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The Texas-born, Venezuela-raised Banhart is part of a loosely-connected generation of singers – among them Sufjan Stevens, the harpist Joanna Newsom and torch singer Antony Hegarty – that have made unexpected inroads into the mainstream.
While his early albums have been credited for blazing a trail in 'freak folk', he prefers to classify what he does as "unpopular pop music".
Often regarded as the godfather of the nu-folk scene, Devendra Banhart's traditional, finger-picking, singer-songwriter style comes with psychedelic, avant-garde and country influences, while his lyrics meander through strange and wonderfully oddball worlds.
Raised in Caracas, Venezuela by his mother, Banhart returned to America and Los Angeles when he was 14 and dropped out of college to busk and drift around Paris, before releasing his first recordings through Michael Gira's label Young God Records.
Banhart didn't speak a word of English but muddled through.
Now he revels in his dual identity."Well I am a Gemini," he says. ' I'm genuinely frustrated by the fact that when I open my mouth to sing, it doesn't sound like this guy."So Banhart waited until his mother went out.
In the past 10 years he has pursued a similarly successful and completely separate career as an artist, having had exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, and collaborated with Yoko Ono.
Banhart, who creates the artwork for all his albums, was also nominated for a Grammy for the haunting cover of his last LP, 2009's What Will We Be.
All this is far removed from his image as a serious singer-songwriter and barefoot hippie dude who has been quietly bewitching the world of music for the past decade.
Mala was announced in 2012 and marked his first release on new label Nonesuch.
Ape In Pink Marble followed four years later the lead singles Middle Names and Saturday Night both critically acclaimed.
But still, he reckons I could have gone one better with the choice of venue."We really should have done this interview in a massage parlour," he muses. It won't be long before I cry again."For someone allegedly uncomfortable with talking out loud, Banhart sure talks a lot. We are, of course, meant to be talking about the new album, which is a terrific blend of alt-rock, synth-pop and Latin flavours, though he seems pathologically averse to the business of self-promotion.
"That would have been a treat for us both and then you'd have to write a nice piece because we'd be so relaxed. Instead, he picks up my Dictaphone and starts describing our surroundings – "So, we're eating lunch in the Tate Britain while looking at a print by Chris Ofili" – or reporting on my movements: "Journalist has stopped eating her sandwich. In a curious reversal of the interviewer/ interviewee roles, he also has a habit of jotting things down that he thinks might be of interest. I fear that with the latter two I may have forever tainted his view of British cultural achievement.f After lunch, he continues to pinball around the gallery snapping away with his camera phone and gasping, "That is so fucking beautiful".