With his fourth proper studio album and fifth recorded work, Cripple Crow, set to be released (Sept. 13/US) on his new label home, xl recordings, Banhart took some time out to answer a few questions.

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*Sixeyes: Let's get right into Cripple Crow... what specifically inspired the songs on the new record?

Devendra Banhart: Dee Brown's [book], Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.

The Music and words and allness of:
Simon Diaz
Atahualpa Yupanqui
Robbie Basho
Caetano Veloso
Secos E Molhados
Fajar Di Atas Awan

The friendship, love, and guidance of:

Thom Monahan
The Bunnybrains
Currituck Co.
The Espers
The Metallic Falcons
Tarantula A.D
Noah Georgeson
Lorandrew Georgopabaker

and Everyone and Everything ever.

*Six: Tell me... what was the biggest difference between how you worked on Cripple Crow as opposed to previous releases? Was there a difference?

Devendra: The difference was that even though there were definite themes and actual songs pre-written upon entering the studio, the whole things feels like a strange by-product of being in the Bearsville woods surrounded by our family [*six: Bearsville, NY, where Cripple Crow was recorded] .

*Six: There is a generous amount of songs on Cripple Crow... did you have many songs to choose from, are you as prolific as it seems? And do you find the process of picking and choosing tracks for a new record difficult?

Devendra: What makes this record not so good is the tiny amount of time we had to work on each song. We had one month to record 45 songs... it was too much, I should have kept it to 18 or so, lots of getting rid of songs, a bummer it was. We ended up with 35 at the end of the month, 22 for the record, the rest b sides, I couldn't save the rest for another album because they all came together, all came under the Cripple Crow source.

*Six: If you could make me a mixtape of what you think I should hear... what would be on it and why?

Devendra: You should hear Gordon Lightfoot covering Joni Mitchell's songs, some people can't do it, but holy cow can he! Also, check out Bobby Charles, he's the person who brought us to Bearsville.

*Six: From some articles I have read about you, you appear to harbor a stronger love for female singer/songwriters than male. Is that fair?

Devendra: I think its equal and I certainly don't think its because they are female, they simply happen to also be female, and then again, I wonder if that's true, female singer/songwriters might be in my opinion much stronger, less clouded, clearer, closer to themselves.

*Six: There is a blues feel to many of the songs you have penned, is this influence linear, or is it more a type of osmosis from listening to others with 'stronger' blues influences?

Devendra: Must be a seeped into me (osmosis) thing, I listen to lots of "Blues" stuff, but holy shit! I cant ever imagine people like Charlie Patton, Blind Willie Johnson, Bo Carter, Fred McDowell, Memphis Minnie, etc., ever seeping in. If anything it's seeped in to the danceable songs, I don't think it's for me to sit and use a blues structure in a me and guitar setting, naw that don't feel right for me, but chicken dancing and some blues go wing and wing.

*Six: What was the first song you wrote that made you think, 'Hey, this isn't bad'?

Devendra: I dont know.

*Six: The raven black crow is at times too smart for it's own good and branded by some as a symbol of death... Do you feel an affinity with the crow? And why title the album, Cripple Crow?

Devendra: Well, I said to myself, "What's the title?" and I heard from myself, " Look in books, think... feel words, extract the words from the songs, condense the record into a word or a couple of words, etc". Then I said to the creative spirit, "Whats the title?" and i heard, "Keep looking in all those places you told yourself to look, keep looking diligently, though it will not come from there, i will bring it to you if you keep looking in all the wrong places". And as I looked I began to hear, "I Am Cripple Crow, I Am Cripple Crow", so i was gonna call it, I Am Cripple Crow, but I thought it would look like I was saying... I, Devendra, am Cripple Crow, which I am not , Cripple Crow is the album, so I got rid of the I Am.

*Six: Do you love simplicity in song... the kind you find in children's songs, such as Itsy Bitsy Spider?

Devendra: Yes, I do, simplicty, essence, that's the goal. "Mister Rabbit Mister Rabbit"....perfect song that one.

*Six: Do you feel your songwriting is heading in a more simplified style, or are you craving to spin out more complicated songs?

Devendra: I dont think I'm capable of getting too complicated, though I do hope to string lots of little songs together in the future, still I don't want to never return to where I began on, Oh Me Oh My, or as a little kid writing songs for my dogs.

*Six: If it's true that 'you are what you eat'.... what are you?

Devendra: Seaweed.

*Six: And finally... What are your plans for the rest of this year and the coming year?

Devendra: I hope to go to Bahia and make a record with Vetiver and Arto Lindsay inspired by Caetano Veloso and Gal Costas fist record Domingo.

Releasing tunes by Jana Hunter (Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom, October 4th) on a label just formed with Andy Cabic from Vetiver and Gary Held from Revolver called, Gnomensong . Raising a garden and chicken dancing.

(*sixeyes thanks Howard Wuelfing, of Howlin' Wolf Media, for his assistance in securing this interview.)

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You can stream Cripple Crow right here.

Devendra Banhart MP3s
from Rejoicing in The Hands
+ will is my friend
+ the body breaks
from Nini Rojo
+ be kind via
Live Radio Performance: KVRX

All of Devendra Banhart's released albums and his EP can be downloaded from eMusic.


  1. Excellent!

    Alan, this is far superior to anything I've read in Rolling Stone in the last 15 years!

  2. hey, very cool interview. good questions

  3. Anonymous11:31:00 AM

    Devendra mentioned Tarantula (AD), and that in itself is a wealth of greatness! Amazing.

  4. great interview alan! very informative and a great flow to it. keep it up.

  5. Devendra is one of the natural voice, almost a treasure, cool interview!

  6. thanks, bulut
    he has a strange charisma, if you get the chance you should see him live.

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