Romantics are born, but the best sorts of lovers are made – with experience. And experiences are the very things Donny Benét has carefully decanted into the wicker-wrapped carafe (‘fiasco’, in Italian) across his thirty-something years thus far. As the title track of his wonderful fifth album attests: “When you need the one who will deliver it/ You know you’ve got to call: Mr Experience/ There is no questioning the satisfaction with/ Someone so confident: Mr Experience.”
(We can’t resist including the succedent lyrics: “Soft chin, sunken eyes and thinning hair/ He always turns you on.”)
Sprung from the Italian disco roots of his father, Benét completed a Masters of Music in double bass at the Sydney Conservatorium while playing accordion and synth in Italian bands in Sydney, before heading to Las Vegas to play disco classics and covers, then returning to Oz in 2010 to join Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders. His multi-instrumental excursions underpin his wildly dorky post-disco stylings which are half tease and half love-letter to his heritage.
“All of my uncles speak with a really Aussie accent,” Benét says in his gentle voice. “They’re Italian but they’re like, ‘G’day, moite!’ When they were growing up and going to high school as kids, they had so much sh-t thrown on them that they had no choice but to start acting like skippies.” There is also, of course, plenty of awareness and humour behind the behaviour. “Years ago my uncle was picking up some bread, and he asked ‘Do you have any Italian bread?’ The [store worker] goes, ‘No, we don’t have any of that wog bread.’ We were all laughing at this story, at these poor Australians – y’know, they don’t know good bread! They were trying to put him down for wanting something better.” Benét describes his Italian mother visiting his Australian father’s parents’ for dinner; the older couple scoffed at her for using olive oil and vinegar on a salad – and afterwards, were shocked at the excellent flavours. His mum took it all in her stride, with a chuckle. “I think you’ve had this generation that have copped it, and they had to have a sense of humour about it,” Donny explains.
(For the ultimate in expertly-executed tease/love-letter balances, check out the twist ending to the clip for Mr Experience single Girl Of My Dreams: it’s bellissimo.)
Australian audiences instantly grasped the beauty of Donny Benét with both hands from the time of his 2011 debut Don’t Hold Back, but admiration abroad emerged more recently during Benét’s successful US tour of last year. “[Booking agents] were saying, ‘People are really responding, and they’re finding it quite earnest and touching’,” says Benét. “I was taken aback a little bit because I was like, ‘I’m just being my normal, y’know, Aussie-taking-the-piss-out-of-everything self.’” While an artist must necessarily plug any new album, Benét says you can be considered a “tosser” for doing so too sincerely. In America, it was different: “You go, ‘I’m really proud of my album, I hope you enjoy it.’ They’re like ‘Yeah bro, it’s great.’ And you’re like’ Oh… actually, yeah it is!’
“You have your stage presence where you’re a badarse and you’re cheeky or whatever, and then you come down [for meet and greets], taking pictures, shaking hands, ‘Hey, I’m just the same as you.’ It’s just so nice to meet people.”
As for the music, it’s as moreish as Benét’s previous delicacies, but somehow turns the funk up a blessed notch. How does he do it – is it those sensual vocals? “I’m a terrible singer – it’s true,” Benét says. “I made it easier this time – if I’m way up on the mic, I can get away with these little inflections.”
Then it’s got to be the magical basslines: “[On the album], this one particular bass I’m using and the style I’m using is a bit of a tip of the hat to Bernard Edwards, who is the bass player for Chic, who’s incredible. I always start with the drums and the basslines – 90 percent of the songs I’ve written started from the bassline, and then I build everything else around that.”
But the chief ingredient must be the X factor which makes Benét greater than the sum of his parts; like consciousness, you can break it down into its functional components but that just doesn’t explain the magic or charm. “I remember when I started, it was all indie-pop, dreamy, really cute guys and I was like – this is the most anti- thing to do, I shouldn’t be doing this, a balding 30-year-old guy shouldn’t be getting up on stage at all,” says Benét.
“And it kind of rubbed people the wrong way initially, which made me even more excited about pursuing it, because it’s like, cool, I’m onto something here! Putting things into songs that shouldn’t be there, that kind of make people cringe… maybe it is the wog in me, you know? It’s the musical equivalent of having a concrete tiger bust out the front of my house.”
Mr Experience by Donny Benét is out Friday May 22 via Dot Dash/Remote Control.
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