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Devendra Banhart Embraces Japanese Culture On ‘Ape In Pink Marble’

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Photo: Devendra Banhart press photo
Devendra Banhart

Psychologists say you can show an object to two people from different cultures, and they’ll come away with very different impressions.

The theory goes like this: If you show a fish to an American, they’ll remember the size and color of the fish. Someone from Japan is likely to pay more attention to what’s around the fish, like the bubbles, the rocks and the seaweed.

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American singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart is fascinated with this idea. And he thought about it a lot as he wrote his latest album.

"The Japanese eye is generally less concerned with the object itself, and more interested in what’s behind the object," Banhart says. "What the object emanates. The attention to detail is so sophisticated and so sensitive that it leaves one bewildered."

Banhart -- who performs at the Boulder Theater on Feb. 3 -- took the Japanese mindset to heart on the LP “Ape In Pink Marble.” He focused less on the meaning of his lyrics, and more on the emotions they convey.

Like on the song “Fig In Leather,” which has a seductive groove and slick Mellotron keyboards. Banhart says those sonic details are what really tell the story.

"Maybe the events aren’t exactly autobiographical, but the emotion behind it is," he says. "It’s this older person trying to seduce a younger person using obsolete technology. The specifics of that, no I’ve never experienced, but failing at attempted seduction is absolutely something I know very well."

Banhart took his love for Japanese culture a step further. He and his bandmates imagined they were in Japan: specifically, in a run-down hotel in Tokyo.

"We started to flesh out this imaginary space," he says. "And we used that in order to determine if the song would make the record or not, by asking ourselves the question, 'Would this song be played in the lobby of this space?'"

Banhart says that rule made the writing process a lot easier, even though they actually recorded the album in Los Angeles.

"We try to make records that sound like they were recorded in an afternoon," he says. "I think this record does sound like that, even though we spent a year working on it every day in order to sound relaxed and casual and give it an ease."

Some listeners might hone in on the characters or instruments in the songs.

Banhart hopes it’s the overall vibe of this album that will stand out -- what the music emanates.

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