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Devendra Banhart - Interview

  by Mark Rowland

published: 20 / 8 / 2005

Devendra Banhart - Interview


At a press conference in Regent's Park, folk star Devendra Banhart and his band chatted to journalists and music writers about thir new album 'Cripple Crow.' Mark Rowland reports back on a very unusual evening

“Would anyone like any wine?” Devendra Banhart strides through the crowd of assorted music business types, a bottle of wine in one hand, a stack of plastic cups in the other. It’s not everyday you get served drinks by one of the best and best known of the ‘new folk’ acts that have cropped up in the last few years. Devendra and his band, made up of members of Vetiver, the Pleased and Yacht, are here at the bandstand at Regent's Park in London to play some songs from his new album, ‘Cripple Crow’. Only an hour before, the park had practically been deserted, except for the odd couple taking in the sunset and a grumpy dreadlocked bloke whose job is to ensure people pay to sit on the deckchairs. Now, the park land around the bandstand is teeming with people. Sandwiches, crisps, fruit and cakes are being given out in the crowd, all of which seem to pass Pennyblackmusic by. Luckily, we manage to seek out the last two sandwiches. The band, Devendra, Andy Cabic, Jona Brechtolt, Luckey Remington and Noah Taylor, pick up their instruments (which includes two large, empty water cooler drums). Devendra calls for quiet, but isn’t heard above the chatter. A much louder PR woman manages to hush the crowd, and they launch into three songs from the new album. They are fantastic, 'The Beatles’ in particular, which also gets the odd laugh. The songs are still very Devendra, but they benefit greatly from the expanded arrangements. That is where it is meant to end, but the band plays two cracking versions of Devendra classics; ‘This Beard is for Siobhan’ and ‘At the Hop’. Devendra then gives his guitar away to a member of the audience, and it’s time for the assorted members of the press to come up to the bandstand to ask the band questions. It is hard to know whether some of Banhart’s kookier answers are what he genuinely believes, or if he has a fiendishly cheeky sense of humour. It is impossible to say how true this interview is, but it certainly is entertaining. Please note that in this transcription, other journalists are marked as ‘AJ’ (another journalist). DB : Hi, how are you all doin? All : Fine thanks, how are you? DB : It’s good to be me. What can I say ? I’m a fucking millionaire. Welcome to my backyard. JB : Did everybody get a cupcake? (Other journalists shout out ‘yes’) PB : No. JB : Oh, did you want one? I think there’s some left. AJ : (Buts in) Did you make them? JB : We didn’t make them, but a woman spent all day making them. PR person : A girl called Zoe. PB : Where did the name of the new album, 'Cripple Crow', come from ? JB : It came from our brother crow, who is our brother, who is a fallen crow. DB : Brother Crow is a person who was always with us, and although he’s not here with us physically, he’s with us in a metaphysical way. JB : Luckey first met him, and then gradually he trickled down through to all of us. (To Luckey) Where did you meet him? LR : It was on an Indian reservation, actually, in Northern California. DB : He lead him to the river and had him stand in the cold water and said "Stay, and it will be given to you." JB : And none of us knew what that meant. DB : What was given is beyond words, I guess. LR : We invite all of you stand in the closest thing to a river near us, with us later and hopefully come to the same epiphany as we came to. JB : So that’s where ‘Cripple Crow’ came from, sort of a tribute to that collective experience of that person. PB : Where did you record the album? DB : Where? At a studio called Bearsville which is not in Woodstock, but the closest town is Woodstock. Well, actually Bearsville is a town but there’s only a post office there, so to us Bearsville was just the studio, and it was about two minutes away from Woodstock, and the decision to record there was with the architecture and the space, and the energy from the wood. It's all made out of wood, and out the window we could see male and female deers and turkeys… JB : Bears DB : Hermaphroditic bears, and we also wanted to record there because, do you know the musician Bobby Charles? Well Bobby Charles made a record there and it’s one of our favourite records of all time. Check it out – Bobby Charles. AJ : I have a follow up question from that actually, what is your favourite song at the moment? JB : I love Calvin Johnson, who used to be in this band (points at T-shirt) Beat Happening. He’s got a new record coming out, and it’s really great. You should check that out. AC : Did you say favourite on Dev’s record? JB : No, just your current favourite record. DB : We all like Cavaera. JB : (pointing at Noah) He doesn’t like music. It’s understandable I guess AC : I really like the new Deerhof record, JB : Yeah, that’s an amazing record. Luckey? LR – Yeah, there’s this band who just released a record called ‘Definitely Maybe.’ It’s going to be huge. It’s going to be awesome. I’ve just tuned into it right now. JB : There’s also a compilation of summer jams called ‘Brozone’ and there’s a cover on there of Fleetwood Mac and the Dead Milkmen together, so you should really check that out. DB : The new Little Wings record. We've really been digging that. There’s a band that eclipses even that and they’re not very well known at the moment but they’re soon to be bigger than Linkin Park and that’s Eelbox, and their song ‘Trapped in the Mirror.’ It’s going to be put out on XL. JB : Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s been like a demo tape that’s been floating around the underground for a while. It’s amazing. DB : We had to convince them. We know them. They’re from Seattle and we had to convince them to come to XL. They had all these big labels after them. LR : The singer's super reclusive AJ : What was the idea behind today? DB : It was like being trapped in a mirror by Eelbox, by Oasis in a mirror. JB : We just had all these cupcakes and we wanted to get rid of them. DB : Yeah, it was like "what are we gonna do with all these good vibes?" The idea was to, there was actually no planning whatsoever, we just wanted to get together in a beautiful place. Why do you need to have these activities planned? Why not just come together and talk among yourselves? There’s no instructions to being together.You take your own direction once you come here. The only thing was that you’re invited. There’s nothing else to it. AJ : Is this something you do regularly? DB : Well we do it on tour every night, kind of. JB : Yeah, because a lot of shows have curfews, so we often take it out onto the street and play to people there. DB : We played a gig recently when the club had to close, so we went out into the alleyway and played some more out there, so it doesn’t really feel like that much of an event to us, just feels like a ride on a big pink van. AJ : You’re playing here with members of Vetiver and the Pleased, and the San Fran scene. Do you see yourself as a kind of advocate for the scene? DB : Not at all. There’s also part of the Portland scene and the Bristol scene. It's not a geographic thing we’re trying to propagate. It's not about any specific scene or any space in the world. That is Vetiver right there, That’s Vetiver Gallagher. I don’t really live anywhere right now, so I can’t really feel affiliated with any specific place in the world. AJ : Is there something that unites you all then? DB – Probably just how much we love each other, and that’s the honest truth. A lot of us knew each other before we were making music. Hey, do you see those feathers on the ground? Do you know how long it took us to space them out correctly? I just wanted you guys to know. If you look at them from a helicopter… JB :It makes five points. DB : Yeah, it’s true. JB : Illumitronic. DB : The Wholphin vibration is strong. I think it’s getting ready to mate. JB :With a humanzee. DB – Yeah with the humanzee. JB : It’s funny you mention that because a dolphin and an alien made love and had a child called human kind. DB : The new age tradition has only begun in the new new age. It’s a cyclical thing. If we walk in circles we would actually get somewhere. (to Noah) What do you think, lion man? (Noah says nothing) DB : (in mock rastafari accent) Lion man PB :Did you collaborate with anyone on the album? Like Vashti Bunyan on 'Rejoicing in the Hands'? LR : It was only you and 40 other people. DB : Yeah, it was just me and 40 other people from different bands, and I can’t think of any right now, because my memory is below mediocre (PR hands him a press release card) but, whoever wrote this shit, it’s just illegible. So we had people on there like Feathers, Coco Rosie, the Espers, Vetiver, Jackie O Motherfucker, Yacht, the Pleased, the Metallic Falcons, the Bunnybrains. We had a house and at one point we had about 35 people. The one thing that made it difficult and meant that we don’t have a looser, more improvised record is that we had 45 songs to record in a month, but maybe next time we’ll concentrate on maybe 15 songs. LR : Four ! DB : Yeah, in about five months, four songs in five months ought to sort that out. Girl from another fanzine leaps in with question: FG : Why the transition from a solo artist to playing in a full band? DB : I’m not a purist. