Singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart knows a thing or two about moving.
He was born in Houston and grew up in his mother’s homeland of Venezuela. As a teenager, he moved to Los Angeles and has since lived in San Francisco, Paris and New York. But Banhart is back in L.A. now, and his new album is steeped in the city’s ambience and the Fantasyland that is Hollywood.
“Ape in Pink Marble" is Banhart’s ninth album and it has elements of his usual wispy folk music, mixed with an exploration of rhythms — from bossa nova to disco. And it’s all marked by his fervent imagination.
Banhart came by The Frame's studio to talk about about his new album.
On how Hollywood plays a part in his latest album:
It's a very Hollywood record — or it relates to Hollywood in the sense that we created this imaginary scene to act as some kind of aesthetic guide to direct us in production.
We imagined this dilapidated hotel. There hasn't been a new guest in 10 years. The wallpaper is peeling. There's an older lady named Jackie with a leather jacket and a cigarette behind the reception [desk]. The light's coming in through this dirty window and you can see the dust going through the rays.
So we're creating this specific imaginary scenario and that's going to act as a guide for how to produce the songs. In that sense, it's very Hollywood because Hollywood creates this fantasy to the rest of the world.
On how Los Angeles inspires him creatively:
Los Angeles is a beautiful and really private place — a place that has incredible trails and a place that is really bucolic and ecologically-minded and about community. I live in a very nice little Mexican neighborhood that's very quiet [where] I sit and I work. That kind of gentleness and that kind of calm atmosphere is in harmony with the Los Angeles I actually live in.
On discovering his voice at a very young age:
I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela and I had an interestingly isolated childhood. I'd been struggling with how I didn't have a voice like Kurt Cobain, Mick Jagger, Axl Rose — although, he's got a pretty feminine, high thing going. But I couldn't sing like them and I wanted to sing.
I knew I just wanted to sing. And I had this feeling — it was kind of intuitive and a very spontaneous thing. It certainly wasn't premeditated. I just put on one of my mom's dresses. I combed my hair in a more feminine way, I grabbed a brush and something in me just unlocked and poured out and I felt like, Ooh wow! From this angle it works!
My voice was obviously much higher. It was almost like discovering my feminine side. [But] it wasn't a sexual thing, it wasn't a gender sort of thing. It was really about that femininity, almost making contact with it. And to embrace that isn't supported by society.
So for me, it felt like I stumbled upon it. And from that moment on, it felt like I could sing from that place.
On finding his current voice:
At one point I thought, Okay, I'm taking this very serious, this is my career now and I need to take lessons. And I did.
That was very helpful, but ultimately the more you work on yourself and the more you're comfortable in your own skin, the more the voice also falls into place. My way of getting to know my voice more and more is actually just not thinking about it and letting it do its natural thing.
So that happened after figuring out ... I really don't need to try and be a better singer. I just need to sing the way I sing.
Devendra Banhart's new album, "Ape in Pink Marble," is out now on Nonesuch Records.