Megapuss is the project of freak-folk troubadour Devendra Banhart, his bandmate Greg Rogove, and recently-anointed third wheel Fabrizio Moretti (of The Strokes and/or Little Joy). Born as an on-tour goof-off, Megapuss's debut disc, Surfing, shows a band built for laughs; not least in the fact that promo pics have found Banhart and Rogove standing stark naked. The day after the 2008 election, Rogove answered some questions.
Interview: 5 November 2008
So, yesterday was a big day for you.
“Yes! Although it’s very, very important that the Megapuss album came out that day, we were happily, happily overshadowed by Obama’s win.”
And now you’re in a celebratory mood?
“Oh, it’s a crazy scene. Everybody’s spirits are high, are positive! I’ve had a day of talking to people who’re so elated, and hopeful, and excited to be part of this country again. For years, it was impossible to be an American and travel; we were all just so embarrassed of ourselves, of our political situation. Now, when you take that overseas, it’ll be something to be proud of.”
Where have your travels taken you?
“I’ve spent time in Singapore, Mali, China, Mexico. I spent a year in India when I was 18. I went there to study the tabla, and its use in North Indian classical music, but it was so much more than that. The nature of that country is very powerful; where even if something isn’t physically happening, there can be this wild swirl of energy, of inspiration. Just watching a fisherman bringing in his fish, and the women in their saris with their baskets, and the pigs in the streets, and the cows and the dogs, it can be life-changing. That was 11 years ago that I was living there, and I can still feel it creeping in, and changing the dial on me.”
Whereabouts did you grow up?
“Outside of Philadelphia, in a town called Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It’s beautiful, beautiful farmland, Amish country. It’s very puritan, in that it’s people who’re living in the dark ages, in some ways, but in a way that’s natural and wholesome. You’d see the Amish people at the central market, and buy quilts from them. There’s a weird friction there, at times, and a lot of history.”
And growing up in this Pennsylvanian hamlet, you dreamt of playing the tabla?
“I dreamt of being a tranny. I wanted to be a Brazilian tranny from Bahia playing Samba music.”
And you still yearn to be a tranny? Or just to play Samba?
“These days, the dream is more to be a bricklayer, or a farmer, or to run a vineyard. There’s a definite sense, among us, that there should be something more than just making music. But, not just yet. There’s still a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of ideas and projects that I’m excited to realize. There’s obviously a strong movement in our evolutionary thought, around the world, and it just happens that music gets to that very quickly.”
So, what ideas did you have at the inception of this project?
“Megapuss? This one, we were hoping to transmit fun, first and foremost. When you listen to it, hopefully it’ll be wonderful, hopefully people will feel good about themselves and good about life. One of the most enjoyable things about any piece of art, in my opinion, is when you have this strong, dramatic nature running in harmony, not discord, with this comedic side, with something light-hearted. When you have those things running simultaneously, harmoniously side-by-side, and not fighting.”
Is it difficult to take such conceptual —or, indeed, comic— ideas, and then to try and translate them into sound, then capture them on disc?
“Gosh. I never feel like it’s difficult, but I do wonder if it’s received this way. It’s so easy to talk about an idea, or a sonic environment, or a conceptual place, and it all makes sense to you as the artist putting it down. But does it make sense to the listener? Do they get that same feeling? That’s what you concern yourself with, and how you judge whether you’re successful.”
Are you really genuinely concerned about your music being misconceived?
“We weren't when we were making it, but, then, when we listened back to it, we wondered: ‘I wonder what it is that people will hear?’ And, I have to say, when talking to people, the responses I’ve gotten, it seems like it reaches them, like it works. It’s been surprisingly good! That’s been our excitement. It feels like it’s summer no matter what time of year.”
Have you found yourself talking about your genitals a lot?
“[Laughs] Yes, somehow it’s an inevitable question. I have to say: it wasn’t a prescribed aesthetic decision, it was what seemed right. And, in hindsight, looking back, it makes sense. Because that’s what we’re out to do: make sure everyone is very well represented.”
Did you think it’d become the talking point?
“No, no. It’s a drag that that’s all people want to talk about. That wasn’t our intention at all. It just seemed like the most honest thing for us to do, and we hope that people don’t skewer it to be something else.”
Is Little Joy your sister group?
“Oh, yeah! They are our sibling band, and I love them dearly. Fab plays drums in Megapuss, and I sometimes play drums for Little Joy. And then [Little Joy's] Rodrigo [Amarante] and Devendra will occasionally play in the other band. We’re very much an incestuous little group of friends.”
Were these two acts founded at the same time?
“Actually they were, but we weren’t close then. Devendra and I were on tour, and we were coming up with hit song titles, like “Rolls Royster” and “Good Fiddy,” and that was it, that was the extent of Megapuss. And we did that for about a month. Meanwhile, Rodrigo and Binky [Shapiro] and Fab are in LA, writing songs. It really was a parallel movement. And then our records came out the same day. Nice!”
You authored the song titles first? That’s how the band began?
“Yes. Stylistically, it all happened before the music ever existed. After a while of tossing out these names, we started to play this game, before going on stage, where we’d pluck out, say, "Hamman" from our list, and then improvise a song in ten minutes. We ended up with a pretty nice arsenal of sketches. We came back from tour with 26 of them, and most of them were pretty silly. But then we wrote two or three beautiful ones, and that was when we actually felt like it was worth making a record."