Donny, your new EP “Le Piano” is a pure instrumental project. What made you decide not to use vocals this time?
I wanted the chance to be able to tour “Mr Experience” once borders and venues opened up again – I’d always wanted to make a small EP of instrumentals and this was the perfect opportunity.
Do you listen to a lot of instrumental music?
Yes – lots of ECM records, 12” funk/disco instrumentals and of course a lot of ambient/minimal Japanese records.
The EP reflects your love for elegant 80s electro-disco-funk. The title track is a good example of this. What fascinates you about this music?
“Le Piano” is my tip of the hat to one of my favourite disco/funk instrumentals “Walkman”. I like the space and time you can take in developing ideas when composing an instrumental track – there’s no pressure to get to a “big chorus” or keep a piece at a radio friendly length. I also love jazz and funk.
You mentioned also the Japanese artists Hiroshi Yoshimura, Yoshio Suzuki and Ryuichi Sakamoto as a strong inspiration for the EP. What is it about their musical approach?
Their sound palettes – Sakamoto is a master of the Prophet 5, Yoshimura a big user of the DX7 in such a tasteful manner, and Suzuki blending live piano, double bass, linndrum/ TR 808… They all have a unique sound and approach to their music.
You composed the entire LP yourself and recorded it at your renowned Donnyland Studios in 2021, in the middle of the pandemic. To what extent did working on the album help you to deal with the effects of the crisis?
It kept me busy, focused and challenged.
How did you experience the pandemic in Australia?
If I’m not touring I’m always in my studio working – it was just like a huge chunk of work time for me to be honest. I was bummed about not being able to tour “Mr Experience” but everyone else was in the same boat, so one couldn’t really be sour about it. It wasn’t bad for me – I worked hard, spent a lot of time with my family and also waited for the day that we could travel and play live once again.
On “Le Piano” you also masterfully use old synthesizers and drum machines. What excites you about these old machines? What creativity do they allow compared to modern computer programmes?
The old instruments sound like instruments. You have to work hard to get them to sound unique. Personally I’m not particularly fond of soft synths as there’s just too many options. Others use them well -I’m very fortunate I purchased my gear years ago before they were crazily priced like they are now, and
also before I had a family and could indulge my collecting bug.
How important is authenticity for your music?
In my mind being authentic is being yourself. Write music for yourself that you enjoy and that you’d like to hear. So, it’s very important!
“Le Piano”, like most of your other albums, you recorded alone and played all the instruments yourself. What do you like about this way of working? Is it important for you to have control over the whole creative process?
It’s been like this forever – I just like doing it all myself. Not sure if it’s a weird control thing… I’ve been in lots of great bands over the years with amazing musicians. I think for my own music I like to work alone.
Where does your enthusiasm for 80s culture come from?
I was born then – I’m still a big kid. I hated most music released in the 90’s when I was a teenager. I loved 70s and 80s funk. It’s the best period of music when you’re a bass player.
While at first glance the art figure Donny Benét may be an ironic play on 80s references like Miami Vice, one quickly discovers that your music is anything but a rip-off of 80s clichés. How and when did you get the idea to create the art figure Donny Benét?
Honestly it just happened – I didn’t ever have a specific idea of what I wanted to do and how… It was all a beautiful accident.
How important is the play with irony and humor for your art?
I’m a pretty quirky person – it’s just how I go about things. I also think you should walk away from a concert or listening to a record taking away something. For some artists its an earnest message, self reflection or a peek into someones torment. I want people to walk away with a smile – that’s why I play music. All of these are good things!
You once described the bass as your ‘bread and butter’ instrument. As a bass player, the groove is the core element of every good song. Who influenced you in your playing?
The usual suspects – Larry Graham, Jaco Pastorius, Bernard Edwards. There’s so many. Sometimes it’s the uncredited bass player on an old funk cut that’s probably a 17yr old kid flying by the seat of their pants. Drums give you rhythm, bass makes you feel the rhythm and melody.
You are a musician first and foremost, was it easy for you to decide to perform as a singer as well?
It was just an accident really. One day I’ll stop singing and give people’s ears a rest!
What makes a good song for you? Or asked another way, when do you realize that a song works for you?
Something that catches you and that you can’t get out of your head. For me I know when I have a great song in the case that it writes itself in a very short amount of time. “Konichiwa” I wrote in 15 minutes. I was a passenger in the whole process and my hands were vehicles in getting the composition documented. I happens once in a while and when it does it’s very special.
How would you describe your development as an artist and musician over the past years?
I hope I’m getting better! Probably I’m improving at doing more with less (if that makes sense!)
We just caught you on your Australian tour. How is it for you to be back on stage? How do you experience the reactions of the audience after two years of lockdown?
It’s great – a whole new ball game full of even more challenges than before. It’s a great feeling to connect with audiences once again and that’s what’s giving me energy once again after the two year layoff.
From the beginning of May you can finally be seen on European stages again. You will also be making a stop in Germany. Are you already looking forward to meeting your European fans?
I will be in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Cologne – be sure to come! Audiences are different all over the world, but they’re always a beautiful enthusiastic, supportive and respectful audience. I feel very privileged to be able to travel the world and always play to such a great audience.
Donny, this year is very much about touring, are you already working on a new album?
I’m always working away at something! You’ll have to see!