Devendra Banhart Curls Up in Your Hand | Music | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Devendra Banhart Curls Up in Your Hand 

A wide-ranging interview on Tarot cards, Topanga Canyon, the tackiness of the "freak folk" label and his wonderous new album, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon

Thursday, Oct 11 2007

{mosimage}By now you surely realize that Devendra Banhart is a slyly yet openheartedly mystical and magical kind of fellow, one who happens to play a wickedly clever acoustic guitar and sing in a purplishly florid way these densely multifaceted songs about the human heart, brain and spirit in all their confusingly complex but ultimately hopeful (yes) facets. He’s just done a new album called Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, his most madly eclectic set yet, the deepest-cutting, too – and it’s quite startling stuff, musically speaking. He’s playing at the Orpheum Theatre downtown on October 13, you don’t want to miss that.

Eavesdrop quietly now as Devendra decodes the making of Smokey, the album’s higher aims and related items pertaining to levels of consciousness, love and loss, crystal power, elephantitus and so forth and etc., etc.

DEVENDRA BANHART: Are you in Los Angeles right now?

LA WEEKLY: Yeah, I am.

All right.

Beautiful day. Warm and sunny. Not a cloud in the sky.

Right on.

The new album is great, your best yet by far, in my opinion.

Thank you. You share that opinion with my mom, and that’s about it. [laughs]


Yeah. So thank you.

I wonder about people sometimes. I myself like these kinds of albums where musicians really push themselves in new directions.
Smokey hangs together, too, it isn’t just all over the place. Give it some time, is what I say.

That’s how music should be. I don’t see how you could betray the reality of the emotions that you go through in a day.

This album spans a wide range of emotions and personas – actually, facets of the persona. Agreed?

Exactly. The record was made in a couple of months, you know, and in a month you go through certain emotions.

So you recorded at your place in Topanga Canyon?

That’s right, but it’s not my space anymore. It’s been inaccurately written that I have purchased the place; we’re simply renting it out, and now have been forced to move.

That place apparently has quite a history, what with all these ‘60s-‘70s rock luminaries having passed through its portals -- Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, the Doors, Mick Fleetwood...

I love Topanga; that’s what Topanga’s about. It’s a pretty good story as to why we have to move.

Why do you have to move?

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There’s people that are camped out in front and around the house; we have friends that are housesitting, and our girlfriends are housesitting, and we recently had something very unfriendly – not meant to be, but a couple of unnerving incidents occurred at the house. For a while, you know, strangers were showing up and we were very happy with it. A lot of ‘em ended up playing on the record, but it got to a point of... it was uncomfortable... a dangerous point... but I won’t get into the story…

Nevertheless, all those sundry aforementioned rock gods and goddesses hung out, recorded and generally let their hair down at that house. Obviously I must ask, did their sort of lingering vibe affect the music you made there?

I don’t think that affected it anymore than if I recorded it anywhere else, ‘cause I listen to those artists; I didn’t start listening to Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and John Philips or Woody Guthrie once I moved to Topanga, you know? I’ve been listening to them for years, so they would have been a part of what I was.

I just like imagining their ghosts emanating from the woodwork, soaking into you and your guitar...

Well, we choose places based on what sort of energy is stored in the architecture, in the actual physical materials that are used to build the house. I mean, I went on my inner tuition and guidance, and we even had some exterior help from a couple psychic friends that we know that are members of a band we’re really into called Death Groove.

We even had the Tarot read for the house, and this medium actually pinpointed the actual address. We ended up with 800 hours of film -- we thought we’d put a little movie together, but in the end there was nothing really there, except the reading, which we felt was more like evidences than something that we wanna put out. And then we just put tiny little snippets of it together and put it to “Sea Horse,” just to have something on the website. But it wasn’t gonna be a video or anything.

But anyways, yeah, when you consider objects like crystals or stones, rocks and wood to be these sort of batteries, and are they charged up or aren’t they? The specific location of the house, the architecture, the wood, there some’s incredible energy at work stored in there that was comparable. And then we also had these artifacts that had belonged to the aforementioned California musicians that, I don’t know if the record would sound any different, but we could feel it.

Which cards did the Tarot reader throw?

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