Devendra Banhart

"there must be all that dark for all that light, there must be balance, which is why I believe in real demons"

Devendra Banhart was once a homeless psyched-out hippie hipster eccentric with nothing much to show for except a piece of paper from some obscure San Francisco art school. Life was grim in these young years as he’ll attest. Then he discovered a 4-track and it would change his life forever. And it wasn’t even his 4-track he was using, belonging rather to a friend of his onto which he would record his first crude psychedelic folk songs in his ramshackle basement. But before long Banhart was able to channel this momentum and move to New York City, hopping from guest couch to guest couch, freeing him to pursue his hipster dreams more earnestly. Roughly two short years ago Banhart’s 4-track demos finally made their way to Michael Gira of Young God Recordings, who instantly fell in love with the bohemian rocker’s unique Southern-infused quivering voice and backwoods songwriting style. Banhart was on his way.

With Gira’s help Banhart is still a psyched-out hippie hipster eccentric, but now has a permanent place to call home, not to mention several impressive albums and EPs to show for. His new single, “At the Hop”, signals an auspicious future ahead for one indie-rock’s latest luminaries. Who said the lo-fi couldn’t save someone’s life? Banhart took some time to talk with Heraclitus about his progress as an artist, life on tour, and even the state of nation as we still try to internalize what happened a short month ago—a hypermodern destiny. The interview is surely this site’s most psychedelic to date and even had Heraclitus having sudden flashbacks to his days of unintentional Ergot consumption. But now with the help of the better science of laboratories, we recommend 200-300mg of mescaline to achieve optimum enjoyment from this interview.

Heraclitus Sayz: We are futurists. On your next material, could you let us in on what direction you’ve decided to take the band? In what direction do you see the music heading in contrast to your prior work?

Devendra Banhart: I see it moving towards an island, an "islandy" feel…music for sit and listen and music for stand and dance.

Heraclitus Sayz: Out of curiosity, what are some of the other indie rock bands out today that you admire as bands on the "cutting-edge", or doing something new and different? Perhaps bands with which you’d most like to tour might be a good way of putting it.


Heraclitus Sayz: Speaking of touring, would you say you enjoy spiritual aspect of playing live more, or the intellectual process of recording an album?

DB: I don’t know, really.

Heraclitus Sayz: Ok, good. I’m not that much interested in that, either. Let’s get right to it then: The very idea of the album is an interesting one. Indeed, popular music has not always been about the album. I believe history records the Beatles as the first to strive to write songs that mesh well together as a unit as opposed to writing singles. In this era of the iPod and file sharing, it’s often argued that the golden age of the album may have passed its prime. Less and less people want to hear an entire album, as evidenced by the popularity of the iTunes store, for example. Like a hit, people just want the drug rush of the 2-3 minute single. Do you perceive this trend towards the single as a legitimate threat to the future of bands making albums as cohesive artistic statements?

DB: No, not at all. The contraptions to get your one minute fix as ya’ call it will always change and the need to get that "fix" shall always be there too, but so will the need to explore an entire piece, to live with an album and track each song to a different states of being. What’s sad, of course, is that a band might just have one damn song and then the record out with clod [sic].

Heraclitus Sayz: Since our site doesn’t consider itself exclusively a music site, we will now enter into important questions concerning politics to satisfy our contingent of readers who are still fucked-up after Nov. 2nd. After all, it is Heraclitus who says, "A city must protect its laws just as its walls". With the election now over, here’s an interesting statistic I came across: In 2000, of registered voters between the ages of 18-25, 17% voted. In 2004, after unprecedented national interest and Puff Daddy’s Vote or Die campaign among others, that number remained unchanged, still 17%. What does that say about this young demographic. If they didn’t vote now, then when?

DB: What?? [looks surprised, slightly angered] Shit, I don’t believe that! Poor kids, so jaded, they don’t give a fuck. I thought it was the kids that brought the election to a near tie but shit! Are you sure? I voted for the first time, I felt good too.

