Passport to Success

Model-actor Angel Bonanni wants the Internet to know that he can also sing.

Uri Zer Aviv
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Uri Zer Aviv

"In Israel, if you're famous in one field, it's very hard to switch to a different field without people being surprised. It's not like that in the U.S.," says the model and actor Angel Bonanni.

"Look at Justin Timberlake. He started off with the boy band, 'N Sync, but afterward became an amazing singer."

Bonanni, left, and Padeh make what they call an 'American sound,' in English. Credit: Assaf Eini

Now Bonanni is also a singer, in a new duo, Project Passport, together with the guitarist and producer Gal Padeh. Three singles are already being played on the radio from their first album, "State of Grace," which has six songs, all of them in English, and is being distributed on the Internet.

"I come from a place of fear, of expectation. And not just because I'm embarking on a new path," says Bonanni in an interview together with Padeh in a Tel Aviv cafe. "In every aspect of my life, whether it's acting or relationships, there was always something that stopped me."

He was born in Uruguay in 1972 and grew up in Australia. Apart from modeling in Israel and abroad, he appeared in local television series such as "The Ex" and "15 Minutes." Last year, he appeared in the film, "Salsa Tel Aviv."

He met the producer Gal Padeh through a mutual friend in New York. Padeh, 33, has an undergraduate degree in business administration and music from New York University. In the past, he was a guitarist with the American metal band Savilian and worked in a recording studio with Grammy Award-winning producer Gordon Williams. Around three years ago he returned to Israel, began lecturing at BPM College of music and opened a studio in Ramat Hasharon where we worked with Harel Skaat, among others.

"You can be a musician and afterward start acting or modeling," he says, "but being an actor or model and from there move into the music world is a lot less common."

Bonanni, who started singing at a young age, did not plan to be a model. He happens to be a very good singer. Not only does he know how to sing, his voice can reach high notes without losing its clarity. "I absorbed musical influences from my father who was an opera singer," he says. "I always wrote songs, but never thought they were good."

And now you think they are?

"No."

Padeh: "That's what he has me for. Angel is the negative half. He reminds me of the crazy killer from the movie "Seven Sins," with his too organized notebooks. He is such a disorganized person, so his notebooks are the opposite of him. I photographed his notebooks and started going through the songs and taking a line here and a line there. He sometimes has brilliant lines."

Bonanni: "Gal understands a lot more about music than I do, so he tells me which of my songs we can work with, but there are also some complete songs that made it onto the album. And if we're already talking about positive and negative, then after performances I usually think I was the worst singer in the universe and he thinks I'm the best singer in the world, and that it was a great performance. We have disagreements like this. I'm a tough guy. I'd like to think of myself also as a spiritual person. I study [The] Yemima [Method] and believe in the energy inside us, that it is omnipotent. It can be channeled into any part of life. The moment you agree to submit it's very liberating and allows you to understand life."

Two years ago, while he was in New York, he wrote four songs within 15 minutes. "I was in shock. I have entire notebooks full of bullshit."

Only one song he wrote on his own, "State of Grace," is in the album, set to music by Marina Maximilian Blumin, who was his partner at the time. Bonanni and Padeh wrote the lyrics for "Borrowed Time," and Padeh wrote the other four songs with the Savilian soloist, Jeff Yohai.

Like The Young Professionals, the duo of Ivri Lieder and Yonatan Goldstein, Project Passport is also a contemporary male pop duo aiming for the big wide world. Project Passport did not take the standard route of getting concert dates at small clubs abroad as many young indie bands do. Bonanni and Padeh want to penetrate the heart of the American consensus. TYP chose to do a remake of "Video Games" by the current blog favorite Lana Del Rey, and like them Project Passport decided to try its luck in the entertainment world. They signed with the New York artists management firm, Mick Management, which provides musical content for American television series.

It sounds like Padeh learned a lot from Williams, who in the past produced albums for Christina Aguilera and Jason Mraz. Like their albums, Project Passport's album also features an American sound - layer upon layer of orchestration, acoustic guitars, light electronics and melodies that you don't need to listen to more than once to get the drift.

"We invested NIS 200,000 in this album. Our sound is American," says Padeh, referring to the bombastic style and richness of the sound.

"We are universal," corrects Bonanni.

Padeh says he was disappointed when radio station editors did not include their song in a playlist because they are already famous and they have to give this opportunity to others. "Like Ninet Tayeb in those days," explains Bonanni, "she came from where she came and instantly turned into the country's sweetheart. We here in Israel are always looking for the underdog; someone who can be lifted up and then brought down. Not that I'm bitter or anything, I can live with myself."

All of your songs are quiet and personal.

"True, all of the songs are like that," agrees Bonanni. "For example, every time I sing 'Borrowed Time' on stage, I get a different meaning out of it."

Padeh says "the best albums are the ones where everyone takes the meanings of the songs to wherever he wants to; as if the song was written about you."

Bonanni wrote "State of Grace" in New York after a wave of nostalgia. "The truth is I wrote the song after I smelled a certain aroma, which reminded me of a kibbutz in Israel," he says.

Padeh says it's not easy to work with him. "He's the type of person who can create an antagonistic feeling in people very quickly, but I learned how to be a better producer from him."

Gal, what's it like to work with Bonanni after having worked with metal bands?

Bonanni: "He worked with all those people, but then he met the best singer he ever had in his life."

Padeh: "I confirm that."

Do you have fans already?

Padeh: "We are most successful on the Internet. I got an e-mail from some girl from Russia who heard us on the Internet and said she was having a terrible day and the song made it better for her. She asked where you can buy the disc. I told her I'm sending it to her now and added a T-shirt of ours to the package. Now, if I post something on our Facebook page, within 10 seconds she clicks 'Like.' Want to see?"

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