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Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela and Los Angeles, Devendra Banhart was always playing music and drawing. But it wasn't until his brief stay at the San Francisco Art Institute that the disciplines became his constant companions. With the encouragement of poet and SFAI professor Bill Berskon, Banhart began experimenting with all kinds of art. He also began recording songs around that same time, usually on shoddy, hand-me-down four-track machines. Brief, half-finished, or written in stream-of-consciousness form, the recordings weren't initially intended for release. But friends encouraged Banhart, and he sent out a few tentative demos. He also left SFAI in favor of busking and wandering, and his travels led him from the Bay Area to Paris and eventually back to L.A. By now he was performing regularly, but he hadn't recorded or released anything officially. That changed when Michael Gira (Swans) issued the first Banhart material on his Young God imprint in October 2002. Oh Me Oh My... was an immediate critical hit, and comparisons to legends of songwriting, eclecticism, and tragedy were frequent (Tim Buckley, Syd Barrett, Marc Bolan, et al.). The Black Babies EP arrived in 2003, followed by Banhart's first full-length, Rejoicing in the Hands, in April 2004. Young God released its companion, Niño Rojo, in September. Acclaim for both was nearly unanimous, and Banhart's audience continued to expand. He jumped to XL for September 2005's Cripple Crow, an ambitious set and his most sonically expansive album up to that point. Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon continued in that vein, recorded at Banhart's new home studio in Topanga Canyon. A jump to Warner Bros. brought a more straightforward set (relatively speaking), What Will We Be, in 2009. Released in 2013, Mala organized some of the overstuffed elements of Banhart's multifaceted muse into a more cohesive set of songs than on his previous few albums.
Devendra Obi Banhart (born May 30, 1981) is a Venezuelan American singer-songwriter and visual artist. Banhart was born in Houston, Texas and was raised by his mother in Venezuela, until he moved to California as a teenager. He began to study at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1998, but dropped out to perform music in Europe, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Banhart released his debut album in 2002, continuing to record his material on the Young God and XL labels, as well as other work on compilations and collaborations.
Early life and career
Banhart was born May 30, 1981 in Houston, Texas, to a Venezuelan mother and an American father. His given name is a synonym for Indra, the king of Gods (Hindu), which was suggested by Prem Rawat, an Indian religious leader whom Banhart's parents followed. Banhart's middle name Obi was modeled after Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Star Wars character. Banhart's parents divorced two years after his birth and he moved with his mother to Caracas, Venezuela. His mother later remarried and Banhart's stepfather moved the family to Los Angeles, California, when Banhart was 14 years old.
In 1998, Banhart began studying at the San Francisco Art Institute on a scholarship while living in The Castro, San Francisco's gay neighborhood. He began to busk instead of attending classes and played his first show in a church at a gay wedding, performing Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender" and the classic hymn "How Great Thou Art." Banhart dropped out of art school in 2000 and left San Francisco after the dot-com bust worsened the city's economy. He moved to Paris over the summer and opened shows for indie rock bands such as Sonic Youth. Banhart returned to the United States in the fall of 2000 and played music in San Francisco and Los Angeles, until he was discovered by Michael Gira, owner of Young God Records, after Siobhan Duffy, Gira's wife, bought a copy of Banhart's demo CD The Charles C. Leary and gave it to Gira.
Banhart and Gira compiled an album from Banhart's recordings, and in 2002, Oh Me Oh My, which was made up of short fragments, was published by Young God Records and received favorable reviews. He recorded two other albums and an EP for the label: Rejoicing in the Hands, Niño Rojo, and The Black Babies; the releases had a simple acoustic sound. Banhart changed to XL Recordings in 2005 and released Cripple Crow, which was recorded in Bearsville Studios, New York and had a more elaborate sound.
Additionally in 2005 Devendra collaborated with Antony and the Johnsons on the award-winning album I Am a Bird Now. Banhart sings the introduction to the song Spiraling and plays guitar on You Are My Sister in which Boy George also appears.
Devendra was the first artist to design a t-shirt for the Yellow Bird Project, back in 2006. He chose to donate the profits from the sale of his t-shirt to the Teenage Cancer Trust.
He recorded his second album for XL Records, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, at his home studio in Topanga, California. The album charted on the Billboard 200 at number 115. The album's song "Lover" was featured in the soundtrack of the movie Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which included a cameo appearance by Banhart.
