Devendra Banhart: 'I love almost every Britpop band'

The Venezuelan singer and artist on Britpop, life under Chávez and childhood memories of bugs' guts

Hello Devendra, how are you?

I'm all right. It's snowing here in New York. It's beautiful. After we conclude our confabulation I'm venturing out to a lecture. (1)

Are you giving it or attending?

I might be expected to fumble my way through something that looks like advice.

What's the subject?

Well, the homework they've been assigned is an article David Byrne recently wrote where he breaks down the ways that allow you to share your music into six different categories, depending on your desired level of involvement, from "let the label do everything" to "DIY across the board".

Where would you be on that scale?

I'm at "Let me do what I do and you do what you do". I'm just trying to make rent and do my work.

And do you make rent?

I can stay afloat. The iceberg might be melting, though. My socks are wet, I'll tell you that.

You grew up in Venezuela. What are your strongest childhood memories?

I was playing soccer and someone had stepped on this locust. Its guts were all over the field and the sun was hitting them and they were shining. They were neon, almost. Radiant. I also remember pulling out a rock from the ground at my grandmother's house and hundreds of cockroaches coming out.

These are quite insect-based.

I have another one. I wake up and I'm told I can't go to school today. And I go: "Why can't I go to school today?" and my mom turns on the TV and there are two men with bags over their heads and machine guns and they're saying: "This is a coup. We've taken over." It was Chávez. That was the original failed attempt. And, of course, he was imprisoned, then he was pardoned and took over, and the rest is history.

How did you feel when he died?

When anyone dies, it's sad. But that passing will affect so many people. People in my family, as well. And how those people will be affected is yet to be determined. Hopefully it will lead to a positive thing. But it's an uncertain place.

Were you a Chávez supporter?

I was a supporter when I was anywhere but Venezuela. And I understood why people championed him and idolised him. But I also understand the lack of actual change. I hate to say that, too. I'm not even criticising him, but my perception is funnelled through my family's experiences. Their experience is that not much has changed.

It's said that you got your middle name, Obi, from the Stars Wars character. Is that true?

It's 99% true. One per cent we're gonna delegate to the tampons my mother used, which were called OB. We should give a little to the voodoo doctor, the Obeya, or Obi man. But they're eclipsed by the commanding yet sagacious presence of Alec Guinness. (2)

There's a song on your new album, Mala, about standing in line at a Suede gig, which was the highlight of the evening. Was the gig a disappointment?

No, no. The settings are autobiographical, but the characters are not. I stood in line. But when I stood in line I couldn't wait for the line to move so I could watch Suede, the band that I love to this day. (3)

As well as Suede, you've also sung the praises of Pulp, Oasis and Blur. Is it fair to say you're a Britpop fan?

It's very fair to say. I love almost every Britpop band. I'm going deep here.

Including Shed Seven?

Sure, sure.


To be honest, no. I haven't heard them. But do you know who else I always loved? Ocean Colour Scene. They were great, man. I listened to a couple of their songs just religiously.

The album takes its name from the Serbian words for "my little sweetheart", because your fiancee is Serbian (4) . Do you speak good Serbian?

Yeah. [Speaks in Serbian for a while]

How is the wedding planning going?

Oh, it's going.

Are you having a stag do?

I don't know. Am I supposed to plan that? Or my friend?

You need to get on to this. Tradition dictates that you must go paint balling and go-karting.

Oh, that sounds great. [Speaks to fiancée] Hey baby, I'm being asked if I'm gonna have a bachelor party. He's suggesting we go paint balling and … hey what was the other thing?


Right, go-karting. [To fiancée] So yeah, it's like a party that you have with your friends and I have with mine, before we have our party together.

Does she think it's a good idea?

Sorta. To be honest, she's not really listening to me.

Do you collect anything?

I collect head shots from bands. (5)

I've got a couple of kd langs, plus got some TLC, some SWV and some En Vogue. It's my opportunity to have a wonderful interaction with a hero. I get a blank head shot and I can write whatever I want to myself from this person.

Where did that idea come from?

Well, after our show at this festival in Japan there were so many kids at the airport, all holding posters for us to sign. But the posters were of Daft Punk. They thought me and my bandmate were Daft Punk. So we just signed a shit load of Daft Punk autographs. I don't know whether I should apologise for that, or not.

You produced the cover art (6) for your album Mala. Can you describe it?

You know [Giorgio] de Chirico, the Italian futurist? Well, he's one of the fathers of surrealism, but he was actually part of the metaphysical group. So I'd say de Chirico-esque.

The nearest I got was a mushroom falling into a cup of coffee.

Oh interesting. Mycology and caffeine. I love that. I've also heard Aladdin or a man with a sombrero. [To his fiancée] This gentleman on the phone, very cultured, says he sees a mushroom going into a cup of coffee. Oh. She's making a fist.

According to Google, you are 180cm tall. Is that true?

Wow. I don't know. I think I'm 5ft 11in.

That's exactly 180cm. They must be measuring you with satellites.

That's shocking. I didn't need my paranoia to be fuelled any further.


(1) The snow wasn't settling, so sledging wasn't an option

(2) If Banhart were to give his child a film-inspired middle name it would be Klaus, after Klaus Kinski.

(3) Other British bands he loves include Ride and Elastica

(4) His fiancee is the Serbian photographer Ana Kraš

(5) He buys these old press photographs from record shops on the Lower East Side

(6) His favourite album cover art of all time is Quah by Jorma Kaukonen


Chris Salmon

The GuardianTramp

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