Things to Do in Miami: Devendra Banhart at Miami Beach Bandshell March 27, 2023 | Miami New Times


Devendra Banhart Hasn't Been Freaky or Folky in a Long Time

Devendra Banhart puts out lo-fi records often referred to as "freak folk."
Devendra Banhart doesn't mind the "freak folk" tag.
Devendra Banhart doesn't mind the "freak folk" tag. Photo by the Bardos
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Just a few months ago, Devendra Banhart says he played one of the most memorable concerts of his two-decade-plus musical career. The folk singer had the opportunity to play in Venezuela, where he spent his formative years.

"It was so extraordinary," he tells New Times via Zoom from his Los Angeles home. "To play for my uncles and cousins and all the artists amidst a dictatorship in an anti-individual environment, I saw you could still be unique even in a country that only supports art that's pro-government. I don't think I met a single person there who didn't have a band or a brand."

To mark the occasion, he performed in Caracas wearing a dress.

"I did that for the 8-year-old me. I used to put on my mom's dresses at that age, and it unlocked something in me. I felt it gave me permission to sing," he says in a forthright manner that you can't help but wonder whether he's the most earnest interview subject ever or making up an origin story. "Singing felt like a secret power where I could sing myself to a different mind and art."

At 14, he picked up a nylon-string classical guitar.

"I took Brazilian-style bossa nova lessons," Banhart explains. "From there, I learned from playing with other musicians. For me, music was all about the story being told. The words were always more important than the music."

In 2002, at 21, he began putting out lo-fi records often referred to as "freak folk," somewhat reminiscent of outsider musician Daniel Johnston.

When asked what he thinks of that classification, Banhart initially seems perturbed. "Freak folk sounds so tacky and repulsive and bad," he says — before adding the punchline, "that I fully embrace it. At customs, they ask what type of music I make, and I say either unpopular pop music or freak folk, but I don't know if I've been folky or freaky in a while."
For the new album he's been working on with Welsh musician and producer Cate Le Bon, Banhart found inspiration in the 2020 lockdown.

"The whole pandemic I was writing. Over the three years, I filled up so many notebooks," he says. "I was trying to capture what does the lockdown feel like without mentioning the pandemic or the lockdown. Reducing is big for me. If I can reduce a whole notebook down to one line, I've done something."

When asked if there's an example of a song where he could capture that succinctness, he says no. Instead, he mentions a lyric from the upcoming album: "I'm no longer singing for fun, but as a form of protection."

"It's not poetic at all, but it's how I felt," he adds, "I still haven't written a good song. That's why I keep doing this to try to write one."

He mentions a Japanese haiku that did manage that trick as a significant influence on the upcoming record, "This poem by [Kobayashi Issa]: 'This dewdrop world/Is a dewdrop world/And yet.' The whole record is about that poem, particularly the last line — 'and yet.'"

If you attend Banhart's show at the Miami Beach Bandshell on Monday, March 27, you'll likely hear some of the new material he's been working on.

"We know no one likes to hear new songs, but for us, it makes sense to play them," Banhart explains. "We have a new sense of appreciation for playing songs live since we couldn't play live for so long. For a while, touring was a drag. You're seeing someone on stage who hasn't eaten or slept well in months but not playing live was a reminder of what an incredible ceremony a concert is. Only at a funeral or maybe a movie can you collectively weep. Any show now feels very precious for that little bit of community."

While he might or might not wear a dress for this show, Banhart says it will be a special show for him. His dad, who lives in Hollywood, will be there along with many of his fellow Venezuelans.

"Miami has this celebratory culture. We don't play dance music at all, and it's wonderful they still dance their asses off," he says. We're more like a gentle foot massage than a party, but dancing is always appropriate even at the saddest songs — dancing and weeping."

Devendra Banhart. With Maye. 7 p.m. Monday, March 27, at Miami Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-453-2897; Tickets cost $51.50 via
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