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There is a man, a synth expert and sexual disco extraordinaire, who once penned a tribute song to Julia Gillard, when everyone else had deserted her. “Julia, let’s get together, for some of that Italian heat.”
Donny Benet is something of an enigma. The awkward dancing, outdated outfits and cheeky twinkling eyes might add up to a comical image and one would think it’s a persona, but Donny has no qualms about being himself as an artist. “It’s all natural. I’m just an organic, free range kind of guy.” That’s not to say he’s a jokster. No one could be this good without being deadly serious about their music.
We take an in depth look at the man, the enigma, the sophisticated lover himself, Mr Donny Benet.
Donny is the son of Italian disco accordionist Antonio Giacomelli Benét and a lot of his career can be traced back to the exposure his father gave him. “He certainly played a role in me wanting to follow music. Maybe it is a family affair kind of thing. Back in the old country children usually followed their father’s career footsteps. I was speaking to my Italian shoemaker just recently and he’s a fourth generation cobbler – maybe there is still 2 or 3 Donny juniors coming in the future.”
If that’s the case it’s pretty easy to envisage a swarm of ladies holding ‘Donny, have my babies’ signs. Just to solidify this expectation it seems a good idea to ask him what makes him happy in his spare time. “Cycling, cooking, and romancing.” Well the romancing happens on stage too, but you’re starting to get the picture.
While his exquisitely retro solo records Don’t Hold Back and Electric Love may have taken some by surprise, they’ve been a long time coming. Donny spent years playing accordion and synth in Sydney Italian bands before moving to Las Vegas to perform Tom Jones covers and disco classics. He returned in 2011, settling into his father’s Donnyland Studios to start recording, something he described as a blessing.
“It’s fantastic. I’m very lucky to have inherited a bunch of my father’s synths and also scour the world looking for rare and unusual gear. The good thing about using electronic instruments is that you do not need larger studio spaces or “live” rooms to record music. My recently revamped Donnlyand is much more spacious than before, which in turn means I have more room to cram more synths into!”
This itch to search the planet isn’t limited to instruments. Donny finds a lot of inspiration through travel to allow him to create burning, sexually charged disco hits. “I love traveling through Italy by train and composing the “soundtrack” in my mind. Or trying to think of what it would have been like to live in Italy or Greece in the 70s/80s.”
One might ask why a man is making music you’d need a time machine to find anywhere else, in this day and age when more clubs seem to be moving away from the fun, energetic, loose acts that seemed to make the 70s and 80s seem so free. Is he following in the footsteps of greats such as Giorgio Moroder? For Donny, it’s part circumstance and part personal taste.
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“I think it’s interconnected in a few ways. Being a child of the 80s nostalgia is always a happy place to be in, but I also love bass driven music. I find that music from that period lends itself towards dominating and melodic bass lines which can really give the song its signature.”
One of Donny’s own signatures is his ability to improvise, which is how he normally starts the creative process. “For me, what really works is establishing a strong rhythmic pattern and bass line and improvising/sketching out a song form. I’ll then layer keyboard/guitar parts before adding vocals.”
This is also where his love of cycling comes in, a surprising passion that literally drives his artistic direction. “I’ve found that my most successful songs have been written or modified while I’m out cycling. There’s something about maintaining a steady pedalling cadence which helps establish certain tempos or melodic riffs. Also, if I’m still humming or thinking about the song after an hour riding it must be a winner.”
Despite a collaboration album titled Weekend at Donnys in 2013 that included the likes of Jack Ladder and Kirin J Callinan, it’s been a little while since we’ve heard solo material from Donny. Those invitations for ‘burning love’ have been missed but he assures us the wait is nearly over. “There’s new stuff simmering away on the stove. There will definitely be new heat towards the end of the year.” In the meantime you can catch him on August 26. “I’m playing with the Donny Benet Show band at the NSW Art Gallery. People should come and get a taste of culture and be touched by the show band.” We’re not even sure if you’ll be touched emotionally or physically, probably both.
If there’s anything else you need to know about a man who would be “a bald eagle, or a donkey” if he could be anything but human, just give Don’t Hold Back a squiz.
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