Devendra Banhart was born in Houston, Texas, but spent his childhood in Caracas, Venezuela; as a teenager, his family returned to the States, relocating in Southern California, where he soon became enamored of skateboard culture. "Ballad of Keenan Milton," in fact, is an homage to the legendary skateboarder, who died tragically in 2001 in a freak accident.
Music was always a passion for Banhart, and he discovered it in ways both magical and haphazard. As a boy in Caracas, says Banhart, "I was surrounded by salsa, merengue, cumbia, some bossa nova-that was ubiquitous, you'd hear it on any street." In what could be an excerpt from a David Sedaris monologue, Banhart claims he found his own voice one day when he was home alone and impetuously donned one of his mother's dresses, grabbed her hair brush and started to sing. In high school, Banhart became obsessed with rocksteady, bluebeat, and ska, which he'd learned about via skateboarding videos.
Banhart has successfully maintained a parallel career as a painter: Banhart's distinctive, minutely inked, often enigmatic drawings have appeared in galleries all over the world, including the Art Basel Contemporary Art Fair in Miami; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels; and Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art.
Banhart has embraced an astonishingly wide range of musical ideas, from folk to blues to the avant garde. He extols the late Arthur Russell, a relentlessly eclectic artist who was impossible to pigeonhole in his brief lifetime, and Banhart has brought back into the spotlight forgotten artists like late-'60s singer Vashti Bunyan, whose psychedelic folk he championed.
For Banhart, his career remains "an adventure and an exploration."