Freak folk, psych folk, New Weird America: Devendra Banhart’s music has been called every name under the sun, and still it’s hard to capture its unique blend of mellow and bizarre. We subjected him to the randomness of our Zigzag Questionnaire, and he had some very poetic answers for us ... plus, a heartfelt request.
You could easily be called a fashion icon. What we can’t work out is whether this is by accident or design. Which is it?
“Fashion has always been an odd convention to me, but one of the first among all arts that we are first exposed to and made aware of, either by conditioning (from the outside world) or by intuition (our own nature). It’s funny, but writing this now has helped me realize the possibility that fashion may have been the first artistic discipline that this little Venezuelan boy meddled with: it certainly was a catalyst and an entryway into the worlds of visual art and music I now dedicate all of my time struggling and losing to! After all, without fashion I would never have surreptitiously put my mother’s dresses on and attempted to sing.
So, is it by design or accident? Since I’ve gone way too far back to analyse the question, possibly neither: in a current, day-to-day way, it would have to be by design only because of the fact that I am conscious of what I wear throughout the day and make an effort, however slight, to wear things I like. Also, I have favourite designers, just like I have favourite musicians and painters. Missoni, of course, being one of them”.
Contrary to many men, you seem to have a very healthy and happy relationship with colour. Has it always been this way or did your taste evolve to include a wider palette?
“I’ve always found an opinion, when shared as if it was some universal and unwavering absolute, incredibly beguiling: for example, someone once said to me, “The biggest faux pas of all time is wearing pink and red, EVERYONE knows that!” It was delivered as if “the sun is hot” may not be as true… Colour is such a profoundly personal, completely subjective matter, that anyone thinking they know what matches for anyone else is totally insane. Different colours and colour combinations are an ever-alternating fascination. These days I’m a green-and-pink sorta fella”.
You’ve been a solo artist all your life, although you often rely on a backing band when on tour. Is it hard to adjust to life on the road with different people?
“I find it harder to adjust to not touring these days. I just finished a tour that ran over four months and even though there’s a mountain of work piled in front of me, I’m longing for sound check!”
Aside from musical ability, what’s your rationale when picking the musicians who will tour with you?
“What is this ‘musical ability’ thing you speak of? Ha! My songs are quite simple, and musical ability is rarely a concern when it comes to who joins the band. It has certainly been a revolving cast, but it’s never someone that one of the mainstays of the band doesn’t have some sort of history with.”
You collect music artefacts. Is there a Holy Grail of instruments that you’d like to have but have never managed to get your hands on?
“Unfortunately (or fortunately for some, I’m sure), it’s hard to dispel anything that Wikipedia puts on your page. I borrowed Jim Morrison’s couch from my old manager many years ago (it has long since been returned) and have had the ‘collector of musical artefacts’ stamp tattooed to my forehead ever since. Not that that’s a bad thing, it just isn’t something I really do. I’ve moved apartments every six months for the last ten years, and with touring thrown on top, it makes it very difficult to collect anything other than bad habits!”
Do you have a favourite item of clothing that you can’t bear to part with, and what colour is it?
“Yes: this is gonna sound like a put-on, wholly contrived, but there’s a Missoni sweater, of various dark hues of grey, blue and green, that I rarely wear because I love it so much.”
You were born in Texas, raised in Venezuela, moved to California. Is there a side of your many identities that you feel stands out, or are you a perfect blend?
“Haha! The only time the word perfect and me go together it’s usually followed by nincompoop, dunce or birdbrain! Yes, my genetic and cultural makeup is varied, but whose isn’t?”
This is complicated but fun. If you had to make your own striped pattern, which colours would you choose and what would their significance be?
“I would leave it to the masters and have the Missonis choose for me, that’s the truth…”
Tell us your secret wish.
“Make me a sweater, world peace and individual peace, equal rights for the LGBT community, a good education for everyone, write ONE good song, and make me a sweater!”