Here’s a press release I sent to music writers in 2002 when Devendra was completely unknown, regarding the release of Oh Me Oh MY…. More info follows below – Michael Gira/Young God Records 2008
Dear Music Writer,
We’re sending you this advance CDR copy of Devendra Banhart’s CD “Oh Me Oh My…” because we believe you’d like to be among the first to hear the songs of this completely unknown, precociously talented young (21 yr old) songwriter. To say Devendra is unique is an absurd understatement. When I first heard his voice I could not believe it. His occasionally warbling falsetto is alternately bizarre, soulful, comical, gentle, and often a little frightening (listen to “Nice People” and see if it doesn’t set the hairs on the back of your neck on end). His advanced (though often somewhat elliptical (!)) finger-picking guitar style, coupled with his wildly surreal lyrics (truly exceptional in many cases) have convinced me personally that he’s a potential major talent, and I would never use this latter phrase lightly. The 21 songs (some of which clock in at about 30 seconds) on this CD each contain their own special (psycho?) drama and immediately memorable melody - no mean feat when your instrumentation is limited to acoustic guitar and voice with only the occasional hand clap or whistle thrown in as “orchestration”. In a popular music environment inundated with computer/electronic generated sound and sanitized ProTools mixes it’s a tremendous relief to hear something so ridiculously compelling that’s also so low tech, utterly personal, and hand made .The songs were recorded on assorted borrowed and usually broken 4 track cassette recorders by Devendra himself, in various haphazard locations around the globe. These recordings were made solely for himself, and were not intended as “demos” in order to get the proverbial “record deal”, and they’re better for it – devoid of any self consciousness or artifice, just Devendra’s skewed, idiosyncratic, magically twisted world and imagination. My first impulse on hearing these songs might have been to take him into a studio and “produce” a record for him, but the more I thought about it the less sense it made. There’s an abundance of hiss on these recordings, and the tape heads are often out of alignment - which adds an additional unnerving warble to many of the songs - but to me, it just makes the effect of the music even more special and intimate. I hear all kinds of references and comparisons that might be relevant in describing Devendra – from Marc Bolan’s pre-T Rex recordings, to Daniel Johnston, to Nick Drake (in my opinion some of the songs have a similar inner purity and pathos), to Karen Dalton (one of Devendra’s idols),to Syd Barrett, to, well, Tiny Tim (!)(Ok, Tiny Tim high on gasoline fumes! ). In the end, these comparisons don’t matter, because, as I say, Devendra is completely unique, and I’m really just trying to get you to LISTEN TO THE MUSIC and decide for yourself. So here’s hoping you’ll do just that. I’m confident many of you will be pleased with what you discover. As Devendra says: “…You certainly are nice people…The horse licks your skin, begin!”
Best Wishes, Michael Gira/Young God Records
Devendra Bio from 2002:
DEVENDRA IS TALKING ABOUT HIS SONGS ON THE ALBUM “OH ME OH MY…”
The child bent over to break his neck, I said to it “” then it stopped and lit a fire and drank it.
Song number one, Don’t cry Honey Pie, for snake holds no knife and tick eats the Olives:
A woman is staring at you, and she’s crying , but they are not tears they are olives she cries, but though she cries, she is not worried, for every time she cries one of her olive tears a tick crawls out from the back of the lower part of her head and (very quickly) crawls up her cheek and (very quickly) eats the olive.
It (the tick) will continue to do this as long as the woman cries olives. The fire was never to return, it never came back (listen to music) .Then the child came to bed with me to respond somehow to the new growth in/out of it. The growth was full of oil.
Song number two: Roots, what if I could not count all my teeth, then I would never escape, if the sky where a stone made of lips and bones. Blah blah blah
In a land of everything being made of heat , there was spider attacking wolf or wolf attacking spider, though both were frozen so no-one was to win for certain.
Now, green with tit, the heat rose from under ice, then followed me into cave, where sun keeps its claws,(there was bread there) I was there hoping to find my sister for a knew by the smell that she had slept there, at some point.
Song Number Three: THE CHARLES C. LEARY. The most important song on the album. A ship my great grandfatherfather owned, it was also this painting my father had , had birds, like seagulls in the background, and about a friendchildman, , sell your ass, no, don’t.
Song number four: Nice people. In Evereux, in the French country side, there we were , I, Devendra with the touring popular band who had seen it all, each line is about each member. MM + Humble Horse
Song number five: Animals in my play: In my plate, at this time, animals were visiting me, and Izabelle would comfort me after these visits, I swear, this is true, I swear I do not know what they wanted. (this is true).
