Album Walkthrough: Donny Benét leads us through the disco of Mr Experience
On his fifth album, the Australian 'don of disco' reminds the world of his knack for sprawling, funk-filled grooves.
Header image by Cara Robbins.
It's difficult to find someone who has had an imprint on Australian disco as much as Donny Benét. Across the last decade (!), the Sydney musician has remained a cult figure of Australian electronic and its reach to the greater international world, with record after record - his 2018 album The Don being the latest up until today, and perhaps the one most synonymous with what Donny brings to the musical sphere that no-one else does - building upon his charisma to bring you something dizzing and dazzling; never one or the other, but always both.
At times, Donny feels like a badly kept secret in Australian music. He's without a doubt one of the country's most prevalent names internationally (something that comes from a near-decade of touring Europe and the UK), yet he still plays discoball-lit, small-capacity venues back home. In some ways, he's a niche addition to the league of artists that are either one's favourite of all time, or someone people have never even heard of (in the case of the latter, they're clearly missing out).
His latest record, the today-arriving Mr Experience, showcases exactly why Benét is such a loveable character to Australian electronic. Now onto his fifth (!) album, it's clear that Benét has all the kinks worked out. His sound being as potent and precise as ever - despite its ability to swerve between sax-assisted jazz-house and four-on-the-floor disco in just the space of five minutes - and the way he carves together soundscapes feels almost incomparable to anyone else there is; it's an entire experience, in a way, and the don is the only person who can bring it to you.
From the get-go, you'll find that Mr Experience is a little more complex than a standard Donny Benét record. The wind-swept grooves and disco tinges of his work are still there - hell, they may even be more elevated and pronounced on Mr Experience than they ever have been before - but they're captured through songwriting and lyricism that feels matured and refined, capturing the growth of the seasoned musician even five albums deep into his career.
Moving Up is laden with key changes and unexpected breakdowns, a constantly-moving delight that refuses to settle into one distinct groove. Second Dinner dreams of extra meals through personal stories and saying that have stuck with Donny over the years, while Reach Out moves with the summer-ready, sun-lit pace that'd be perfect a few months ago, but feels just as warm today. Negroni Summer, in the meantime, has us searching for exactly that: A time a few months back where we could sink negronis and relax without the ever-impending doom that Mr Experience provides a wealth of escapism from.
In many ways, that's Mr Experience's biggest drawcard. It's a brilliant record top-to-bottom, lush with the smatterings of disco and funk that have been at the forefront of Donny's music since day-dot. This time around, however, they feel a touch more potent and necessary - sometimes all it takes is a good ol' bass line and sax solo to take you out of the moment, and in a time where we're all constantly searching for something to lose yourself in and forget about the world, Mr Experience's rich grooves presents the perfect opportunity: good ol' fashion disco, brought forward into 2020.
There's something about Donny Benét's quirk that keeps us coming back, and even in the face of a global pandemic, we can't keep ourselves away. Dive into Mr Experience below, alongside a track-by-track walkthrough from the don himself, walking through the album's themes and creation one track at a time.
The song concept came as a suggestion to me. I get suggestions all the time and never do they stick. This one did.
I like the intro on this one - kind of like a mid 80’s Japanese game show introduction that goes into a little Chic vibe. It’s no secret that I’m a huge Bernard Edwards fan and I tried to play this bass line with as light touch as possible. Who is Mr Experience? What is he experienced in? Apparently making good scrambled eggs is a huge talent - one that requires a lot of knowledge. It is the title track, and I think it’s an appropriate follow up album title after The Don.
Moving Up was written in early 2019 and about pretty quickly. There’s so many things I like about this song. The muted Miles Davis Kurzweil K2000 trumpet in the intro melody had me in hysterics for quite a while and I could imagine someone recording that melody in a studio wearing sunglasses, showing little or no emotion. In the end I couldn’t bring myself to replace it as I loved it too much. The bongos throughout are a real nice touch and at one point I had a percussion solo in one of the many electric bass breakdowns.
Moving up… guys like me - we get a few years under our belt, wait patiently in the background and then we make our move. All of a sudden we’re hot property when 10 years ago you didn’t even see us coming.
Keep an ear out for the key changes/bass breakdowns - a little treat for you. I can’t wait to play this one live with the band.
“There comes a time when sleep is the new sex”
Nearly 10 years ago just before I’d released my first album Don’t Hold Back I was busy completing my Masters degree. My supervisor at the time had just had a child and during our coffee meet ups he would tell me how jealous he was of his students getting a solid 8hrs a night. He told me - “when you have a kid sleep becomes sex”. It was a pretty good line!
Sleep aside, I’m a huge fan of the post show second dinner - to the point that I’ll look forward to the moment the concert is over knowing I can have an anxiety free meal.
