Donnarumma does The Songs of Jeff Buckley

Words by Freya Langley

If you haven’t seen or at least heard Donnarumma around, you’ve been living under a rock. Having transformed Louis’ solo project into a dynamic trio in early 2016, Donnarumma have been administering Adelaide with a healthy dose of high-energy roots-rock.  On top of busking in the mall, open-mic nights at the Grace Emily and shows at all of the local haunts nearly every week, Donnarumma have had a busy 2016, selling out their Fringe show, recording their second EP and supporting the likes of Julia Jacklin and local darling, MANE. Following the success of four sold-out shows last year, Donnarumma is bringing back Grace: The Songs of Jeff Buckley for another round at the 2017 Fringe. We caught up with Louis for a coffee and a yarn to talk Fringe and find out what’s in store for the band in 2017.

So, all four Grace shows last year sold out, how was that?

It was really good, it was super fun. We decided before Fringe started last year that we would only do three shows and it turned out that they were selling really quickly. I think the first show sold out two weeks beforehand. So we thought we’d chuck on a fourth show because the demand was there, and people were saying, “oh man I missed out on tickets”.

Why did you choose Jeff Buckley to pay tribute to? And why did you choose to honour him a second year in a row?

There’s a bit of a story behind why I started it. I did a Fringe show the year before with Maggie Rutjens and I was inspired by Tom West, who performed the songs of Neil Young. I thought it was really cool and thought I’d do the same thing. It was my Dad’s idea to do Jeff Buckley. I wanted to pay tribute to Damien Rice, but my Dad suggested Buckley instead.  It’s a tribute show you don’t get to see that often, and he has large following and many feel a strong sense of nostalgia about him. 

We had such good feedback from people we’d never met and we had people saying they were disappointed they’d missed out on the shows. Throughout the year, we had people asking if we were doing a second year.

What’s your process for developing your tribute set? Have you chosen songs that you think will suit the style you’d play them in, or chosen them based on historical importance?

I guess we definitely put the more important songs in the set and we carefully choose where we place these songs in the set. I definitely choose the songs that inspire me the most as well, and ones that I can play the best. I do try to get as Buckley as I can get without being gimmicky, but I still try to give it a bit of a Donnarumma flavour.  He influences me quite a lot and that kind of influence comes out in my music anyway. I try to compliment his music and bring out what the music was and the energy that he had.

Do you feel any pressure or anxieties paying tribute to such an icon and your own musical idol?

It sucks sometimes, its huge pressure. I worry that people see the posters and think “Jeff Buckley? Who does this kid think he is?” I feel like I have to prove I can do it. It was a lot of pressure last year for sure. But this year, I’ve done it before so I’m very confident I can do it again.

Last year, you said you chose the Wheatsheaf Hotel to create an atmosphere where people could relax and have a glass of wine. This year, you’ve chosen the Grace Emily and Jive, are you still aiming for that same relaxing atmosphere?

Last year that “relax with a glass of wine” atmosphere was definitely what we were aiming for, especially with some of Buckley’s slower songs. We really liked the feeling of a sold-out Grace Emily and the closeness of the venue last year. We felt like the Grace served the music better and was more of a “rock show” – which for Buckley as a touring artist was what he delivered. We’ve added Jive this time around to take one step up on the venue in terms of size, but to also serve as a rock show – not necessarily to eliminate the ambience that the Wheatsheaf had.

What can we expect from Donnarumma’s tribute show?

You can expect all the classics, 'Hallelujah' and 'The Last Goodbye'. You can expect some new songs and some solo songs. If you dig deep into Buckley’s music you’ll find some duets, so we’ll have some special, local guests doing duets with us. There’ll be a range of rock to really soft acoustic stuff. It’ll be a fun time.

Will you be doing anything differently second time around?

This time around we have two new members, Max Tulysewski the drummer from Donnarumma, and we’ve brought in another guitarist, Django Rowe, who plays with a number of local bands. We’ll be playing more songs of Buckley’s unfinished second album “Sweetheart my Drunk” – more songs to play with.

What are you looking forward to at the 2017 Fringe?

Funnily enough, my top pick for the Fringe is a tribute show [laughs].  Wasted Wanderers are paying tribute to the Little River Band and Crosby Stills and Nash. They’re really good live, so I’m really keen to see them.

What’s on the cards for Donnarumma in 2017?

We have everything for our EP ready to go! And you can expect that and an East Coast tour shortly after the Fringe.

You can catch Donnarumma’s Grace: The Songs of Jeff Buckley on February 18th, March 18th and 24th at the Grace Emily, and on February 24th at Jive. Tickets are selling fast, so get in quick.

Click here for more details.