88Nine Radio Milwaukee

88Nine Interview: Devendra Banhart gets deep

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee
The intimacy of a daily routine, truth-telling via Instagram, and Japanese poetry

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Justin: We’re playing Fancy Man off of Pink Marble, and I love it. I’ve also been a big fan of yours for a long time and I wanted to start it off with some easy and simple stuff, like, do you have a morning routine?

Devendra: I do have a morning routine but it’s pretty ironic that you preempted that with you want to ask something simple, because that’s one of the most personal question you can ask me.

Justin: I feel like I wanted to ask it because I’ve been listening to you for so long, and I wonder what you’re just doing on your normal day.

Devendra: I feel that way often. Well, with a lot of people who are dead. And it’d be fantastic if Twitter and Instagram had some sort of biological device that came with it that you had to have implanted under your skin or swallow, and if you lie about what you post, it’ll electrocute you.

Justin: A little measure of truth.

Devendra: It just ensures you’re really telling the truth.

Justin: I really think that social media confronts us with our own figuring out who we are, and I don’t think people intentionally lie, as much as they really don’t know who they are or who they’re supposed to be.

Devendra: That’s fascinating. There’s so much compassion in that perspective and that attitude opposed to people are trying to sell a fake version of themselves or they’re projecting who they wish they were. Maybe they don’t know who they are or what they are. We’re getting to witness that journey of discovery of one’s self or what you’re into. We get to watch people go through phases. You realize all your opinions that you were steadfast about and so sure of are totally different. The way you feel about things really do change, at least for me. Everything I was certain about I feel either uncertain about or I don’t even agree with how I felt.

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Justin: Or I can feel different things at different times. It’s not all true.

Devendra: You somehow feel that you can project into a decade later, “this will be exactly this”, because “I feel it so strongly now”. It’s a gift that that changes. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself a decade later not feeling that way, it helps you determine what is of real value and what’s really unwavering, what really doesn’t change: opinions, thoughts, fads, trends, and movement. All those things are constantly in flux but they seem concrete while they’re occurring. The longer you’re around the more you see those things change, you start to notice the few things that don’t change so much. And now we’re entering the world of metaphysics.

Justin: (Laughs) Yea but I think that that really applies to being an artist as well. And as we’re talking about you finding yourself through things you post creatively on Instagram, there’s really a connection to art as well. If you’re making albums and pieces of art, you’re doing the same things where you’re always trying to find a truth and trying to put out the most honest you that there is. And all of the albums are figuring that out.

Devendra: In one sense when we make a piece of art, regardless of the discipline, for me, it’d be a painting or more so with songwriting, it’s the closest we can get to saying this is what I’m like when no one else is around, and I want you to see that and be comforted by that. An artist is someone who just observes and questions, and that’s it. And does that end at some point? It’s a lifelong practice. Just observe and question. The rest is the different colors and ingredients, it’s your palette, no pun intended, but the source of it is that. That’s what makes you an artist.

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Justin: Is that truly your personality or are you just as true to yourself when there’s other people around?

Devendra: If you were the same person you were when you were alone or with other people, you’d be labeled insane. It’d be fascinating to watch. You’d be walking around talking to yourself. There’s those people who are caught in a loop who are repeating the same sentence years later and whatever caused that was so severe that it broke something and they’re caught in that loop. Then there are people that seem to be surrounded by people and I think they’re closer to what they’re talking about. Then there’s simply people who project what we keep inside. Very often the people who we say are insane are simply broadcasting what we keep inside of our minds. When I said that songwriting is an approximation of myself, in a way I almost specifically meant love songs. It has a lot to do with love. I want you to know how much I love you without saying I love you.

Justin: Emoting that feeling. You can only say I love you so hard. I get that a lot from listening to your music. That feeling of compassion and love. I empathize with that.

Devendra: Maybe songwriting is my Instagram and I’m just projecting because I don’t really love anybody and I’m projecting some made up imaginary me.

Justin: (Laughs)

Devendra: I’ve got this book of Japanese death poems written by monks and samurai warriors and poets before they died. The one I read this morning I actually wrote it down and I’ll read it to you. The author is Chogo and the poem translates to:

I long for people

Then again I loathe them

End of autumn.

Justin: That is wonderful.

Devendra: You reminded me of that with saying that I’m compassionate. Because I read that and I identified with it like oh yea, I love people, yet again I loathe them. (Laughs)

Justin: Me too.