The champagne is cheap but plentiful, the lighting dim with the air smelling faintly of musk as I sit down to a plate of antipasto with Donny Benet. We’re surrounded by a mixture of suited industry types and barely dressed women in their late thirties who fill his modest suite at the Intercontinental Hotel in Sydney’s Circular Quay. Leaning forward in gaudy arm chairs, either side of an undersized marble top coffee table, we’re very much removed from the goings on around us.
Having come a long way since his humble beginnings playing weekly gigs at the Scalabrini Retirement Village, the humble disco gem that is Donny Benet is shining brightly after being polished up by waves of attention and support off the back of the release of his debut album, Don’t Hold Back, released on Rice Is Nice earlier this year, Donny currently in the middle of touring in support of the album’s second single Sophisticated Lover.
Never one to lose perspective in a such a situation, his father before him, famed Italian disco accordionist Antonio Giacomelli Benet, having been wrung through the fickle fortunes of the music industry himself, Donny is humble and composed as we speak about his wide ranging success. “I’ve been completely blown away by the reaction from the Australian audience,” he confesses, turning down an offer of champagne.
Benet, who got his break after returning to Australia from Las Vegas, where he had held a residency at the Las Vegas Airport Hilton playing disco covers of Tom Jones songs, is still very much inspired by the city of sin, with Sophisticated Lover’s subject matter being taken from Donny’s own experience with the Las Vegasian women.
“I guess I was seeing a lot of really attractive women over there,” he admits sheepishly, “and trying to connect with people in Las Vegas can be tough at the best of times, so I really had to dig deep and go that extra mile to get the girl. The song sort of encapsulates the lengths I went to.”
This is no longer the case though, in that rather than having to go to great lengths to get the girls, he’s having to try his best to keep them away, for his own personal safety as much to protect the feelings of his supportive and understanding wife, Mrs Benet. The reaction amongst female fans has shocked a lot of people, Donny included, with his short balding appearance going against the grain of what you’d traditionally expect a sex symbol to look like.
“I was speaking to someone earlier this morning and I commented that I feel like, if anything, I’m giving hope to all the young balding men all over the world,” he tells me earnestly.“The interviewer even said that she felt I was making bald the new look, which is great”.
And while Donny might be doing his best to avoid the wave of feminine admirers, his father, Antonio, is doing his best to enjoy them, as you can see in the video clip for the new single. “He’s always had attention from women over the years, and hanging around him there is this aura he emits that kind of infects the young female audience, which is just great to watch,” Donny explains with a quiet laugh and a wry smile.
His commercial and critical success aside though, the truly great part of Donny’s new found fame has been that it has helped bring him and his father back together. Not speaking for years after Donny turned his back on the accordion, his father disgusted by the sexual overtones of the Moog Synthesiser Donny adopted, the two reconciled during the making of the album, Donny even adding in an accordion solo on lead single Don’t Hold Back as a symbol of he and his father’s reunion. However it would seem that in the intervening months since the album was released, it’s success seeing Donny tour the country, as well as hopping overseas for ten dates in Japan, and playing alongside the likes of Warpaint and others, that his father has developed more of an appreciation for the synthesiser, seemingly becoming more comfortable with it’s raw sexual power.
“He’s coming around finally,” says Donny. “He’s looking at his dusty accordion in the corner and saying things like ‘maybe it is an instrument from the past,’ I’ve actually caught him playing around with it a few times while I’ve been working in the garden.”
With some exciting shows planned for the new year, Donny set to support John Maus and Dan Deacon at the Keystone Festival Bar as part of Sydney Festival as well as being asked to play down in Hobart for the Mona/Foma Festival, after this tour for the new single Donny is looking forward to taking it easy.
“Because of the busy schedule this year, my tomatoes actually went in a bit late, I think they went in at the end of September which is a month later than I would want so I’ve got a lot of gardening to do this summer, and there will be a lot of mediterranean style barbecuing going on, but getting in the studio is my break so I’m looking forward to doing a lot of that.” So are we Donny, so are we.
Donny plays tonight at FBi Social with Erik Omen and SunSun at 8pm. For more information click here.