Artist Spotlight: Donavon Frankenreiter
By Spike Brendle
Pro-surfer turned singer-songwriter Donavon Frankenreiter was the perfect act to open the main stage on Sunday afternoon, the last day of KAABOO Del Mar. His easy-breezy, island and ocean-inspired music is soothing both to the ears and the soul, and post-Saturday night encore stage hangover approved. (The Encore stage is KAABOOs late night version of Coachella’s Sahara tent.) We were able to chat after his set, where I peeked into his California-raised, Hawaii local upbringing, and talked about his new album, The Heart.
SPIKE: Give me a brief history of your musical background.
DONAVON: I started playing music when I was sixteen years old, and I didn't have my first record until I was thirty, so I just kinda floated around for a while. I had a surfing career that I was really focusing on, but during that time I learned how to play guitar. When I was thirty years old, I signed my first deal with Universal on Brushfire, Jack (Johnson)'s label. And that’s how it all started about fifteen years ago.
SPIKE: What takes priority: surfing or music?
DONAVON: Whatever we're doing, they never really get in the way, that’s what’s cool. Like, this morning I went surfing, then I came and played the show and now after this I'm going to go surfing again! They both inspire and help each other out a lot. They influence one another.
SPIKE: Your new album came out in August, and you've been touring in support of that. You had said that this is the “deepest” and “heaviest” album you've made so far. Was there a significant event that led to that or has it been building up over the years?
DONAVON: It was a collection of songs. I didn't really have many songs like four months before that, then I started working with Grant Lee Phillips, and he co-wrote a bunch of songs with me. I think I made a real intimate record, it didn't have any quirky instrumentation on it; just acoustic (guitar), bass, drums and singing, and that’s it. It was very from the heart, that’s why I named it The Heart. All the songs are about things that I was going through, things that have happened. I feel like they are very personal and emotional songs. Some of them are sad songs, and I don't really write a lot of sad songs. There are a lot of happy songs in there as well, but where we recorded it and the way we did it and the things that were transpiring at that time, it was definitely one of the most emotional records I've made.
SPIKE: You recorded this record live, streaming every part of it over the internet. How was that experience?
DONAVON: That was a great experiment, so fun. Ten days we were live, for ten hours a day, and recorded ten songs. It was incredible. I loved it so much and so did everyone else, I think we're going to do it again. I'd like to do it again when we make another record, it turned out amazing! Sanuk, the sandal company that I ride for, sponsored and supported the whole thing, then Mastercraft Boats and Martin Guitars got involved. It was really cool. You know what’s so cool about it is it was live and we streamed it, but it still lives on the internet forever. We had something that we captured, that’s up for the rest of time. It’s neat because people are always looking for content after listening to the record and, if you don’t record the making of the record it’s hard to go back and recreate what happened.
SPIKE: You were born here in California, and although you do have a few more shows scheduled here and played one last night in Los Angeles. Would you consider this a homecoming show?
DONAVON: Oh yeah for sure. San Diego has always been so nice to me and I’ve surfed up and down here forever. We do gigs at the Belly Up all the time, and that’s where I kinda got my first break in California, surfing and music. It was great to be the first one up on that stage today, someone had to kick the day off and I’m glad it was us.
SPIKE: What is your favorite festival that you’ve been a part of, or attended?
DONAVON: This one! This one just took the cake. Any festival that’s this close to the beach is a win-win for everybody.
SPIKE: What are your thoughts on KAABOO’s lineup? Who else are you excited to see while here?
DONAVON: Everybody’s been talking about it, I can’t believe it: No Doubt, Zac Brown Band, The Killers and everyone in between! Ben Harper, Grace Potter, Dawes, Snoop Dogg… the list goes on and on, it’s insane. (There’s) an array of insane music, great musicians. You can walk to any stage and just see amazing music. Switchfoot, 311, I really can’t believe it! But I think I’m gonna go for a surf. I’m gonna leave here and go hit the water! Dawes is one of the bands I do want to catch though.
SPIKE: Surfing has brought you to some pretty awesome places. What is your favorite place that music has brought you to?
DONAVON: Hah, it’s taken me to some weird places…I’m not sure. Munich is a pretty interesting place, we like that. They actually have a standing wave there, in one of their rivers, it’s called the Eisbach. That’s pretty fun. Red Rocks in Colorado, The Gorge in Washington; anywhere you can plug in and play, we’re there.
SPIKE: What are you currently listening to?
DONAVON: Oh man… what did I listen to today? Taylor Swift. That’s what I’m listening to.
SPIKE: If you could collaborate with anyone now, who would it be?
DONAVON: Collaborate? Bob Dylan or Taylor Swift. No: Bob Dylan and Taylor Swift.