Donny Benét is a simple man, unperturbed by the pace of the world around him. He calls himself a luddite when it comes to making music, an assertion that few musicians in his realm willingly would make. But he wears the claim with pride. And it’s this fierce sense of tradition that makes Benét who he is as an artist: focused, unencumbered by superfluity, and downright fearless.
Donny just released a new single, Konichiwa, which followed one of the songs of 2016, Working Out, and we think there is an album on the horizon. We caught up with him to chat improvised sets, the magic of analog synths, and those special pieces of gear that made him the man he is today.
Chatting to the man, Mr Donny Benét, about the magic of analog synths and being a luddite when it comes to gear. Which is totally ok when it sounds this good.
Hey Donny, how’s it going? Can you give us a bit of a run down on some of the gear you’re working with at the moment?
Hey! Doing well thanks! Gear – hmmm. That’s a very open ended question! I’m doing a bit of a clean out at the moment actually – whatever hasn’t been used for a while is hitting Gumtree!
At the moment I’ve been refining some of my old favourites. I was very fortunate to play at the Goodgod Soft Piano bar during Vivid this year where I performed a two hour improvised synth set. I trained for months! Initially when I spoke with Mr Jimmy Sing (GG) I was selling him the idea like a used car salesman flogging a Ford Telstar with 185k on the clock. I was so confident!
About two months before the show I went out to my studio with a bottle single malt whiskey ready to improvise at least an hour of music with no interruptions. I think I lasted 3 minutes. I was devastated. Nothing sounds worse than someone changing synth patches mid way through a mood. It was one of those things where when you have the luxury of experimenting with sound in a non-focused performance environment that things like searching for sounds or patches don’t present themselves as a problem.
Well, for the next month and a half I would go out to my studio (no whiskey) and try to build up the time improvising and developing an idea in a coherent manner whilst staying focused on and using certain synth sounds/patches.
I’m a very lucky person to have purchased the bulk of my synth collection when the $AUD had some real heat. I got them all – Prophet 5 (rev 3), Oberheim OB8, Minimoog, Linn LM-1, a nice space echo. I also have a Yamaha DX7, Roland Jupiter 6, Fender Rhodes, Drumtraks, Oberheim DX and some nice Italian boys – EKO stradivarius (string machine) and the very very rare Farfisa Syntorchestra.
So, with so many choices I realised the only way to make the performance work was to limit myself to certain sounds/textures based on particular synths. I ended up using the Minimoog for bass/leads, the OB8 for held pads/arpeggio, the Rhodes for texture/melodies and the P5 for pads/lead. I ended up improvising for two hours straight and it was one of the most enjoyable performance experiences I’d had for a while!
Your new single Konichiwa is fairly minimal in terms of synths and guitars, which allows the bass, vocals and sax to really shine through – what are we hearing on the track?
DX7, Linn LM-1, EKO strings, guitar and importantly a Musicman Stingray. I bought a Stingray (pre Ernie Ball) and the bass line for Konichiwa was recorded an hour after I unwrapped it. I was really into Bernard Edwards at the time and wanted this track to sound like an outtake from Off the Wall (even though it’s Louis Johnson playing bass on all the MJ/Quincy Jones era albums). I really liked the track but didn’t think it had enough going for it. My drum man Laurie Pike (PVT, Jack Ladder) heard it and encouraged me to put it out. I’m glad he did.
Drum samples. Where do you get them?
From my boys. Lm-1, Linndrum, Drumtraks, DX and even the TR-8. I wish I had a [Roland] CR-78 for the hi-hats but the TR-8 gets the job done.
I am my own beatmaker. I craft bespoke beats.
Do you have a favourite piece of gear?
Tough call. In the synth department it’s the Prophet 5. It’s an instrument, not a synth.
Drums – definitely the LM-1. If not for sentimental reasons I’d sell the Linndrum and the Drumtraks except for the fact that they were my first and I bought them from Japan. Too many happy memories. Sometimes I switch them on, play a patch and weep like a retired Japanese businessman.
Is there a company or maker you feel like you gel with best?
Not particularly…I’m a luddite and really only use old gear. Not because I’m a purist – more so that I’m terrible with technology. I think I only just started using MIDI for a few tracks on the new album.
What was the first synth you bought? Are you still using it? If you’re not, how come?
Roland SH-1000. I bought it for $20. I sold it and made a nice taste a few years back to buy something. I can’t remember what. It was great although it didn’t do anything any other synth could do which was why it was put out to pasture.
Visually, what’s the greatest synth or drum machine you ever laid eyes on?
LM-1. It looks like a Lamborghini. Mamma Mia.
How heavily do you use presets, or lightly modded presets? Has that changed over time?
A bit of both. I usually refine one or make one from scratch and then forget to save it. I’m terrible with technology. I felt guilty a few years back and watched a synth instructional video from the 80’s on Youtube. Turned out I knew how to operate a synth but had my own dumb way of doing it. It works for me.
What are your thoughts on the software/hardware synth debate?
No thoughts – I think you can definately pick them, but again if it works for you then it’s ok.
What’s the cheapest piece of gear you feel like you’ve gotten the best value out of?
My Drumtraks. It was very expensive for me at the time. In 2007 I’d started a six week world tour in Japan and had $800 in my bank. The Drumtraks cost $450 from Echigoya and I hadn’t worked out how I was going to afford to eat for the next 5 weeks. It got me into writing and recording my own music (I’d been a gun for hire bass player prior) and it was the best thing to ever happen to me as far as music is concerned. Even though I don’t use it much these it got me through my first few albums and I’m forever grateful for that.
If you had to grab a new piece of gear, what would it be right now?
I saw a video of those Roland D-50 boutique re-issues. It looked like a spicy little meatball. A bit small but a nice taste. (@roland_aus please send me one. XXX)
Check out more from Donny Benét via his Bandcamp.