DEVENDRA BANHART

NATALIA BONIFACCI MEETS DEVENDRA BANHART IN ECHO PARK. IT'S THE END OF JANUARY AND HE JUST MOVED INTO HIS NEW HOME ON THE EAST SIDE. HE OPENS THE DOOR BAREFOOT. HIS OVERALL PRESENCE IS VERY CALMING. THE TONE AND THE PACE OF HIS VOICE IS SUITING

redmilk_devendra1_img

WHILE MAKING ORANGE JUICE AND SITTING ON AN ARMCHAIR THAT USED TO BELONG TO JIM MORRISON, THE MULTITALENTED BANHART SHARES OPENLY AND WITH SARCASM HIS THOUGHTS WITH NATALIA.

If you were to explain what you do for a living to a small a child, what would you tell him or her?
I play. I play with my hands (he laughs) and if I think something is funny, I write it down and I play around.

What current project are you excited about?
I’m very excited about Marcelo Burlon’s new line, he just had his first show, it’s really great (Marcelo is a common friend, we watched the video online together just minutes before starting the interview), and I just finished a book that I’ve been working on for a year and a half.

Did you write a book?
I wrote in it, but it’s a book of art. It’s a book of my art of the last twelve years of work. I just got the proof today, so I have to proof read it. It was more work than what I thought and I’m very excited that the book is finally completed, but there’s never any shortage of things to be excited about and it could be just cutting my nails. I mean, I’m gonna cut my nails, that’s a thrill (he smiles). What socks am I gonna wear? What orange am I gonna choose? …and so on. I’m trying to shrink down my projects or where I put my anticipation, you know what I mean?

In what sense?
In the sense that I got these big projects that are really really exciting: I am working on an album, I’m gonna finish the book and that is all great. That’s my work and I love it, but if I can approach each day filled with little moments that I just enjoy…

Being in the moment
You know, I traveled for the last ten years of my life, moving around, different houses, different cities… So it’s wonderful that we’re doing this, I didn’t go to the studio, it was an opportunity to stay here all day waiting for you. It’s almost the idea of being excited of non excitement or for constant excitement.

You moved back to LA again from NYC. You have a new home, why did you relocate back to LA?
I’m a California guy. Soy una chica californiana (he smiles). In California I feel as if I live in the countryside. It’s like a New York’s neighborhood, but very very far, yo vivo en Nueva York pero en un barrio que està muuuuy lejos, you have to take at least four subways (we both laugh).

In life, what scares you?
Unconsciousness. The unconsciousness that I have in my life sometimes. Other people’s unconsciousness. I don’t mean literally being asleep. I mean, unconsciousness: when you speak in a thoughtless way, when things are lowered in a petty kind of way, when you start to judge. That’s unconsciousness: when you’re not present and you start sizing someone up, it perpetuates separation. One of the purposes of aging is to break down this “otherness”, because there’s really not much that separates us. Ultimately you can almost be anybody because you can identify with their core. So, when I start seeing differences and I start forgetting that fundamentally we are all the same, that scares me, and that happens every day and when I catch myself it’s coño despiertate chico. What scares me also is doing interviews because when you’ll leave I am gonna have hundreds of answers that will be so much better, it always happens.

Or maybe you just change your mind in a month or so and your answer doesn’t represent what you think anymore. That happens to me
That’s true, but that is something that doesn’t scare me anymore. I know, without a doubt, that I don’t know anything, and that all of my opinions will change. Now, I’ve been alive long enough to remember that when I was 20 years old I thought “The world is like this, this is like that” and now I know that I was wrong. And that will happen again. My opinions are just opinions and they will change. Although I might not change my mind about unconsciousness, it does frighten me every time I drop into that zone.

What’s the sexiest quality in a woman?
It depends from the woman, but I think it would be the harmony and the balance between her masculine and her feminine side. Biologically, as a woman, you have more of the feminine aspects, but we all have both aspects, they are not separated. Society, the way we are raised, culture, makes us suppress the other aspect, the least obvious one. I was raised in a culture that didn’t celebrate that duality at all, so I had to “come out” as a person that has a feminine side. It’s like a guitar: if the cords are too hard, they break, if they are too soft, you can’t play it. We’re all like that, we need to have that harmony. That’s why in a woman the sexiest quality to me is someone that knows how to dance in harmony with her masculine side.

What’s something you really like in people and what is something that makes you run away?
I really like understatement, yeah, I appreciate understatement in people. What I don’t appreciate so much in people? When they ask me what I appreciate or don’t appreciate (we both laugh). Loud people. I’m older, half of the day I have fingers in my ears. I really identify with the New Mexico lesbian aunt archetype. I make my little pottery. I google on youtube how to write a song. I have nude women artists books. Watch my little fashion on the web. I also appreciate when people have mohawks. And then I don’t appreciate eye contact, when people look at me in the eye (he smiles jokingly, I look down).

If you were to be able to meet your fifteen year old self and give yourself a piece of advice, what would you tell yourself?
I would tell myself that it’s ok to say “I don’t know”. “I don’t know” is very powerful. Then I would tell myself not to take anything personal. It’s a beautiful question actually because it’s really what I want to tell myself now, my beard is getting whiter, but I feel the same.