Banhart has performed at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl opening for Gilberto Gil, as well as at Bonnaroo and Coachella music festivals. He founded a record label, Gnomonsong, with Andy Cabic of Vetiver, in 2005. In 2007, he signed with Neil Young's manager Elliot Roberts, who also contributed vocals to Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.
Banhart released an album in 2008 entitled, Surfing, with Megapuss - a collaborative project with Gregory Rogove and Fabrizio Moretti of The Strokes and Little Joy. Comedian Aziz Ansari is featured on the album's track "Duck People Duck Man" under the alias "Grandpa P Darwish".
In 2009, he signed to Warner/Reprise and released, What Will We Be. Later that year, at the band's request, he produced a remix of Oasis' "(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady". Along with "Neighbors", Devendra remixed the Phoenix song "Rome" from their 2009 album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
On September 4, 2009, Beck announced his second Record Club covers album, Songs of Leonard Cohen. Banhart contributed, alongside MGMT, Andrew Stockdale of Wolfmother and Binki Shapiro of Little Joy.
He is a collector of music artifacts. Banhart wrote the foreword for and appears in his friend Lauren Dukoff's book Family: Photographs by Lauren Dukoff. He has also written the introduction to a selection of poems by Kenneth Patchen.
On October 27, 2009, Banhart released What Will We Be, his first record on Warner/Reprise. Banhart and Jon Beasley, who were credited as art directors for the album's artwork and packaging, were nominated for a Grammy in 2011 for Best Recording Package.
The film Life During Wartime, directed by Todd Solondz, features a musical collaboration between Banhart and Beck. The song plays over the film's end credits. Banhart sings lead vocals while Beck adds backing vocals and also recorded the track. The lyrics were written by Solondz and the music by composer Marc Shaiman.
Banhart is an avid skateboarder, and in March 2010 broke a bone in his right leg while skating, only hours before a concert in Phoenix, resulting in the cancelation of future shows in Utah and Colorado.
In 2011, he collaborated with Marisa Monte and Rodrigo Amarante on a version of the song "Nú Com a Minha Música" for the Red Hot Organization's most recent charitable album "Red Hot+Rio 2." The album is a follow-up to the 1996 "Red Hot + Rio." Proceeds from the sales will be donated to raise awareness and money to fight AIDS/HIV and related health and social issues.
In April 2012 Banhart took place in artist Doug Aitken's audiovisual project "Song 1" at the Hirshorn Museum in Washington D.C. Banhart joined Beck and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem in performing "I Only Have Eyes For You" for the project that uses eleven high-definition video projectors working in tandem to blanket the museum’s entire surface with a video of the performance.
On December 3, 2012 Banhart announced his new album, Mala. The album was released on March 12, 2013, and was Banhart's debut album for Nonesuch.
Visual art and other media
Drawings by Banhart were featured in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and in the Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels.
Banhart's drawings have also been featured in the Art Basel Contemporary Art Fair in Miami, FL, the Mazzoli Gallery in Modena, Italy, Spain's ARCOmadrid. and the Andrew Roth Gallery in New York.
Banhart's drawings were previously featured in MOCA's exhibit: "The Artist's Museum" which showcases the works of influential Los Angeles based artists from the last 30 years. As part of the exhibit Banhart collaborated with artist Doug Aitken and musicians Beck and Caetano Veloso for a musical and visual performance piece.
Devendra was a participant in Yoko Ono's second Water Piece project.
