Devendra Banhart | OH ME OH MY... | Review/Interview

Mojo | Andrew Male

The Frog Prince

My, what big talent you have, says Andrew Male

Devendra Banhart Review/Mojo December Issue 2002

Shades of Syd, early Bolan, Karen Dalton and Vashti Bunyan in this startling debut from a previously unknown Texas-born 21 year old…

Like some stick-framed chimera born of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Devendra Banhart has seemingly come from nowhere, spinning dark enchanted riddles born in the dusky corners of a childhood nightmare. Discovered by ex-Swans vocalist Michael Gira’s Young God Records after an LA support slot for New York art rockers Flux Information Sciences, Banhart presented Gira with a swag bag of songs and half songs recorded on 4-track and phone answering machines. These are the songs you can hear on Oh Me Oh My…, complete with tape hiss, car horns, and bird calls in the distance. With the opening handclaps and finger-picking fragment Tick Eats The Olive you hear the Harry Smith folk roots of Banhart’s taste, but it’s the voice that pulls you in, flitting from lilting to hectoring, sweet to sinister. At his sweetest – the soft croon of Michigan State – he sounds like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Bolan singing Nilsson fragments. But in his darkest moments, the unsettling child’s journey of The Charles C. Leary (“I lost the gloves that my mother gave to me/While on the way to the make-believe sea”) or the kettle-boil screech of Lend Me Your Teeth (“I’m lost in the dark/Lend Me Your Teeth/C’MON!”) he could be Barrett-era Syd possessed by the soul of Tiny Tim. But ultimately, Oh Me Oh My…is an album that escapes definition, beguilingly sweet, yet ever so, ever so dark. “Christmas is here” he sings on album closer The Spirit Is Near. “All the leaves are jumping/When will they ever learn?”

Devendra Banhart Talks To Andrew Male

-Are there plans to do a “proper” studio album now?

“ Man, I had no clue this shit was going to get put out! The next record will be a ‘proper’ studio album in the sense that it will be recorded in the studio, still it won’t be some slicked-out shit. The difference will be the sound quality, help from Michael Gira, and access to other instruments like piano and xylophone.”

-Do you try to sing like your heroes – Karen Dalton and Marc Bolan?

“ I remember after a show, someone was like, ‘You gotta hear Tyrannosaurus Rex’ and I was like, Oh yeah T-Rex. ‘No, Tyrannosaurus Rex, it’s totally different! I’ll make you a tape’ And they did, and I shit my pants. But I didn’t just shit ‘cos it was good but out of relief that I didn’t know it existed before I started writing. Karen, Oh man, I can’t even try to sound like her. If in any way I do, it’s ‘cos I listen to it constantly. The mind tries and the heart does. Fuck the mind, it gives the worst advice, never write songs with it.”