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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 Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, recorded at home in Topanga, CA throughout the spring of 2007, and co-produced by Noah Georgeson and Devendra. The critics’ 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 were impressive to begin with, and they increased dramatically with each subsequent release: 2004’s Rejoicing In The Hands and Nino Rojo, and 2005’s Cripple Crow. Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon is his second worldwide release on XL Recordings.
Devendra Banhart was born in 1981 in Houston, TX, but moved with his family to live with his grandmother in Caracas, Venezuela. When his mother remarried, the family relocated to Encinal Canyon in California, where he first began to play music and learned to speak English. He attended the San Francisco Art Institute but dropped out without earning a degree. Banhart’s first public performance was at the wedding of two friends, Jerry Elvis and Bob The Crippled Comic. He then began a period of globe-hopping, moving to Los Angeles, then Paris, back to San Francisco, then to Los Angeles, writing songs and performing when and wherever he could manage.
Devendra 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 Banhart had accumulated while hoboing around the world, recorded on sundry answering machines and a cassette machine borrowed from his good friend Noah Georgeson. Over the course of 2003, Oh Me Oh My… became a grassroots sensation, attracting a passionate and rapidly growing audience as well as abundant praise from the likes of the Los Angeles Times, Arthur Magazine, Rolling Stone, LA Weekly, and Magnet, among others. Two extensive U.S. tours followed, one with his friend Entrance and the other opening for Gira’s Angels Of Light, as well as performing as a member of the band. After these tours, Banhart retreated to rural Georgia with co-producer Gira sitting on a stool recording from daybreak to sundown laying down some 32 tunes. There was a small amount of post-production done but the two albums that resulted from these sessions, Rejoicing In The Hands and Nino Rojo emerged primarily as showcases for Banhart’s deft acoustic guitar work and increasingly sophisticated singing and writing. When these albums were released in spring and fall 2004, respectively, Devendra’s following became still larger and more zealous, and two headlining tours packed venues across the country and overseas. Meanwhile, journalists on both sides of the Atlantic were unstinting in their praise in publications like the Sunday New York Times, Mojo, Spin, The Washington Post, Harp, and the Village Voice, to name but a few. In England he appeared on national television on Later…With Jools Holland.
Cripple Crow was recorded at Woodstock, New York’s Bearsville Studios in late winter 2005 with regular sidekicks Andy Cabic, Noah Georgeson, and Thom Monahan joining Devendra in the studio and Noah co-producing with Banhart. While many songs were spare and acoustic other performances featured a more elaborate range of electric instruments. Cripple Crow was released September 2005 to overwhelming critical acclaim from publications including Rolling Stone, Mojo, the Sunday New York Times Magazine, Harp, and Paste, among many others. He then toured with his “Hairy Fairy” band, filling large halls across the U.S. In 2006 he played large, prestigious music festivals around the world, including Coachella and Bonnaroo, as well as curating his own mini-festival at Los Angeles’ El Cid club. In February 2007 he headlined the “Welcome To Dreamland” bill at New York’s Carnegie Hall, a line-up hand-picked by Talking Heads’ David Byrne featuring many of Devendra’s friends and musical cronies, including Vetiver, Vashti Bunyan, and CocoRosie.
In tandem with his musical accomplishments, Banhart has gained considerable recognition as a visual artist. His distinctive, minutely inked, often enigmatic drawings appeared in a group show at the Canada Gallery in lower Manhattan in the summer of ’04, then uptown at the Roth Horowitz Gallery in his first solo show later in the year. Devendra’s artwork graced the covers of his first three full-length CD releases and one EP.
He also became known as an outspoken champion of other musicians, mainly the uncommon and underexposed among his contemporaries as well as musical forebears. He regularly cited “lost” artists like Karen Dalton, Linda Perhacs, Clive Palmer, and Vashti Bunyan (with whom he recorded the title track of Rejoicing In The Hands as a duet and who appears on Smokey), as important inspirations and brought them among others to the attention of wider audiences than they’d experienced in decades. He has been generous in his public support of other young, adventurous musicians as well (the list runs to phone book length), which has been a key factor in the public and press acknowledgment of the far-flung, grass-roots community of musicians loosely bound by a mutual love of eccentric vintage acoustic music (à la Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music) and formidable avant-garde experimentation.
For more information visit www.devendrabanhart.com