Banhart read Joan Miró's poem "A Star Caresses the Breasts of a Negress" for England's prestigious Tate Museum's recorded guided tour."Devendra Banhart Biography". NME. Retrieved 2009-05-02. Campion, Chris (2007-08-12). "Stranger than folk". The Observer. Retrieved 2009-05-07. Bemis, Alec Hanley (2005-08-28). "The Soft Revolution". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-05-14. Kamps, Garrett (2003-01-08). "Man of La Mantra". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2009-04-20. Beck, John (2009-04-17). "The wide, way-out world of Devendra". Benny Labamba. Retrieved 2013-03-31. Vaziri, Aidin (2005-10-26). "Sweet, shocking, mesmerizing – Devendra Banhart follows his sprawling, childlike musical muse". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-04-20. Bemis, Alec Hanley (2004-12-12). "Freak Folk's Very Own Pied Piper". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-20. MacNeil, Jason; Loftus, Johnny. "Devendra Banhart – Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-04-20. http://www.nme.com/news/clap-your-hands-say-yeah/26153 "Artist Chart History – Devendra Banhart". Billboard. Retrieved 2009-04-20. "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Offers A Devendra Banhart Cameo, New Vampire Weekend". Stereogum. 2008-08-14. Retrieved 2009-08-13. Nelson, Steffie (2009-08-09). "Lauren Dukoff's 'Family' photos of free spirits". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-08-22. Cromelin, Richard (2008-06-28). "Devendra Banhart in tune with Gilberto Gil". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-08-22. Vozick-Levinson, Simon (2009-04-13). "Papercuts' 'You Can Have What You Want': Stream this indie gem here". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-04-23. "Elliot Roberts: Overview". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-08-16. "Megapuss Revealed or I Believe Your Dickskirt Is Caught in My Microphone". The Fader. 2008-06-19. "Warner Bros. Signs Devendra Banhart". 2009-08-03. Retrieved 2009-10-26. "Oasis ask Devendra Banhart to remix them – audio". NME. 2009-06-10. Retrieved 2009-08-14. "Listen: Devendra Banhart Remixes Phoenix". Pitchfork. 2009-09-28. Retrieved 2009-10-09. Lindsay, Andrew. "Beck, MGMT & Banhart cover Leonard Cohen". stereokill.net. Retrieved 2012-04-08. Nelson, Steffie. "'Family': Devendra Banhart and other free spirits". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-08-19. "Family". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2009-08-19.  "LISTEN: Banhart, Beck Movie Soundtrack Collabo". SPIN. Retrieved 2012-04-08. Dayal, Geeta (2012-04-18). "Doug Aitken’s Song 1 Wraps Museum in 360-Degree Panoramic Video". Wired. "Abstract Rhythms: Paul Klee and Devendra Banhart". San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 2009-08-13. "It's not only Rock 'n' Roll, Baby!". Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels. Retrieved 2009-08-13. "Behind the Music: Devendra Banhart's Visual Art Takes Center Stage". Fast Company. Retrieved 2012-04-08. "Grapefruit: Yoko Ono in 1964". Isefoundation.org. Retrieved 2013-02-19. "Tate Podcasts". Tate Museum. Retrieved 2006-05-26.
Banhart's music is often associated with the New Weird America genre, along with Vetiver and Joanna Newsom. The New York Times has called his songs "free associative work" and SPIN magazine has written that "Banhart's albums offer ashram-appropriate guitar strums, trippy-hippie tone poetry." Various publications have described his style as psych folk, avant-folk, freak folk, Lo-Fi, hipster folk revival, and alternative folk.
Some reviewers, including AllMusic, The Times, and Mojo, have pointed out similarities between Banhart's songs and production with that of the early 1970s band Tyrannosaurus Rex (an early version of Marc Bolan's T. Rex). In a May 2004 interview with Arthur magazine, Banhart stated that he was unaware of the music of Tyrannosaurus Rex until after he began writing and recording songs. Devendra Banhart instead prefers to credit Vashti Bunyan, Caetano Veloso, Simon Diaz and Arthur Russell among his main influences.Rutledge, James (2004-11-05). "Joanna Newsom and the New Weird America". BBC. Retrieved 2009-05-02. Cite error: The named reference NYT041212 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Devendra Banhart on SPIN.com". SPIN.com. October 27, 2009. Hall, Nicholas (2009-04-07). "Devendra Banhart's footloose folk". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2009-05-02. Burton, Brent (2005-11-11). "Irregular Folk". Washington City Paper. Retrieved 2012-04-08. Cite error: The named reference Allmusic was invoked but never defined (see the help page). AllMusic page: "Devendra Banhart biography." The Times article: "Devendra Banhart: What Will We Be." Splendid article: "Features: Devendra Banhart." Mojo Magazine article: "Rejoicing in the Hands." Stylus Magazine article: "Cripple Crow review." Arthur Magazine article: "“So Righteous to Love”: Devendra Banhart, interviewed by Trinie Dalton (Arthur No. 10/May 2004)." Schreiber, Abby (2012-07-12). "Devendra Banhart On His New Album His Thoughts On the EDM Scene and Making Ostrich Egg Omelets With Beck". Papermag. Retrieved 2012-07-27.