Kevin Barker Shares The Family Jams of Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom and Vetiver
Your movie is titled The Family Jams. Explain what that is?
In some ways, it’s a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek joke. It comes from Charles Manson. The Manson Family made songs, and those songs were jokingly called “The Family Jams.” It was a little bit of Devendra’s joke that when everybody got together onstage and played together he called that “The Family Jams.” It’s a little bit of a dark joke. I think it’s an interesting one too, because in some ways, he [Devendra] seems like the sort of opposite of Manson because he was extremely giving and brought lots and lots of different artists together. He had a real tendency to try and deflect attention onto other people. He would try and use whatever interest was being pointed at him, and he would always try and funnel it to people that he thought was interesting. That’s sort of the opposite of the megalomaniac Manson Family thing.
Do you think Devendra, Joanna and Vetiver will ever tour together again?
I would say that it’s pretty unlikely just because of where everyone is at. Their projects are so different. Someone like Joanna, she has a very strong vision for what her show is now. She is playing Carnegie Hall or playing orchestral shows. Stuff like that doesn’t really work as part of a tour package. Her shows are events in their own right.
Have Devendra, Joanna and the members of Vetiver seen the film? If so, what did they say about it?
Everyone has seen the film, and they all gave it their OK. I didn’t get anyone to sign the release forms until after I’d already finished the movie. Usually the way you do it when you make a documentary is that you have everyone sign the release forms immediately, so if they get cold feet, you have the legal thing that says you can make the movie. I didn’t feel like that was really the right thing for me to do even though it is the smartest thing to do. I felt that ultimately if I made a movie and I showed it to them, and they didn’t like it or didn’t feel comfortable with it then I had no business putting it out anyway. The whole point of the movie was that it should be a really positive thing that everybody feels good about. I showed it to them after I finished it, so everyone signed off on it. I don’t think any of them enjoyed watching themselves onscreen. None of them really have any interest in that. I think some of them enjoy the nostalgic aspect of watching it, but no one feels really comfortable watching themselves onscreen.
What’s up next for the film?
It’s getting some various one-offs around the U.S. It’s showing this week in Wilmington, Delaware and then in Peterborough, New Hampshire. It’s got a couple of film festival things still coming in, like it’s going to show in the Vancouver International Film Festival this fall. It’s going to definitely get a DVD release. This company Factory 25—which is a Brooklyn-based really, really cool label—is going to release it on DVD.
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