DEVENDRA BANHART: THE DEVENDRA BANHART OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
Devendra Banhart was born in Venezuela in the first years of the 20th century and then lived in the Los Angeles area when Oasis and Nirvana were getting famous. He makes excellent mixtapes and has just released a new album called Cripple Crow. He speaks just before going to see Joan Baez play for free at a bluegrass festival.
Did you do commercials for Belgian beer and British cheese?
Yeah! We only chose songs that I wroke with Andy Cabic from Vetiver–we wrote the songs together so we got to split the beer and cheese. They gave us twelve crates of beer and a fridge full of cheese. And the commercials were nice, too–nice little films. So now we’re doing an oil commercial, a commercial for the Democratic Party–
Do you get a fridge full of oil or a fridge full of Democrats?
The beer was really good, and so was the cheese.
What else would you like to endorse?
Prune juice and toothpase and maybe garlic.
I’ll know you by your scent.
By my smell.
What’s it like being the Elvis Presley of the quote/unquote ”freak folk” scene?
It’s more like Elvis Presley is the Devendra Banhart of rock ‘n’ roll.
I think I hear as much Kim Fowley as Marc Bolan in your songs.
Great, that’s groovy.
I didn’t mean that as an insult.
No, old K.F. is always groovalicious. Let’s get him in here.
Do you miss Los Angeles at all?
I go there often–I always go to Neptune’s Net. Down the One, past Malibu. A fish joint, with bikers and stuff. Real groovy and special and right by the ocean.
And you went to Malibu High, too.
That was the worst time in my life. But it sort of trained me as a person.
If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere?
Was California what you expected?
In South America, anything American was cool–but when I moved here, I was kind of disappointed. I thought I was moving to a big metropolis–I grew up around the jungle! I thought LA would be a big city that had an identity and was very American, and I didn’t really encounter that–not til I moved to New York, and then I got it out of my system really quickly.
Does place change the way you write your songs?
I never would have thought that until we made this record. Cripple Crow feels very Bearsville to me. It was very cold and we were trying to warm up the whole time–it feels like a blanket covering the whole record. It’s very hazy. Compared to how we do it live. I relate a lot of it to being in the woods in the snow.
But bands like Black Sabbath recorded in the dead of winter, and it sounds really creepy and cold.
We made believe we were on an island in the summertime. Maybe they were more realistic, and it came out in the music, and maybe it’s more honest that way. But we knew how to astral project to an imaginary island called Hibiscus Island, named after the guy who started the Cockettes–which also named our band. We were watching the Cockettes documentart and Bianca from Cocorosie said, ‘You guys are a bunch of hairy fairies.’
Are you into the Screamers? You should cover ‘I’m Going Steady With Twiggy.’
Yeah, they’re amazing. It’s a shame there’s only live recordings.
Are you comfortable with being a freaky sex symbol?
Well, being considered a sex symbol to middle-aged record collectors–
No, I mean cute girls. The cute girls on our staff. They wanted to do an Electric Ladyland photo session with you.
I practice that photo in my mind a lot. We’re actually doing a contest for the label–you send in photos of how you would have dressed on the day of the photo shoot for the album cover, and the best thirty go on the cover of the vinyl. You’re the first person to know about this. I’d like to see a lot of–
A lot of linen?
A lot of babushkas and a lot of eyeliner.