Cruising around Venice Beach, California, it was a typical day along Pacific Avenue—artist types at cafes, stray dogs wandering, shaggy-haired kids on skateboards with surfboards underarm, and Devendra Banhart streaming through my car’s speakers.
Devendra Banhart, named by the Indian mystic guru Maharaji Prem Rawat, has the biographical précis any folk/rock/psych musician would do anything, short of actually having it, to have. Born in Texas, he moved with his mother to Caracas, Venezuela after his parents’ divorce—an experience he has described as “insane”—then back to the U.S., this time to Los Angeles, leaving in 1998 at age 17 to attend the San Francisco Art Institute.
Living in the lower Castro, Banhart experienced the first of his soon to be many musical revelations while playing two songs at the wedding of his two roommates, a gay couple. He likened the experience to “being constipated and then taking a suppository.” Beginning his professional career at such a young age, he was oftentimes barred from venues because of their age requirements, and so was regularly snuck in by sound technicians and fellow musicians. Some time later, he wound up in Paris, during which he recorded songs on a borrowed four-track and a friend’s answering machine, and finally after returning to L.A., was discovered by Siobhan Duffy and Michael Gira of Young God Records, who presented him with a label. “His voice is so unique, his songwriting is just amazing,” described Gira.
It is his voice, the seasoned naïveté of it, which makes Banhart different from the rest. His is the type of music you listen to when you want to tune in and mellow out, the kind that makes you think of patchouli oil, Banana Boat sunscreen, and incense. He’s the type of musician that makes you wish you were the free spirit wandering around inspiring the world through music. But at least listening to him on a sunny day cruising by the beach allows you to live that life vicariously.
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