Devendra Banhart Sings New Songs For Unborn Children & Yoga Moms

Performer Magazine | by Darby Beck

Rejoicing in the Hands

In 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. “A show for me then was different situation. I t was like a freakout exercise, I’d drink a full bottle of wine and hold up the guitar and screech.”

Banhart’s recordings were the essence of lo-fi, done “for a few friends” on broken 4-tracks in other people’s living rooms (as he didn’t have one at the time) and on friend’s answering machines. “Somehow Michael [Gira] got it,” says Banhart. “Sending it to labels was the most absurd thing in the world. No one would want to release it - but Michael did and didn’t want to make a record, he just wanted to release it as it was.” The album, Oh Me, Oh My ..., on Gira’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 “[It] is the magical land. This is where Mother Nature feeds on her own nipple. A good, green nipple.”

Banhart’s follow-up, Rejoicing in the Hands, is a slight departure. He describes it as a “New Age album for the middle-aged yoga mom demographic.” Banhart retains his quirkiness and heartbreaking honesty, but there’s more going on than a man and his guitar - additional instrumentation and accompanying musicians, and slightly more professional recording techniques. Although that’s a relative term. “We recorded it in a living room with a creaky wooden floorboard,” explains Banhart. “There was a bird called Budgie - you can hear him on a few of the songs.”

While Banhart’s lyrics are always surprising and ecletic, he sees themes that held over from Oh Me to Rejoicing. “There’re a lot of symbols that recur - representations, animisms - giving inanimate objects animation and a certain power. Words become like a chemical process.” And while his songs are often described as melancholy, he doesn’t see it that way. “I wouldn’t describe it as melancholy. There is a lot of sadness in the record. There’s a lot of songs written for unborn children. I feel like I’m in such a rush, so I start writing for things that don’t exist, yet, so maybe that adds some level of sadness to them.” When it’s mentioned that he sometimes sounds like a female blues musician, both vocally and lyrically, Banhart agrees. “So 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 I’m a three-legged woman, a bearded lady, you know what I mean?” You may not know what he means now, but you will after listening to Rejoicing In The Hands.