Devendra Banhart:

Devendra Banhart he has lived many lives and everyone thinks they know at least one of them. His career as a singer-songwriter began in 2002, at the forefront of the movement of artists exploring psychedelia through acoustic sounds and country lyrics, also known as “freak folk.” With a rich repertoire that took as much from the Beatles and Vashti Bunyan as of Caetano Veloso Y you mutants, Banhart was making his way in an indie scene in which there was practically no place for Latin American voices..

Nevertheless, Gone are those golden days of hipster fame, and Banhart, too, chose to make a pilgrimage away from that cult.. For the past ten years, he has decided to keep a lower profile, away from the quirky character who at one point seemed to have eaten the artist. At once, his sound softened, finding inspiration in the sensibility of Japanese music to adorn his songs with fine string arrangements and instrumentation on the brink of silence..

New age and ambient music are more in harmony with the way I live my life now.”, says Devendra at 41 years old, in conversation with indie today from his home in Los Angeles. His last two solo albums –Ape in Pink Marble of 2016 and Ma of 2019- demonstrate this progressive path towards minimalism and the depth of the subtle, a soft reinvention that found its highest point in the instrumental album he published in 2021 together with his frequent collaborator, the producer Noah Georgeson.

Created during the pandemic, shelter It is an introspective and spatial album, in which the duo disappear behind its orchestral textures and reverb-laden pianos. Contrary to the “ambient” label most critics used to describe it, the album was intended as a tribute to the new age music Banhart and Georgeson listened to as children. As children of yogi and hippie parents -Georgeson in northern California and Devendra in Venezuela-, the duo grew up in the eighties and nineties surrounded by music designed for meditation and yoga..

“That music wasn’t cool at all,” Banhart admits, “my parents weren’t listening brian eno. It was more like music that you listen to today when you get a massage at the spa. It’s somewhat generic, but it has a sweetness, a nostalgia. Y I have always been very interested in that type of music because I find it very utilitarian. It embellishes my daily experience, it can turn your world into your temple. It can change your energy, your vibration, your emotions.. And I tell you, it’s not easy to do it. I thought, ‘I’m going to hold a chord with a lot of reverb and I have a new age song’, but that’s not the case at all. She gave me a lesson in humility ”.

The launch of shelter coincides with the rise of a new ambient scene in Los Angeles and a revaluation of the genre globally. Banhart believes that this new interest has to do with “a spiritual and collective thirst to drink from the waters of the soul and heart.” One of his strongest approaches to this music was in 2016, when he was commissioned to curate a two-day festival in which he invited sound artists such as William Basinski and Harold Budd. “William Basinski for President, please! That music is conducive to having a more intimate and honest relationship with ourselves, with being, with our being -he reflects-. And it serves to know oneself, it is a music that is looking inside”.

Devendra Banhart and Noah Georgeson – Photo: Lauren Dukoff

On his return to Buenos Aires to perform at the music wins festival, Banhart and his band will review songs from throughout his career. “We are going to play songs from the first albums and also from the last ones. For us it is an opportunity to travel musically through the decades”, tells about the recitals that will be accompanied by a projection of the landscape of Big Sur, in northern California, the mountainous coastal region that during the fifties was a mecca for bohemia and writers such as Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac.

He will even advance some songs from his next album, work that he has just finished producing together with the Welsh artist Cate Le Bon. Throughout the winter, Banhart and Le Bon locked themselves in to record inspired by the transcendence of pain after the pandemic. “The theme of the album is pain and how to process pain so it doesn’t turn into depression,” Banhart says. So that you can free yourself, so that that skin can become a scar and not an open wound.. Because if it is not processed, the pain crystallizes into depression. And one can become obsessed with her depression, she can be as beautiful as crystal. It can hypnotize you, you can’t live without it if you don’t know how to free yourself and process the pain. On another, more literary level, the album is about the melancholic sensuality of a nun who wants to go to Berghain in Germany. A nun who is very devoted to her religion, but at the same time wants to escape and dance for 48 hours”.

In your songs you usually use characters, however it seems that you use them to tell something about yourself. Not from a place of the ego, but from a sincere place. What did you learn about Devendra Banhart in your last records and in your last songs?
Wow, how interesting that question, how beautiful. I think you answered that question in your question. Because we are not a caricature. The world turns us into a caricature. But you know how complex you are, you know. In one day you are ten thousand different people. Even at the cellular level you are changing, always changing. And every time you sing a song it’s going to be different. There are songs that are characters, and you go “Wow, that’s funny, you made up a character”, because I’m going to sing from the perspective of a crab dressed in a mushroom skirt. But at the same time, that’s an aspect of me.

In recent years, spirituality and Buddhism entered your music in a more present way than before. Do you agree with that?
When I was a young girl, I loved all things mystical. I have always been fascinated by religion, mystical things, the occult, metaphysics. It all seemed so interesting to me, and I dressed like a madman, a mystic. But I did not have a spiritual practice. I was interested in visions, all things psychedelic, everything “out there” that is beautiful and incredible. And it’s natural to be like that when you’re young, but it’s a different thing from having a practice. It is like saying that there are meditative things, like going to the sea, sitting down, going for a run, riding a bicycle, being in the garden… those are very meditative things, but they are not meditation.

Was there something that inspired you to cross your music with your spirituality?
When I took official refuge in Buddhism, it came with a series of responsibilities, instructions, which become part of your life and part of your art. They become how you’re going to communicate with people and how you communicate with yourself. In that sense, spiritual practice is equal to music. It’s not that you play a song once and that’s it, you’re not going to play it again. You have to keep playing, keep exploring, just like on the spiritual path. And that road is winding, because I have days where I don’t know why I’m meditating or why I’m chanting these things in Tibetan, “What am I doing? What a nuisance!” And other days in which I am in another world, one where I am not totally obsessed and identified with my thoughts, which are horrible. Spirituality and music go hand in hand.

At what point in the creative process do you find the most spiritual connection?
I think at the time of sharing the song. Songwriting is a process of observing, observing, observing. You fill your book with lyrics, 200 pages of whatever, and then turn it into just one sentence, and it’s annoying, it’s not fun at all. I don’t feel as if I came from heaven or as if I were a sacred instrument. For me, it’s not like that at all. I have to sit for 24 hours for a letter to finally come. And it’s not inspiring either, it’s just work. But when one is finally sharing the thing, it has such an intimate element that it is very difficult not to cry a little, a tear. Something happens in the center of your being when you are sharing that.

And it feels true too, though not like you’re preaching a truth. But in that intimacy is that you can share who you really are.
Exact. The minute someone tells you they have the only truth, run. And I feel like a fraud. All the time, I have imposter syndrome. I don’t know a person who doesn’t have it, and people who don’t have it scare me. Because sharing something is feeling vulnerable, sharing anything is scary. But if I can get past that a little bit, go beyond the fear, there’s a very tender place there. If you can go there, uf, how nice… Something could happen there.

Devendra Banhart will perform on Thursday, December 9 at 7:00 p.m. in C Art Media Complex (Av. Corrientes 6271, CABA), tickets available through Venti; Y on Saturday, December 10 at 8:30 p.m. at the Music Wins festival (Club Ciudad de Buenos Aires, Av. del Libertador 7501), tickets available through Venti. Listen shelter on streaming platforms (bandcamp, Spotify, tidal, Apple Music).

Devendra Banhart: