Banhart was born May 30, 1981 in Houston, Texas, to a Venezuelan mother, Maria Eugenia Risquez and an American father, Robert Gary Banhart. His given name is a synonym for Indra, the king of Gods (Hindu), which was suggested by Prem Rawat, an Indian religious leader whom Banhart's parents followed. Banhart's middle name Obi was modeled after Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Star Wars character. Banhart's parents divorced two years after his birth and he moved with his mother to Caracas, Venezuela. His mother later remarried and Banhart's stepfather moved the family to Los Angeles, when Banhart was 14 years old.
Banhart cites Axl Rose, Kurt Cobain, Mick Jagger, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Ali Farka Toure as his inspirations to begin singing. When he found that he could not match their singing styles, he found success in singing in a "feminine style."
In 1998, Banhart began studying at the San Francisco Art Institute on a scholarship while living in The Castro, San Francisco's gay neighborhood. He began to busk instead of attending classes and played his first show in a church at a gay wedding, performing Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender" and the classic hymn "How Great Thou Art." Banhart dropped out of art school in 2000 and left San Francisco after the dot-com bust worsened the city's economy. He moved to Paris over the summer and opened shows for indie rock bands such as Sonic Youth. Banhart returned to the United States in the fall of 2000 and played music in San Francisco and Los Angeles, until he was discovered by Michael Gira, owner of Young God Records, after Siobhan Duffy, Gira's wife, bought a copy of Banhart's demo CD The Charles C. Leary and gave it to Gira.
Banhart and Gira compiled an album from Banhart's recordings, and in 2002, Oh Me Oh My, which was made up of short fragments, was published by Young God Records and received favorable reviews. He recorded two other albums and an EP for the label: Rejoicing in the Hands, Niño Rojo, and The Black Babies; the releases had a simple acoustic sound. Banhart changed to XL Recordings in 2005 and released Cripple Crow, which was recorded in Bearsville Studios, New York and had a more elaborate sound.
Banhart’s albums offer a variety of musical sounds, and he is often called the leader of the musical movement termed "Freak Folk." His lyrics are fantastical, idealistic, and poetic with the occasional trace of innuendos.
Additionally in 2005 Devendra collaborated with Antony and the Johnsons on the award-winning album I Am a Bird Now. Banhart sings the introduction to the song "Spiraling" and plays guitar on "You Are My Sister" in which Boy George also appears.
Devendra was the first artist to design a t-shirt for the Yellow Bird Project, in 2006. He chose to donate the profits from the sale of his T-shirt to the Teenage Cancer Trust.
In 2007, he started a relationship with actress Natalie Portman.
He recorded his second album for XL Records, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, at his home studio in Topanga, California. The album charted on the Billboard 200 at number 115. The album's song "Lover" was featured in the soundtrack of the movie Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which included a cameo appearance by Banhart.
Banhart has performed at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl opening for Gilberto Gil, as well as at Bonnaroo and Coachella music festivals. He founded a record label, Gnomonsong, with Andy Cabic of Vetiver, in 2005. In 2007, he signed with Neil Young's manager Elliot Roberts, who also contributed vocals to Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.
Banhart released an album in 2008 entitled, Surfing, with Megapuss – a collaborative project with Gregory Rogove and Fabrizio Moretti of The Strokes and Little Joy. Comedian Aziz Ansari is featured on the album's track "Duck People Duck Man" under the alias "Grandpa P Darwish".
In 2009, he signed to Warner/Reprise and released, What Will We Be. Later that year, at the band's request, he produced a remix of Oasis' "(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady". Along with "Neighbors", Devendra remixed the Phoenix song "Rome" from their 2009 album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
On September 4, 2009, Beck announced his second Record Club covers album, Songs of Leonard Cohen. Banhart contributed, alongside MGMT, Andrew Stockdale of Wolfmother and Binki Shapiro of Little Joy.
He is a collector of music artifacts. Banhart wrote the foreword for and appears in his friend Lauren Dukoff's book Family: Photographs by Lauren Dukoff. He has also written the introduction to a selection of poems by Kenneth Patchen.
On October 27, 2009, Banhart released What Will We Be, his first record on Warner/Reprise. Banhart and Jon Beasley, who were credited as art directors for the album's artwork and packaging, were nominated for a Grammy in 2011 for Best Recording Package.
The film Life During Wartime, directed by Todd Solondz, features a musical collaboration between Banhart and Beck. The song plays over the film's end credits. Banhart sings lead vocals while Beck adds backing vocals and also recorded the track. The lyrics were written by Solondz and the music by composer Marc Shaiman.
Banhart is an avid skateboarder, and in March 2010 broke a bone in his right leg while skating, only hours before a concert in Phoenix, resulting in the cancelation of future shows in Utah and Colorado.
