Donavon Frankenreiter has found a good new life in Kauai with his family. With a hectic schedule on the road and a rule-bound Californian life, the Downey-born and Jack Johnson friend has found comfort and purpose on The Garden Isle away from the frenetic mainland world. He recently explored deeper and darker musical waters on his newest album The Heart, where he grapples with some of life’s toughest subjects, like losing loved ones and the lonely pains of the lived experience. I spoke with him recently on the phone, when we discussed his new island life, his father’s passing, and surfing with his kids.
I’m in New Orleans right now. Have you ever been? Yeah we’ve played Jazz Fest and Tipitinas … yeah, it’s beautiful spot.
What would make for a great party? I would love to do it at my house and invite friends and family. We’d do it Hawaiian style, do a luau vibe, party, bonfire…that’d be great.
How long have you lived in Kauai? Almost nine years. Heaven on earth, I love it. It’s crazy, I’m on the road so much. Literally seven to eight months out of the year. Even when I’m home, I feel like I’m on vacation. I haven’t stayed long enough in one spot to say, okay I’m here, I live here and it’s my home, but we’ve stayed here long enough now that we have roots here. It’s an amazing place to decompress. I don’t have to drive, I love the beaches, the waves, its simple. I needed this for the last nine years.
When did you realize you needed it? I’m on the road so much, when I’m on the road it’s complete chaos. I needed a place to decompress. An easy-living lifestyle for my wife and my kids. When we were living in Laguna I was getting really frustrated with the traffic, the parking, the beaches, the rules, you couldn’t fuckin’ throw a Frisbee, couldn’t put a tent up on the beach. So many fucking rules, I thought, what am I doing? I’d be even more stressed at the house than when I was on the road. I decided, we’re going to Hawaii and it’s gonna be perfect and this is gonna work.
Do you have a favorite surf spot? I’d get killed by the locals if I told you.
Have you had any close encounters with sharks? Not really, not a lot of sharks out here in the Kauai. But we’ve seen them before, out there in Galapagos, and elsewhere … They’re around, you see them, and it’s the times when you don’t see them that you get kind of scared. Santa Barbara is as sharky as it is here. There’s more in Southern California right now than fucking anywhere.
Do you do any other kind of aquatic sports besides surfing? There are a lot of lakes and rivers here, and I’ll kayak in those. I have an endorsement with Mastercraft to create the ultimate wake behind their boat. You can throw the surfboard on it and get six feet up in the air and be fucking crazy. Gotta get a bitching advanced pole and the water gets shot out of the back from the hull, it will literally create this six feet tall, six foot face standing barrel, and you ride the wave. That would be the ultimate fun in boat surfing. That’s the other water sport I’m addicted to.
How does it feel to be in a platform to combine and be recognized for your passions? I’ve been doing the music thing for 12 years and I’ve been in the surfing world for 28, and music has literally enhanced the surfing career I already built up. It’s one of those things, all my sponsors and endorsements, we are grateful for the collaborations we do together and they love the music. I’m not just one dimensional. The music turns into what I do at the beach and I can take it into a venue and continue on the whole thing… It’s incredible. On both sides, the music and surfing side of things, it’s fun.
Your dad died recently. How are you doing with that? He was fighting this cancer thing for eight months, he passed away two weeks after we finished the record. He was literally dying during the tracking of these songs. I can’t think about it, it’s fucking crazy. I have kids, I’m a dad now, I don’t know, it’s heavy, really, really heavy. Everybody who goes through it and loses a significant other or family member or especially a parent, it’s surreal. You know, I don’t know, it’s one of those things you never get over.
That must have been difficult to face those feelings in your songs. For me it was, it just kind of, I don’t really think about it, I wrote about things that were happening. The recording process was the heaviest. It was escapism, it was therapeutic. I was in my own bubble. I was writing the words and lyrics when it became a little more real and heavy and nuts and chaotic and crazy. Whether you’re recording music or you’re listening to it, new or old music, I feel, can heal anybody. I think everybody leans on music in some way. It’s not like I don’t do that throughout my life, whether it’s a good time, a love song, somebody else, it doesn’t matter. I don’t listen to it to fill a void, I listen to it to take me somewhere. My own music took me somewhere where I wanted to be and somewhere where I wanted to be away from the place I was. I think it happens to anybody, the listener, the recorder, the writer, the musicians. It was a great process, it was amazing. I can’t believe that I can look back and say that I pulled it off. It’s a great feeling to have a record.
You recorded it in rural Texas, which must have amplified that effect. It definitely did. The place where we recorded it, we never had to leave for those 10 days. We lived there, we slept there, we were in this fucking musical bubble and never had to go anywhere. The only one thing that was trippy about it but turned out to be bitching was we streamed it every day, and that was really different.
How did you come up with the idea to stream your recording process? I did a concert at that studio the year before I recorded the record, and I streamed it live. I just loved the way they recorded it, and I said, “Dude, I’m gonna go back and stream the fucking making of the record.” Nine months later I was like dude I’m ready. They didn’t think I would but we made it happen and it was killer. I think that concept of streaming the recording process, I could be completely crazy and nuts but I feel people could really get into it. Think about if a giant fucking artist did what I did, Coldplay or Kanye West said click on this link and for 10 hours a day it will be $10 for you to log on, and as soon as it’s done I’ll send it to you. I’d bet you Kanye could get a million fucking people on that thing. The record’s not even out yet and he’s made a million fucking dollars. It’s a great concept and it’s neat and it’s bitching at least for fans that I have and we had fans log on, they all loved it, to watch the process of a song getting built. I don’t know if everybody wants to invite them into that world, but that’s a whole new avenue for artists to make money. My shit was free, but next time I was thinking I’d charge five bucks and you get the record as soon as it’s done.
You get to share the songs as they are being made, which is kind of a more exciting time than when they are all finished. It’s really cool.
Have you been to the Channel Islands? I have once. I went out there one time and I was really young but I surfed a couple spots and it was amazing, it was crazy.
What’s the most memorable wave you ever caught? Just the other day. It was really fun. I’ve been getting a lot of number one waves lately. The ones I have done alone, I hold in the back of my mind and kind of keep to myself, but there’s nothing like riding a wave and sharing it with my two kids. Me, my 12 year old, and eight year old, all three of us were riding a wave. Being a dad and having two kids and riding the same wave, it’s the ultimate, it’s fucking surreal, like being on another planet. Those little moments that go by in a blink of a fucking eye but they’re epic, it’s awesome.
It’s a nice metaphor, you’re all riding this wave of familyhood together. Oh it’s crazy, they inspire me, they help me write songs. It’s all good.
Donavon Frankenreiter plays Wednesday, September 23, at SOhO, 1221 State St. For more information, call (805) 962-7776 or see sohosb.com.