Soundtrack Of My Life: Devendra Banhart

Venezuelan American singer-songwriter whose funeral song might be the best yet

The first song I remember hearing

Juan Luis Guerra – ‘La Bilirrubina’

“I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela and you couldn’t avoid this song. It’s a merengue [a type of music that originated in the Dominican Republic] but something about it was really interesting – it was the lyrics. Bilirrubin is a yellow secretion that happens when your red blood cells break down. He’s talking about this organic human compound as a metaphor for the love that his beloved incites.”

The first song I fell in love with


Styx – ‘Mr Roboto’

“They’re almost the Mickey Mouse version of Yes to me, this proggy, theatrical thing. I grew up listening to merengue, salsa, cumbia and then suddenly I hear ‘Mr. Roboto’, this song that starts in Japanese, which I’d never heard before. It’s part of a rock opera where there’s this society that’s anti-rock ’n’ roll and robots are in prison because they’re pro-rock ’n’ roll. It’s totally heaven for a little kid.”

The first album I ever bought

EMF – ‘Shubert Dip’

“It was so formative to my identity. If you’d asked me ‘what is heaven?’ then, I would have said: ‘Heaven is people wearing cool skate clothes with baggy psychedelic stuff and sideways hats and guitars, and music that feels hip-hoppy, cool and psychedelic’… that song is such an interdisciplinary carnival of genres.”

The first gig I went to


Guns N’ Roses, Caracas, 1992

“The general collective concern of the entire country at that moment was whether we would be accepted by this demigod, because we’d heard that in the South American leg [of their tour] he’d played one show with his back towards the audience. It was on the radio and the news: ‘The big question is on everyone’s mind, will Axl face us or not?’. He did face us – it was a fucking amazing concert. It’s very hard to be eccentric and irrational and in such a militaristic place. For a moment we saw these androgynous, crazy, theatrical nuts running around half naked in top hats and spandex. It was just heaven.”

The song that reminds me of home

Barbara Lewis – ‘Hello Stranger’

“I feel like I was born with the sentimentality and the nostalgia that this song ignited. Even as a little kid, I had the feeling of what these lyrics are emoting – seeing an old love or an old friend after so long. The longing and nostalgia and the tenderness of her singing. It’s so direct, so pure.”

The song I wish I’d written

Sharon Van Etten – ‘Our Love’

“I love Sharon Van Etten so much as a songwriter and as my friend. But this is one of those songs where I really go, ‘Motherfucker, you did it. You did what I’ve been trying to do my whole career’. Somehow she manages to reference this myriad of genres in a very distinct and unique way. And the lyrics are bru-tal. It’s so distilled, it’s got that haiku quality that I really long for, when you can say the most with as few words as possible.”

The song I do at karaoke

George Michael – ‘An Easier Affair’

“It’s one of my favourite songs of all time. I sing it terribly. My entire concept of what beauty was, in a way, shaped by George Michael. This song is about freedom. It’s about accepting where you are and it’s about embracing who you are. Does it bring the house down when I sing it? No. Do people ask me to stop? Yes. Do I empty the dance floor? Yes, but I couldn’t give a fuck.”

The song I can’t get out of my head

Brian Jordan Alvarez – ‘Sitting’

“He’s a comedian and actor and also an incredible songwriter. He has a character called TJ Mack that sings these songs and this is his latest one. It’s immediately stuck in my head. I’m very happy it’s there. It’s one of the few earworms that I want to move in and never leave.”


Full length @Josh Mac version of SITTING!! Go follow him!!!

♬ original sound – Brian Jordan Alvarez

The song that makes me want to dance

Sylvester – ‘I Need Somebody To Love Tonight’

“I first heard this in Bristol and I couldn’t believe it. My jaw dropped and then my booty started shaking. It’s exactly what I want in my dance music, which is lyrical sadness and musical bliss, joyful ebullience. It’s like every night of my life – I put on my best dress and I get excited that I’m gonna go out there and have a blast and I barely make it out of the house. I end up just in tears. Dancing alone, weeping, I can relate to that pretty well.”

The song that makes me cry

The Blue Nile – ‘Let’s Go Out Tonight’

“This is the opposite of what I love in my dance music. It’s contemplative and meditative and mournful and considered… It’s an abyss of loneliness and sadness musically. And the lyrics are so simple and tender and hopeful. It’s the magic formula of musical songwriting perfection to me and it makes me weep every single time. It really feels like honest, real sadness.”

The song I can no longer listen to

H Hawkline – ‘Milk For Flowers’

“I listened to this non-stop when it first came out. I can’t listen to it anymore because Hugh [Evans, aka H Hawkline] is in [my] band and we’re covering this song. It went from being my favourite song that I listened to constantly for pleasure to total homework. I’m like, ‘Fuck, I have to learn this song now, because I love it so much’.”

The song I want played at my funeral

Duke Ellington – ‘Petal Of A Rose’ / Eazy-E – ’Gimme That Nutt’ (mash-up)

“Then some Alice Coltrane over cocktails afterwards. It’ll be some kind of metaphysical orgiastic trip-out.”

Devendra Banhart’s new album ‘Flying Wig Out’ is out now via Mexican Summer

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