We recently sat down with American singer and surfer Donavon Frankenreiter.
WORDS BY STEVEN FERNANDEZ
For Donavon Frankenreiter, it’s all about living in the moment. The American surfer and singer, who has starred in the popular Drive Thru surf series and recently released his sixth studio album Start Livin’, says he’ll keep travelling the world and promoting his music for as long as he loves doing it. Signed to his best buddy Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records, Donavon recently found himself back in New Zealand for a show at Piha surf beach. He took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with Fallenfront’s Steven Fernandez about life on the road, life in Hawaii and his thoughts on the recent Muriwai shark attack…
Photo Credit: www.jannuslive.com
First up, how many times have you been to New Zealand now? Glad to be back?
I’ve been coming to New Zealand for the last ten years; we’ve had some great success with some albums down here, especially the first one. We’ve made some awesome surf movies down here too, one called Drive Thru, with some amazing local surfers. I’ve driven from the North Island to the South Island and I just have a lot of great memories here. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve been here, but a lot!
Your mate Jack Johnson has spent a lot of time down here too. Has he given you some advice on what to do or the best spots to surf?
Yeah, you know Jack and I have been friends for a long time. He’s actually how I got into music because I originally signed with his label. Him and I talked about New Zealand a lot; I know he loves touring down here and surfing down here! I might have actually done a tour down here with him. He’s given me tips on a few secret spots yeah, but I’m pretty happy just hanging out at Piha man!
I don’t know if you heard, but recently there was actually a deadly shark attack at Muriwai beach, which is the next beach over from Piha. As a surfer, what are your thoughts on that?
For me, when I’m surfing, it’s the last thing I think about. It’s great to see sharks when you’re surfing, because it’s better to see them than not see them! The ones that come underneath are the ones you need to worry about. And I mean those smaller sharks under eight feet are fine and there’s nothing to worry about if you’re staying out of their way and where they feed, you know. But yeah it’s one of those risks you take and yeah I heard about that guy. I heard he accidentally swam into a feeding area, which is kind of like the perfect storm and it’s a real tragedy because I heard he was a great guy. It’s a one in a billion chance and I guess he was just that one. It really sucks but I don’t believe sharks are anything surfers need to be really afraid of.
You live in Hawaii and I’ve seen some of those waves on the northern beaches and they’re insane! Have you had any close calls or dangerous accidents surfing up there?
Yeah there have been a few moments where I’ve wiped out and been underwater for a few moments and thought “Hey what’s happening here?” for sure. But because I have so many other things going on and surfing isn’t the only thing in my life, I’m a pretty careful surfer. I like riding big waves, but I don’t try riding waves that might kill me! Some of the world’s greatest surfers, guys like Shane Dorian, Greg Long and Koa Rothman, are also some of the fittest guys I know, so they’re much more prepared to take on those huge waves than I am. They live for the wave, so when they go out there I don’t think they care whether they come back dead or alive!
You’re originally from California though. So how did you find yourself living in Hawaii and hanging out with guys like Jack Johnson?
I’m on the road most of the year touring and surfing, promoting my music. So when I’m at home, that’s when I relax. And you know, a few years ago I got married and wanted to live in a place where I could chill out and raise kids and always really loved the Hawaiian culture and way of life. We moved to one of the islands and it’s really quiet, so when I’m home I can unwind. It’s a simple way of life at home and that’s how I like to live.
Was music always a big part of your life? How did you start making music and find yourself in a band?
I was actually on a surf trip at the age of 16 and I saw a guitar at this guy’s house, so I picked it up and learnt a few chords. It was just like the first time I stood on a surfboard, I fell in love with music immediately and knew I wanted to make music. So I took the guitar with me everywhere and it fit well into my life travelling and surfing. It was in high school that a few guys and me started a band, then it was around the time I met my wife that I was becoming frustrated with doing covers and not making my own music. So she encouraged me to start making music and singing myself, rather than being human jukebox! I took the leap one day and after about a year of making music Jack [Johnson] started his label and he signed me. The rest is sort of history…
Photo Credit: www.ticketfly.com
And that brings us to your most recent record, Start Livin’. Can you tell us a bit about that?
It’s just a collection of songs I recorded over seven days at my buddy Matt Grundy’s place. He’d been in the band since the beginning. It’s basically a bunch of songs that are reflective of life on the road – missing my family, losing Andy Irons and little emotional things. There’s a lot of positive stuff in there too, like the title track “Start Livin’” is about living in the moment and not taking things for granted. The record is really about enjoying the minutes in front of you right now, not six months down the line, but right now.
Lastly mate, what else do you have coming up? What’s on the horizon for you?
We’re probably going to do another season of the Drive Thru series, maybe the family edition now that we all have families [Laughs]. I don’t know we might do that. But I’m on tour at least until the end of the year, I go back to Japan a few times, through Europe, the States and South America. I just want to keep making music and surfing as much as I can!