In 2011, he collaborated with Marisa Monte and Rodrigo Amarante on a version of the song "Nú Com a Minha Música" for the Red Hot Organization's most recent charitable album "Red Hot+Rio 2." The album is a follow-up to the 1996 "Red Hot + Rio." Proceeds from the sales will be donated to raise awareness and money to fight AIDS/HIV and related health and social issues.
In April 2012, Banhart took place in artist Doug Aitken's audiovisual project "Song 1" at the Hirshorn Museum in Washington D.C. Banhart joined Beck and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem in performing "I Only Have Eyes For You" for the project that uses eleven high-definition video projectors working in tandem to blanket the museum's entire surface with a video of the performance.
On December 3, 2012 Banhart announced his new album, Mala. The album was released on March 12, 2013, and was Banhart's debut album for Nonesuch.
In June 2016, Banhart released the first track of his ninth studio album, Ape In Pink Marble, titled 'Middle Names'. In August 2016, Banhart released the second track of his ninth studio album, titled 'Saturday Night'. His ninth studio album, Ape In Pink Marble was released on September 23, 2016 on Nonesuch Records.
Drawings by Banhart were featured in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and in the Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels.
Banhart's drawings have also been featured in the Art Basel Contemporary Art Fair in Miami, FL, the Mazzoli Gallery in Modena, Italy, Spain's ARCOmadrid. and the Andrew Roth Gallery in New York.
His drawings were featured in MOCA's exhibit "The Artist's Museum", in which the works of influential Los Angeles based artists from the last 30 years were presented. As part of the exhibition Banhart collaborated with artist Doug Aitken and musicians Beck and Caetano Veloso for a musical and visual performance piece.
Banhart was a participant in Yoko Ono's second Water Piece project.
He read Joan Miró's poem "A Star Caresses the Breasts of a Negress" for the recorded guided tour of Tate Modern.
In June 2015, Banhart released a collection of drawings, paintings, and mixed media pieces, titled "I Left My Noodle on Ramen Street," published by Prestel Publishing.
Banhart's music is often associated with the New Weird America genre, along with Vetiver and Joanna Newsom. The New York Times has called his songs "free associative work" and SPIN magazine has written that "Banhart's albums offer ashram-appropriate guitar strums, trippy-hippie tone poetry." Various publications have described his style as psychedelic folk, avant-folk, freak folk, Lo-Fi, hipster folk revival, and alternative folk.
Some reviewers, including AllMusic, The Times, and Mojo, have pointed out similarities between Banhart's songs and production with that of the early 1970s band Tyrannosaurus Rex (an early version of Marc Bolan's T. Rex). In a May 2004 interview with Arthur magazine, Banhart stated that he was unaware of the music of Tyrannosaurus Rex until after he began writing and recording songs. Devendra Banhart instead prefers to credit Vashti Bunyan, Caetano Veloso, Simon Diaz and Arthur Russell among his main influences.
Banhart's live band has had multiple names, including Spiritual Bonerz (the 'z' is silent) and The Grogs.Devendra Banhart - vocals, guitar, organ, synthesizers, samba, and more
Rodrigo Amarante - guitar, bass, backing vocals, synthesizer,
Noah Georgeson - guitar, multiple instruments, producer
Gregory Rogove - drummer, backing vocals
Josiah Steinbrick - bass, multiple instruments
Todd Dahlhoff - bass, backing vocals
H. Hawkline - guitar (2017 Ape In Pink Marble tour)
Tim Presley (2017 Ape In Pink Marble tour)
Luckey Remington (2017 Ape In Pink Marble tour)
Occasionally:Andy Cabic (From Vetiver) - guitar
Fabrizio Moretti (From The Strokes) - drummer
Michael Gira (From Swans) - harmonica, vocals, producer
The Black Babies (2003)
Sight To Behold/Be Kind (2004)
Little Yellow Spider (2004)
At The Hop (2004)
I Feel Just Like A Child (2005)
Heard Somebody Say (2005)
Xiu Xiu/Devendra Banhart split 7-inch (2005)
White Reggae Troll (2006)
Something French/Loring Baker' (2014)
Middle Names (2016)
The Golden Apples of the Sun (2004)
Jana Hunter / Devendra Banhart (with Jana Hunter, 2005)
Love Above All (2007)
Xiu Xiu's Remixed & Covered (2007)
Surfing (as Megapuss with Gregory Rogove, 2008)
Songs of Leonard Cohen – Beck's Record Club (2009)
Loving Takes This Course – A Tribute to the Songs of Kath Bloom (2009)
Amador – You're The One with Adanowsky (2010)
Mujer Divina, Homenaje a Agustín Lara – Amor, amor de mis amores with Natalia Lafourcade (2012)
"Time" with Stray Dogg (2012)