Two musicians from Perth are responsible for the most played song in the world right now — but you probably have never heard of them.
- Perth songwriters FNZ have worked on some of pop music’s biggest songs
- They co-wrote the current most played song in the world, The Kid LAROI’s Stay
- Their work in lockdown as the US battled COVID-19 is now bearing fruits
17-year-old Indigenous Australian singer The Kid LAROI’s collaboration with pop juggernaut Justin Bieber Stay is topping music charts worldwide, an incredible feat in itself.
LAROI, who grew up in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Waterloo before moving to the US, has become the first Australian-born solo male to top the US singles chart since Rick Springfield did so with Jessie’s Girl 40 years ago.
If you read Stay‘s credits, you will see the names Michael Mulé and Isaac De Boni, together known as FNZ and among music’s most in-demand producers and songwriters.
After spending most of their lives in Perth, Western Australia, they are now based in Los Angeles and have worked on some of the biggest songs in pop culture, even winning a Grammy Award with hip hop icon Kanye West.
“For us, it’s amazing. Just looking at the numbers [for Stay] every week, it’s crazy,” said Mulé, who is professionally known as Finatik.
The path from Perth to LA
The pair first met at a party while growing up in Perth in the mid-2000s, but only began collaborating on music in 2007.
De Boni worked at a local Italian restaurant while Mulé was employed at his mother’s cafe, while also DJing at nightclubs on the weekend.
A mutual friend hosted a show on the now-defunct Perth youth radio station Groove 101.7FM.
One of the show’s guests was Miami producer and songwriter Jim Jonsin, who at the time had a string of top 10 US hits under his belt for R&B artists like Jamie Foxx.
As the story goes, their friend told Jonsin about FNZ’s music and emailed him a file of MP3s.
“Listening back to those beats now, it’s crazy, because they were so horrible!” Mulé said.
“But I think he could hear the intent and the passion behind them.”
Jonsin expressed interest in signing the young musicians to his music production company.
“But that dragged on past a year, year and a half. At that point we were just out of sight, out of mind,” Mulé said.
“It was like, we’ve got to make that jump and just take a trip to Miami once and just show up and see what happens.”
By February 2009, the pair had saved up enough money to do just that.
They booked flights to Florida in the hope of meeting Jonsin, who by that stage had crafted globally successful pop records for artists like Beyonce, Lil Wayne and the Backstreet Boys.
“As soon we got there, we called one of Jim Jonsin’s friends to let him know we’re in town, and he was just absolutely shocked,” Mulé said.
“He was like, ‘I can’t believe you guys just flew to Miami from Perth 33 hours just to get here’. Straight away he was like, ‘come meet me’.”
The leap of faith could have backfired, but with scant professional opportunities in Perth, it was a no-brainer for the young musicians.
“This was a big deal for us. This is a super producer who is producing for all these massive artists who has even a 1 per cent interest in what we do,” Mulé said.
“We were like, we would be stupid to not take that opportunity and try and make the most of it.
“From that point onwards, we never had a ‘normal job’. It was always music,” De Boni said.
“In the beginning, the money wasn’t great at all. The first few years, you’re kind of just getting by.
“But you’ve just got to stick at it and eventually you start getting better and better.”
Hip hop an ‘obsession’ growing up in Perth
The pair’s passion for their craft can be traced back to their childhood.
Mulé said he became enamoured by hip hop music when he was just 10 years old.
“I became super obsessed with it, like that’s all I really cared about,” he said.
“I’d be at school, had my little Walkman or minidisc player or whatever it was, and it was all I really listened to, and that kind of just fell into collecting music and doing my research online … back in the early dial up days on the internet.”
He said he remembered being captivated by a television performance from the Beastie Boys’ DJ Mixmaster Mike.
“Seeing him with two turntables and a mixer and going crazy beat juggling and scratching tricks — I was just gobsmacked amazed by it,” Mulé said.
He saved up money to buy a cheap DJ setup and taught himself the tricks of the trade, which later lead to him competing in nationwide DJ competitions as a teenager.
His interest in DJing waned as he began to learn how the music he was playing was composed.
“I would find a Billy Joel record that my Dad had, find out who sampled that for what song I liked, and then chop that up and try and recreate it,” Mulé said.
“You’d have to listen to something and really study it and be like, how did they do these drums? Or how did they chop this sample? How did they play this synth or piano? It was all by ear.”
That journey of musical discovery was something De Boni was also chasing.
“I started playing piano when I was a kid, my Mum had a mandolin that I used to try to play,” he said.
“I was about 13 or 14, my friend taught me about what a producer was.
“He told me about [US producer] Timbaland, like, ‘do you see in the Missy Elliott video, that dude that’s in there, he made the actual beat’.
“Then one of my brother’s friends just happened to have a copy of Fruity Loops, which is musical production software.
“At the time, no one was making beats really … I remember trying to get other people into it just so that I could have people to work with, but then no one else stuck with it.”
It’s that collaborative spirit both musicians thrive off.
“Sometimes, if you’re by yourself, you could be working on an idea, but then it starts kind of fizzling and just not working out,” De Boni said.
“If there’s someone else there, they can just do one little thing that just reinvigorates the whole thing.
“It’s like, ‘oh, I never even thought about going that direction’. Then maybe I’ll think of something different. It just keeps going and spirals up instead of down.”
“We feel like our sound progresses and changes so much, so it’s kind of hard to find a sound that defines us,” Mulé said.
“We’re always trying to push ourselves to find cool, different sounding stuff,” De Boni said.
COVID lockdown fuels creativity
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the US entertainment industry hard, with artists unable to tour — a huge source of revenue in music.
For FNZ, it meant they couldn’t make their annual trip home to visit family and friends in Perth.
“We kind of made a pact, like, we’ve got to keep going,” Mulé said.
“Every week regardless of whether we were working from home or here from the studio … we just popped out so many new ideas and tracks.
Their connection to home is something they both treasure after five years living in Los Angeles.
“I’m always speaking to family whether it’s my Nonna every Sunday, or my Mum, my Dad, my sisters or friends,” Mulé said.
“You need that because it kind of just keeps you grounded and sane otherwise, you just kind of go a little crazy being over here.”
The musical talent unearthed from the most isolated city in the world also serves as a reference point.
“My go-to when people ask where we’re from and we mentioned Perth and they’ve never heard of it is ‘Kevin Parker from Tame Impala is from Perth’, and they’re like ‘oh yeah, that’s right, I’m a huge Tame Impala fan’. It’s kind of like the claim to fame,” Mulé said.
“We want to make our mark to make people proud back home. We want to make them proud that they’re from Perth as well.”
‘Insane’ Grammy win with Kanye
One of their biggest achievements so far was winning a Grammy Award for their contributions to Kanye West’s 2019 gospel rap album.
“To see our names on the credits with his is amazing. To win our first Grammy with Kanye is pretty insane,” said Finatik, who describes West as a childhood hero.
“I feel like every producer that works in hip hop, rap or even pop music, [West] is the artist that everyone wants to work with.
In March, the pair co-produced a song for rapper Drake which was part of a trio of songs that debuted at number one, two and three on the US singles chart — a feat never before accomplished.
But the still growing success of LAROI’s Stay looks set to be their biggest win so far.
“The feedback has been awesome. Everyone’s loving it. It’s kind of like a worldwide smash, you know?” Mulé said.