This one was written late in the process and was nearly scrapped due to the original lyrics. I really liked the melodies - the chorus has touches of a Tony Levin bass vibe from Sledgehammer and the opening title track of Scarface (Uncle Giorgio Moroder).
There’s a nice simple sentiment to the song about looking out for others and in these times we gotta look beyond our own little worlds.
Girl of My Dreams
Some songs just write themselves - when it happens you’re a passenger and a vessel to the whole process. Girl of My Dreams was exactly this - as I was feverishly recording instrumental parts I felt that something special was happening.
The whistled melody was one of the first components to come in the writing process - I envisioned being on Italian TV in the 80’s dressed in a black velvet tuxedo, hands behind my back while whistling away and melting hearts. The song touches on an overall theme of the album - Age, experience and an attitude of resilience in our lives lead us to the point of pushing aside insecurities and indecisiveness in order to follow one’s heart.
The Beginning of Side B. The welcome back to the listener.
I’d written and recorded the instrumental very quickly and it seemed to play itself. It had a real nice Michael McDonald vibe going on but I was trying my hardest not make this song about a place or person. It was perhaps the hardest song to crack, going through several versions and at one stage called Cappuccino Lover. Eventually I was inspired by a friend who has a high pressure job and thought what he would do and how he would relax when he took his summer break?
Although the saxophone is featured a lot in The Don and for our live show this is the only song on the album with saxophone in it. I’m looking forward to playing this one live.
One Night in Paradise
Perhaps the closet to an Italo track on the album. I have a vivid memory of going for a late night stroll in Hamburg after a show and hearing Laura Brannigan’s version of Self Control blaring from a closing bar. The guys packing up were really into it and I was reminded of what a hot track it is.
Almost a year later I’d written One Night in Paradise, completely forgetting that night in Hamburg. Starting off with the iconic DX-7 electric bass patch I’d soon added the Linndrum “bouncing basketball” kick (as opposed to the LM-1) which made this track taste like an authentic Italian sauce form the 80’s. A few synths later and I had a hot Italo track.
Lyrically, I liked the idea of applying a tried and tested Donny Benét song approach to the more mature themes played out across the album. A real sexy song for those young parents.
Take a Trip
“That little place in Tuscany / I’ll take you there, no one will know where to find us / Alone at last with you.”
A small village in Southern Tuscany, where we get a couple of Spritzes in the afternoon before heading to the local trattoria for some pici and a bottle of Vino Nobile. That’s my idea of heaven.
I’ve been on the road for quite a while and will still be for the next few years. The idea of taking a trip like this keeps my head above water and my dreams alive. This one was real fun to record and I was very pleased to keep the original DX-7 synth bass line which gives it a nice bounce.
You Don’t Need Love
One of my favourites on the album. I wrote this one November 2018 - I’d just been on tour in Europe and had spent a week with the fantastic crew from Pohoda playing shows in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. After my set every night the DJs would play and there was always a song that grabbed me, that seemed familiar. At first I thought it was Walkman by Kasso, but after checking it was Inspector Norse by Todd Terje. I loved how simple the song was and the slow build with elements sneaking in almost unnoticed.
Back at home after that particular trip I went to my studio and recorded the instrumentals almost first take and put it in the “to keep” folder with intentions of coming back later with lyrics. Revisiting it 12 months later the lyrics and song theme came out almost immediately. I’d noticed a few friends and maybe picked up on a few internet friends’ posts about hitting their late 30s and not giving a shit about the expectations placed on them. They seemed happy, confident and strong. Having found myself in a similar position a few years back I hadn’t quite gotten to their stage but could definitely relate to and admire how they carried themselves. We all have to cut some slack and remember to love ourselves!
Waterfall (Love Scene)
This one was a real last minute punt - 2 weeks out from mixing and still with vocals and editing to go I was completely spent with only had 9 songs locked in. I really wanted to have a 10 track album and loved the idea of ending on an instrumental. I think I was meant to record vocals the day before but had to postpone due to a short bout of bronchitis. The schedule was tight but there was enough time to spend a day seeing if there was any juice left in the tank, so I decided to go for one last blaze of glory. By midday this song had basically written itself and I was ready to go deep with it.
The main melody on the first section was played on the Prophet 5 with a patch I’d always wanted to use. It had a real early 80’s new-age healing quality and the pattern I was playing reminded me of something Mike Nock would do. The Minimoog in the end uses Jan Hammer’s Moog setting, who is one of my favourite synth soloists. But the main thing that does it for me is the fretless bass in the middle section. At the time I was totally into it and the clincher was to apply on one of my golden rules : Would you listen to this song if it was on someone’s album?
If someone released an album in 2020 with a huge ripping fretless bass solo I would be totally down with it. So, it was a huge yes from me. When Burke Reid had finished mixing this he told me it sounded like it belonged on the soundtrack of Commando. For me that is the highest compliment I can be paid.
I’m really pleased with how it turned out and it’s a great way to end the album.
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