Devendra Banhart exploded on the international music scene in 2002 quickly winning a coterie of devoted fans as well as an unusually hefty amount of critical kudos right from the outset. His latest release is What Will We Be, recorded in a sleepy Northern California town throughout the Spring of 2009 co-produced by Devendra and Paul Butler (from UK outfit Band Of Bees). The international media’s acclaim and the size of his audience both at home and abroad earned by his debut Oh Me Oh My The Way The Day Goes By The Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs Of The Christmas Spirit was impressive to begin with and has increased dramatically with each subsequent release. What Will We Be is his label debut for Warner Brothers Records.
The basic recording line-up was Devendra on vocals and guitar; Noah Georgeson (producer of Banhart’s last two albums, Little Joy, Bert Jansch and Joanna Newsome) on guitar and backing vocals, Greg Rogove (Priestbird) on drums and backing vocals; Luckey Remington (The Pleased) on bass and vocals and Rodrigo Amarante (Los Hermanos, Little Joy) on guitar and backing vocals. All the musicians involved played a part in arranging the songs recorded. Devendra and company took up residence in a private home, North of San Francisco, and set up a recording studio in it.
What Will We Be has a sunny, breezy feel with performances that evoke warm, lazy afternoons spent with good friends. The album is dominated by powerfully melodic, mid-tempo numbers played with relaxed expertise. But there’s also ambitious stylistic range displayed with the inclusion of evanescent ballads like “Meet Me At Lookout Point,” the epic riff-rocker “Rats” sprightly R&B flavored groovers on “Baby,” and the sultry Latin-flavored stunner “Brindo,” the Roxy-inspired “16th & Valencia, Roxy Music” among other pleasant surprises.
This is the second album Devendra’s recorded with the same crew of players and all involved sound thoroughly comfortable, familiar and in synch with one another. It’s accomplished, focused and straightforwardly handsome. Where Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon sounded like Devendra and friends brainstorming, sharing off-beat ideas and licks, What Will We Be sees them first and foremost addressing the particular needs of each individual composition. The vocal arrangements are noticeably more intricate yet crystalline with lush harmonies running through many of these numbers. The instrumental performances are still relaxed but very much on target
Devendra Banhart was born in 1981 in Houston, TX, moving with his parents to live in Caracas, Venezuela with his mother’s family. The family relocated to Encinal Canyon in California during his teenage years and he first began to play music and learned English. Devendra then moved to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Art Institute (he left before earning his degree). His first musical performance was at the wedding of Jerry Elvis and Bob The Crippled Comic. Leaving San Francisco he globe-hopped over the next few years to Los Angeles, then Paris, back to San Francisco, on to Los Angeles, New York City and then back to the greater Los Angeles area where he currently resides.
He began making waves in underground music circles in 2002 with his debut album Oh Me Oh My The Way The Day Goes By The Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs Of The Christmas Spirit . The album was compiled by Young God Records owner Michael Gira from a voluminous collection of audio Post-It notes of songs Devendra had accumulated whilst hoboing around the world, recorded on sundry answering machines and a cassette machine borrowed from his good friend Noah Georgeson. Over the next few years, he recorded a series of ground-breaking albums supported by international touring that earned him a devoted following and critical acclaim the world over. Past releases include Rejoicing In The Hands, Nino Rojo, Cripple Crow and Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. During this period, Banhart appeared on the covers of The Fader, Signal To Noise, Arthur Magazine, Paper, Harp, Guitar World Acoustic, both the German and Japanese editions of Rolling Stone among others, been featured in the American edition of Rolling Stone (several times), Vanity Fair, GQ, Spin, Filter, The Believer, Blender, Sunday New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Washington Post, Mojo, the Village Voice and Under The Radar, Magnet and many, many more as well as received countless ecstatic CD and live reviews.
In addition to touring clubs and theaters Devendra’s appeared at large, prestigious music festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe, including America’s Coachella (in 2006 and 2009), and Bonnaroo. He’s curated his own mini-festival at Los Angeles’ El Cid club, “Hypnorituals and Mesmemusical Miracles Hanging in the Sky: 5 Nights of Soleros and Bandoleros.” and was a guest curator in 2006 for the All of Tomorrows Parties festival in London delivering a line-up that featured Bat for Lashes, Jandek, Vetiver, Metallic Falcons, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot performing with Whizz Jones. In 2007 Devendra headlined the “Welcome To Dreamland” bill at New York’s Carnegie Hall, a bill hand-picked by ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne that boasted acts from Devendra’s extended musical family: Vetiver, Vashti Bunyan and CocoRosie.
Besides making his own albums, Banhart has recorded a wealth of material exclusively for tribute albums, compilations and benefit collections. He has collaborated with Beck on the title track of Todd Solonz’s latest film Life During Wartime. At the request of Noel Gallagher, he and his regular bandmates recorded a remix of “Get Off Your High Horse Lady” from the latest Oasis album. This remix was featured on the Oasis website and released via iTunes in the UK. Devendra had previously contributed his rendition of Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back In Anger” to the Guilt By Association collection.
In recent years, his music has started appearing in films with increasing frequency. “Cristobal” with Gael Garcia Bernal joining Devendra on vocals appeared in the Gael-directed Deficit. His version of the traditional Mexican folk song “Lindo Cihuatlan” was used in Rudo Y Cursi starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. Devendra himself acts in a scene from Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist which utilized his song “Lover.”
In tandem with his musical accomplishments Banhart is also an accomplished and renowned artist. His distinctive, minutely inked, often enigmatic drawings have appeared in galleries all over the world. In 2006, Devendra’s artwork was featured in the annual Art Basel Contemporary Art Fair in Miami, FL where he also played a headlining set. Banhart’s art was featured in a solo show alongside French master Paul Klee at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art the following year. 2008 saw his work exhibited as part of the “It’s Not Only Rock ‘N Roll” show mounted at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels alongside the contributions from Yoko Ono, Brian Eno, and David Byrne. He’s also had gallery shows at the prestigious Mazzoli Gallery in Modena, Italy and in the CANADA gallery in lower Manhattan. Devendra’s artwork has graced the covers of most of his full length releases.
Devendra Banhart has emerged as one of the most fascinating, unpredictable and inspiring artists of his generation and with What Will We Be he continues to surprise and delight an ever-increasing audience of fans and critics alike.