August 2018

Donny Be Good

Donny BenetDonny BenetDonny BenetDonny BenetText: Gabriel Knowles Images: James Nelson

If Donny Benet shoots to U2-esque prominence or ends up playing to a stadium full of adolescent girls shrieking his name despite not knowing why they actually like him, Hollywood will make a film about him. It will be the first feature about the life of a disco accordionist/jazz bassist.

See, the Donny Benet story has it all. First of all there’s the name, Donny Benet (ben-ay), it rolls off the tongue. It makes you want to pick up the phone, dial, wait a few rings and ask for Donny. I actually do and he answers, sounding quite laid back as he explains that he’s tending to the vegetable garden at his family home in Hurstville, south of Sydney’s CBD. “Snow peas have got to come out soon, they’ve got a bit of fungus growing,” Donny says. “If you stay a bit ahead you’ve always got enough for a nice soup.”

Then there’s the family backstory: Donny’s dad, a famous Italian accordionist, fell in love with the daughter of an accordion repairer, of all people. You couldn’t script that better if you tried. Of course Donny picked up the accordion, but at age 15 the electric bass tempted him away from his dad’s beloved instrument. Benet Senior didn’t always approve but, in keeping with the scripted theme, he’s since come around. Donny reckons that his upbringing gave him the tools he needed to make his debut album Don’t Hold Back all on his own.

“One of the things that came out of that is that I can play a bit of everything, I can play the piano, keyboard, I can play the piano accordion still, I play a lot of bass. I like to create all the sounds myself, so there’s no loops or anything like that. Coming from that background, it’s not the only way I know, but it’s the way I feel most comfortable and productive.”

“The drum patterns are obviously looped but I play everything else,” he quickly clarifies.

Donny’s stint as a solo lounge act in Las Vegas has all the filmic boxes ticked too. A gig arranged by a family friend soon became a lonely experience but Donny is adamant the material he managed to accrue there more than makes up for it.

“I was playing on my own in Vegas but it was a different thing. I was playing in the background and it wasn’t really an appreciative audience, at all. It inspired me to write all the songs on this album. It definitely inspired me in that aspect. That’s why a lot of the songs are written and they’re a bit desperate, it was good to get out of there in a way,” he recalls.

“The desperation was more on a relations level. I was trying to interact with people but everyone has tunnel vision there and their relationships are based around money. You’ve got to do what you do to make it a positive situation and I’m really glad all these songs came out of it.”

The songs that came out of it are in essence a collection of synth-laden, smooth grooves that sound like some early ’80s r’n'b has been melted down with classic disco. Whether or not they’re enough for Donny to make the silver screen proper, only time will tell – in the meantime, he’s taken getting on screen into his own hands.

“There’s also a bonus karaoke DVD of all the songs that Spod made. It’s awesome. It’s also the only album being released right now that has an accompanying karaoke DVD.”

Don’t Hold Back and bonus karaoke DVD are out now through Rice Is Nice

Donny Benet launches Don’t Hold Back in Sydney at Goodgod Small Club with Collarbones and Kirin J Callinan on August 12, 2011 and The Workers Club in Melbourne with Mark Barrage and Electric Smile Band on August 13, 2011.

Next story: Australian Badlands – Warwick Baker