News Column

Donavon Frankeneiter finds perfect harmony in surfing, music

August 14, 2014

By Erin Shaw, The Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, S.C.)

Aug. 14--Life is hectic for singer-songwriter and professional surfer Donavon Frankenreiter.

The 42-year-old father of two has been juggling singing and surfing careers for two decades, traveling the world alternately in search of waves and concert crowds.

"It's complete chaos," Frankenreiter said with a laugh. "Actually, they help each other out in a lot of ways. Surfing never takes away from music. It all works out great together. Surf all day and play music all night."

His laid-back surfer lifestyle is often reflected in surf music, from the mellow harmonies of the Beach Boys to the sunny acoustic riffs of Jack Johnson, who served as an early mentor to Frankenreiter.

The two were surfing buddies who played similar music. Then, Frankenreiter signed with Johnson's Brushfire Records label and put out his first self-titled solo album in 2004.

The move jump-started his career, which now spans five studio albums, including 2010's "Glow" and 2012's "Start Livin.' "

"('Start Livin') is completely unlike anything I've ever done before, in that we skipped the basics and went for a whole lot of different instruments," Frankenreiter said. "We never brought in a drum set; instead there's handclapping for percussion ... (and) banging on pots and pans. We were using everything from bells to singing bowls to Zippo lighters. At one point we put some beans and salts in a can and shook it around."

Frankenreiter also released a live album at the beginning of the month called "Live at the Belly Up," a best-of compilation of songs that capture the mellow vibes of his shows.

Those vibes will be on display Aug. 20 when he plays a show at Music Farm in Charleston with fellow surfer-musician Makua Rothman as the opening act.

Before his performance, Lowcountry Current asked Frankenreiter about his new music, his surfing career and how he spends his days at home in Hawaii.

Question. How would you describe the overall feeling of "Start Livin' "?

Frankenreiter. It's pretty mellow. I'd say it's one of my more laid-back records. We went in and didn't really know what was going to happen. I recorded with my longtime friend and bassist Matt Grundy in Southern California for a week. We were doing two or three songs a day. We did a lot of it live, where I played the acoustic guitar and he played a bunch of other stuff, whatever was around.

Q. You and Matt Grundy used a wide variety of instruments on the record. Did you have a favorite sound that you guys created?

Frankenreiter. Yeah, I really enjoyed the tenor banjo. I didn't even know they made those.

We used things we just had around the studio. A Zippo lighter. A pump organ. We were building tracks up from two acoustic guitars and adding in what we thought would sound good, but not overdone.

Q. What is your day-to-day life like at home in Hawaii?

Frankenreiter. I love it. I get to be a husband and a father when I'm home in Hawaii. Normally I wake up at 6 o'clock, make lunches for the kids, take them to school, then maybe go the beach with my wife, do some gardening. I really enjoy gardening. We do beach days with the kids; they go surfing. We're at the beach constantly.

Q. How old are your kids, Ozzy and Hendrix? Are they into playing music and surfing too?

Frankenreiter. They are 11 and 7. They love music. They have a little drum set, guitars and ukeleles. I'm not pushing anything on them but rather laying it out there for them. I didn't pick up a guitar until I was 16, so right now I'm just giving them the exposure to music. As for surfing, they've been surfing since they could walk.

Q. Are you still surfing professionally?

Frankenreiter. I still do it. I have great endorsements and work with a lot of brands. Right now I'm working on a really neat thing with MasterCraft Boats to essentially create an endless barrel wave behind a boat. I can't talk too much about it, but I'm really excited.

Q. I always thought it was so cool how you and Jack Johnson came together and how he influenced your career. Do you guys still keep in touch?

Frankenreiter. I see him quite a bit. Sometimes in Hawaii or at festivals we're both performing at. I wish I could hang out with him more, but when he's at home (in Hawaii), he's a family man and kind of shuts it down. But he gave me a huge start in the beginning, taking me on tour for two years, which was amazing.

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Source: Island Packet (Hilton Head, SC)

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