Devendra Banhart Sings New Songs For Unborn Children & Yoga Moms
Performer Magazine | by Darby Beck
Rejoicing in the HandsIn 2002 Devendra Banhart took the music world by surprise. A traveling hippie with a guitar and a singularly odd voice and wholly original lyrical take on the world, he was selling homemade recordings at this shows. Shows that were quite a sight. â€œA show for me then was different situation. I t was like a freakout exercise, Iâ€™d drink a full bottle of wine and hold up the guitar and screech.â€
Banhartâ€™s recordings were the essence of lo-fi, done â€œfor a few friendsâ€ on broken 4-tracks in other peopleâ€™s living rooms (as he didnâ€™t have one at the time) and on friendâ€™s answering machines. â€œSomehow Michael [Gira] got it,â€ says Banhart. â€œSending it to labels was the most absurd thing in the world. No one would want to release it - but Michael did and didnâ€™t want to make a record, he just wanted to release it as it was.â€ The album, Oh Me, Oh My ..., on Giraâ€™s label Young God Records, was a critical coup, Banhart charmed the most cynical of music writers, who were all the more humbled for having made assumptions about a hippie and his guitar. After all, Banhart is a man who calls California home because â€œ[It] is the magical land. This is where Mother Nature feeds on her own nipple. A good, green nipple.â€
Banhartâ€™s follow-up, Rejoicing in the Hands, is a slight departure. He describes it as a â€œNew Age album for the middle-aged yoga mom demographic.â€ Banhart retains his quirkiness and heartbreaking honesty, but thereâ€™s more going on than a man and his guitar - additional instrumentation and accompanying musicians, and slightly more professional recording techniques. Although thatâ€™s a relative term. â€œWe recorded it in a living room with a creaky wooden floorboard,â€ explains Banhart. â€œThere was a bird called Budgie - you can hear him on a few of the songs.â€
While Banhartâ€™s lyrics are always surprising and ecletic, he sees themes that held over from Oh Me to Rejoicing. â€œThereâ€™re a lot of symbols that recur - representations, animisms - giving inanimate objects animation and a certain power. Words become like a chemical process.â€ And while his songs are often described as melancholy, he doesnâ€™t see it that way. â€œI wouldnâ€™t describe it as melancholy. There is a lot of sadness in the record. Thereâ€™s a lot of songs written for unborn children. I feel like Iâ€™m in such a rush, so I start writing for things that donâ€™t exist, yet, so maybe that adds some level of sadness to them.â€ When itâ€™s mentioned that he sometimes sounds like a female blues musician, both vocally and lyrically, Banhart agrees. â€œSo many of the musicians I listen to happen to be women, and when I shave, I look just like a woman. I have a side project called Abra that I do in drag - I love being in drag. So maybe Iâ€™m a three-legged woman, a bearded lady, you know what I mean?â€ You may not know what he means now, but you will after listening to Rejoicing In The Hands.