Devendra Banhart

Devendra BanhartThe bio below was written in 2004, just as, first, Rejoicing In The Hands, and then soon after, Nino Rojo came out. The response was literally overwhelming and ultimately impossible for a tiny label like YGR to keep up with. If you look at Devendra’s press archive you’ll see what I mean (after a while we gave up trying to keep track of all the press). He soon moved on – up and away. I recently read about him in a supermarket tabloid – ha ha! Well, he’s a tremendous musician and artist, and a font of light as far as I’m concerned. Working with him was a high point of my life, musical and otherwise. May he cuddle and pulsate like a little beast in the arms of God!

– m.gira/young god records - 2008

We’ve released Devendra's recordings because we'd never heard anything quite like him, ever. His voice - a quivering high-tension wire, sounded like it could have been recorded 70 years ago - these songs could have been sitting in someone's attic, left there since the 1930's. The response was astounding.

I first heard the crude home made recordings of Devendra Banhart, then a homeless, wandering, neo psych/folk hippie artist and musician, not yet 21 years old. We released these recordings on YGR because we'd never heard anything quite like them, ever. His voice - a quivering high-tension wire, sounded like it could have been recorded 70 years ago - these songs could have been sitting in someone's attic, left there since the 1930's. The response was astounding . Devendra soon moved here to NYC (from SF), where he lived in squats, couch-surfed, and finally found himself a home (very recently), suddenly riding a tidal wave of press acclaim, 3 or 4 US tours, tours in Europe, a special feature on NPR (for God's sake) – in short, a seismic shift in his fortunes. He's the most genuine, least cynical and calculated artist I've ever known, and he deserves every bit of the good things now coming his way. He's also one of the most innately talented, magical performers I have ever heard. Period. He GIVES. This kind of generosity and breadth of emotion is all too rare these days. Whether the songs are pained, twisted, whimsical, or even sometimes weirdly silly, aside from being fantastically musical and expertly played, they are also utterly sincere, and devoid of a single drop of post modern irony. In short, he's the real thing.

When it came time to record new music we were of course faced with the quandary of how to go about it – does he continue making hiss-saturated home recordings, or do we go into a “professional” studio? We mutually decided that it was best to move on – why should he be ghetto-ized as a possible low-fi crank/eccentric? Besides, his songwriting and his guitar playing (in my opinion) have taken such leaps and bounds forward, that we were compelled to record them in a way that made it possible to really hear the performances clearly. Out of nowhere, the perfect situation arose. Lynn Bridges, who works with Jimmy Johnson (of Mussel Shoals fame – Bob Dylan, The Band etc etc…) contacted us and invited us down to his house on the Alabama/Georgia border, where we recorded 32 songs (culled from something like 57 Devendra had initially submitted!) in his living room, using the best possible vintage gear. Ideal. Devendra sat on his stool in that living room for 10 days, 12 hours a day, and played, constantly. We set up a mic for his voice, a few on his guitar, and one or two in the room (an old, Georgia-style southern house with tall ceilings, wood floors etc.), and that's what you hear, for the most part, on these recordings (along with the occasional chorus of cicadas, when we happened to be recording at night, with the windows open). Then, we took these recordings to NYC and added a few overdubs here and there, played by a host of musicians (The song Rejoicing in the Hands features a tender duet with the legendary 60's English Pop Singer gamin (and one of Devendra's idols) Vashti Bunyan)...Deciding on the final arrangements was ridiculously easy – the songs were so good in their raw state that there was no need to bolster them with sonic fluff or cheap impact. So, there's a few sounds entering and leaving at will here and there, but hopefully they simply set a context. The important thing is always Devendra's performance, and his uncanny ability to transport us, through story/words, and some pretty amazing finger-pickin' (!), just using his acoustic guitar and voice. I consider him to be an antidote, maybe even a sort of narcotic - that rare case where you feel like you're coming home when you listen to a piece of music…

- Michael Gira / Young God Records

DEVENDRA BANHART BIO INFO (using excerpts from SF Weekly lead ARTS article)

Man of La Mantra /The psychedelic folk of wandering minstrel Devendra Banhart /By Garrett Kamps/SF WEEKLY/Jan 08.2003

“…Banhart was born in Texas in 1981, and named by an Indian mystic whom his parents followed. When his folks divorced two years later, he moved with his mom to Caracas , Venezuela , where he was raised amidst the shanties and sweatshops. Though his family had enough money to stay above the poverty line, life wasn't easy.

" Venezuela was insane," says Banhart. "You don't go out after 8 because it's too dangerous. You don't wear nice sneakers because, while here you may get assaulted, there you just get killed."

When Banhart's mother remarried, his stepfather moved the family to Los Angeles . In the fall of 1998, having written songs since he was 12, Banhart left home to begin school at the San Francisco Art Institute, with a hefty scholarship. Though he was instantly disillusioned with the constraints of academic art, his environs took him in more productive directions.

Living in the lower Castro, he was tapped by his roommates -- a gay couple whom Banhart refers to as "Bob the Crippled Comic and Jerry Elvis" -- to play two classic songs at their wedding: the gospel hymn "How Great Thou Art" and Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender." Touched by the request, Banhart found himself newly inspired.

Shortly thereafter, he had a second epiphany. While vacationing in Bish Bash Falls , a state park in Massachusetts , Banhart and his girlfriend were quarreling about the Rolling Stones.

"The argument was about [the song] 'Street Fighting Man,'" he says. "And I'm like, 'That's bullshit. Mick Jagger wasn't fighting nobody.' And she was like, 'Well, how do you know? Maybe they just made it up.' And I was like, 'Well, I can make up a song about something!' And it turned out to be this little song ..."

Banhart proceeds to sing, limerick-style: "There once was a man who really loved salt/ So he tied his nose to the sea/ And then God came down from his silver throne/ And said, 'Honey, that water ain't free.'"

"That's when I realized I could write about anything I wanted," he adds casually. "It was like being constipated and then taking a suppository."

Thus began Banhart's days as a wandering minstrel. When he returned to San Francisco , he began playing anywhere that would have him, be it an Ethiopian restaurant, an Irish pub, or Du Nord's weekly "Monday Night Hoot."

"We had to pretend like he was just helping us with equipment and then sneak him in," says Eric Shea, host of the "Hoot." "He was too young to get into the club."

In the summer of 2000, Banhart dropped out of art school and moved to Paris . There, he was discovered by the owner of a small club, who chose him to open shows for indie rock bands. All the while he was recording songs, both on a borrowed four-track and on a friend's answering machine.

Moving back to the United States in the fall, Banhart bounced between San Francisco and Los Angeles. At a gig at the Fold in L.A. , Banhart was doing a sound check when Siobhan Duffy overheard his set. A lover of old bluegrass and folk music, Duffy is also a close personal friend of Michael Gira, the one-time frontman for New York gloom-rock legends Swans and current owner of Young God Records.

"She couldn't believe it," says Gira of Duffy's reaction. "So [Banhart] gave her a CD-R, and I listened to it and had the same response. His voice is so unique, his songwriting is just amazing…"