Is that because you get hurt?
You get hurt by taking things personal. In reality people’s reactions don’t have as much to deal with you, it’s an illusion, there’s really nothing to take personal. It’s also the advice I would give to my child if I had one.

Do you have a favorite song? You know, it’s funny, I have a Top 10 Songs and one of them is yours.
I thought they were all mine (we both laugh). I better be number one! I have a few Top 5 Songs and they are all yours too.

Aaaaww… Thanks. I find myself wanting to listen a lot to Bad Girl. I love the lyrics.
Gracias. What are the nine others?

I Want You by Bob Dylan. I really like Into My Arms by Nick Cave, that whole album. There are some italian ones, I really like Mina, Lucio Battisti…
Into My Arms is such a good choice. Of course I know Mina que elegancia. She reminds me of my abuelita, Mina. I love Lucio Battisti, there’s one song by him that I listen on repeat in the mornings (he stands up and plays Battisti from his computer), it makes me so calm and happy.

Do you have a special song?
I don’t. But I do (he laughs).

It must be hard for a musician to have just a special one.
Once a month there’s a favorite song, I can’t stop listening to it and in fact I got a radio show. Every third Monday, with my friend Josiah Steinbrick, we also play in the same band. We play what we’re listening to, we play what we like. I have a show called Sportsmen and it’s a radio station called DubLab. But if you asked me the whole time favorite… A couple of things come to mind. One of them would be The Jam’s No One In The World. When I first heard it as a kid I thought that was the prettiest song I had ever heard. I thought that’s how you’re supposed to feel about a girl. Then you write a song and you get the girl (he laughs).

Is that why you became a musician?
Yeah. It didn’t work though. I did buy a house, but I didn’t get laid (we both laugh). I mean, I could say Into My Arms too. There are so many I love. Gracias A La Vida. Anything by Simon Diaz. I am listing some favorites, but there’s so many.

You know I have a book that used to belong to you. The day you got that tattoo with Marcelo (Burlon and Banhart have matching tattoos),  I was there. You were about to move again and you were giving books away. I know you like reading, I know you don’t like playing favorites, but, do you have a book that has touched you the most?
That was years ago. What book do you have?

Kahlil Gibran’s…
No way. Not The Prophet?Que chevre!

You want it back?
Yeah, I want it back (we both laugh). LA book fair is coming, I’m very excited for that. My book, that’s my favorite book (he smiles). What I’m reading right now is a cookbook (he laughs while showing me the cook book that he’s reading). Full Moon Feast. Is it the best book I’ve ever read in my whole life? Hard to say, it might come in in second or third, but the last three times I cooked I poisoned myself, so I am trying to learn. This cookbook is about eating seasonally in harmony with the moon cycles and at certain times, it relates to ancient cultures eating habits, but it’s pretty logical too, yet the witchy stuff appeals to me.

What movie made you cry the most?
Oh so many, but I went through a period where I wasn’t watching sad things at all… Recently? Beginners.

That’s a Mike Mills film. That made you cry? I can see that, there’s beauty in it, but I am talking when you couldn’t stop crying (the next day I text him Spike Jonze’s Her). It doesn’t have to be sad. It could be moving. What about the scariest film you’ve ever seen?
I don’t really watch scary movies. I’m so bad with names, that Japanese one… Oh man, they’re all Japanese.

That’s a very specific answer (we start laughing really hard). Can I just answer for all of your questions “That Japanese one”? I like that.

What made you cry?
Harry Potter (we both laugh).

I’ve never seen it. There are six of them now? Have you read the books?
It’s a lot, a good amount and yeah, of course I’ve read the books. But I actually did cry watching the last one. I spent what friends thought was a very sad Christmas, but I thought it was heaven. I spent it alone. With a little dog. And we watched Harry Potter. It was fucking awesome.

…and your friends felt sorry for you?
They had asked me to dog-sit their dog during the holidays. When they got back they asked me what I did for Christmas, what do you mean what did I do? I watched your dog. What do you mean you watched the dog? You didn’t go to a party? What are you talking about?

Why did you choose to be alone? I mean, it is a conscious choice to be alone for Christmas, it’s not a “normal” day.
People have gotten all wrong, because you are not alone. You’re with yourself, that’s a relationship and it can be enjoyable, really. When you ask me “Why?”, the answer is “Because I think it’s enjoyable”. You are right: it is a conscious decision. I had parties I was invited to, and dinners and the whole thing, and that can be lovely. Lovely. This year though I felt like this. I was having Christmas with a beautiful little dog, Harry Potter, a new house that I don’t know (Banhart just bought his new home). I feel a little bit “When are the owners coming home?”. It’s the same thing with eating. I heard a friend recently say “One of the saddest things is going out for food and seeing somebody eating alone at a restaurant.” What are you talking about? They are not eating alone. They are enjoying their food. It’s lovely to eat a restaurant with a friend, yes, but if you go alone, it’s an experience you’re having with the food.

…or with your iPhone?
That, always (we both laugh). We live in a world where the worst thing you can do to someone is to put him or her in a room alone. Solitary confinement.

There’s a quote, by Jean Paul Sartre, something in the lines of “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company”
Oh, that’s good. That’s really good. That’s what I’m talking about.

redmilk_devendra2_img