That was something strange to me, they sounded like little medieval dwarf-like babies. I swear, some where cats, some where just animals, and my mom tried to fed them, I did too, they did not want to be fed, I don’t know what they wanted…
Song number Six: Cosmos and Demos. Where Two Brothers (true story) who sowed black limbs on white limbs and white limbs on black limbs, it did not work, but it was during the medieval era and they went around doing this before word from the town they were at before got to the town they were at . Was recorded on Bastille day in Paris, the background sound is that of fire works and one gun shot ( I know this because I was looking out the window as I recorded and saw the fire works, the towards the end of the song saw a man in a side street carrying a gun and walking into an apartment and then hearing it go off on the third or fourth floor)
Song number Seven : Michigan State. I have yet to ever go there.
Song number Eight:
Lostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyour teethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyo urteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendme yourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklend meyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarkle ndmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedark lendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostintheda rklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthe darklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteehlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinth edarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostin thedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlostinthedarklendmeyourteethlost
Song Number nine: Miss Cain, I love you.
Song Number Ten: Soon is good: Is about Jerry Elvis and Bob the crippled comic, more so a song for Jerry Elvis , to console him after Bob the crippled comic left him in the middle of the night, two weeks after they were married, he took the computer. My first show was at their wedding, I did, how great thou art and love me tender, it was a beautiful affair.
Song number Eleven: Tell Me Something: I was admiring a picture of my mother. Persimmons will strangle the night away. Blah blah blah. This song, is lots of fun, to play, though ive neve played it live, if I play it.no, if I play and you wanna hear it, give me some shit and ill play it….
Song number Twelve: The Red Lagoon: Whistle while you work,hahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nnnooowwwwwww, snake shall not row the boat ashore, shall not, it is blind.
Song number Thirteen: A gentle soul, a gentle soul he is, my brother Laurent, a song for him and his daughter Camilla, for 14. im working on swimming with you again , my brother, a beautiful soul, the girl/or brother/slept pinned to the tits of an ancient bzzaaattttccchhhh/cunt glow, then grew out of the suns glow, grew Oh The man cursed the salt shaker then put it in his robe , get out of my house.
Song number Fourteen: Happy Happy Oh, now, the end sound is that sound that my dear mother made to put me to sleep as an infant and when I see her to this day.
Song number Fifteen: Pumpkin seeds pumpkin seeds, balhblahblahtwomilliondollars, don’t die old man pigeon too, don’t split, not just yet , no. balh balh blah . I really like this song, I hope people are quiet when I play it, sometimes they are, good for them.
Song number Sixteen: Thumbs touch Too Much: I will send you the Thumbs Too Much by Devendra Banhart if you would like, it will cost nothing, give me your address and it will be sent to you. It’s a book of psychedelic jokes.
Song number Seventeen: Legless love: hahahahahahahah!!!! I’m standing on a new animal , I recognize its voice. Blahblahblahblah
Song number Eighteen: Marigold, her gills cover gills,then the child appeared and sang a favorite song. Then once again bent , sung for the child whom was disguised as a dear friend, dumb motherfucker, ohhohohoha small cat was a feminine child, im saying this to you,the bellies of the employees are donkeys on back of the record., I hate that drawing, I saw the animal ask as all animals do, I’m in the dark reaching for apples, I must be hungry, in every drop of water ,terrible music is learning to be dead, BY D.O.B then:inside the soup, a copy of a book sung itself to death pressure jules is queer name, Indian too, all Indians are drunks, im told , turquoise is precious adornment mass consumer, sing with your with till bronchitis instills and the house burns and the ashes do something I’m not sure what.
Song number Nineteen: Make it easier on me, simply.
Song number Twenty: Donal and Colter: Nevermind, im being watched now by small black eyes, from across the meadow , I know now there is another person. This is for two old loves, not mine but theirs, under me , the snow is breathing (happy birthday dead friend, your skin is certain to be eaten) I can see the wrinkles on its sweet-little-fingers, now ive dropped all of my belongings and am asking the black eyes across the meadow watching me to not kill me. Blah blah blah.
Song number Twenty-One: Little Monkey, Sweetyoungthing, child, raise your head, stay dead horse, stand dead horse, ride dead horse home, run river run, sun shine sun, sing child sing, sing your song , (again) sing your song.
