Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela and Los Angeles, Devendra Banhart was always playing music and drawing.
But it wasn't until his brief stay at the San Francisco Art Institute that the disciplines became his constant companions. With the encouragement of poet and SFAI professor Bill Berskon, Banhart began experimenting with all kinds of art. He also began recording songs around that same time, usually on shoddy, hand-me-down four-track machines. Brief, half-finished, or written in stream-of-consciousness form, the recordings weren't initially intended for release. But friends encouraged Banhart, and he sent out a few tentative demos. He also left SFAI in favor of busking and wandering, and his travels led him from the Bay Area to Paris and eventually back to L.A. By now he was performing regularly, but he hadn't recorded or released anything officially. That changed when Michael Gira (Swans) issued the first Banhart material on his Young God imprint in October 2002. Oh Me Oh My... was an immediate critical hit, and comparisons to legends of songwriting, eclecticism, and tragedy were frequent (Tim Buckley, Syd Barrett, Marc Bolan, et al.). The Black Babies EP arrived in 2003, followed by Banhart's first full-length, Rejoicing in the Hands, in April 2004. Young God released its companion, Niño Rojo, in September. Acclaim for both was nearly unanimous, and Banhart's audience continued to expand. He jumped to XL for September 2005's Cripple Crow, an ambitious set and his most sonically expansive album up to that point. Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon continued in that vein, recorded at Banhart's new home studio in Topanga Canyon. A jump to Warner Bros. brought a more straightforward set (relatively speaking), What Will We Be, in 2009. Released in 2013, Mala organized some of the overstuffed elements of Banhart's multifaceted muse into a more cohesive set of songs than on his previous few albums. He dialed back those tendencies even more for his sparser 2016 LP, Ape in Pink Marble. In 2018, he released a cover of Joan of Arc's "Shown and Told." ~ Jason MacNeil & Johnny Loftus