March 22, 2013 -- "I feel so Venezuelan everywhere, except in Venezuela," says Devendra Banhart, who was born in Texas, grew up in Venezuela, and moved back to the U.S. when he was a teenager.
I got to sit down with the 31-year-old singer-songwriter during SXSW in a suite in the oasis that is the Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin, Texas and ask him what being Venezuelan/American means to him.
Devendra speaks in metaphors and quotes -- mainly "old wise men" quotes -- and seems to fall on both sides of just about every argument. If you can't tell by the first few seconds of the video interview above, Devendra has this neurotic Woody Allen-thing going on.
He begins the interview by telling us how much he hates video interviews. Great. Then he compares his hatred for small video cameras to big video cameras, calling them the "mosquitoes in the night, as opposed to the rhinoceros in the room." He says this while pointing to my "large" camera aimed at his face.
If you're a fan of Devendra's music, then you know he has a lot of interesting and beautiful thoughts. But what you get from the artist when you sit him down for a few minutes, is someone who might not really believe his own words. Maybe it's the humongous camera in the room making him nervous. Or maybe he's just pretending. "This [interview] is like time travel because I will regret everything I say when it's over. I'll regret it because the answers will emerge over time, when I have time to think of them," he declares.
Halfway through stating that his Venezuelan heritage can't be altered, he proceeds to say that perhaps people could be from anywhere they choose to be from, if they identify with a certain place more than where "they're from."
"Do I consider myself Venezuelan? I do. I am. It's not something you can consider. Or you can. You can consider yourself from Zimbabwe, I guess," he says. He goes back and forth like this for almost every question, but somehow it wasn't at all frustrating, it was engaging and endearing.
What to Devendra was a sneaky "word association" game out to get him, to me was an interview about identity. Can you choose your identity? Can you identify with a culture that you're not genealogically attached to? At first he seemed to disagree, but later he said that he identifies with other cultures through art, not roots.
So, in conclusion, Devendra Banhart believes you can choose your identity (we think).
"That seems so tribal... there's a moment when you realize you love your parents for the people they are, not because they're your parents. I love my mom because of the person she is, not because she's my mom. And I have that same relationship with South America."
In all honesty, what made his interview so engaging -- and not driving me to gouge my eyes out with his ruminations -- was that I could identify with him. He was representing most second generation Hispanics without even realizing that his confusing train of thought was actually really accurate and relatable. He's a person who has used his identity to shape his life. He's used his cultural confusion to fuel his music. He gets it without even knowing it, and that's what made it easy to listen to him ramble about wise men and loving his parents or not... that, and his performance on the lawn of the hotel on the prettiest day of the SXSW week was out of a story book (a hipsters-on-blankets eating free upscale tacos kind of story book).
Devendra's new album "Mala" came out on March 12, 2013 on Nonesuch Records and he will be touring through the U.S. during May and June.