Devendra Banhart: "I'm Not An Entertainer"
Devendra Banhart really, really wants you to dance.
With "Golden Girls," the lead-off track on Mala, which dropped on Nonesuch Records this week, he implores the listener to do just that: Banhart hypnotically chants "Get on the dance floor" as the flames from a steady burn of strings and crashing cymbals lick at your heels. The song may last a grand total of a minute and a half, but the message carries over the course of the album as Banhart's trademark eccentricity pops through flamenco guitar strains, synth deluges, sultry ballads and minimalist love songs that stun with their lyrical impact and instrumental simplicity. Surprisingly, Banhart doesn't think that Mala's repertoire, despite this rhythmic call to arms, will have people up out of their chairs when he starts to tour behind it.
"I like to ask people to dance," says Banhart. "I think it's an uncomfortable thing to do, but I think it needs to happen. The goal is to be as confident, respectful and comfortable as possible. I'm not there to ignore anyone. I'm not there to not look into people's eyes, or just even play the music and leave--but I'm not there to put on a show, either. I'm there to present something as humbly and respectfully as I can. I'm not an entertainer. But I'd like to do a little dance, if I can. I'm the worst dancer in the room, and probably the worst guitar player in the room. It makes it more comfortable for everyone else to join so we can all dance together."
Recorded in the studio he and longtime collaborator Noah Georgeson built themselves in the Los Angeles home Banhart was residing in at the time, Mala is as much a product of its surroundings as it is the brainchild of the talents involved. As it wasn't created in the highly controlled environment of a standard studio, Banhart, Georgeson and the other players featured on the record were subject to some imperfect, improvisational additions--say, a passing lawnmower or the shrill chirping of birds outside--that eventually worked their ways into Mala's fabric because the insulating job they did wasn't as thorough as they thought.