Devendra Banhart is not your normal everyday guy – in fact, he’s quite the opposite. The Texas born, Venezuela raised singer/songwriter/painter is among the artists who started a new musical movement and created ‘freak folk’ in the early 2000s.
He has recorded with Beck and Wu-Tang’s GAZA, founded a record label, performers in Carnegie Halls and briefly dated Nataly Portman. Banhart is also fronting for the hip fashion chain, The Kooples, alongside his fiance Ana Kras (photographer).
Banhart’s mother and stepfather were both acolytes of an Indian guru named Prem Reward (aka Maharaj Ji) of the Divine Light Mission, who gave Devendra his first name, which is another name for the Lord Indra, God of rain. His middle name, Obi, was his mother’s idea. Evidently, she was a Star Wars fan.
The ubiquitous music in Venezuela was salsa, merengue and Cumbria. But then at the age of eight, he discovered Nirvana and wanted to sound just like them. ‘I’m genuinely frustrated by the fact that when I open my mouth to sing, it doesn’t sound like this guy’ he says. So Banhart waited until his mother went out. He then out on one of her dresses, picked up a comb and sang as if he was a woman. “It was like I had permission to sing the way I do. It’s not a sexual thing. It was just that this part of me, the feminine part of me said ‘Hey, let’s try this!'” – he’s Gemini btw.
At the age of 11 when he lived in Caracas, Devendra pierced his ear which to us would seem normal, however, everyone was so scandalised that they shut down the school he was attempting. There were people who send him death threats because they thought ‘there’s a f-g in the school.’
I find talking out loud very hard, even to my friends…my friends will tell you that I will cry eventually. Not because I’m self conscious. I know I’m an idiot and there’s a liberating aspect to that. I just get ready at the most inappropriate moments. It just sort of happens.
- Ape in Pink Marble (2016)
- Mala (2013)
- That Will We Be (2009)
- Oh Me Oh My (2002) – 1st album
Of course, this is only a selection from his 10 albums so far. Banhart designs the album covers himself.
He attended The San Francisco Art Institute on a scholarship but dropped out so he could concentrate on his music. Banhart then spent the summer of 99 opening for different bands in Paris but soon returned to California because he was broke.
Finally, look out for Banhart’s “stay together a cure for couples”. This isn’t the average snake oil that some voodoo man is going to sell you. This is going to make relationships last. “The main treatment is that the male will take oestrogen for a week and the female will take testosterone. Worlds will open up and new perspectives will arise.”
There you have it – now go and explore his music and art!
Written by: Jenny Shen