Song number Twenty-Two: The spirit is near, The Spirit is Near, happybirthday da , merry Christmas dad, all holidays to you, father. ohmeohmythewaythedaygoe sbythesunissettinganddogsanddogsanddogsanddogsanddogsanddogsanddogsanddogs
anddogsanddogsanddogsaredreaminglovesongsofthechristmasspiri5/1/2003 | Magnet | by John Darnielle
Range Life – Devendra Banhart
Albums like this only come along every so often
“I’m terrible at guitar, though I play all the time,” says Devendra Banhart, “and I don’t think of myself as a writer, though I write all the goddamn time.” Interviews with singer/songwriters seldom illuminate much of anything, but these self-effacing comments are helpful pointers for listeners looking to engage with Banhart’s debut, Oh Me Oh My…The Way the Day Goes By The Sun Is Setting Doges are Dreaming Lovesongs Of The Christmas Spirit (Young God).
Albums like this only come along every so often. Self-recorded at LED-scorching Tascam levels, Oh Me Oh My recalls the voices of classic outsider like Arthur Doyle and Jandek while not sounding anything like them.. The similarities are in Banhart’s singularity and in his total dedication to his vision. While there was a time when you could expect to hear at least one home-recorded experiment per indie record--hello, Dinasour JR—it’s been some time since a new voice announced itself this clearly.
The 22-year-old Banhart’s songs hang their hopes on the efficacy of repetition. “We certainly are nice people” is how the chorus of “Nice People” runs, sung in a creepy falsetto some 13 times in incrementally smaller variations over the course of three palpably harrowing minutes. “Lend Me Your Teeth” strips things down even further, its lyrics “(I’m lost in the dark/Lend me your teeth/Come on!”) delivered with a haranguing force. Guitar, tape hiss and a high, quivering voice are the sole tools working here, roughly constructing skeletal pieces of an unnervingly tense patchwork that elicits strong reactions from anyone who hears it.
“It’s amazing that anyone digs it, and I’m so happy they do,” says Banhart. “These are demos, sketches.” He offers a laundry list of tantalizing and increasingly puzzling possibilities for items that will one day stock his proper studio: “Zither, piano, xylophone, panpipes, barking, wingy sounds, rocky sounds, sandy sounds, handy sounds, sifting sounds, clapping sounds, gospelarian sounds, moany sounds, real simple sounds.”
The question that usually occurs to a person confronted with something as bizarre as Oh Me Oh My is: “How am I supposed to take this?” The record, a self-contained universe of linking references that all lead back to the same place, offers few clues. Asked what sort of situation might be ideal for listening to his songs, Banhart defers, then runs with the question until he’s come clean out the other side of it.
“I don’t listen to my songs; I listen to other cats who make better music,” he says. “But if I could walk in on a situation where my music would be appropriate, it would be this: Light a candle. Set the table, slowly. Set the polished, high-quality silverware. Honey, this is paradise. Baby, we are in any country you would like it to be. We are fine dining.”
11/27/2002 | New York Observer | by Joe Hooper
Devendra Banhart, Oh Me Oh My...
Mr. Banhart’s cult status seems pretty well assured
When it comes to divas, agit-prop or otherwise, sometimes geography just raises more questions than it answers. Take the case of Devendra Banhart, a 21-year-old folk singer (I guess you’d call him) who was raised in Texas and moved with his family to Caracas, Venezuela, where, as he writes in his one-page biography, "everything’s fucked, but I love my grandmother, whom [sic] fed whiskey to me from her pinky, paid me to touch my earlobes, and let me pull her elbow flab." He wound up in a squat in New York, he says, where he came to the attention of former Swan Michael Gira’s indie-rock label, Young God Records. Mr. Gira listened to his demo tape and rushed it into production, cosmetically unretouched, as Mr. Banhart’s late October debut album, Oh Me Oh My …
Walter Benjamin famously opined, "That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art." In Mr. Banhart’s case, his crude overdubbing on a barely functional four-track is indistinguishable from his "art naïf" persona. His songs are surrealistic one- or two-minute vignettes rendered by a single guitar and a choir of not entirely in-sync warbly tenors (the overdubbing) which at unpredictable moments will shift into a highly unsettling falsetto wail. On the new album a variety of subjects are covered, among them romance ("I know nature is beside me when he’s inside you, I feel it too"), on several occasions teeth ("Lost in the dark, lend me your teeth") and, for some reason, Michigan ("Oh, Michigan State, how I wanna live in you").