Heraclitus Sayz: Well, your skepticism comes from a good place. In order to believe statistics as "true" one must first accept the fundamental conception of truth as ‘certain’, i.e. truth that can be verified, i.e. derived from the Latin certitudo, or veritas. Therefore, if you ask, ‘Is the statistic true, as in correct?’ I answer, yes. However, truth understood primordially renders an entirely different conception, one that experiences beings in their phenomenality, as what is present in its presencing. Statistical analysis, as an instrument of modernity’s ever-increasing techno-scientific explanation of being masters and dominates beings, whereas primordially understood, beings themselves lie in the open according to the lighting of Being. Just as Heraclitus teaches ‘How can one hide himself from that which never sets?’ the Greeks experienced the phenomenality of what was present, its radiant self-showing in its disclosure. Nevertheless, as we return to the matter at hand, do you fear that America’s suddenly sullied reputation abroad could be irreparably damaged after four more years of the present administration? Is this a legitimate fear? Or will there always be a chance to extend an olive branch and heal past wounds?

DB: No, I was just there. I was in France for a month and thanks to Fahrenheit 911 the attitude towards Americans went from disgust to pity, they saw in that film that we are not like Bush.

Heraclitus Sayz: We’ve all heard it before: one laments how Americans are hated abroad and how he/she hates it, something to the effect of, "It didn’t used to be like this. Many of my Greeks hold Americans in very low regard. However, a skeptic might argue in a Machiavellian sense that perceptions of America mean nothing whatsoever; all that matters is dollars and cents, i.e. power and influence. Especially regarding Europe, what real effect does hatred or resentment of America have that they should alter their course and try not to be hated?

DB: well, this country isn’t even ours. I don’t think we should give a shit about how other countries see us. I think we need to focus on how American Indians think of us, the civil rights movement completely forgot about them, they own the spirit of this motherland and we are scared of it (you might laugh at how ridiculous that sounds but I’m talking spiritually here and it’s a known), I don’t know what else to say other than the earth will engulf the buildings.

Heraclitus Sayz: Interesting. I take that to mean the eventual cultural implosion of the West. You’re touching upon man’s present spiritual condition in modernity, and more specifically its de-emphasis in hyper-simulated urban megalopolises. Let’s then turn our attention away from politics for a moment and to the idea of modernity as such. I, too, believe modernity, as a concept, is not often discussed in terms of its affect on the spiritual well-being of man:

Globalization. In the long run it brings about such universal values such as freedom, democracy, and human rights. But is this so? Perhaps the elimination of all rules, more precisely, the reduction of all rules to laws of the market is the opposite of freedom, namely, its illusion. Thus globalization pretends to liberate the world, only to deregulate it. We’re speaking of the annihilation of the spiritual self, that such out-dated and aristocratic values such as dignity, honesty, challenge and sacrifice no longer count for anything. Do you agree that this is the danger facing us moderns, the death of our spiritual selves?

DB: well, it’s funny that all this "modernity" is designed to make life "easier"! (laughs uncontrollably) Yes, we are feeding the ego and starving the spirit these days, but that’s the way of this human cycles religion, it is the rape of religion. I have such negative things to say about this. I will stop.

Heraclitus Sayz: Lastly, I once wrote: "Without injustice, justice would mean what?" To put it another way, I meant good and evil are irresolvably bound up with one another, like day and night. I call this the polemos, ???????. This is fatal in the original sense: an integral part of our fate, our destiny. Is this not the illusion of the West, i.e. the forgetfulness of this primordial truth of Being? Because techno-scientific perfection seems theoretically within reach, modernity believes by extension in the possibility of realizing moral perfection. By contrast evil can’t be subdued by any form of rationality. What then is George W. Bush’s War on Terror understood within this context? Globalization, i.e. this world-path towards freedom and democracy among all peoples, that is to say the end of history, must have its essential opposition, and that is terrorism and will forever be so. Is this so, that as we progress towards the path of world democracy we will forever be faced with its counter-balance, and that is terrorism?

DB: Balance, yes balance, there must be all that dark for all that light, there must be balance, which is why I believe in real demons, but anyways , it is unbalanced right now , it seems so anyways , more dark than light, but the more dark that’s made the more light that should exist , or will the dark grows till on great candle is lit and all darkness is reduced dramatically, I don’t know , I don’t know , no I do know, it will, everything moves in cycles. Everything.

Heraclitus Sayz: And so as we end this interview we simultaneously return to the beginning: This cosmos was not made by gods or men, but always was, and is, and ever shall be ever-living fire.

*listen to a 9-minute NPR segment on this artist entitled Devendra Banhart’s Surreal Sound.