Donny Benet on the sax, latin percussionists, and Working Out

With unbeatable style, randy beats and the tastiest keyboard licks around, it’s perfectly natural to be drawn to the mystery of Donny Benet.

Donny Benet. Just saying his name is a sensory experience, evoking the rich scent of Italian upholstery and sweet dreams of long, shared nights between satin sheets. He’s disco, he’s romance, he’s Donny.

The keyboard afficionado and sophisticated lover recently broke the news that he’d slipped into the Plastic World family, releasing standalone single Working Out to celebrate. A boppy little burner boiling with physicality, it’s his slinkiest hit yet. We knew we wanted more Donny, and he was courteous enough to sit down with us for a chat.

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Photos by Liam Cameron

HAPPY: We’ll get right into it. Thanks for coming.

DONNY: Pleasure.

HAPPY: How are you doing?

DONNY: Great.

HAPPY: Congrats on the signing!

DONNY: Oh, cool! Yeah, thanks.

HAPPY: What’s it been like at Plastic World so far?

DONNY: We’re just looking for a little bit of a different audience. A good friend of mine and booking agent Marty Doyle, we were bouncing some ideas off each other and thought we want to reach more of a cratedigger crowd, I guess. Plastic World are a dance crowd.

HAPPY: Yeah absolutely, I can see it in their other acts.

DONNY: It’s been great so far. It’s in it’s infancy, but they’re good guys.

HAPPY: Well certainly with Working Out you’re moving to a more physical, dance oriented space. Is that what’s on the cards for the next releases?

DONNY: It’s funny, the songs I’ve written that have resonated strongly are the ones that always took about an hour to write. I wrote Sophisticated Lover in half an hour and went for a bike ride and thought ‘that’s a good song.’ Working Out was the first thing I’d written after Weekend at Donny’s and I set myself a challenge to write it all on the DX-7 keyboard and it just happened in 40 minutes or something. I’d been on a bike ride and I saw some girls walking, and one of their tops had ‘Working Out’ written on it. I usually write most of my stuff after getting out exercising.

HAPPY: Well I was going to ask where that track came from, but you’ve covered it.

DONNY: Yeah it was spontaneous. Also, what influenced that is my mate Marty, who also DJs, last year we cut back on gigs a bit and I did some DJing, he was quite adamant on doing it, he knew it would be really good for me. It turned out to be great for me as I would play songs I really liked, and see how people would react to them.

What I also got out of it was picking tempos that translated well. So with Working Out, the reference song, which is quite funny, because I like the idea of doing something like Physical from Olivia Newton John, is a track called Der Kommissar by Falco who’s infamous for writing Rock Me Amadeus – bit of a stinker but Der Kommisssar is amazing. And that’s the tempo, from that.

HAPPY: And how do you stay in shape?

DONNY: I do lots of cycling, and my good friend Lawrence Pike who drums in The Dreamlanders and I go jogging a lot.

HAPPY: Nice! Moving on to your live show, you have a sax?

DONNY: Yeah, that’s my brother.

HAPPY: It’s been the strongest year for the sax in a while.

DONNY: I’ll tell you what, man, it’s really weird. Sax was a dirty word, years and years ago. I put sax on Electric Love, and I’m not saying anything but nobody played sax then and now every fucking man and his dog, every indie band has a sax player. But it’s kind of cool, the sax used to be the electric guitar and the electric guitar is now the laptop. I’ve noticed a few things, first of all sax is a great instrument, it’s very emotional instrument, I like how it’s coming back and, also like how playing actual instruments are coming back. I played fretless bass for Kirin J Callinan when he supported Mac DeMarco earlier this year and it was amazing to see the energy and vibe from Mac and the guys playing. They’re just four guys with guitars, little shitheads (in a real good way!) – big Bart Simpsons playing guitar. And people are losing their shit over it.

I’m not anti-technology or anything like that but it’s nice to see this. People aren’t freaking out about overproducing themselves anymore either. I remember when I first started doing Donny, I was really into Ariel Pink and this guy called Tonetta, and the production of all of those were lo-fi and shit, it’s really great. At the time there were lots of “beatmakers”, and people were overproducing everything, so it’s good to see it kinda loose again.

HAPPY: It goes in phases, five years ago the producer was too prolific and now everyone’s recording on iPhones.

DONNY: Well you know, a producer was just a kid with a laptop. When my brother Dan, the sax player, (he played You Beauty’s new album), did their album launch, he sent me a picture from the show – there was a picture of three sax cases and he said  “Every band here has a saxophonist.” That was pretty funny for him!

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HAPPY: Similar to the sax, we’re seeing the return of a lot of other styles, like ‘80s synth. What’s going to make the next comeback?

DONNY: Well synths have never gone away. A good friend of mine, Geoff O’Connor from Melbourne, (from the band Crayon Fields)… He’s on Weekend At Donny’s, his music is absolutely fantastic – there’s a lot of synthesizers in the production, and we were talking about how apparently the synth is a dirty word, but, people never stopped using it!  One of my synths – the Mini Moog model D, it’s 44 years old and that sound has been used for 44 years – it’s been present in all pop music, electronic, funk, disco, prog rock, everything.

The next thing, though, man I’m hoping it’s Latin percussionists. You know, little guys in vests. I’ve just been working on Jack Ladder’s new album, and I’ve really been bugging him about getting a percussionist in the band.

HAPPY: Get someone onstage?

DONNY: Or get Kirin playing percussion. I’m gonna put it out there and say Latin percussionists.

HAPPY: Awesome. Hope it comes to fruition.

DONNY: Me too.

HAPPY: Something else that goes in cycles is fashion. Do you have some fashion advice for young Australians?

DONNY: Just buy second hand clothes. Man, I’ve got second hand clothes on now. You gotta look good, and if you’re a musician…I’m not saying you’ve gotta put on a peacock outfit, jump up and down and set yourself on fire. Presentation is so important to get people on board, and if you put on too much of a show you might turn people off, or you’re letting them be lazy and wait for the next fad.

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HAPPY: I heard you got a little theatrical at your recent show though. You brought on some dancers?

DONNY: Yeah, I put on a show for Red Bull Sound Select. They wanted to make a real event out of the night, which I like, without being theatrical theatrical. To tie in with the song they wanted to do something and we didn’t have much space so they said “how do you feel about getting bodybuilders?” I was a bit funny about it, but then I was like, hang on, I wanna put my own spin on it.

I suggested getting male strippers. Because they are great performers. If you get five roided-up dudes, they might freeze up on stage. There were a few hairy moments though, a few people got a little excited about the strippers, and the strippers also got a little excited. I was wondering if they had a bit of an OH&S issue on their hands. It was good clean fun in the end. Good vibe.

HAPPY: Well you mentioned Oliva Newton John, it was natural.

DONNY: Definitely.

HAPPY: Well thanks very much, that’s awesome.