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. I’m not against playing in a full band. I’m not against anything musical as long as it’s not a reaction to what people think you should be doing. If you’re into that kind of thing, I’m into the movement in a Brazil way more than folk, although I really like American and British folk. There are other things I’m influenced by. PG : So is this a reaction to what’s going on globally at the moment? DB : No it’s not a reaction. That’s the whole point. It isn’t a reaction to anything. FG : You’re kind of fluid in what’s going on in the world and stuff DB : If you say so, I guess so. JB : We’ve been asked this before and we’ve said no for a long time. DB : It’s better to have diarrhoea than be constipated, you know. Fluidity is a better state than being like solid marble. LR : Devendra did like three or four tours on his own, one after another, and they wanted him to do more tours, so we all knew each other, and he wanted to try something different and (to Devendra) I guess you didn’t go back to doing solo because it’s better with other people. DB : But I’m glad that I started with just me and the guitar and I’ll probably return to make a record that’s just one string guitar, and then an a cappella record, then a dancehall record, and then an instrumental strumming guitar record, just like strumming the guitar but instrumental I think that’ll be the breakthrough. FG : Will you be using the water drums on the next album? JB : The water lilies?? FG : Water drums DB : Oh yeah, for sure, the water drums, digital water drums, they’ll be on there. JB : They’ll be digital, yeah. AJ : Bring them over from the States? JB : Yeah. (They all break into a Rendition of ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ by Rick Astley) AJ : Did you hear when you were singing earlier the birds kind of sang along with you? DB : Is that like a sexist comment? AJ : (Laughs) I just thought it was appropriate, seeing as you sing about birds quite a lot on your previous records. DB : Yeah, seriously, that’s awesome. AJ : How long are you in UK for? JB : Three more days, four more days? Yeah, four more days. AJ : Where to next? DB : The Arthurfest in Los Angeles with Yoko Ono, Sonic Youth, Cat Power, Vetiver, Frank Black and many more people. JB : I’m going to Portland. Some of us will be going to Norway. Some will be going to San Francisco, Morocco…. AJ : Who's going to Norway, heard of a band called datarock? LR : No heard of the concept of datarock. AJ : Are you all in other bands? JB : Yeah we all are, especially Devendra. This isn’t even his main project. Can we go into this right now? DB : No I’m not sure… JB : You heard of the band Creed? DB : I don’t want anyone to find out about that right now, JB : Okay, strike that, forget I said anything. DB : I wouldn’t have gone through hours of make-up to just let it out right now. JB : Okay man, I understand. DB : It needs to be a little more. It’s just not right. LR : But everybody knows what we’re talking about. JB : I know, I’m sorry. DB : Yes, I am the lead singer of Creed, everybody. It’s out. It’s true. JB : I really fucked up. I’m sorry. DB : I am Oasis as well. But Noah has his own music and he’s playing at the Koko tomorrow night and Jonas has his own record out and it’s under the name Yacht, and it’s called mega, and Luckey’s been scoring films for like four years or something, and Andy is Vetiver, so yeah we all do our own stuff as well. JB : You could call it a super group if you want to, I wouldn’t, but there you go. DB : Does anybody have any more questions? (A chorus of thanks from the journalists) DB : Thank you. I know this was all about coming together and doing press and stuff, but it’s kind of weird doing press in a nice environment, I’m used to being in this shitty room and then talking. AJ : Do you like doing this kind of thing? DB : I don’t know. I like to talk to people about music that I like and stuff, so as long as I get to talk about music that I like, that’s about it, because no-one writes what you say anyway. It's all going to get jumbled up and misquoted. That’s just my experience. I’m not saying that to be negative. PB : (to Jonas Brechtolt) Nice T-shirt. JB : Hey thanks man. PB : I’d like a T-shirt like that. JB : Go to Krecs.com. AJ : What’s that? JB – This is a beard. Someone knitted it for me because I can’t grow a real beard. Also have you guys seen the movie ‘Me You and Everyone We Know’? Please see it, please. PB : Thank you.

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Devendra Banhart - Interview

Devendra Banhart - Interview

Devendra Banhart - Interview

Devendra Banhart - Interview

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Interview (2003)
Devendra Banhart - Interview
Texan-born, but Venezuelan-raised folk artist Devendra Banhart has won acclaim in all quarters and recently a deal with former Swan Michael Gira's Young God label. Anthony Dhanendran talks to him about his schizophrenic take on pop

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