Sounds and surf
Donavon Frankenreiter was already a pro surfer by the age of 16. Three years earlier, he was Billabong's first sponsor and, to this day, surfs for a living as a corporate-sponsored rider of waves 'round the world.
But like his good friend Jack Johnson, he's also making a name for himself as a musician. His self-titled debut album is on Johnson's record label, Brushfire, and the two of them will be in concert at the sold-out Hawaii Theatre this Wednesday as a benefit for Johnson's Kokua Hawaii Foundation.
"It's gonna be great," Frankenreiter said from his Laguna Beach, Calif., home last month. "We've only done one show together before, and this is such a great benefit, opening up for Jack, doing one in Maui and the other one in Honolulu. It should make for a beautiful evening of music."
Recorded last October at Johnson's North Shore studio dubbed the Mango Tree, fans of Johnson's two albums have also enjoyed Frankenreiter's since its release in May.
The songs and easy ambience are very much in the Jack Johnson vein. Highlights include the casual spirit of "Free," with an ukulele intro by Johnson himself, an easy grooving "What'cha Know About" that features some harmonica from guest G. Love, "Make You Mine" and the closing "Swing On Down."
That last song, according to Frankenreiter, was a spontaneous effort. "Jack and I were sitting around with G., just the three of us kicking back in the room, and it was made up on the spot. We were able to weave that Hawaiian vibe throughout the record, something that only Jack could've brought to the table. It's something that could have not happened if we recorded in New York or Los Angeles. I feel very fortunate that I was able to make this album in Hawaii. It's such a special place, and the sounds Jack placed throughout it suited the music.
"Before that, I never had a record deal in my life," he continued. "The one time I went into the studio with my high school band, Peanut Butter and Jam, it was stressful. It wasn't any better with the experiences in different studios afterwards. ... But with Hawaii, I was lucky to be in the right place and with the right people. ... It was relaxed and mellow, living on Hawaiian time where, for three weeks, we were either on the beach or in the studio."
THIS IS JUST a natural extension of a friendship that dates back to when the two were teenagers.
"I used to go to the North Shore every winter to surf," Frankenreiter said. "I was 16 and he was 14, and I used to rent his family's back house that was located in front of Pipeline. As we grew up in the oncoming years, he taught me to play the acoustic guitar, and it was real fun staying and surfing with him.
"We've both done a lot of extensive traveling over the last 10 years, and when his musical side of his career took off, it all came back full circle when I heard through the grapevine that he started his own record label, Brushfire. ... I sent him some of my music and asked if there was any chance at all that he could produce a record of mine's."
Frankenreiter has been touring in support of his album, particularly the mainland and Australia, both on his own and on concert bills with Johnson and G. Love.
"On the nights that I'll be doing for Jack's Kokua Hawaii Foundation, it'll be solo acoustic, which is always really fun to do, and I'll probably jam on a couple of tunes with Jack. Also, another one of his great surf films will be shown, as well."
Frankenreiter still surfs for a living, traveling around the world, and doing the occasional surf trip for a movie or magazine layout. And now, at the "advanced" age of 31, he philosophically says: "No matter what happens, with age only comes more confidence in your abilities. You do something enough, being at the age I am right now, I love it. I just enjoying surfing. The older you get, the more waves you catch, the more happiness there is."
Part of that happiness is obviously due to his relationships with his wife of three years, Petra (who he met on a blind date), and their year-and-a-half baby boy with the inspired name of Hendrix.
"It was a name that I just threw out there before he was born," Frankenreiter said. And if you listen to the song "Call Me Papa" carefully, you can hear a bit of Hendrix on the track.
"The story behind that is, during recording, the song was just not happening. Hendrix was about 6, 7 months old at the time and just started saying things. When we worked on it the next day, I held him in my arms while I was singing, and he started making his little sounds."
It's just part of the everyday music of Donavon Frankenreiter's life.
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