Mr. Banhart’s young career does raise the question of intentionality and self-consciousness and other subjects worthy of the next Charming Hostess album. Personally, I have no idea whether his sound comes from the open spaces and oil fumes of Texas and Venezuela or a close study of the indigenous grotesque in Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, and I don’t much care. The kid’s got a sound, as Bob Evans might say. In any event, with a midnight gig Nov. 27 at Williamsburg’s BQE Lounge, a return engagement at Tonic in December and a profile in the works at The Wire, the prestigious British music magazine, Mr. Banhart’s cult status seems pretty well assured. And deserved. The world should make a place for the truly unusual…
12/15/2002 | The London Observer | Kitty Empire
Davendra Banhart | Oh Me Oh My | Review
he's a rare find
Few records are truly unsettling. Oh Me Oh My The Way The Day Goes By The Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs Of The Christmas Spirit to give Banhart's album its full title is one of this rare fellowship. The bearded and wild-eyed Vincent Gallo attempted recently to make an album as strange as this one and failed. Oh Me Oh My is less an album, more a poisoned stream of semi conscious primitive folk that divides roughly into 22 songs. 'Nice People' , particularly, clocks in at a lengthy 3 minutes, and its creep falsetto chorus 'They certainly are nice people,' becomes more disturbing with every repetition. For all their considerable eccentricity, however, Banhart's plucked melodies are as compelling as they are unusual. Banhart is a nomadic soul who lives in a New York squat and worships the likes of Vashti Bunyan, Karen Dalton, and Mississippi John Hurt. His more modern peers are Will Oldham and Cat Power and, like them, he's not for everyone. But he's a rare find.
11/6/2002 | pitchforkmedia.com | Dominique Leone
Devendra Banhart | OH ME OH MY... | Review
He possesses a warble I won't soon forget...
and if that isn't the mark of a classic balladeer I don't know what is-- except that he can paint a wild picture of slow snails, cold snow, the Charles C. Leary, and very nice people. There are probably thousands of nomadic, dark troubadours who would stumble upon some surrealist notion of wisdom if given the time and the audience, but 21-year-old Devendra Banhart draws ellipses around more than mere romantic, hard travails and etched self-portraits. In short, he isn't your everyday, everyman's folk singer, though folk aficionados would do well to weird themselves out every once in awhile with his stuff.
Banhart's debut release for Michael Gira's Young God label is the work of someone presumably half-awake to conventions like "professional recordings" but fully aware of his own idiosyncrasies even as he performs without much trace of pretension or self-conscious nuance. The music on Oh Me Oh My is rarely more than an uncluttered combination of his unorthodox acoustic guitar pickings, more than a little tape hiss, and his immediately recognizable tenor. Banhart's voice might be a cross of Tim Buckley's flutter, Marc Bolan's timbre, and Tiny Tim's vibrato, but I would be hard pressed to claim he was imitating anyone. Similarly, his songs hit like sea chanteys started by Syd Barrett and then left mysteriously half-finished. In some cases, this is frustrating, but for the most part it seems bizarrely fitting.
Banhart does share a link with traditional minstrels in the instances he opts for epic tragedy. "Soon Is Good", one of the longer tracks here (the shortest being all of 39 seconds), could be about the buried pain of a lost love, though the typically half-nonsensical lyrics are tough to decipher. Fortunately, the solemn, but not quite melancholy, guitar figures are uplifting enough to support Banhart's odd mumble. Later, he drops lines like, "My toes have my favorite feet," in "Michigan State" over understated, optimistic guitar accompaniment, and somehow comes off like a weathered road-poet.
Elsewhere, the songs can range from whimsical to slightly crazed. "Lend Me Your Teeth" stops just short of being a novelty number, perhaps due to the fact that Banhart keeps his yelp in check for most of it-- only leaping into whistle-warble territory for a brief stretch. "Nice People" may be the spookiest song on the album, beginning with ominous strumming, only to explode into a chorus of witchy Devendras repeating "they certainly are nice people!" There are moments on Oh Me Oh My that seem as if I'm overhearing a private sketch rather than a performance. Over the course of the CD, that might translate to ambience for some and annoyance for others.
And the idea of a personal sketch might have been the idea all along: none of the music here was meant for release, but merely Banhart's collection of home and road tapings. It's possible that his voice would resonate more clearly with the aid of a good mic and decent mix, but that could very well detract from the considerable intimacy of his sound. If part of a folk singer's power comes from the purity of his conviction, then Banhart's promising debut is the sign of someone destined for great, strange things.